Aug 302012

No, we ain’t talkin’ lipstick and hair gel here.  This post is all about things you’ll need to do to keep your vessel looking halfway decent in civilized company.  Things like paint and polish.

Live aboard vessels sit in water, it’s that wet stuff under neath.  Some in fresh water, many in salt water.  In that water there are many things, living and non living which look upon your vessel as either dinner, or a place to hang out.  Barnacles, mussels, grasses, and other assorted growth will do their best to attach themselves to whatever happens to be floating in their general area.  Take a look at any boat that has been in the water for a long time and you’ll see evidence of that.  Rust and corrosion, things growing out of the sides and bottom.  That corrosion and growth will wreak havoc on the outside of a vessel if you don’t take some steps to hinder it.  (You won’t be able to stop it, just slow it down some.).

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.  The hull, which is the part of the boat that sits in the water all the time, assuming you haven’t capsized, takes a real beating.  Algae and other stuff will latch onto the hull for a place to live almost as soon as the boat hits the water.  It’s simply a fact of life.  So, every once in a while, you will need to remove the growth before it gets to out of hand and hinders the performance of the hull.  To start with, scraping the bottom on a regular basis is a must.  That means going in the water with some scrapers and rubbing all the growth off.  It’s a dirty nasty job and sometimes dangerous.  You’ll be working in dirty water with poor visibility, (Yes, you’ll need to either dive or snorkel to get under neath and sometimes you might have some company.  A friend of mine who runs a boat cleaning business for a living was once under a boat inspecting the hull when a barracuda mistook her arm for dinner.  Very bad bite and almost lost the arm.  But she recovered  and now is one of the top woman paddleboarders in Florida.)  You can pay to have somebody come and scrape your bottom for you.  Most people who do so charge by the foot.  While you are getting the bottom scraped you need to change the zincs if you have them.  Zincs are metal collars that go around prop shafts.  They draw the chemical reactions away from the metal in the shaft to keep corrosion down.  Zincs are much cheaper to replace than prop shafts so figger on getting new ones at least once a year.

Virtually any boat in salt water will have bottom paint to help protect it.  Most vessels are either fiberglass or wood but neither material holds up well by itself when kept under water.  So paint is used.  Bottom paint is copper based and very toxic but it does a nice job of sealing the hull and keeping corrosion to a minimum.  But paint wears out too so every couple of years or so you will need to move your boat onto land, scrape off the old paint, and put new coats on.  It can run into some serious money depending on the size of the vessel and how much other work needs done.  Your vessel will also be out of the water and non livable for a week or longer.

Moving up, the hull above the water line is not subject to as much abuse.  It may need a sanding down once in a while and any striping or lettering painted on may need touching up now and then.

As for the top, the decks, the cabin roof, and all, it really depends on the type of boat you have as to how much will need to be done.  Wooden boats require a lot more work than fiberglass.  There is always sanding and revarnishing to be done.  Wood weathers in the sun and will deteriorate over time.  Even the more expensive mahogany will eventually need some work done to it.  There are deck paints available.  They have added in sand or some other compound so when they dry they have a rough finish.  That way you can walk on the surface without slipping.

And then there is all that rigging.  Every little bit and piece of wood, chrome metal or other material that will show corrosion eventually.  If you are real anal about cleaning you will enjoy this part.  There are all sorts of little nooks and crannies that will need sanding and polishing.

And while you are at it, there will always be leaks.  Anyplace where there is hole, no matter what is in it, a screw, a bolt, whatever, it will leak.  So if you own a boat, you will want to become very good friends with this stuff…

3M 5200 Marine Sealant.  This is the boaters equivalent of duct tape.   Grab a tube or two when you make a trip to your local boating supplier.  You will need it.  A lot.

Keeping your vessel generally clean is another chore in itself.  Since you are living on the water you need to be careful of a few things when cleaning your boat.  One, do you have sufficient fresh water to do the job.  And B, what kind of soap or cleaning fluid are you using.  Remember that all that water and soap will be draining over the side and into the water.  So you will need to use a marine grade cleaner that is compatible with the environment.  Over the counter land based cleaners won’t cut it. You’ll need something like this…

What I Have:  A lot of damn work to do.  The Fritter is in dire need of a bottom painting.  But then all boats down here are.  At the very least it needs the hull scraped.  I see a lot of growth along the sides and before Isaac hit there were some longer things hanging from the bottom.  It looks like the storm cleaned some of the loose stuff off.  Above the water line is not too bad.  The old name is painted on and the stripe could use a fresh coat.  On top things are in fairly good shape.  Woodwork needs some woodworking but the fiberglass is in pretty good condition.  A small crack here or there but for a 33 year old boat, it’s in good shape.  Don’t need any deck paint as the deck is not slippery at all.

What I Want:  The magic boat cleaning fairies to come in the middle of the night and make the Fritter look like new again.  If I stay on this boat for any length of time a bottom job is necessary.  I would eventually like to scrape off the old paint and get her properly named.  All in due time.  Some of the woodwork could stand to be replaced.  It all works, it just don’t look to fancy.

Reality:  A bottom job is expensive but luckily there are a couple yards close by where I can get it done.  As for scraping the bottom I suppose I’ll jump in one of these days and clean it off or when I get a motor I can putter out to a shallow area, she only draws 18in. with the keel up, and clean off the bottom.  It will be a necessity if I want to sail.  A dirty bottom will slow a boat down considerably.

I’m not big on cleaning, as you may have guessed.  I do the minimum necessary and that is the way I have always been and always will be.  The Fritter don’t have to look like she is fresh out of the showroom to make me happy.  It may not make the neighbors happy, but too bad.  My boat.  Not theirs.

Capt. Fritter