Getting your boat shipshape for the new boating season
Following a long winter on shore or in the water, your boat's hull needs loving care to shine in its most beautiful glory again. Wooden boats or steel yachts need to be sanded and repainted every few years - or in some cases even annually, depending on the quality and type of coating - and all boats should be thoroughly polished at least once a year.
This is especially true for GRP yachts as a good polish (or wax) forms a hard and scratch-resistant layer that also protects the original gelcoat from the effects of UV sunlight. With the right treatment, weathered or dull GRP surfaces can also be polished up again, in the literal sense of the word, with astonishing results. There are many special purpose products available at yacht chandleries, for example from Starbrite or 3M (dealer directory and more yacht care tips at www.vonderlinden.de), for the two things that are critical to the care of GRP boats: cleaning and polishing. Smaller boats can still be polished by hand, with soft rags and circular movements, but you don't have to strain your muscles.
Even if it is only a dinghy you are working on, it is well worth purchasing an inexpensive polishing machine. It will not just make your work a lot easier, but will probably also produce much better results for this very reason. And of course it is worth keeping every ship always in good condition - which means polishing it regularly once a year and cleaning it more often if necessary - because this not only makes your boat look more beautiful, it also makes the work easier in the future. It is amazing how many years, not to say decades, a gelcoat can retain its hard, firm shine if it is taken care of properly and regularly.
A smooth and shiny finish for the hull
Polishing the hull
Painting the waterline
Minor damage to the hull
Preparatory work for filling
Like new If the ship has been neglected for some years and the surfaces are dull, porous and dirty, you don't necessarily have to repaint the hull completely. Often a particularly thorough cleaning with very fine wet sandpaper of 1500 or 2000 grain in connection with soapy, lukewarm water (mixed with detergent) produces really good results. It removes coarse dirt that has settled in the porous surface. Afterwards you should polish the hull with a boat-, car- or metal-polish. Finally you could apply a hard wax. The rough, porous surface of the gelcoat becomes smooth again because a razor-thin layer (in the hundredth-millimeter range) is removed. It almost looks like new again. And a pleasing side effect: because the surface is now smooth again, it no longer gets stained so quickly or is, at least, much easier to clean.
The waterline The waterline, which is alternately exposed to water and air as well as to all the dirt floating in the water, should be well sanded and painted with special waterline varnish offered by all large paint manufacturers. Tape cleanly with a specially made adhesive tape, and peel it off immediately after applying the paint. If you leave the tape on the hull overnight or even for a few days, removing it can be quite tedious!
There's a lot to do on deck
There are other tasks waiting for you on deck. Unfortunately, it is often very dirty due to air pollution and footprints, and it is also much more difficult to clean than the smooth surfaces of the hull. Not only the non-slip profile is a handicap here, but also the many fittings, around which you always have to clean by hand after all.
Fine cracks at the railing base...
...require immediate attention...
...in order to stop water coming in!
A teak deck needs good care
Treated teak deck: looks really impressive
Be cautious with hairline cracks One should always pay attention to hairline cracks in the gelcoat, which usually originate more or less star-shaped from a point of particular mechanical stress. This can be a spot on the deck that has been punctually damaged by impact or pressure, or, much more regularly, around fittings such as the feet of stanchions, pulpit or pushpit and sometimes the base of winches. Just anywhere where the area on deck is particularly under pressure and has perhaps even become somewhat soft over the years and is now beginning to buckle. At the beginning this may still be a purely cosmetic problem which some yacht owners like to overlook. But as the cracks get wider, moisture can penetrate the deck's sandwich laminate. This in turn has fatal long-term consequences: Most of the GRP sandwich decks have a core made from balsa wood. It will rot over time when exposed to moisture permanently. The result: the deck as a whole becomes soft, buckles or creaks when you walk on it and will show more and more cracks. There is just one remedy - a complete deck renovation by removing the outer GRP layer, drying the core and renewing it where necessary, and then building up a new laminate over it. This is complex, strenuous and expensive.
Renovating old teak decks Unfortunately, such a deck renovation is often also necessary if we are dealing with a very old teak deck that is still screwed to the deck but so worn off that the plugs covering the screws fall off and the joints between the slats are no longer sealed. This may not necessarily mean that moisture has penetrated the sandwich deck underneath, but there is a real danger. So it is better to renovate the teak deck as long as it is still possible and as long as the sandwich deck underneath has not been damaged.
Timely action prevents problems Accordingly, it is much wiser to tackle hairline cracks before they turn into major problems. This is comparatively easy by widening the fine cracks to slightly larger V-shaped channels with a sharp broach and then filling them up with fresh gelcoat when they are dry. The only problem is that you won't always hit the colour of the surrounding original gelcoat exactly. Depending on how many cracks in the deck have been treated in this way, the deck can be repainted completely or in parts. Or, if it concerns, for example, the areas around the stanchions, remount the stanchions afterwards on a small high-alloyed steel plate. This would not only provide more stability to the railing but would also cover the repaired areas underneath.
Special care for scratched windows and hatches All this sounds like a lot of work and it is sometimes better to have it done by a specialist. So count yourself lucky if you only have to polish your boat and apply an underwater coating. For scratched windows and hatches, on the other hand, there is a special cleaning agent called Vuplex (available in specialist shops, list of distributors via www.lindemann-kg.de), which can even be used for PVC windows in sprayhoods and cockpit awnings. It cleans and seals the material in one step. Some boaters also use it to clean GRP surfaces on board, but the surface becomes not only clean but also extremely slippery afterwards: decks or other walkable surfaces should not be cleaned at all with this agent!