Timing isn't everything

Posted 5/20/21

Getting ready for the sailing season was never as easy. There have been years when the ritual of preparing "her" to be splashed takes weeks. It's a process of that often seems to have no limits. The objective is clear - clean "her" to the point where she

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Timing isn't everything


Getting ready for the sailing season was never as easy.

There have been years when the ritual of preparing “her” to be splashed takes weeks. It’s a process of that often seems to have no limits. The objective is clear – clean “her” to the point where she sparkles and you feel proud to be at the helm. There’s so much more than washing off the winter grim, applying wax, buffing the sides until you can see your reflection and standing back to admire your work. That can be hard enough depending on your sense of perfection. Bleaching out stains, dealing with cracks in the fiberglass and doing the bright work – varnishing of woodwork – can take untold hours often requiring an assortment of chemicals and products with lengthy warning labels. And that’s just the topsides.

The bottom of a boat, especially those that are raced, often gets more attention, which seems contradictory when you consider it’s not visible most of the time. Every second is critical to those who race sailboats. The logic is simple: the smoother the bottom, the faster the boat. Yet once smooth, boat bottoms don’t stay that way for too long in these waters. Things start growing. It starts with a scum that hosts tiny shrimp and can develop to barnacles with their razor shells. So, antifouling bottom paint is important. This stuff is designed to be lethal. Depending on the brand – and there’s lots to choose from – a gallon of antifouling paint can cost more than $250, smell like a chemical factory and weigh a ton because of all the toxic metals it contains.

You want to be careful with this.

Preparation is key to painting and the same holds true for boat bottoms.

I own a Rhodes 19, a day sailor that fortunately doesn’t require a lot of work. There’s no bright work unless you want to get fancy with the cabin floorboards and the tiller. A previous owner rebuilt her and raced her so attention was spent on rigging and foot straps so the crew could hike off the sides without falling overboard. The bottom was as smooth as glass when I bought her.

On Saturday, Claude Bergeron, who also owns a Rhodes 19 and plans to crew with me this season, came over with his milk cartons filled with just about everything needed to get a boat ready for the water. He was prepared. He wore a tight fitting long sleeve shirt, jeans speckled from previous painting expeditions and a hat that didn’t matter. From one of his cartons he pulled out a box of blue disposable gloves and a facemask with dual respirators.

He was ready to sand off a layer of last season’s antifouling paint, to get that racing surface as smooth as possible for a fresh coating. We decided to start with the bottom and work up. I’d pulled the cover off. The boat was dry. She wouldn’t need much topside cleaning. It was the bottom that would make us fast, assuming, of course, that we were sailing her properly.

I got out the extension cords. Claude pulled out the sander and fitted it with a fresh disc.

“You got the paint?” he said, thinking ahead to the next phase.

I retreated to the basement for the cans from last year. Claude popped the lids to reveal globular masses the consistency of play dough. It was nasty.

“How long have you had this?” The newest can was probably a couple of years old. It was time for some new paint.

“I’ll start on the bottom while you get the paint,” he suggested.

That was a great offer I couldn’t refuse.

Salk’s on a Saturday can be like the supermarket on the eve of a hurricane. Rather than buying bread and milk, these shoppers were intent on filling propane tanks to their grills, equipping themselves with yard implements, purchasing fertilizer and rolling away with wheelbarrows and lawn mowers. I weaved my way to the marine section, finding the shelves stripped of the antifouling paint I’ve used for years. I scanned the alternatives, reading the fine print to discover whether they would be compatible to what I’d used. At worst I envisioned some sort of chemical reaction causing a blistering of the paint, rendering all that effort for a clean race-finish useless.

I’d better ask someone who knew. Sal is the Salk’s font of information. I found him in plumbing supplies helping a customer. He confessed he wasn’t up to speed on bottom paints, so I was on my own.

I found a moderately priced – just $100 – gallon of blue that extolled its antifouling qualities and headed home to the sound of a humming sander. Claude was now a shade of blue from head to toe. He emerged from under the boat. His face was blue with the exception of his nose and mouth that had been covered by the mask.

“Good timing,” he said, “I just finished the bottom.”

I grabbed a towel to wipe down the fine antifouling dust from the sides and keel in preparation of painting and then the waxing and buffing of the topsides. Indeed, the bottom was smooth. There wouldn’t be any excuses for not sailing fast.

I pondered what Claude had said about timing. He was right. Had Salk’s had the paint I’d used for years, I would have been back to sand the bottom, too.

It wasn’t the timing or a fast boat that really matters, however.

It’s having a friend.

timing, column


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