lessons from the boatyard
The haul out
Within months of buying our first boat, a 1981 Cooper Pilothouse 353, the through-hull valve for our toilet discharge broke in the closed position, making the toilet unusable. The valve sits below the waterline, so it was time for our first haul out.
I wanted a boatyard that would allow me to do my own work, and a fellow boater recommended Jack’s Boat Yard in Lund, British Columbia. It was close to our home, so I arranged to have our boat hauled for a couple of days.
On the hard
After our boat was out of the water, I discovered that the epoxy coving between the steel keel and fiberglass bottom had delaminated, the prop was partially eaten away by electrolysis, and the bottom was long overdue for a paint job. A couple of days turned into a couple of weeks, during which I learned the following tips:
- In some boatyards, owners who do their own work have free access to equipment such as grinders, polishers, ladders and scaffolding. They can purchase zincs, grinding and polishing pads, through-hull valves, and painting supplies at the yard’s office. Specialty items such as propellers and engine parts can be ordered through the yard as well. Shipwrights, mechanics and painters are available but should be booked in advance during the busy summer season.
- Replacing through-hull valves, especially those in confined spaces, requires dexterity and determination. You need to be a contortionist with the forearm strength of a gorilla. For more than an hour, I struggled to detach the rigid rubber hose from the faulty through-hull valve. Then Ted, a fellow boater in the yard, suggested using a hair dryer to soften the rubber. It worked like magic! I also used the dryer and liquid soap to reattach a new hose to the new valve. I had planned to use petroleum jelly, but Ted warned me that petroleum causes rubber to deteriorate over time—not something I wanted happening to my toilet-discharge hose.
- Zinc plates used to address electrolytic corrosion must make a good connection with the boat’s negative ground. My aluminum prop resembled Swiss cheese because the attachment surface between the zinc and the metal sail drive unit was painted. The prop became the sacrificial metal. A bit of sanding before installing a new zinc resolved that problem.
- I learned to wear a proper mask when sanding or grinding a boat bottom. The resulting dust contains heavy metals, such as copper. After about an hour of sanding without a mask, I began coughing and was still hacking up dark stuff several days later. A white surgical mask did not provide adequate protection, so I purchased a proper respirator with a replaceable filter and an airtight fit around the nose and mouth. This mask also came in handy when I painted the bottom and an enclosed space within the boat. At 25 bucks a lung, it proved to be one of my best boating-accessory investments!
- There are many different brands of bottom paint, ranging from about $100 to more than $300 per gallon. However, there are only two basic types: ablative and non-ablative. Ablative paint wears off so fresh paint is always exposed to prevent algae buildup. Non-ablative paint is more permanent and may contain silicone to prevent algae buildup. Ablative paint can be painted over non-ablative but not vice versa. The yard staff could not determine which type was on my boat, so I chose the ablative type. I used a less expensive brand recommended by another sailor who said that two coats usually last him three years.
- In preparation for painting my boot stripe, I tried using regular white masking tape. Unfortunately, the tape kinked when I applied it on my curved hull and left traces of glue upon removal. Another boater, Ken, suggested I use a narrow width of green or, better yet, blue painter’s tape. It’s more pliable than masking tape and leaves no residue. He also suggested I remove the tape while the paint was wet to prevent peeling—something I guess every painter knows—which meant masking twice for two coats.
I used a small foam roller that left tiny paint bubbles resembling goose bumps. They didn’t go away when the paint dried, so I spent a couple of hours carefully sanding the entire boot stripe. Ken suggested using light strokes with a foam brush over the newly rolled paint to remove the bubbles. Voilà! The resulting surface looked as if it had been professionally spray-painted.
- My boat had a bad case of “halyard wrap,” meaning the halyard occasionally wrapped around the forestay and prevented the jib from furling. On our last outing, the halyard broke near the top of the sail and fell back inside the mast. (I guess I shouldn’t have used a winch without fully assessing the problem!) I had a boating friend, Herbert, winch me up in a bosun’s chair for my first time aloft. He suggested attaching a 2-foot length of bicycle chain to a light line and lowering it down to the exit hole on the side of the mast. After fishing it through the hole, he attached a heavier line, which I hauled to the top of the mast. The last step was attaching the halyard to this heavier line and hauling it up. Using the bicycle chain as a weight proved ideal for slinking the pilot line past other lines, wires and obstructions inside the mast.
Halyard wrap happens when a length of halyard extends parallel to the forestay from the masthead sheave to the top furling-bearing. Several companies address this problem with a halyard-restrainer device consisting of a sheave that attaches near the top of the mast, redirecting the halyard at a slight angle to the forestay. The one I purchased was too small for my mast. While searching for a larger device, I devised a solution to halyard wrap: I reduced the length of the halyard extending from the mast-head sheave to about 4 inches, moving the top furler closer to the mast and making the halyard too short to wrap. Then I added enough line from the head of the sail to the bottom bearing of the top furler to allow the sail to be hoisted tightly between tack and head. This simple, inexpensive solution can be done without going aloft.
Spending two weeks in the yard working on my boat proved to be a great learning experience. I found that on land, just as on water, most boaters are helpful and willing to share their knowledge and experience with novices like me. A special thanks to the boaters and friendly folks at Jack’s Boat Yard for their advice and assistance.