Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Triton Bottom Paint Death March, Part II

Ten days of pain(t), and no one has died.  Yet.

The saga continues, and like POWs in the war on copper paint, we trudge along on our own private death march. . . 

Triton's nearly sanded bottom.  Almost all of the old blue paint has been
removed, and carefully reapplied to our hair, our clothes, the pores of
our skin, and any previously clean, horizontal surfaces on the boat. 
There is an old saying that "when you are up to your ass in alligators, it is easy to forget that your original intention was to drain the swamp".   There is an analogous maritime saying, older even than the one about the alligators, almost as old as boats themselves, that goes "Maybe we should pay someone to do this job?"

I believe this saying was invented approximately two years after the first bottom paint was ever applied to a vessel, and was first uttered exactly seven hours and forty-five minutes into the first day of the bottom job, when the boatwright suddenly realized he was going to have to keep doing this again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and quite possibly the day after, and maybe even longer than that.

AnnMarie wearing her "sailor's burka"
We've got the boat down to mostly bare gelcoat, cleaned up the fiberglass and put on the epoxy barrier coat, but this was no mean feat!  Taking the paint off of a boat this size is a daunting job, especially the areas around the rudder and propeller shafts, and any other areas that have sharp, concave surfaces or tight corners, seams or or edges.   We've run out of the chemical stripper, which we had been using to great effect, but was expensive.  If we had to do it all over again, we would have bought three times as much, and used a pressure washer to boot!
[editor's note: It goes without saying that if you take a job like this on, make sure you have an adequate supply of chemical stripper on hand before you start.  But the real important object lesson here is that if you do happen to run out, DO NOT hand a few hundred dollars in cash to your friend and ask him to "just pop out and bring back some stripper".  Be very clear that you want C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L stripper.  The other kind will not remove any paint, no matter how much additional money you offer her.]

The green gunk is the chemical stripper at work.  Definitely made our
job much easier, and if we had more of it, we would have used it.  We
couldn't get the other stripper to do anything except pout.

 Don't get us wrong, the chemical stripper wasn't a picnic either.  It required scraping the layers of paint off, without gouging the gelcoat.  That isn't nearly as easy as it sounds, and working overhead is a difficult, unpleasant job under the best of circumstances, like when you are being paid hourly, but it is not ever fun.  When we ran out of chemical stripper, life went from bleak to black, or at least dark blue and dusty.  We are now back to using, as they've come to be known by us, "those fucking grinders"*.

[editor's note: "those fucking grinders" is a registered trademark of, and is used with permission.  Their motto "Tempting human souls is hard work; take the easy way out with those fucking grinders!  Guaranteed to wreak havoc on the most saintly of souls.  Over 1 million evil acts committed."]

We were originally (back before the tingling and numbness set in) calling them "Sea Flowbies" or "R2D2's Retarded Cousin", both of which sounded cute but didn't really convey the sense of dread we eventually developed towards them.  Sort of like referring to a case of Bubonic plague as "A pocket full of posies".   These really are god-awful machines.  They are a silly solution to environmental concerns (especially frustrating because it seems the newer paints are significantly less toxic and wouldn't require such stringent regulations), and as grinders go, they are about as effective as the rhythm method.  In fact, if the Pope ever had to grind the Pope Mobile back down to the Kevlar gelcoat, especially if he had to do it wearing a respirator over his zucchetoo, he probably would have been far more understanding about cursing, losing faith in God, and taking the pill.
Please, God, make it stop.

The hull approaching whiteness.
Where was I?   Oh, yeah, those fucking grinders.  We really do hate them.  We hate everything about them.  But mostly, we hate the sandpaper disks that don't stick to the Velcro backing pads and we hate the way said disks fly off just when you start to make any progress.   We now have a stack, six inches tall, of used sanding disks.  Well, actually, it would be six inches tall if you went around the boat picking them all up off the ground and stacking them neatly on top of each other.   What we have now is more like an area-rug's worth.  We have also blown through a few more tubes of the non-Velcro backed adhesive, which is the only solution we've come up with that will keep the sanding disks on the grinder backing pads.

The adhesive is basically the crystal meth of grinding.  Once you start using it, you can't stop.  This isn't normal, BTW.  You aren't supposed to ever use this adhesive on a Velcro backed grinding pad.  You only ever put this stuff on when the grinder backing pad's little Velcro hooks have completely failed.  Which seems to happen about twenty nanoseconds after you start using them.

At some point during the week, one  of the grinder pads physically broke off, and the good folks at Napa Valley had to replace the head.  The brand new backing pad worked for about two days, then disks started flying off of it.  Did I mention that I hate those fucking grinders?

Tiny pock marks, probably
from the original mold.
Onward we ground.  We needed to get most all of the paint off, so that we could apply a couple of coats of epoxy barrier coat.   "Why?", you ask.  Well, because it is supposed to make the boat that much more impervious to boat blisters.   The claim is that blisters form for a number of reasons, but a key one is the desire of moisture to migrate through the fiberglass.  Create a completely moisture-proof barrier, so the argument goes, and you reduce the likelihood that you'll get blisters.

I think that this may be the moral equivalent of those little plastic protector tabs for the heels of your shoes; the ones they used to try to sell you in the '80s, but instead of putting them on your shoes, this is more like having them stapled directly to your feet.
Applying penetrating epoxy.
But still we grind on.  We grind until we can only see the whites of their eyes.  Or, to be more precise, the whites of the gelcoat.  That means making sure everything is pretty much white, and that any gouges caused from those fucking grinders, or any blemishes, dents, or other pock marks, must be filled in with epoxy and faired.    Much to our surprise, the hull wasn't in bad shape at all, although we did find a few spots where there were very tiny pockets, but our hero Kelly (the fiberglass repair expert at Napa Valley Marina) assures us that this was probably a minor defect created when they sprayed the mold during construction.   We've gone through and painted all of these areas with Smith's penetrating epoxy, which is a very watery two part epoxy that gets into cracks and crevices and creates a better surface for the epoxy filler to bond.  Then, we filled in any holes or divots we found with an epoxy putty, and ground the hull back fair again.

Before fairing back the epoxy.

We got extremely lucky with our weather window. It was stifling hot the week before we arrived, and it rained the entire week after we finished, which was lucky for us, it also made working a bit easier.   If you are going to try to do something like this, it is best if you can arrange for it to happen when the weather is warm, dry and still.   If you figure out how to arrange the weather, please let me know.
One interesting discovery we made while doing this is that the leading edges of both hulls were covered in a reddish-brown type of bondo.  At first I thought that perhaps this indicated some sort of earlier grounding and repair job, but Kelly seemed to think that this is typical of how these boats are constructed.  We also found the same bondo technique around the area where the drive shaft log attached, as well as around the rudder base, which is pretty much every connecting seam of the hull, on both sides of the boat.  I'm not sure what to make of it, if you have any similar experience or insight, please drop me a line.

The hull just before we painted the barrier coat.
Once we completely finished sanding the hull (including patching the no longer used thru-hulls), and had everything nice and smooth, we needed to wipe all the surfaces down in acetone, to remove the dust that was statically clinging to the hull surfaces.  This is one of those steps that doesn't seem like it should make that big a difference, but it does.  No matter how good a job you do at cleaning up the hull (we had wiped it down once already), the acetone will still pick up more gunk and dust, so be prepared to go through a lot of clean white linen rags.   The advice we got was to use it liberally, while wearing gloves and a respirator, and make sure you don't miss any spots.   Expect to go through about 2 gallons of acetone as well on this project.

Our hero, John, was instrumental in making this
project possible.  Without his and JD's efforts, we
 don't think we could have survived, much less
finished the death march.  We'd probably still be
working on it.
What frustrated us most about this whole ordeal was how long it took to get the old paint removed, and conversely, how quickly the new paint went on.   The epoxy barrier coat had to be mixed together and thoroughly stirred, then allowed to sit for an hour or so before we could apply it.   If you do this yourself, make sure you read all the directions on the can before beginning, as there are some pretty non-intuitive steps, with some very badly translated phrases from the original Middle English.

Once mixed together, you'll have a couple of hours before it completely hardens, so work quickly but don't rush.   The paint comes in at least two shades of grey; we used three gallons of each color.  If you are putting two coats on, you'll want the under coat to be a lighter color than the top coat, otherwise you'll forget where you've painted already.   We're pretty sure there are some spots that four or five coats because we just couldn't remember, or were told "Oh, I just painted that area" by someone else.   You probably won't get everything done in just one go and knowing where you were when putting on the second coat is crucial.

Our other hero, JD was a rock star!! An Amazon of a woman
 who worked hard and did yeoman-like work to boot!
You'll also want to have a reasonable schedule as to when you apply it.  The first barrier coat needs at least 12 hours to cure, so plan on putting it on in the early afternoon and allowing it to dry completely, overnight.  Put the next coat on the following morning (providing it is warm and dry out) and then apply the bottom paint later that evening.  You should be able to then slap on at least one or two more layers of bottom paint before you need to put the boat back in the water.

The bows in preparation for the the blue stripes.
We did something a bit more creative.  In all my readings, one theme I've come across often is that when catamarans get into trouble, they sometimes will flip upside down and become quite stable and difficult to sink.   This has been the case with numerous high profile disasters lately, and being that it can be difficult to spot a dark blue hull floating in the ocean, a number of catamaran owners have taken to painting their hulls in bright colors.  In fact, our friends, Laureen & Jason decided to paint their catamaran's entire hull Emergency Orange, although I'm not sure if that was their reasoning.  Nonetheless, it gave me the idea that we could paint the keel and rudder orange, in case we were ever floating upside down in the ocean and the Coast Guard was having trouble spotting us.    This kind of reasoning is why AnnMarie forbids me from picking out my own clothes.

This was our first attempt at painting the keels orange.  The
white is the caulking we used between the keel & hull.
So we started hunting around looking for orange bottom paint.  Napa Valley has a "corkage" fee that they charge on any paint you use if you don't buy it through them.  While I personally find this a bit unfair, it is their business, and they deserve to make the markup instead of West Marine.  Okay, so we ordered the paint through them, but we made one fatal mistake.  We asked Kirby how much paint he thought we'd need.  His answer was, like many other things we'd asked him, wrong.  Completely wrong.  And like most everything else he was involved in (see Napa Valley Marina), it would also end up costing us more time & money than we'd originally planned for, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Village People song "In The Navy" now makes a lot more sense
We asked the marina, as per Kirby's recommendation, that they order 5 gallons of the red Micron CSC bottom paint from Interlux for the hulls.  For the keels, as per Kirby's recommendation,  we ordered two pints of Petit Vivid, one pint in red, one in yellow.  His thinking was that we would mix them together to get orange.   As it turns out, if you start adding red paint to yellow, you only need about one quarter as much red to make a very vibrant orange.   Adding any more makes it too dark and you get a kind of blood orange red.   So we managed to get a little less than one coat of paint on the keels before we ran out of paint.   And, because this all happened at the tail end of our death march, on a Sunday, when we were supposed to be put back in the water the following morning, we were stuck and pressed for time.

Pink rudders and keel.
Don't ask, don't tell.
There weren't any stores open on a Sunday that sold any kind of bottom paint, much less in yellow or orange, but we managed to find a friend with an almost entirely unused gallon of white by the same manufacturer.   We were desperate, exhausted, and so bleary from those fucking grinders that we would have used goats blood if they bled yellow, but the white seemed like it might work.   We tried mixing the remaining bit of orange paint into it.  Interestingly, one third a pint of orange paint mixed with three fourths of a gallon of white paint makes a bit less than one gallon of peach colored bottom paint.  Peach.  And it was a retching shade of peach at that.

We still had about three fourths of a pint of red, so figuring "in for a penny, in for a pound", we mixed that in as well.  We now had a gallon of bright pink bottom paint.  Pink.  Not purple, not rose, not even lavender . . . but pink.  Bright pink.  The kind of pink that liltingly asks, "Hi Sailor, new in town?".  Fortunately, the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy has been discontinued, so we might just have improved our chances of getting rescued at sea.   [editor's note:  To all rescue personnel:  if you see us clinging to a bright pink keel, please remember that we are grateful for your assistance, don't care what your orientation is, and that you look fabulous in that uniform!]  
AnnMarie poses next to her stripes.

Choose a bottom paint color that goes
well with your complexion.
On the bright (pink) side, the hull painting went pretty quickly, except for the boot stripes (those dark blue stripes that run between the white hull and the bottom paint), a job we'd given to AnnMarie because it required skill, patience, and a fanatical attention to detail, which seemed right up her alley.  What we didn't count on was that the warm summer evening also meant lots of mosquitoes, and that the shop lights we used to illuminate the hull would attractive the little buggers.  Once they got close, the smell of the blue LPU paint seemed irresistible to them, and they landed by the dozens on her beautiful handiwork, and then stuck like bugs on fly paper.   I think she started to cry at that point.  The next morning she had to sand off the mosquitoes and repaint.  It seems she always ends up with the fuzzy end of the lollipop on these boat projects.

John was about twice as fast with a
paint brush as any mere mortal.
  Even though we had great weather through all of it, and even though John & JD both worked weekends and through the week with us [without their help we'd probably still be in the yard!], it was a close call being ready in time, and we ended up being delayed until Tuesday, thanks in part to the mosquito debacle.   Fortunately, the folks waiting in line to haul out changed their plans and needed to delay a couple of days, so it worked out alright for us, although I don't think the yard was happy that we took as long as we did.  We still had to finish about a dozen other projects, so it gave us another day to throw some additional paint on the boat and finish up a bit more.

Once you get enough paint back on the boat, you are ready to "splash down", as they say.  This isn't nearly as exciting as it seems, unless you've forgotten to close a thru-hull valve.   They will lower you back into the water very slowly, and it is a very good idea to have folks checking every single valve, thru-hull, stopcock, or flange (whether you've repaired them or not) in case there are any leaks.  Don't let anyone rush you during this phase.  If you have a problem, you'll want to find out before you float off the lift.  It is much easier to be quickly pulled back out than to have to plug a leak.

Fortunately for us, we didn't have any (they developed much later on) but it is a wise policy to spend a few hours checking through the boat.  We spent the night at the dock and didn't leave until the next morning, when we were quite certain that we weren't taking on water.   Work done by the yard is usually guaranteed, but DIY repairs aren't, so be absolutely certain that you did the job correctly.

As it turned out, we were unsatisfied with the way the one inch diameter (unflanged) valves were installed (see our blog entry titled
Thru-hull Flange Plate and Marelon Flanged Valve Installation), and we ended up going back to the yard a few months later, hauling out again, and replacing them with a better solution.

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