Monday, 29 July 2013

Painting a GRP Boat (2)

So, I removed all the fixtures and fittings from the cockpit, sanded every bit of GRP I intended to paint with
finer and finer sandpaper down to a paper grade of 125, filled every hole and scrape with filler paste, and washed the entire area with acetone, - and then I reckoned I was ready to paint. I chose International Paints Pre-Kote and one pot enamel ‘Toplac’ as a paint system mainly because it was easily available, but also because there was plenty of literature about these products on the internet and it seemed like the easiest paint system for an amateur to apply out of doors without specialist equipment. Before I started, I painted the bilges with Red Danboline and taped off the areas to be painted with masking tape.

I think I may have read too much about painting GRP and as a result I was nervous about tackling the job. On Monday however, I was out of excuses. The weather was dry and the forecast suggested there would be no rain in the near future. I had all the kit I needed and the wind was light.

In applying the first coat of Pre-Kote I followed the best advice I had been given –

1.      work with a small fine sponge- type roller;
2.      apply the paint union flag style – rolling in every direction rather than simply applying it in a right to left or up and down direction;
3.      put the paint on in thin coats;
4.      keep a dry brush handy to even out the coat and eradicate ridges or orange peel effects caused by the brush.

The coat went on beautifully and was touch dry within an hour or so, and just to illustrate how awful the boat had looked before, here's a close up of an area of the GRP surface before cleaning and painting.
Returning to the boat on Tuesday morning I was well pleased with the results. There were a few areas of ‘orange peel’ effects, mainly on curved areas and these were soon sanded smooth, using 240 grade sandpaper. So all was set for a second application of Pre-Kote, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) before I could start, three guys turned up and began work on a boat next but one to mine. Looking at the equipment they brought with them I guessed they may be about to kick up some dust so I waited to see what happened. To my amazement, they set to work with a chainsaw and angle grinder and set about reducing their boat to neat one metre squares, which they promptly loaded onto a trailer to take to the rubbish dump.

Curiosity got the best of me. Here is the story. One of these guys bought this 22ft sailing cruiser on the water last year and brought her to the boatyard to over-winter her. She was a pretty fast light sailing cruiser of GRP sandwich construction. In essence, two sheets of GRP with a central core of foam. The boat had a large spade keel and she was laid up ashore with legs made of scaffolding poles to keep her upright. The legs served their purpose in keeping her upright, but they did not support the hull so all the weight of the boat rested on the keel which stood on hard ground. During the course of the winter the keel pierced the hull and came up through the cabin. Repair would have been too expensive and so the owner decided to cut his loss by scrapping her and avoiding any more yard rental fees. Within half a day she was gone.

Well, those guys certainly did kick up a good deal of dust so I had to use the early afternoon to clean my paint job before the second coat of Pre-Kote could be applied. It was four o’clock in the afternoon before I was ready and the weather was very very hot. I checked the thermometer and the technical specifications for the paint. The air temperature was about 35 degrees C, - top end of the paint’s range. According to the manufacturers, at this temperature, the coat would be touch-dry within an hour of application.

Like an idiot I took this to be a good sign. The paint would be well dry before the dew. Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered the effect of day–long strong sunshine on the GRP surface. I subsequently discovered that although the air had been 35 Degrees C, the GRP had been closer to 50 degrees. As a result, the paint dried as it touched the surface. Orange peel effects and hard edges couldn’t be smoothed out and, at times, the job felt less like painting and more like plastering. I should have stopped but I persevered. It didn’t look good when I finish and it looked even worse the following day.

Nothing for it but to sand it smooth. It wasn’t difficult but it was disheartening. Once again John Lee Hooker and BB King assisted me in retaining my sanity..

So, as of today, the boat has a cockpit with two coast of Pre-Kote on her and she is ready for her two coats of Toplack – but the heat wave has broken and we are now in a thundery stormy period and I can’t move forward on this job until I get a forecast offering 48 hours of dry calm weather.

Still, to look on the bright side, there are still lots of other jobs I can get on with so a change in strategy is called for. If I can’t paint the cockpit I’ll start polishing the combings and preparing the decks for an application of non-slip deck paint.


Sunday, 21 July 2013

French Regulations

Forgive me, regular readers, if this post seems a little removed from my usual scribbling. You’ll recall, the whole object is to show, through my experiences, that it is possible to get afloat on a reasonably comfortable and sound cruising boat for a modest outlay. The main strategy is to replace costly bills with DIY, essentially exchanging ‘time’ of which I have a great deal for ‘money’  a commodity more rare these days since I took an early exit from mainstream work.

To date things have gone reasonably well although I have to admit that I have had to invest a good deal more time than I had originally envisaged.

Another aspect to the strategy however has been to reduce costs wherever possible in order to divert precious resources to the boat project. This plan has been severely compromised recently due to French Bureaucracy.

Let me start at the beginning and, if you find reading about a non-boating subject boring, then please move on now and catch me at a later post where I hope to feel sane enough to return to the main subject.

So, one way to reduce costs is to run only one car and substitute the second car for a much more economical means of transport – a 50cc Vespa scooter, which gives me almost 100 miles for a gallon (5 Litres) of petrol. So far so good. I bought the vehicle new in Jersey (Channel Islands) and brought it to France when I moved here last year. Now, you’re allowed to run a Jersey Vespa in France for a while (as a tourist would run his car) but after a while you have to register the vehicle in France.

OK, first stop is the French customs. The Vehicle was purchased outside of the EU – so I have to pay 20% of its value to the French Government as a sort of import tax. I have no problem with this – pay unto Caesar etc! I must say though, that a few alarm bells began to ring when I noticed that they still use carbon paper!

Having duly paid the tax the customs officers directed me to the Sous Prefecture at Dinan to have the vehicle registered with an appropriate French number plate. Without this I cannot insure (and therefore drive) the vehicle.

On arrival at the Sous Prefecture, I was told that Dinan was the wrong town and that I should go to the Sous Prefecture at St Malo. On arrival there, I was told that there was a long queue and I should return very early in the morning on another day.  Alternatively I could post all the documentation to the main Prefecture office at St Brieu (a good distance away). The bureaucrat in St Malo advised me that all the paperwork I had was correct.

I sent the documents to St Brieu and two weeks later the papers were returned with a note to say that a document was missing. No name, no contact, no number to phone – just a scribbled refusal

Through friends and internet research I was able to identify the document which was only available via the tax office in Dinan. There I was met by an official who explained he was very busy and asked if I could return in half an hour. Later when he understood the situation he struggled to understand why St Brieu had demanded this particular document but he agreed to supply it in any case. He obtained all the information he needed to complete this new form by referring to the portfolio of information I had originally supplied. There was nothing on the new form, no new information.

Anyway, armed with that, I again sent the documentation to St Brieu only to have everything returned because the vehicle didn’t have a certificate of conformity with European standards. IT’S A VESPA FOR GODDSAKE made in ITALY and sold all over Europe! Are they going to produce a special non conforming edition to sell to the couple of hundred souls who may want one on the tiny (9X5mile) Island of Jersey?

Now I have to send a request to Italy for a certificate of conformity so that I can send it to the Bureaucrats in St Brieu – with luck I’ll get the Vespa back on the road sometime in September, unless of course, they dream up some other form for me to complete. Meanwhile, the car remains my only form of powered transport and the Vespa sits in the barn.

This, by the way, is only one small example French State administration. I could write a pretty thick book on how, I had to produce nine copies of a file of documents in order to obtain confirmation that planning permission was not required for a planned extension to my house. If I had needed planning permission I don’t know how many forms would have been required.

I love France and her people - but I’ve never encountered such a centralised and bureaucratic State administration anywhere in the western world. Given their history of revolution and republicanism, given their love of individualism and freedom – I think the average French citizen deserves better than this!


Friday, 19 July 2013

Painting a GRP Boat

Not a cloud in the sky - well almost!
Life here is a bit crazy at the moment. After suffering a prolonged and hard winter with virtually no spring, we
are now sweltering in a heat wave which brings the daytime temperatures up to and beyond 40 degrees in the sunshine of the courtyard and 24Degrees C indoors. I’m sure you could cook an egg on the hot GRP cabin top in the boatyard. Not ideal weather for climbing into the bilges to clean and repaint them. Still it has to be done, pushing my way in there from the cabin and painting in some places using a brush taped to a boathook.

After that, there was no excuse anymore for avoiding getting on with painting the cockpit. I’ll tell you how that went on in a later post but meanwhile take a look at the tools I’ve been using.

First a Bosch Genesis GMT15A Multi-Purpose Oscillating Tool . This has probably been my most useful tool for getting the gelcoat clean, smooth and ready for painting. I burned out two other sanders working on my house so I decided to pay real money for real quality this time and – well, so far so good.
One slight complaint is that the pad on which the sandpaper is supposed to sit can become clogged very quickly – replacement pads cost me up to 9E and I’m currently on my third. The second one lasted no time at all, due, I think, to the fact that I stored my sandpaper in the boat cabin and the humidity encouraged the Velcro type substance to become detached from the paper and permanently glued to the pad. Keeping sandpaper bone dry seems to help.

Second – a very old Black and Decker electric drill with a sanding pad attachment. Everything  I read advised against sanding with an electric drill. There were dire warnings about the disks turning too fast, the dangers of gouging out pieces of gelcoat if you aren’t careful – etc – etc. All I can say it – it worked for me, especially on large flat areas and especially on pre-painted areas. The trick seems to be to use both hands to hold the drill, use only one side of the disk avoid all distractions and stick to a relatively gentle grade of sandpaper.

Third a Honda generator. I bought this from a friend for £50 ( 60E?) and so far it hasn’t let me down.

Apart from that, well copious amounts of sandpaper and a sanding block have been required. On the worst areas I used 80 grade, bringing the whole job to 120 grade before painting. Between coats of paint I’ve been using 240 grade to smooth out blemishes and provide a key for the next coat. Paint was International Paints Pre-Kote followed by Toplac from the same manufacturer – more about that next posting.

Finally, I have to pay a special thanks to BB King, Lightning Hopkins, Chris Rea, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. This sanding business is no intellectual challenge – in truth it’s really boring but if you have good music with you then life is tolerable.


Sunday, 14 July 2013

Boat Restoration, Bilges Before Cockpit

I began this job because I thought that the cockpit was in a worse state than the rest of the boat and that if I  could bring her back to a decent condition I needn’t have any fears about the rest. At that time I hoped to launch at the beginning of this season and I was working on good sound advice from a reader who insisted that I should get the outside shell of the boat, the engine and sails sorted as first priority – the interior and the cosmetics could be done at a later date after I had enjoyed a season’s sailing.

Well the weather put paid to that idea but I’m still working on the cockpit, all the gel coat has been sanded to 125 grade, the area to be painted has been brushed and washed with acetone and most of the fittings have been removed.

Apparently, the weakest area of any paint job is the edge, so if you can remove fittings you not only get a better finish but you also cover and protect the paint edge when you replace them.

So, all is ready, the weather forecast is for settled hot dry weather and I have run out of excuses! This coming week will tell whether my preparation and painting skills are up to the job!

Before that though I have to confess to being a bit precious about bilges- I have this idea that a clean newly painted bilge is a good indicator as to the general health of a boat. If they are painted and clean at the outset and I then discover oil or water stains six months down the line, I’ll know there is something that needs fixing.

Now, the last thing I want is to mark my newly painted cockpit with ketchup coloured bilge paint – So, logic suggests the bilges get painted before the cockpit. It’s an awkward, and filthy job – not so much the painting but the cleaning – still it has to be done.


Monday, 8 July 2013

Preparing a GRP boat for Painting

See latest View from the Galley for delicious timely tips!

So, this week the weather has been more reasonable and I’ve been preparing the cockpit for painting. I
started sanding a while ago and I’m still on the job. It’s the worst part of the boat in terms of wear and tear and so I recon if I can get this bit right, then I should have no fears about the rest. In undertaking the job I’ve used two books as guides:-

The Fiberglass Boat Repair Manual (Alan H Vaitis, International Marine Ragged Mountain Press McGraw Hill, 1988, ISBN 0-07-156914-6)


Sailboat Refinishing (International Marine Sailboat Library) (Don Casey, International Marine
McGraw Hill, 1996, ISBN 978-0-07-148658-3)

Although at times they seem to contradict each other, both suggest that preparation of the surface is the key and that as an amateur I should devote 90% of my time and effort in this area. Initially, I was hoping to get by with cleaner, compound and polish, but having sanded away the old paint, its fairly obvious why some previous owner opted for a paint job.

Before that however, I had to deal with the problem of silicon – which may or may not be contaminating the gel coat. It seems old boats often have a coating of silicon due to previous owners polishing then with inappropriate products. An automotive polish for example will probably contain silicon and, whilst it is good for cars, it can be a problem for anyone wanting to paint over it. Strangely, I could obtain little information regarding the damage it can do. Suffice it to say, I was frightened enough by all the dire warnings to seek out advice on eradicating it from old GRP surfaces.

Some paint manufacturers tell you to use silicon removing products that they manufacture and market but I could obtain none of the recommended products in this corner of France. In desperation I spoke with a local chandler who told me that many marine paint manufactures try to increase their sales of products by insisting that only their products should be used. By way of example he explained that International Paints suggest that their paint customers should purchase their particular brand of thinner, International Thinners No 1 for cleaning brushes and diluting paint.  According to this particular chandler, International Thinners No 1 is actually nothing more than White Spirit which can be purchased at any home deco shop for a fraction of the International Paints recommended price.

Likewise, he suggested that any strong marine detergent / degreaser should be powerful enough to remove silicon traces (if there are any, and who can say?) but, my chandler also suggested that if I really want to be sure, I should wipe the gel coat with Acetone. Once again, it’s much cheaper from a supermarket than a chandlery. All this has to be done before sanding however. The published advice I have been relying on suggests that sanding a silicon contaminated hull will only drive the silicon deeper into the gel coat thus making removal so much harder.

Well I used an Eco Friendly French detergent / degreaser and followed up with an acetone wash before sanding commenced so time will tell if I got it right – or not.