Monday, 9 September 2013

Bringing Back Gel Coat on a GRP Boat

One problem with this semi self-sufficient lifestyle we have adopted is that the exchange of time for money is not an equal equation. The only way to spend less money is to do jobs yourself and those jobs can take four times longer than a professional would calculate. There is no real saving in materials if you want to do a reasonable job. In terms of renovating this boat therefore, it seems as if I have been working on this project forever and yet there is little to show for it so far. So little in fact that the average guy walking past my boat would suspect that no work had been done at all. One reason for this is that I decided to tackle the worst, most worn scratched and degraded parts of the boat first – the cockpit. This is where badly directed ropes had worn groves in the gel coat, where countless sandy soled shoes had scratched their way across the decking, and where water, both salt and fresh, had laid in puddles or soaked into the edges of ply locker lids. The boat is on a trailer however, so the average boat yard stroller would see nothing of the work I had done in there.

Time to move things on. Time to do something that will cause people to realise I mean business. This boat is a Westerly Nomad, a very distinctive design. The cabin is stretched right to the sides of the hull, there are no side decks, Westerly lovers say she is a ‘whaleback’ design; less generous critics refer to her as a ‘Banana’. Either way, those cabin sides above her hull are really noticeable. If they’re clean and bright they make the boat look cared for. If they are dirty and scratched she looks like a derelict. So, maybe here is a job that I can do with some speed which might produce results much more striking that the effort would suggest.

We have family staying with us at the moment – been like that most of the summer, so it would be impolite to disappear to the boat each morning returning home just for lunch or evening meal. So, I have been visiting the boat for one or two hours at a time, when guests are happy and catered for. I keep the Honda generator in the boat cabin, so that I don’t need to use the car to visit the boatyard every trip but it is a heavy old beast and getting it out of the cabin onto the ground for use takes time. It’s also quite a job to get her back into the cabin after use, so for short working episodes it’s impractical.

Instead I have been relying on a Black & Decker cordless drill. Generally I don’t like Black and Decker tools – too many have burnt out on me. But this particular specimen seems to be an exceptional piece of kit. I got her for nothing, thanks to the loyalty points system operated by our local Supermarket (Super U). In effect, the more wine I purchase there, the more points I get – points mean presents and so I am now the owner of this item.

So, the cordless screwdriver charges overnight and that gives me one hour of cabin side sanding each morning. It then recharges during the afternoon and I get another sanding session in the twilight period while others are settling down to nibbles and appero’ drinks.

Well, three days (six hours) of sanding with a 50 grade disc attached to the Black and Decker have had a remarkable effect. All the big surfaces on the starboard side of the boat have transformed from grey, yellow, scratched and gritty gel coat, to pristine white. There is still a lot to do, small areas around windows, port lights and cleats, angles where the cabin sides meet the hull around the rubbing strake – but my! She’s starting to look good. Next job, will be to go over the area again with a less abrasive paper – probably 125, then again with a 200 or 250 followed by rubbing compound and then polish. I’m pleased with the results so far though, and the effort (for once) has been minimal.