Thursday, 16 October 2014

Canal Boat on Salt Water

Dave and Natalie bought this old English narrow boat on a French canal ‘as seen’ for a remarkably
good price. It had languished on the water for six years, used only occasionally as a weekend cottage at the beautiful Breton village of Evran. Dave took a risk but not a huge one. He’s a skilled seaman and has already restored a Channel Islands 22 motor vessel – bringing her back to, and then beyond, her initial spec. Paul, his good friend has done similar restoration jobs on vintage cars.

Having bought the vessel they had the Volvo Penta engine running within half a day and then they discovered that the value of the wood-burning stove installed aboard almost covered the price paid for the entire vessel. In effect Dave bought a fully functioning eleven meter steel vessel for the price of a new stove. What’s more, the range of gear and equipment on board was pretty comprehensive – even down to cutlery, crockery and the all important corkscrew and bottle opener.

The main concern now was to make her secure for the winter and to ensure that the hull, after six
uninterrupted years afloat, remains sound. It isn’t easy to lift an eleven meter canal boat, she’s heavy and has to be supported in the right places along her hull. Fortunately the guys at Estuaire Marine at Plouer Sur Rance have the gear so all that was required was to get the boat there from her mooring at Evran on the canal. The trip involved several miles of canal travel through four locks and then through a much larger lock out of the fresh water canal into the salt water of the estuary.

They planned to do the trip in two phases – first from Evran to the beautiful medieval town of Dinan, then the following day, from Dinan out of the canal locking into the estuary for the five or so mile trip down to Plouer. We had no concerns for waves on the estuary, neither, given our 0.5meter draft, did we fear running aground. Our main concerns were whether the engine would be powerful enough to counter the tide and the potential for leeway if a cross-wind caught the boat in a tight spot. The first issues was easily dealt with – lock into the estuary just after high water when the ebb would assist the journey. The second issue would be one of choosing decent weather.

Initially the trip down the estuary was planned for Wednesday but given a forecast of 30 knot winds, the timing was brought forward to Tuesday when the wind would be less strong and from a favorable direction for most of the time.

Davy and Paul brought the boat from Dinan and I hopped aboard at the sea lock. All was well with gentle wind and tide, even the sun came out briefly and the entire trip was without incident save for a moment of minor concern when we crossed the wake of the passenger steamer coming up-channel as we were turning to enter Plouer Marina. Dave turned into the bow wave and we took the waves effortlessly, except for the fact that the automatic bilge-pump suddenly kicked into life and started pumping gallons of water out of her. Where had the water come from? The bilges had been dry when Davy checked them at Evran. I went forward to see if a wave had splashed over the foredeck but it was dry. Then, within a couple of minutes, to our relief, the pump stopped. The only explanation is that the motion of the boat in the ferry’s wake must have been enough to open one or two limber holes in the bilges enabling trapped water in fairly obscure places to run aft. The water was not salty so at least we weren't leaking.

Thursday morning, top of the tide, the boat was run onto a waiting trailer on the slipway. Estuaire Marine hauler her out and hosed her down. The hull was clean and sound and the anodes were as new. So now we’re waiting for a survey report on the hull but, given our initial findings, I don’t think Dave has much to worry about.


Friday, 26 September 2014

Jib Sheets and Snap Shackles

There is a much under-rated musician, Chris Rea, who made an album in the 1980’s called ‘God’s Great Banana Skin’. The title track implied that over-confidence can bring bad luck. I always liked the song and now I have special reason to re-play it and take note of the lyrics. ‘Why?’ you may ask. Well, a couple of weeks ago I announced that, having renovated this boat, I knew her intimately, better than someone who simply goes out and purchases one from a production line.  Her construction and her ways on the water held no mysteries or surprises, I said. A lot can happen in a couple of weeks.

Last week Susan and I decided we would take her for a sail on Wednesday afternoon. The September weather here is unusually pleasant and mid-week we have the estuary to ourselves. Wednesday duly arrived and although it was sunny the wind was not ideal, a gusty North Easter. At times it was calm, hardly enough breeze to give us steerage-way and then a force five would come charging across the water, laying us over and sending us off down-stream like a goods train. All these terms are relative of course, A Westerly Nomad doesn’t heal like a dinghy and five knots is her speed limit – but it is fair to say that, at times, without a reef in her sails, she was over-pressed and the trip wasn’t easy or comfortable.

Earlier in the year, when I raised the mast and launched her I should have set up the slab reefing system but in my eagerness to get afloat I hadn’t bothered and so now, in this wind, reefing wasn’t an option. I suppose I could have set up some kind of jury reef if I had gone into the cabin and selected a suitable piece of rope from the tangle I had carelessly bagged up and thrown in there, but leaving the helm wasn’t really an option because I didn’t have much sea room in amongst the cluster of moored boat where I happened to be at the time.

My solution was to tack, push out across the estuary into clear water where, hopefully, I could find the space and time to sort things out. No such luck, as the boat came round onto her new tack, the jib sheet jammed in the port spreader. How could this happen? Well, again in my haste to get this boat sailing I had connected the jib to the sheet using a large snap-shackle. They say that if something can go wrong it probably will and today was no exception. On this, our fourth trip, the first trip where the wind was strong and less than perfect, the snap-shackle had ‘snapped’ itself firmly onto the shroud and the jib was well and truly aback. The weight of wind was such that the shackle could not be unfastened without bringing the bow back into the wind. Fortunately, we drifted past the cluster of moored boats, got ourselves sorted and no harm was done – except maybe to pride.

Ah well, I guess I got some changes and adjustments to make, might play that Chris Rea song a few times more too.


Monday, 15 September 2014

Knowing Your Boat Well

Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness – lines from a poem by Keats; it’s not quite autumn yet but still there is a hint of it in the air even though the weather remains beautiful at the moment.

This is the first time in my life that I have been able to wake up any morning and go sailing if I choose. Work always used to get in the way so now I’m taking every chance of getting on the water while I have the estuary to myself– and it is beautiful – even in the morning mist, even when there is no wind, even when there is nowhere in particular to go. Sometimes it’s good just to be out there drifting. Sometimes I just sit on the boat and think, sometimes I just sit.

Maybe the eighteen months of boat renovation added something to the pleasure I’m now getting from being on the water. Would sailing my own boat be as satisfying if I could have afforded to purchase a new one from the production line? Who knows? Different people have different tastes and drivers, some people I know seem to get great pleasure from owning the latest, biggest, most expensive toys and for them it seems that the ability to purchase these items is an essential component of the satisfaction they gain. 

The problem with this approach is that nothing stays new forever, and last year’s model can’t hit the spot. Either they change boats with astounding regularity or they have to accept that the good warm feeling of satisfaction in owning this boat will fade pretty quickly.
From my point of view, I don’t have the resources or the inclination to purchase new or sell-on regularly, I like to build a relationship with my boats and I tend to keep them a long time. Usually it takes quite a while to get to know a boat but this is the first boat I have renovated and in some respects, because of that, she is different. I got to know her quite intimately, every nut and screw, every inch of her gelcoat hull and every bit of rope and wire in her make-up. I have only sailed her five times to date but already she is an old friend.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Don't You Just Hate Midweek?

I couldn’t help taking the opportunity to send younger friends and ex colleagues a few pics from my first ‘voyage’ on ‘Susan’, the Westerly Nomad I have worked on to save from dereliction over the past two years. It wasn’t so much the triumph of getting afloat at last; it was the joy of being able to do it mid week – when most other people have their heads down and their noses to the grindstone. I gave up the corporate world a couple of years ago, reducing my income but gaining time – and now it has paid off – I have a boat and I have time to sail.

There is an added bonus too – this September is one of good weather and, with everyone back at work and children back in their schools, I have this beautiful estuary to myself.

So, where have I been and how does this boat sail? Well, I haven’t been far. In and out of the pontoon about six times to perfect the technique and then a trip across the estuary to the beautiful village of Mordreuc (translates as village of the Druids), and a longer sail down the estuary to the even more beautiful village of St Sulliac (listed as one of the ten most beautiful villages in France). The wind on this longer trip was gusty from the North East and the boat performed as predicted.

The weather helm is hardly noticeable in light airs and easily manageable in gusts. She leans easily on the wind and leeway is less than I expected. She will not win any races and she is slow and heavy – qualities I like. In return for her weight and lack of speed, I have easy motion and very predictable behaviour. The cabin roof, stretched right to her beam, provides an excellent clear wide space for deck work and, on a good reach, she pretty much steers herself. An excellent boat for a single-hander but with plenty of room for family and friends.

On the return trip with the wind behind us, we sailed goose-winged for several miles and on one brief occasion we actually attained 5.1 knots over the ground.

Now there is still plenty of work to do in the cabin but that can wait until the weather deteriorates. While the sun still shines I’ll be sailing –  especially MIDWEEK!


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Canal Boat

Regular readers (and there are a surprising number of you) will recognise this boat. She’s a Channel Islands 22 belonging to my good friends Dave and Nat. Before they bought her, she lay in Jersey pretty much neglected for several years. She was for sale but no purchaser could be found because she was slow and seemed unable to reach the speed needed to lift the semi displacement hull out of the water above her bow-wave. Over the years the asking price fell and fell. That’s when Dave took a look at her and noticed something that everyone else had missed. At some time in her past an owner had fitted bilge keels to her hull. It’s understandable, in that most Channel Island harbours dry out at low water. Bilge keels means that this boat could take the ground and remain upright without the need to carry and fit ‘legs’ each time. But those bilge keels were the reason why she behaved like a slow displacement motor-vessel rather than a semi-displacement boat capable of a good turn of speed. Dave, bought the boat, removed the bilge keels and then invested 1000 hours of work on her, bringing her to a condition better than you would expect of a new boat. He and Nat now have a luxury vessel with a cruising speed of over 12 knots.

Why am I telling you this? Simply because a few weeks ago, Dave and Nat were cruising North Brittany waters and took time to come up the Rance estuary and into the  canal. For a while they have been considering purchasing a holiday home here – they didn’t find one, but, they did find an eleven metre English narrow boat for sale on the canal in the beautiful village of Evran. Here’s the story.

Several years ago, someone decided to purchase a fleet of English narrow boats and operate a boat hire company here. The venture wasn’t particularly successful and as a result several of these boats were sold to private purchasers – mainly English people who know and love these vessels. Other nationalities probably failed to see the point in buying such a narrow vessel when continental canals are so much wider than English ones.

This particular vessel moved into private ownership and was used by a Guernsey family as a waterside
holiday home for several years but when Dave came past in his boat last week she was for sale, and had been for some time. Dave looked her over but the owner couldn’t start the engine. So Davy took a risk, made a reduced offer to purchase her immediately ‘as seen’. The seller, probably thinking of the lack of interest to date, the coming winter and the costs of insurance, mooring, maintenance and visits, accepted the offer and the deal was done.

Davy came back to the boat this weekend with a
friend who is a car enthusiast. The car, a beautiful 1968 MGB roadster attracted a lot of attention locally and within half a day, Dave and his friend Paul gained additional support and expertise from a local aircraft engineer and another guy who acted as translator. Dave and Paul stayed on the boat two nights and when they left, the engine was fixed and there was a fresh coat of paint on the cabin roof.

The plan now is to bring her down the canal into the tidal estuary and lift her out for a thorough inspection and re-fit over the winter months. She already has a wood burning stove for heating and a fully functioning galley so they’ll be comfortable even in the coldest of winters. Now if I were a gambling man, I’d make a significant bet that by the end of next summer Dave and Nat will be sailing one of the prettiest and most comfortable barges this side of the English Channel.


Monday, 25 August 2014

Boat Handling in Confined Waters

Out and back, then out and then back again, and again. When I was minded to purchase this boat I read a comment on the internet that Westerly Nomads were built like tanks and they sailed like tanks also. I didn’t discover much about this boat when I launched and brought her up the estuary – except that the engine seemed reliable, the mainsheet was badly located in view of the adaptations I had made, and that she seemed to head generally in the direction I pointed her.

There were two of us aboard that day and a party of willing helpers waiting on the pontoon to grab lines and help secure her. Once secure in the marina there was further work to do, the cabin had to be cleaned of wood chippings and GRP dust and I had to wait for the delivery of new mainsheet fittings – then we had the tail end of hurricane Bertha. All in all, today was the first day when the boat was truly ready for a sailing trip and the weather forecast suggested easy sailing.

Now put me on this boat ten miles from shore and I’ll be happy. I’m confident that I can sail her and, with that much sea room, I can afford to make a few mistakes. Anyway, out there if I muck-up a manoeuvre who is going to see it? But I was much less confident about getting her in and out of her pontoon berth under the gaze of all the other boat owners, dockside strollers and the clients from Joe’s bar at the top of the slipway. In fact, I was so scared of knocking lumps off other vessels nearby that I decided to limit today’s activities to simply getting used to manoeuvring her in confined spaces. The plan was that I would take her out and bring her back while Susan remained on the pontoon ready to grab lines, cast off and fend off from the pontoon if required. Well, I can now tell you that, as the man said, Westerly Nomads are built like tanks. Going astern she pretty much does what she wants and when travelling forward her weight drives her onward forever.  Under sail, yes she sails like a tank but under motor – think tanker.

For our first attempt Susan held onto the bow while I pushed her stern out from the pontoon so that I could take a diagonal course astern until she was in mid channel. From there, with luck and with the tiller hard down I could put her in forward drive and hopefully she’d turn her bow down channel. Mmmm well she didn’t like taking a straight course astern. She’d started turning when I pushed her stern and so despite whatever I did on the tiller she kept right on turning. She ended up much too close to a neighbouring boat but anyway I got out with only a mild to high adrenalin rush.

Returning to the pontoon twenty minutes later I wrongly assumed she wouldn’t like sharp corners and so turned in much too early – no damage done but not an ideal landing. More adrenalin in the system.

On the second attempt, without pushing the stern out she turned in completely the wrong direction and I was left in mid channel with bow pointing to the land and stern to the sea but by some miracle I managed to make her execute a three point turn in her own length by using reverse and forward gears in succession and pushing the tiller to the opposite extreme with each change of direction. On the return, I delayed my turn into the pontoon until it was right on the beam. She turned perfectly but despite throwing the engine into reverse I couldn’t get the speed off her – a minor crunch but a crunch nonetheless. Adrenalin pumping like crazy!

Third time lucky? Susan walked the boat along the pontoon until she was almost adrift, a short burst of reverse gear then tiller hard over in forward drive and we were in mid channel pointing to the sea without fuss. On the return I crept down the channel at the lowest speed I could, waited until the mooring space was right on the beam, threw the tiller over and – the engine stalled - not enough revs – surely she wouldn’t turn tightly enough without power – no time to restart the engine – keep the tiller over and hope we can get close enough for Susan to throw me a line. --- . She turned, she straightened up, she glided into the space and came to a halt perfectly placed to reach over and fasten the lines! Wow – another shot of adrenalyn followed by a significant hit of endorphins.  Result euphoria! Think I’m getting the hang of it now.


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Sailing Boat Mainsheet Modifications

Following the launch and maiden voyage of Susan (of the Seas) my refurbished Westerly Nomad, I’d like to report on the several short shake-down passages I have made. I’d like to --- but in truth there haven’t been any. Why not? Well, I had the boat modified to carry an outboard in a well and there were unintended outcomes. The outboard performs well and pushes the boat along without problem but the mainsheet was attached to the transom and, because the boom doesn’t extend so far, the surplus rope hung directly over the outboard. 

When we launched the boat and motored up the estuary it became obvious that this was a safety hazard. I could easily imagine how under power, a loose mainsheet could snake its way down into the well and then tangle with the prop. At the time I merely thought that this was simply something to be aware of and cautious about. A few days later though, I invited a few guys to share a sun-downer beer on board as a way of showing off my new vessel; the evening was warm, the conversation excellent and the beer tasted good, along with the peanuts, crisps and slices of dried sausage.There wasn’t a great deal of room in the cockpit and so the sausage on a wooden platter was placed on top of the outboard casing. All was well until a passing boat set up a wash, rolled my boat slightly and plosh! Down went the sausage into the outboard well - to the delight of a large shoal of Mullet who thought that Christmas had come early. The conversation turned to outboard wells and their ability to act as magnates. The collective view that evening was that if anything is likely to fall on a boat with a well, that’s where it will fall.The rather large dried sausage also had an unfortunate effect on the harbourmaster here, she was convinced someone had evacuated their sea-toilet in the marina (bad etiquette)!

So, for my peace of mind, the mainsheet would have to be moved before further trips could be made. It turned out to be an easy job because the boom already had a fitting to take the mainsheet tackle half way along its length right above the bridge deck. So I have bought the gear and fitted it and I am much happier, although the cost of the rail and the mainsheet car was exorbitant (more than 200 Euros). I have also removed the now redundant rail from the transom and altogether I think the arrangement is neater, cleaner and much safer. Now I have to fill in the holes left by the previous fitting and then I will be ready to sail. At the moment though, the UK and France are being battered by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha, so I won’t be putting to sea for a few days yet.

Meanwhile here is a picture of a gift from my good friend Alain, given to me for my new boat. It comes from an eighteenth century Newfoundland Cod fishing vessel – a three masted tall-ship. Alain tells me it was used to control the wind. A slight turn here or there can change wind direction and strength, just what you need on a small sailing boat. Problem is where to attach it? Apparently the guy who knew died a long time ago!


Thursday, 31 July 2014

Restored Westerly Nomad Launch and Maiden Voyage

After almost two years of work - This old Westerly Nomad is now back on the water - not looking spanking new but more like a well looked after classic vintage yacht - a 'Grand Dame' of a certain age. So here is a visual record of the event.

Pictures and production by Susan Greenwood

Music - traditional folk blues song performed by me

Thanks --- to everyone who had a hand in helping bring the project to this stage


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Launching an Old Westerly Nomad

So, we launched Susan of the Seas at about 10 am on Wednesday. Rather than immerse the boat trailer the yard decided to use the boat lift to carry her onto the shore on a rising tide. I had no tender so I climbed aboard at the outset and rode the trailer down to the beach. Once there she was plonked on the mud and we waited apprehensively, for the tide. Steve a good sold practical friend came with me and he was an ideal choice of companion. Whereas I am always pleasantly surprised when any practical task works out well, Steve has confidence in his practical skills. He expects his actions to have positive outcomes.

As the tide rose we set about connecting fuel lines, coiling ropes, making sure the boathook was to hand and generally making her fit for sea. Once the prop was immersed Steve set about trying to get the engine started – a 6hp four stroke Mariner outboard. As with all outboards they are easier to start when you know their preferences for throttle, and choke settings. We didn’t get her going at the first attempt and in truth initially she showed no signs of life at all. After a rest and more throttle/choke adjustments (she likes half throttle and full choke even on a hot day) she burst surprisingly into life. A few minutes later the boat lifted off the mud and we were free, inching our way down the narrow channel towards deeper water. I checked the bilges, they were dry and that is how they stayed.

The five mile trip up the estuary to out home port was completed within an hour under engine and a pretty limp headsail which contributed little to speed given the lightness of the breeze.

Susan was waiting at the port to direct us to the pontoon allocated to us and once moored, we hoisted the Breton courtesy flag, dressed the ship, and christened her with a glass of champagne making sure there was a drop for Neptune but not so much to upset Bacchus.

The day was hot and sultry – too hot to sit in the cockpit and so we strolled along to La Cale restaurant close by and had Moules Frites washed down with ice cold Rose wine, a pleasant and pretty uneventful way to end the two year story of bringing this old boat back to life.

Of course the job isn’t completed and may never be. Maybe that is the way with old boats. At the moment however, she is a floating slum – the cabin is filthy, covered in powdered GRP, woodshavings, and spider webs. It is full of empty beer bottles, tins of paint, used sandpaper, fenders and old rope. So there is the next project – to turn her into a boat I would like to live on.

With regard to this blog, well there is still plenty to do and therefore plenty to write about. Hopefully though, I’ll be able to record a few adventures in between more stories of sanding, painting and general DIY.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Last Minute Nerves

Feeling distinctly nervous at the moment. The boat is almost ready to launch but the weather and tides are
against me this week. I should feel frustrated but no, I was happy to put off the launch date – I’m a bit nervous. I bought this old boat in an appalling state, from a farm just about as far away from the sea as you can get both vertically and horizontally. I have never seen her on the water and although I have had the engine serviced I have never seen it running.

Launching onto the estuary should be easy, she is on a road trailer and the guys at the yard are proposing that we drag the boat down at low water and let her float off on a rising tide. All should be well, providing the engine starts – and keeps running for the five or so miles between the launching site and the marina which will become her home – problem is I won’t know until I try and there is nowhere at the boatyard to tie her to if I can’t get the engine going and the prop turning. I could drop anchor of course but without a dinghy I’d have to stay with the boat until the tide puts her back on the ground.

I have back up of course, in the form of sails, but I don’t think I’ll be able to sail her onto her pontoon. If I have to pick up a mooring buoy outside, that’s where I’ll have to stay into rescued. So while various friends are loading their boats to sail to the south of France, Portugal and Spain for the summer holidays, I’m fretting about a launch and five mile voyage on gentle waters. Am I a wimp? Probably.

Meanwhile the days are filled with thousands of little jobs that simply have to be done. This week I have antifouled tuned the rigging, rove new halyards, and fitted a new lock on the main hatch and given her a new name – Yes I know, it might bring bad luck but I hope Neptune appreciates why I have named her as I have and that a placatory glass of Champagne will make him disposed to favour my actions.  In the next few days I have to fit an engine guard to protect the well, fuel up, fit an anode to the outboard, set up the boom and bend on the sails, empty the cabin of rubbish and make sure the jib roller reefing works – and then I’m out of excuses – wish me luck!


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Westerly Nomad Renovation: Another Milestone passed

So, the darkest hour is the one just before dawn. Just as I was beginning to despair of ever getting this boat sorted, things began to move at a better pace. The list seemed depressingly endless but the tasks were getting shorter and easier by the minute. The trick is not to dwell on how much there is still to do but to celebrate how much you have achieved.

Today, the boat came out of the hangar and we raised the mast. She she is covered in dust but still looking like the prettiest boat in the yard – and the good news is that rain is forecast so she should look even better next week.

There is still a lot of work to do – the washboards are at home being oiled, the cabin for example is a wreck, the rigging needs tensioning and new sheets and halyards need splicing BUT when the antifouling is applied and the fishfinding transducer is fitted – she’ll be good to launch and day-sail.

I Feel so good I have even shelled out a few pounds to buy nautical signal flag bunting so she can arrive at her home port dressed for the occasion. Best of all however, is the feeling that I did right by the old girl. She came from a farm covered in chicken poo but she’ll return to her natural element looking her best – not brand spanking new but more like a well loved Grande Dame of a certain age, with a lot of life in her yet.


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Low Spot

I suppose there comes a time in every project when you wonder whether you should ever have begun; a low spot when the tasks seem overwhelming and never ending. I’m surprised to have arrived at this point so late in the process – a lot of the boring cleaning, sanding and polishing and painting has been done and I now seem to be in a phase of having to undertake dozens of small tasks. This should be more interesting than the months of mindless sanding but at the moment the boat seems to be fighting me every step of the way.

Nothing is straight forward at the moment and every task seems to require a good deal of lateral thinking in order to establish a process which will lead to a satisfactory outcome. Fitting sliding hatch doors in the cockpit for example, turned out to be a real time consuming pain. The runners obviously had to be parallel to allow the doors to slide but there wasn’t a single right angle to be found anywhere. I got through the job but there were several sleepless nights spent trying to develop a method. Now the latest problem is refitting halyards to the mast. The ropes came in a sail bag so it is guesswork as to each rope’s function and they were pulled through internal mast pulleys. To date I have spent two days trying to get the ropes back through and round. I’ll try again tomorrow with three new ideas – just hope one of them works.

None of this is helped by the fact that it is now June and I want to be on the water. Added to that I have to go to the UK for two weeks to see family, deadlines are being missed and it is all very frustrating.

So to cheer myself up I have just spent an hour looking at pics – before and after - and I can certainly say I have made real improvements to the old tub – I shouldn't moan – and if I can get those halyards fitted tomorrow I may feel better – meanwhile family and friends have been advised not to talk about the bloody boat!


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Boat Polishing

Cleaning sanding sealing and polishing are the processes involved in restoring an old GRP boat. Having spent the best part of a year doing this I now feel qualified and experienced enough to pass on a few hints and tips.

Firstly, there is no substitute for cleaning and washing. This is one of the most important tasks in the whole process. Dirty boats are covered in sand and grit if you don’t wash this film of dust off, it acts like a very coarse sandpaper and puts scratches and gouges into the gel coat – making the polishing task so much harder.

When the boat is clean you have to wash down with a product that will lift off any silicon which may have impregnated the gel coat through previous use of inappropriate polishes. There are several products that will do this, the cheapest I discovered was Acetone (bought in a DIY store rather than a chandlers).

There is a good deal of confusion about polishing products and processes. The best way I found to describe
the process was to think about a friend whose hobby was to find and polish stones. Basically he had a machine comprising a small metal drum turned by a tiny electric motor. The pebble was put in the machine along with a handful of coarse sand and the pebble was tumbled in the sand for days and days. Later the coarse sand was removed and finer grade sand was added in order to remove the scratches that the coarser grade material had made on the pebble. Each few days saw the removal of sand and the addition of finer and finer abrasive material. All the materials were abrasive but each one was less abrasive than the previous. Gradually the pebble ceased to look scratched and actually began to gleam. So it is with gel coat and the trick is to begin with the least abrasive, finest sandpaper you can get away with. The essential message is that although you are ‘sanding’, you are also polishing from day one.

I began to notice the ‘gleam’ in the gel coat when I got down to 1000 grade sandpaper and then the shine improved through 1500, 2000 to 3000 grade.

When you’re happy with the result you need to ‘seal’ the surface. This is where confusion can easily arise because different product manufacturers use a variety of terms – often their ‘sealers’ are described as ‘polishes’ and sometimes their polishes are not sealers. A good sealer contains materials that are absorbed by the Gel Coat, a polish simply sits on top and gleams. The sealer I used is a Starbrite product and I can really recommend it. The active ingredient is PTEF (don’t ask me for more technical information). The recommended process is to rub the sealer onto the Gel Coat and leave it to dry. After about 24 hours you can remove the residue with a soft clean cloth and then repeat the process a second time. On the second cleaning you should notice a deep lustre appearing under your cloth and the Gel Coat begins to feel less like plastic and more like porcelain. I inadvertently began to sand a small part that I had previously sealed and the difference was immediately noticeable. The sealed area was much harder – it felt and sounded different somehow under the sanding paper.

The final stage is to polish with a liquid marine polish and the shine should be outstanding. This final coat is cosmetic and temporary; the weather will degrade it over the season so you have to polish regularly to keep the glassy appearance. Even a dirty boat can take on a temporary glassy gleam if you polish it but for long lasting protection nothing beats a sealer on a clean surface. As I said I use Starbrite’s Premium Boat Polish with PTEF and was very impressed. I have no connection with the company by the way – simply passing on my experience and giving credit where it is due!

USA readers can obtain Starbrite Premium Boat Polish with PTEF here
Star brite Premium Marine Polish Boat Wax with PTEF, 16 oz

UK readers can obtain it here
Starbrite Premium Marine Polish with PTEF14 oz.(paste)