What is the issue?If you cannot cover a vessel during its winter hardstand, see protecting the external appearance and reducing spring recovery of a wintered boat, it will take the full brunt of the challenging winter environment. This will cause degradation and require enormous amounts of spring refit work to recover.
Why address this?The elements the winter throws at a boat will degrade the vessel and result in many miserable spring days of arduous recovery work. Lessening this will save time in the spring which tends to be a busy period focused on re-commissioning for launch. In the Autumn any chore that can be done, or even better be dramatically reduced, is very helpful especially if the weather in the Spring is not very co-operative. Put another way, if you don’t get your boat ready for the winter the deferred maintenance of a busy season will come back to haunt you come springtime, with cumulative interest.
How to address this?Protect the vessel with a thick coat of unbuffed wax for the winter.
There is a temptation to call it a day and put the boat away with the minimum amount of work required at the end of the season. I did that once and never again because it came back to haunt me come springtime. The grime of Southampton city just stuck to the boat, bonded with the gelcoat and had me on my knees for a week with rubbing compound trying to restore the vessel in the spring. I had learned a lot about gelcoat and before I go any further I should set down a few broad principals that are key.
Gelcoat is the coating sprayed up against a highly polished mould at the beginning of the fibreglass layup process. On new boats, this surface is very smooth, mirror-like and pleasing to the eye. But as a gelcoat ages, it becomes porous. The more porous it becomes, the more powdery it gets and turns greying as the dirt becomes embedded within it, the more easily it stains, the worse it looks and the harder it is to clean.
Wax is your line of defence against this process. It is easy to think that wax is what makes a boat pretty and shiny, rather it’s what keeps it shiny by providing a layer over the gelcoat giving it the all important protection. Using wax, or boat polish, with UV protection will also reduce sun damage. So regularly waxing the boat doesn't only ensure that it’s pretty to look at for years to come, but it also preserves the value of the boat.
The process I adopted the following autumn was to put in more effort into waxing the gel coat to get the boat ready for storage. This dramatically changed my spring refit, and in the following years it seemed that the dirt simply did not stick to the boat, and she seemed to look more glossy with the least amount of attendance. The technique I used on the lift out at the end of the season I would:
- • Thoroughly clean the boat to stop and grim and corrosion from getting a foothold.
- • Then I applied the winter coat of wax thickly and worked it in in an even circular motion, from stem to stern. I just bought what the yard's men recommended was the best marine wax readily available, the cost of the wax to the time spent researching made savings negligible as I saw it. This process was to the largest extent almost a second close-up clean down with wax.
- • Then leave it as it went on, and absolutely do not buff any of the wax off. This reduced the job dramatically as it was the only application.
- • The boat was then left to winter in the opaque white chalky smears of unbuffed wax.
- • Come spring, wax the boat stem to stern again with the exact same brand of wax. This largely softens and removes the unbuffed winter coat, which comes off on the cloth, and applies another layer of wax on top of the inner coat.
- • Then finally buff to a gloss for the new season.
What happens with this process is that the wax is soft so it bonds in tight to the gel coat as it is usually still warm in the autumn when the boat is being put away. But when winter truly bites the thick layer of wax hardens and the outer opaque layer takes the brunt of the winter grime. Then when the spring layer is applied you are simply removing the outer grimey layer and wiping off the grime plus adding another layer on top. The grime just falls away and the gloss is doubled down.
These few touches each year took a lot of the hard work out of protecting the boat. Personally, it appeared to me the boat seemed to retain more of a wax coating each year making her slightly more glossy, but I cannot swear to that. What I can say is that the dirt just did not stick to her during the season and, to the largest part, she kept herself clean thereafter.
The bad news here is you have to look after the gel coat, as I discovered. The good news is that through this routine it was a lot easier to accomplish, and it is worth mentioning that almost all of the gelcoat can be restored, providing it is not completely worn through. So if your gel coat is a little tired, and has that chalky drab exterior with plenty of staining, it can be cleaned up as good as new with a bit of toil. Or why not get a professional to do that part and from that point on you can keep it up by the above practice.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession. Header image with thanks to D.J. Webb.
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