Now that one dilapidated Westy is decrusted I am able to start with Peanut’s much-needed facelift. Although the work is largely aesthetic – barring the numerous leaks into the cabin when it rains – I’ve really wanted to get at it, because the old girl looks pretty shabby, and with those lovely lines and traditional bones it’s just not right. I’ve had several folks pop by while I’ve been working on her, most telling me how beautiful she’ll look when done. And I agree with them, but of course that means they don’t think she’s beautiful now.
Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I had one local shipwright stop by to ogle and drool over her. He thought she was a gorgeous boat, and better, when I told him I was a novelist, he blurted out “You’re just like Hemingway!”
Modesty prevents me from agreeing with him, although his advice that I take Peanut to Cuba like Hemingway evoked a certain yearning. But I can’t allow myself to get distracted; she needs a lot of work. I had been going at her kind of willy-nilly, just tackling what interested me, but it soon dawned on me that this was a big job and the methodical approach would be best.
And to my eyes, that meant from the top down. The brightwork on the bridge needed to be scraped, sanded and filled. There were a lot of gaps in joints that badly needed filling, but I had discovered that commercial epoxy fillers weren’t appropriate as they were much too light. So I took my belt sander to slightly warped rear deck above the transom to flatten it and accumulate as much mahogany sawdust as I needed. This was mixed with the epoxy and squeegeed into the gaps. After it set of course that had to be sanded as well.
Filling in cracks and holes.
Slowly getting the old finish off.
Then the wood was stained, and sanded again. To gain access to some areas I had to pull off the two grab rails and frame for the bimini cover. I knew that the old caulking to the glass was long gone so I decided to pull off the 1cm strips around the glass opening that holds the glass in place. Each strip had to be scraped, sanded, and stained before caulked and nailed back in place.
Once the strips were reinstalled, I masked off the decks and glass with blue painters tape, removed the snaps for the bimini cover, wiped all the wood down with acetone, and then again with a sticky tack cloth. Then I applied my first coat of Cetol Marine varnish. Then the weather turned.
There wouldn’t be a drought if more people had wooden boats.
I don’t what it is with me and boatwork, but despite being the warmest and driest season on record, whenever I apply anything to the exterior of my boat rain appears out of nowhere. Last time I was in the middle of caulking my foredeck, and had spent a long time painstakingly taping off the seams and was only half-way through the job when rain came and buggered it up.
Cetol needs 3 coats minimum, each applied 24hrs after the previous coat. The rain wasn’t supposed to arrive until near midnight, but not long after noon, with the 2nd coat only a couple of hours old, it started to rain. The first rain since the last time I worked on my boat’s exterior. The rain didn’t last though, and it didn’t seem to harm the finish. I wiped it dry and it was hard to the touch.
Looks way better than peeling, opaque varnish.
The next level down is the house roof. This is in fairly bad shape, with a lot of cracks in the old paint, checks in the plywood, and opened seams that allow rainwater in. It would be possible to fair all that, but with glossy paint, just like when doing bodywork on an automobile, every imperfection in the fairing is quite visible in the finish. I’m not that great at it, and it takes me forever to get bodywork on a Westy done to my satisfaction, so I’ve decided to cover the house roof with canvas, which is quite traditional for this style of boat (and might even have been done when it was new).
It was a hell of a job. I scrape off those many layers using a heat gun – I doubt it’s ever been done the paint is so thick. I actually saved and weighed them, and although the roof is only like 8X8 feet, the dry shavings weighed 6.5 pounds! That was over two full days of stripping paint with a putty knife and my hand seized up into a claw.
I had to pull the grabrails, sand, fill and fair the bare plywood with epoxy. Sand again. Paint it with primer and then lay out the two runs of 14 oz unbleached raw canvas and rough trim it into shape. Then the roof was painted with Tremclad oil paint, and while this was still wet I laid out the canvas. Because cotton canvas tends to rot out in our climate ,once the oil paint was dry I treated the canvas in a cooper-based preservative, the kind used in pressure-treated wood.
Rough trim to fit.
Painting and laying.The wet paint acts like an adhesive and attaches the canvas to the wood. I stapled the cloth down on one side and pulled it across. Once the paint set, I trimmed the canvas, pulled the staples, filled the staple holes, and used epoxy to seal all the edges ( I left the last ½ of canvas free of paint). Once all this had set I went over all the edges and seams with a razor knife to get everything nice and smooth.
Trimming canvas seam
The new colour is much warmer and richer than the old white. The canvas has a slight green tinge from the preservative.
Tracy’s arm chipping in.
The roof and side paint was a very boring plain white and we changed it to a nice rich cream colour. When the boat was new the house was painted a wonderful teal colour, the same as the upholstery. The side decks we are changing from varnish to a traditional marine green. I’ve used the cream and green colour combination before and it’s gorgeous, especially with all the mahogany brightwork. I thought about keeping the side decks bright, but it’s just too much varnish to take care of, and I really think you can have too much varnished wood. It gets a little too uniform, too…brown. The foredeck with the caulked seams will still be bright as well as all the trim around Peanut’s windows. That’s an awful lot of varnished wood right there.
But now that the house is painted, I’ll strip the varnish off the house sides and around the windows. The old varnish is very thick here and although nice and smooth, it’s too opaque and you can’t see the grain. The wood I’ve varnished at the bridge is far less glossy, but you can actually see the wood! So more heat gun and scraper, sanding and filling and caulking before new varnish can go on.
And then the decks. As I said, I’m going to paint the side decks traditional marine green. The foredeck needs some filling and sanding, and unfortunately I have to reef out about half the seams I’ve caulked. I had run out of the Sika I used for the first half, and when I went to the chandlery I thought I’d try a competing elastomeric caulk by Sudbury and compare the results. I have no idea why, and neither does the manufacturer, but the caulk shrank terribly in the seams and then refused to set. Weeks later it’s still sticky, and so has to be removed as a gooey mess. What a disaster. If at least it had hardened up it would be easier to reef out, but as it is I’ll have to use a ton of solvent.
I was pretty pissed about that I can tell you, although I have to admit the manufacturer was pretty good about it, and gave me a $100 coupon to buy more of their products. The only problem is most of their stuff is cleaners for plastic boats, plus the horrible caulk, so I don’t know if I’ll ever get to use it.
So I’ll have to ream out those seams, retape and recaulk with something a hell of a lot better, like Lifecaulk polysulfide. Then sand, clean and varnish. Then I’ll turn to painting the hull, but that’s a long way away and I’ll deal with that in another blog post.
Normally, with all these interminable details, by now I would want to gouge out my eyes with a screwdriver, but somehow just plodding along seems okay with me, vastly different than working on a Westy. Maybe it’s the inevitable difference between fixing up your own stuff versus someone else’s. I must confess it does seem a trifle obsessive: I show up, I start working, and before I know it the day is done and I’m tired. The hours pass. After 2 straight months of Westy wrangling and before that a couple of months of deck restoration, it seems hard to get off the fix-it train. Of course I want to have my boat restored, but it’s more than that.
There’s a comfort in heading into your day with a plan and a goal, and a concrete accomplishment at the end of it. But after so many weeks it’s hard to stop, unless I take off somewhere. It feels like this is my life, which would be fine in itself, but in some ways being so externalized I’ve lost touch with myself. My life is everything external, when my spirit needs a lot more attention. And I need to write. I’ve got a novel that’s 99% finished that needs to be completed and fired off. But that process is very different than one where things under my hand are the focus. The challenge I guess, as always, is finding that balance.
Please help me pay back my tiny advance by buying my book, so I can afford to finish the next one!