June 4, 2009

Of Bottoms, Spanx and Vera Wang

What is ablative paint? It's bottom paint designed to erode away from the hull, micro-millimeter by micro-millimeter, as the boat moves through the water, shedding biological growth like algae, zebra mussels, barnacles and other free-riding stowaways, setting them free in the sloppy glacial bathtub of Lake Michigan. Picture house paint that strips away, microscopic layer by microscopic layer, every time the wind blows. When you roll ablative paint onto your hull, nothing organic sticks for long. It has the net effect of cladding your bottom in Teflon.

Thing is, we move Smitten around so much in the course of a summer sailing season that not much grass grows under her feet, so to speak. Doing what it's designed to do, ablative paint doesn't remove much biological matter from her hull because the biology never gets an opportunity to latch on in the first place. And as a side-effect annoyance, the blue paint "ablates" all over the place, staining everything she cozies up with: the mooring bobber, the bridle, our feet, Canadian geese, the neighbors’ boats, mermen, sea monsters...you get the picture. (Actually, you don't get the picture, because I didn't take a picture. Bad blogger, me! I'll try to be more thorough going forward.)

So anyway. End of last season we decided to re-evaluate our choice of bottom paint.

During the spring and fall, when we spend a lot of time in the boat yard either prepping our boat for the summer or putting her up for the winter, we amuse ourselves between housekeeping tasks by judging other peoples’ boats. We aren't alone in this pastime. Strolling among rows and rows of cradled watercraft, we either mentally compose snarky anecdotes, or ogle in slack-jawed admiration. The one feature of other peoples’ boats we focus on -- because we don’t get much chance to so in the harbor unless something really bad has happened -- is the hulls.

We'd looked at a lot of other sailors' bottoms (yeah, okay, come back when you've finished sniggering) and after arguing the pros and cons of blue bottoms, red bottoms, green bottoms, and the so-very-tempting copper bottoms, we'd drawn the conclusion that what Little Miss Smitty Pants needed was a Little Black Dress of a bottom.

But before she slithered into the maritime equivalent of a Vera Wang, she needed two primer coats of gray. To continue the sartorial analogy, these two coats are the lingerie, the slip, the $200 Victoria's Secret hit, the Spanx of the bottom painting process:

Then, when the Spanx have dried, the final coats go on:

(Wondering now as I'm looking at this, will Dave's eventual knee surgery be covered by our boat insurance?)

Those inevitable squares of unpainted hull surface area under the cradle supports? They got the same Spanx/Vera Wang treatment by the yard jockeys once Smitty was off the cradle and hanging on a sling, awaiting her big splash into the Calumet River. We hope.

Oh, look at that sexy girl, with her gleaming black bottom!

And here's the most satisfying moment of the whole bottom paint process...peeling off the waterline tape:

Ahh, such a nice, crisp line!

Next up, detailing the hull.

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