Sail Green 2011
While others focus on what’s wrong with the environment, Cruising World editors choose a different tack for the 2011 Sail Green issue: people engaged in making things right. From our December 2011 issue.
Harry Ruppenicker: His Battleground Is the Boatyard
Harry Ruppenicker has seen a lot of boat bottoms since his days in his boatyard in Cos Cob, Connecticut, when mercury was mixed in paint and he used a bandana to cover his face.
“It was very effective at keeping the bottom clean,” the boatyard owner says. “We didn’t know better.”
Mercury, the stuff that drove Connecticut’s hatters mad and killed World War II submariners, was beloved by sailors for the white gloss it gave paint that looked good when a boat was heeled over. It was still in use in 1961 on Long Island Sound when Ruppenicker opened his yard.
Half a century later, mercury is history, tin is banned, and copper is fixed in the crosshairs. But at Harry’s Marine Repair, now situated in Westbrook, Connecticut, on the Patchogue River, the copper residue is long gone. Five years ago, his boatyard became the first in Connecticut, and perhaps the United States, to stop using copper antifouling paints.
“In 1993 we noticed people sanding bottoms, with dust and paint going over the ground and into the air. I felt it wasn’t healthy for people here, or people working for me, and it made a mess,” Ruppenicker says.
He bought two large sanders that collect 98 percent of the dust, installed filter fabrics to collect residue on the ground, and graded the yard to raise the edges and drain to the middle, where he installed a filter. With more research, he decided that copper, a toxic heavy metal, “was bad,” and he turned to bottom paints made by ePaint, a small Massachusetts company that, with U.S. Navy underwriting, created the first non-copper anti-fouling paint. (See “Phasing Out Copper Bottom Paint.”)
The paints use a variety of pesticides to ward off fouling, including zinc pyrithione, a compound used in dandruff shampoos. They also employ a chemical reaction triggered by sunlight that creates hydrogen peroxide and deters barnacles, according to Mike Goodwin, a senior staff scientist for ePaint.
The result today is that Harry’s boatyard runoff, even though zinc is present, can drain into the river and Long Island Sound without treatment. Under state regulations that took effect at the end of 2010, all Connecticut boatyards must meet Environmental Protection Agency standards for copper runoff, which will require them either to install treatment plants or to haul wash water away.
Harry’s switch away from copper paint also means that he can dredge the channels to his marina without special permits and expense. Tests using living insects placed in the water show that 100 percent of them survive and propagate, says Ruppenicker.
“In fact, we discovered that Harry’s wash water met drinking-water standards,” says ePaint’s Goodwin.
Ruppenicker says he lost only one customer who didn’t want to make the switch. To sweeten his rule, he discounts his ePaint to $165 a gallon, a price that’s lower than some of the more reputable copper paints. “The little bit you make on the paint—it’s cheaper in the long run,” he says.
Working with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, which awarded Harry’s Marine Repair its first Clean Marina Award in 2003, Ruppenicker continues to make innovations. He’s now testing a strainer with microbes “that will eat hydrocarbons and other stuff.”
- Jim Carrier
Do you know someone who's making a difference? Learn about our Green Wakes program!