Brighten Up Your Topsides
A cost-conscious cruising couple parlays D.I.Y. savings in labor and a favorable exchange rate into a colorful makeover.
When we decided to paint Momo, the Mason 43 that’s been our home for five and a half years, it wasn’t purely a cosmetic thing. Nearly 30 years old, she’d never been painted, and her gelcoat was in dire need of some T.L.C. My husband, Bernie, and I had been keeping an eye now for a couple of years on those troubling bubbling spots at the waterline. When we arrived in New Zealand in December 2008, tending to Momo’s topsides was high on our project list. We briefly discussed having the job done professionally, but since we’re budget sailors, the idea of paying the equivalent of US$2,000 or so for someone else’s labor was quickly discarded. Besides, we’d painted our previous boat ourselves, and we enjoy a challenge; more often than not, we’ve discovered, they turn out to be bonding experiences.
Choosing a Color
Picking the color was easy. But the responses we got were really a surprise: “Yellow! Why?” “Was that the only color in the shop?” “Was it on sale?” And “It’s a strange color for a boat!”
So, why yellow? No, it wasn’t the only color available. And it wasn’t on sale. What yellow was, in fact, was simply our choice: yellow like the sunshine that our daughters sing about, like the center of a gorgeous runny egg, like Toad’s canary-yellow cart in The Wind in the Willows.
Yellow because, well, we like it.
We’d gotten some practice with bright colors on our previous boat, when we updated the traditional navy-blue hull and its gold trim—it was an Annapolis boat, after all—with bright-green topsides and yellow and red wood trim both inside and out. Years later, when it was time to do something about the peeling varnish on Momo’s hatches, we created our own world of colorful chaos when we let our two young daughters choose the paint. We knew what we were getting into when we walked into the paint store in La Paz, Mexico, and our hatches and dorades soon became a marvelous medley of gold and turquoise and purple and red.
And now Momo has gone the way of our previous boat—less traditional, perhaps, but easier to find in an anchorage. She’s not only yellow; that would be too yellow. There’s black bottom paint peeking out just above the waterline, with a fat red stripe above that. But since the yellow-black-red combo looked a bit too much like a large German flag, we chose tree-frog green for the sheer stripe, and then, when there was extra paint in the can, painted our new hard dodger the same bright green.
Reworking the Waterline
To tackle Momo’s makeover, we hauled out for four weeks at Doug’s Opua Boatyard, in Opua, on New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. We devoted Week One to power-sanding and grinding out crazing, bubbles, and cracks, then to fairing (with CRC vinylester marine filler, a local product recommended by several Kiwi acquaintances) and to sanding. The gelcoat was already looking happier after a week’s worth of attention. We kicked off Week Two by adding one layer each of Altex No. 1 epoxy paint and Altex No. 3 epoxy paint at the waterline, where Momo’s original boot stripe had been, to protect and strengthen this vulnerable area. We sealed that with one coat of Altex No. 5 ablative bottom paint to cure it all together, then taped off the waterline and worked our way up.
The next layer we painted was the new, wide, red stripe measuring 9 inches at the centerline and about 12 inches at the bow; it’s even wider back under the stern. Like all liveaboards, we’ve raised our waterline once already. But we by no means intend to raise it all the way to the top of this stripe: there’s no way we have that much junk. The wide swath of color looks good, but it’s more than an aesthetic choice. We chose red Pettit Vivid bottom paint to provide greater protection against those resilient critters that have befouled our white hull for years. You know the ones I mean: those tiny, scummy guys that creep up well above the waterline, even at anchor as calm wavelets lap at your boat’s sides. The disadvantage of extending bottom paint above the waterline is that some of the paint will inevitably rub off on the dinghy. But for us, the advantages outweigh the inconvenience of a little red on our dinghy. Moreover, on our previous boat, the one-part paint also rubbed off on the dinghy, one of the problems of any “softer” paint. Dinghy chafe is inevitable, and touching up the red just above the waterline stripe when the time comes will be a far easier task than repainting the entire topsides. And so, unorthodox as it seems, we applied one layer of Altex Epoxy primer (made for use both above and below the waterline) and three layers of red Pettit Vivid to keep some of the creeping scum away.