Deck, Cabin and Hull Work

(Posted 10/18/2016)

(See bottom of this page for post-voyage updates)

After we bought Minimus (not her name at the time) in September of 2015, we tarped her for the winter and headed south to Arizona.  In early June of 2016, we were back in Oregon and began a summer's worth of work to make her ocean worthy.

Minimus tarped for the winter

Before describing the specifics of the deck, cabin and hull work though, we should mention three aspects of the boat work that so far we're sold on.     

Latex Paint:
We used latex paint on the deck, hull and cabin interior, since
the advantages over oil paint are considerable.  Drying time is greatly reduced, it smells better and is easier to work with.  Cleanup is much easier and so are touch-ups.  The deck was painted with semi-gloss acrylic latex paint, applied mostly with a foam roller.  After a summer's worth of traffic while working on the boat, the deck paint still looks great. 

We'll be reporting on its performance as our trip proceeds during 2017, but so far we're impressed.          

We used Valspar semi-gloss latex paint from Lowes for the deck and cabin. 
When the weather was hot and dry, we added Floetrol to help it flow better. 

We used Sherwin Williams Infinity semi-gloss paint for the hull and some of
the exterior wood work.  Here we're painting over teak, as we don't want to
spend our sailing time keeping up with varnishing or oiling wood.

MDO Plywood:

MDO stands for medium density overlay.  It's a high quality, void-free plywood covered on both sides with a smooth, weather-proof surface.  It was developed for highway signs, to stand up in all weather, year round.  We special ordered two 4' x 8' sheets of 1/2" MDO from a local lumber yard for about $60 per sheet.  It's surprising it's not more commonly used in boat work, as it doesn't require fiberglassing to prevent surface checking and is cheaper than marine ply.  We used it throughout the boat, for reinforcing hatches, building the counter in the cabin, parts of the self steering gear, etc.      

Butyl Tape:
Fortunately, we came across a website on bedding deck fittings with butyl tape before we started the outfitting.  The two principles outlined on that website are simple.  First is to chamfer every deck hole with a chamfer bit.  This creates a space around the fastener which the caulk then fills to form a water-tight gasket.  Chamfering also helps prevent future gelcoat cracking.  The second principle is to use butyl tape instead of caulk from a caulk gun.  Butyl tape stays flexible virtually forever, so never becomes brittle.   It also provides a water-tight seal without adhering the fitting to the deck, so years down the road when another refit is due, removing the deck fittings isn't a major chore.  Compared to other types of caulk, cleanup is a breeze and the cleaned up bits can be reused.  We can't imagine ever going back to using another type of caulk.  

Chamfering holes in deck

Holes after chamfering

Fittings with butyl tape applied, ready to mount.

Butyl squeezes out from fittings after tightening.  Removing excess is easy
and not messy.  The excess can be re-used.  Great stuff. 

Deck Work:
When we got her, Minimus had numerous deck leaks around various fittings.  After the work described below, right after we finished the last of the deck work, we had unusually heavy rains that dumped over 9" of rain in a week.  Not a drop came below and the bilge remained dry as a bone.   

We did a major refit on the boat, starting with the deck.  We removed virtually every fitting, including bow and stern pulpits, stanchions, port lights, toe rails, hatches, etc.  Some gelcoat cracking in a few areas of the deck suggested possible core rot, though the tapping tests sounded solid.  To be sure though, we drilled more than a dozen holes in various parts of the deck and cockpit.  To our relief, every hole revealed fresh looking balsa core.  There were only a couple very small areas of rot, one where the rudder post goes through the cockpit floor and the other at the deck fitting for filling the water tank.  Each was only a few square inches in area and easy to dig out and replace with epoxy putty.  Rather than doing cosmetic work on the gelcoat cracks, we re-glassed the deck from the rear of the cabin to the bow with a layer of 4 oz. glass cloth in epoxy resin.

We also covered the companionway hatch, the hatch sheath and the fore hatch with 1/2" MDO covered with 2 coats of epoxy.  The hatches, which were initially flexible enough that we avoided standing on them, are now rock-solid. 

We also built new toe rails from pairs of 1" x 2" boards laminated together to form 2"x 2"'s.  The new toe rail is higher and wider than the original and gives much better footing.  Also, whereas the original toe rails were just secured with wood screws, the new ones are through-bolted through the deck-to-hull joint, making both the toe rail and the hull-deck joint more secure than they were originally. 

(Pearl) In retrospect we feel the toe rails were well worth the time and effort, but this breezy description belies the miserable work of getting washers and nuts on the bolt ends through the narrow gap between the hull and deck liners.         

Nearly every horizontal surface, including deck, cockpit and hatches were given a non-skid surface.  First we applied a coat of semi-gloss latex paint, then sand was sprinkled on the still wet surface.  When that dried, two more coats of latex paint were applied.  The surfaces have had lots of foot traffic over the summer and still look like new. 

First, we removed all deck hardware and wood work, including
the toe rail.

All hatch covers also came off. 

Then the endless sanding began, followed by adding a layer of
fiberglass set in epoxy from cockpit to bow.

A non-skid surface was applied to most of the horizontal deck surfaces.
First, a coat of paint was applied...

...then sand was sprinkled onto the wet paint.
(The pill bottle has 1/16" holes
drilled in the cap and serves as the "sand shaker.")
After drying, two more coats of paint were applied.

Deck after re-installing hardware and new toe rail.

Forward end of cockpit, with upper companionway washboard in place. 
The lower washboard is permanently attached and is higher than the cockpit coamings.
The removable upper washboard is stronger and more water tight than ordinary washboards,
to resist waves coming aboard from astern if we should ever have to
lie to the series drogue in heavy weather.

Aft end of cockpit footwell, showing large cockpit drain into lazarette. 

For offshore sailing, a flaw in many small sailboats is a large cockpit with inadequate drains. 
A wave filling the cockpit in heavy weather can dangerously weigh the boat down. 
We designed this hinged 'gate' between the cockpit and the lazarette. 

It's normally held closed with shock cord, but a wave filling the cockpit will force it open. 
The purpose is to allow waves coming into the cockpit to drain quickly into the lazarette
and out through the bottom.  

The grate in the bottom of the lazarette has six 2 inch diameter drain holes
 to quickly drain the cockpit.  The small volume of water remaining in the footwell
will drain through the original
cockpit drains at the front of the footwell. 

Cabin Work:
The interior of the cabin was a shade of blue we weren't fond of, so we sanded the entire interior surface of the cabin and painted it.  Again, the breezy description belies the dust and resulting itchiness, but it didn't take long to do. 

Part of the cabin work was installing a counter which serves as a sort of micro-galley.  More on than at the Stove page

We also cut a couple 8" diameter holes in the v-berth which gives us access to significant new storage space.

Finished cabin

Forward end of cabin, showing mast step reinforcement.  Compressive mast loads
now come down to white beam, then down to the hull.

We cut two circular hatches in the v-berth, opening up significant new
storage space.

Underside of fore hatch, showing 6 straps for dogging it down tight.

New counter at aft end of cabin.

Hull Work:
The big job on the hull was the usual task of removing umpteen layers of old bottom paint.  It's always an unavoidably miserable job and this was no different.  We mostly used Citru-Strip paint remover.  We'd put on a thick coat of remover in the morning, then cover it with thin plastic sheeting to prevent drying.  6 to 8 hours later we'd remove the plastic and scrape off the gelatinous mix of remover and paint.  After a few days, when the remnants of the remover were totally dry, we sanded any remaining bits of paint that weren't solidly adhered, though we didn't try to get every square inch right down to the original gel coat.  Mostly we wanted to closely examine the hull to check for damage hidden under the bottom paint.  The hull appeared sound throughout. 

The old boot stripe was mostly gone, so we struck a new waterline, employing the usual technique of leveled boards at bow and stern with a string between them.  

Another part of the hull work was replacing the rudder post.  The original one was badly pitted, as tends to happen to stainless steel that's been under water for long periods of time.  We went with stainless steel, with stainless steel straps welded to it.  The assembly was then coated with epoxy to prevent contact with salt water.  Hopefully it will serve as long as the original one did.    

We painted the bottom using an ablative paint, which is the appropriate type for boats that won't be launched immediately.

(Pearl)  This description doesn't really give a clue about how odious the process of removing old bottom paint was.  We tried several methods of removing the old paint before settling on the method David describes above.  At one point we were both out there with screwdrivers in hand, chipping away.  For this, it was actually better where the paint was thick, as it seemed one could get a better purchase for popping off a good-sized chip.  We tried standard paint remover, and found that it softened the gel coat, making it difficult to avoid going too deeply and causing damaging gouges when scraping off the old paint.  David tried sanding, but with so many layers, it was just too slow, not to mention the toxic dust. 

The method described above was by far the best of everything we tried. 
Sometimes thick layers of old paint would come off in long satisfying strips, and other times only small bits would come off with great effort, but overall, it worked pretty well, and we were able to remove the vast majority of the old paint, right down to the gel coat. 

The repainting was also a nasty job, as bottom paint is toxic and off-gases tremendously.  Of course the whole process had to be done while the boat sat on its trailer, so we would remove the roller supports on one quarter, remove the paint, and then re-paint that section before replacing the supporting rollers.  We both gave a HUGE sigh of relief when the whole process was finally completed.  We were also quite grateful that our boat was as small as it is.  Funny that we never took any pictures of this process--maybe it was just too odious.

Post-voyage comments (updated 10-14-2017)

Latex paint:

Latex paint mostly gets a thumbs up.  On the interior of the cabin and on deck it performed very well.  The non-skid surfaces on deck where we sprinkled sand worked great.   On the hull, the paint still looked great after the 3000 mile passage to the Marquesas.  Once we were there however, the rolly anchorages caused the topsides in the 6" or so above the waterline to be continually wet, which allowed marine growth to form on that portion of the topside paint.  When we tried to scrape or scrub off the growth, eventually some of the paint came with it.

Next time we'd extend the bottom paint at least 6" or so above the highest point we expected the waterline to be when the boat was fully loaded.  We saw charter boats in the Society Islands doing that, presumably for the same reason.  We'd also use gloss, rather than semi-gloss paint on the hull as it's less likely to pick up stains from oil or other contaminants on the water's surface.  

In short, we're still sold on latex paint for its easy application and cleanup, lack of toxicity and cost.        

MDO plywood:

This gets a big thumbs up.  MDO is much less expensive than marine ply and comes with a paint-ready surface on both sides (we used double-sided MDO).  We gave the surfaces, and especially the edges, a couple coats of epoxy to seal them.  There was no need to fiberglass the MDO as would have been the case with marine ply, or at least fir ply which is prone to checking.  There was no sign of checking or raised grain on the surfaces of the MDO, even after prolonged weather exposure.  

Butyl tape:

Another big thumbs up here.  In preparation for the voyage, we removed and rebedded every deck fitting as well as the windows with butyl tape, counter sinking all fastener holes as described above.  We didn't have a single deck leak despite sometimes torrential rain and occasional green water over the boat in rough weather.  

In every way, it's an incomparably better caulking system than I've ever used before.  It's cleaner, cheaper, mess-free, the excess squeeze-out is reusable and it didn't allow a drop of water to come below.  We wouldn't think of using any other caulking method in the future. 

Deck work:

Removing and rebedding every deck fitting was a lot of work, but well worth the effort as there are few things on a boat as annoying as deck leaks.

We only once had green water in the cockpit, so the drainage door into the lazarette was never tested.  If we had taken serious water into the cockpit, we'd have been glad that we installed the MDO across the lower portion of the companionway.  We were also glad to have reinforced the forehatch, companionway hatch and hatch sheath with 1/2" MDO.  Standing on them, they were rock solid, whereas before they flexed considerably.      


Our cabin layout worked well and was the only really practical layout we could have had, given the small space available in the cabin.  There's nothing there we'd do differently next time.


The major change here is that we wouldn't use ablative bottom paint next time.  It came off way too easily, no matter how careful we were when brushing off marine growth using soft pieces of carpet.  

We'd much rather have hard bottom paint that we could occasionally scrub the marine growth off of. 

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