Stainless Steel really isn’t

So this is going to be a boring post for the landlubbers out there. It’s basically just about cleaning. But you boat owners know that there are at least two boat projects that never end: varnishing the teak, and polishing the stainless.

And unlike many (many) boat maintenance projects, I actually tried to keep on top of the stainless steel hardware on Sanitas last cruising season. Especially on the bow, which is constantly covered in salt water and gets incredibly rusty incredibly fast, I spent several otherwise lovely afternoons scrubbing. But I never really got it perfectly clean, and I just assumed I was doing it wrong.

So while we were in the boatyard, and time and fresh water were plentiful, I decided to go all in. I RESEARCHED. Reading articles on Practical Sailor, YachtUnlimited, and Boatlife, and went down the rabbit hole of way too many discussion threads. I weighed the relative advantages of “Best Value” cleaning products vs highly rated cleaning products, and you always need to consider environmentally friendly options. I may have gone overboard on buying cleaning products.

I didn’t do the greatest job of capturing the full extent of the rust problem, but here are a few examples of how terrible it looks:

So I spent the next three days scooting around on my butt on the non-skid deck (ouch) attacking every bit of rust with a microfiber cloth or a toothbrush. Are you curious which stainless product worked the best? NOT the super expensive Flitz polish I could only find on eBay. NOT the super cheap turtle wax automotive polish I could find at Walmart. (Although it wasn’t half bad) but the Miracle Cloth is truly and totally miraculous. No waiting, no scrubbing. It even took the rust off the bow sprit. And even off the standing rigging and life lines. I’m sold. Not to mention that it is made with coconut oil that smells so…. good… every time I open the bag. Do you think if I write enough good things about it they will sponsor me and send me a lifetime supply? In theory, you can use the miracle cloth over and over again, but I may have pushed it to the limit. The white square in this picture is a new, pristine miracle cloth, and the crumpled black blog is one that I used for a few hours one afternoon. it still kind of works, but it isn’t much fun to touch.

Checkout the fashionable outfit that all the cool kids wear while polishing the stainless steel with a toothbrush! As an added bonus, you can see how bad the teak woodwork looked before I refinished it. It’s a great reminder. I’m already used to how much better the woodwork looks, and I’ve forgotten how much it needed all of those long hours of effort!

I’ve heard other boat owners describes as “she’s so meticulous at keeping her boat pristine. She’s out there every day with a toothbrush.” Huh. Maybe I have become that boat owner?

Here are a few photos on the shiny stainless post-polishing.i don’t think they do it justice. Maybe I will post a few more, just to capture the one moment in time that all of Sanitas’s stainless steel is shiny and clean, before we untie the lines, head into the waves…….and start accumulating rust once again!

Boat Project #1 – Fixing the Leaks

Jumping back in time a bit, this is the first project Capt. Mike and I took on when we returned to the boatyard after our summer vacation. We had done a pretty good job of preparing Sanitas for storage; we didn’t have any serious problems with bugs, mold, or rain water intrusion. Or at least that’s what we thought at first….

Upon closer inspection (i.e.: crawling back into the quarter berth and discovering it was squishy) we found three different leaks that needed to be addressed first thing! The simplest project was re-bedding the fresh water deck fill. Basically, the hardware that allows us to hook up a hose and fill the aft water tank was old, and no longer sealed properly. Now rain water could get around that fitting and flow into the cockpit lockers, soaking the items that we store there, and creating a rusty, slimy mess. Oh what a difference a year makes! Last year when we discovered leaky deck fittings, we agonized over how to fix them, what sort of adhesive to use, and the relative virtues of butyl tape. This year, Capt. Mike jumped right in and replaced the O-rings and fixed the seal in just a couple of hours. I think he even did it with only one trip to West Marine!

As always happens in boat projects, fixing one problem leads to finding a new problem. BECAUSE all that water had been leaking into the cockpit locker, the bulkhead that divides the storage locker from the living space inside the boat was seriously rotted, and was the cause of our squishy-slimy quarterberth. So Capt. Mike addressed Leak #2 by digging out the black, rotten wood with a screwdriver and scraper. Once he finally reached good (not rotten) wood, he used a dremel to cut out material to be patched. Now it turned into a normal boat project, because we had to put this whole effort on hold for a few days while ordering and waiting for delivery of new dremel heads – this project burned through them fast! After cutting out all the rotten wood, Capt. Mike cut a new solid piece of wood to fit the hole, epoxyed it in place, and applied fiberglass mat to seal it all. A final coat of paint to make it pretty, and this second leak was also vanquished.

The final cockpit leak snowballed into quite a large project. During one of Capt. Mike’s frequent trips into the bowels of the boat to inspect the transmission and steering systems, he discovered that tons of water had been leaking through the base of the steering pedestal, causing lots of sensitive equipment below to rust and corrode faster than necessary. So we decided to re-bed the steering pedestal too.

But once we started looking closely at the steering pedestal, we noticed the paint had blistered and developed corrosion underneath. The quick re-bedding project turned into a week-long effort to sand down the blemishes, apply aluminum primer, and to apply four or five coats of white paint. All performed within temperature and humidity levels higher than the manufacturer’s recommendation! we had the cockpit all strung up with trip hazards and “Do not touch -wet paint” signs for over a week, even suspending the steering pedestal in mid air for much of the time to allow it to dry completely.

I have never claimed to have good balance, and if there’s something available to stub my toe on, I will stub it. So believe me, I was thrilled to finally complete these cockpit projects and to restore relative order to the boatyard chaos. And ….no more cockpit leaks!

Bright work – Refinishing the Teak

I happen to think Sanitas has the perfect amount of teak woodwork. Just enough that she looks like a traditional sailboat inside and out. But not so much that I need to refinish a teak deck every year. When we bought her, the external teak woodwork was pristine! Absolutely perfectly finished. But, as the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. And I definitely didn’t know how to maintain wood that is constantly exposed to sun and wind and saltwater. I did a pretty good job on the internal teak (hydrogen peroxide or vinegar to kill the mold, and teak oil to restore the finish and protect the wood) but I ignored the external teak and by the end of our first season and storage in the boatyard, she was a mess.

It’s hard to capture the extent of the wear and tear in photos, but here are a few attempts:

Here’s an example where the furling line chafed against the cockpit combing over time and wore a track in the teak finish.

Here’s a basic example of the toe rail, and how the sun and salt wears away at the finish in strange ways.

I finally bit the bullet and committed to refinishing some of the teak while we had Sanitas out of the water in the boatyard. Of course, I had no idea how to do that, and was super afraid of making a mistake and ruining the wood instead of improving it, but ….. that’s what YouTube is for! Our friend Bob from SV Orion was a huge help, lending me a heat gun and providing lots of advise on scraping tools. And investing hours of sweat equity into this project! I did have to call a friend (Celia of SV Eileen) for more advice because her woodwork is absolutely pristine! This started about a six-week process…..

I decided to scrape the old finish off manually, rather than using a chemical stripper, so I spent at least seven hours a day in 90deg weather sitting in the sun, aiming a hair dryer on steroids at the wood, and scraping off layers of Cetol (and a bit of teak). In this picture, you can see the original surface at the bottom, and the scraped surface at the top of the screen.

Here’s another example. The wood on the lefts was protected by a shade cover all year, and the wood on the right was out in the sun. So I scraped it and worked to refinish it. After a lot of scraping, the teak looked so much better already:

Then the real work began…. sanding at least three times (I probably should have done it four times) with 60 grit sand paper, 120 grit sand paper, and finally 220 grit sand paper. Each time, I had to prep the hull with blue painters’ tape so as not to scratch the gel coat, and remove the tape between coats so as not to have the tape adhesive permanently attached.

In theory, this was easier to do in the boat yard, but this also required a ridiculous amount of climbing up and down rickety scaffolding and ladders to access the entire length of the hull. Did I mention the 90 deg temperatures?

After three rounds of sanding the wood work manually, I started the Cetol application. I used the same product that the previous owner, Jock, had used, just to be sure that the color of the finish matched, and I could do some of the woodwork now, and more of it over time. So a trip to West Marine to take them up on their price-matching policy was in order. Pro Hack! I walked in there prepped and ready – with a Chrome tab saved for everything I wanted to buy, and I saved about 40% over labeled prices. Employees at West Marine don’t even make you feel guilty about it. They are super helpful and accommodating when you’ve done your research and can show them a better price available on the internet.

You can see the improvement already….

After three coats of Sikken’s Cetol Natural Teak, we applied two additional coats of Sikkens Marine Gloss to ensure a shiny coating with better UV and saltwater protection. Oh my goodness, Sanitas looks so much better now! And now that I finished the toe rail and the rub rail, and I bought my own heat gun, I can refinish the rest of the external teak gradually over time. Because the toe rail looks SO good. Now, that the rest of the wood looks terrible. The boat projects never end…..

Boat Project #1 – Updating the Salon Cushions

This might sound like a minor project, but we hope it will make a huge difference in comfort and happiness this cruising season!

The settees in our salon are like the couch in your family room – where we spend most of our time on the boat. We sit there to eat our meals, watch movies, read books, and often one of us will sleep there when the small V-berth in the forward cabin feels too cramped for two adult humans or gets too hot. The upholstery of the cushions was in pretty good condition last season, but the foam had definitely reached end of life. Our bums were hitting plywood pretty much all the time, and we definitely sunk into the most over used spots!

I researched getting new cushions made, but (as with anything boat-specific) it was CRAZY expensive. So we decided to clean the upholstery and replace the foam in the seats. Sounds simple, but it turned into a multi-week project….

Step 1 – Clean the Upholstery

These cushions have definitely seen some use! And the ones in the cabin were victims of that pesky salt water leak last season with all the stickiness and funky smells that entails. So I took the covers to a dry cleaner for some serious cleaning. But they turned me away. Said that the material, especially the breathable back panel wouldn’t survive the process. Back to the drawing board and to my good friend Google and I decided to rent one of those upholstery cleaners from Home Depot. Luckily, we were still living in a rental apartment with plenty of floor space to spread out, so after three trips in my little VW convertible with cushions sticking out the windows, we were good to go.

Capt. Mike is trigger happy.

What do you do with this many couch cushions? Build a fort of course!

Wow, the upholstery was dirtier than I thought. Gross!

Step 2 – Order Foam

Where do you go to buy foam? Foamonline.com of course. Who knew there were so many different kinds, thicknesses, quality levels, and styles of foam. Fascinating. (Not really) More Googling, and I settled on 3 pound high resilience foam. It was a little bit tricky figuring out how much we needed because nothing is rectangular on a monohull sailboat. Every cushion is a strange shape with beveled edges that needs to be cut with precision. This stuff is not cheap, so I had to figure out how to buy enough with a little bit of room for errors, but not so much extra that I’m wasting $100 bucks worth of foam. Hence my super scientific calculations.

Step 3 – Wait…for three weeks

I thought ordering from the Foam Fast section meant I would get my foam. Fast. Not so. It took over three weeks to arrive and only after I started calling and emailing and harassing them. It finally arrived, all compressed and wrapped tightly in a 46 pound black plastic garbage bag. The folks at the marina were taking bets on what the heck was in this mysterious package. The reality was less interesting than their guesses for sure.

Step 4 – Cut the foam and stuff the upholstery

The perfect tool for cutting foam is a cheap electric knife from Walmart. However, when you buy the very cheapest one, there’s a good chance it will be broken right out of the box and delay your project further until you can exchange it. Oops. Capt. Mike proved to be just as competent with an electric knife as with an electric drill, and he managed to make it all fit with just the smallest bit of scrap left over. A bit of 3M spray adhesive to connect oddly shaped foam pieces together, and to make the surface tacky. A wrap of polyester Dacron batting to allow for some ventilation and to ensure the foam shapes completely fill the cover. And zip the cover back together, and you’re good to go! Except for the zippers that were too corroded by sea water to function. Those had to be removed using a seam ripper, and will be replaced by Velcro the next time we have access to a sewing machine. No boat project ever goes completely to plan. But we’ve tested them out now for over a week and these cushions now feel good as new!