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!

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!

Why so long in the boat yard?

Several folks have asked me why we needed to spend two months in the boatyard when we returned to St Petersburg after our summer “vacation”. Well, we sure learned a lot in our first cruising season, including a big list of upgrades and improvements that we wanted to make to ensure SV Sanitas was as safe and comfortable a home as possible. And we’re throwing around the idea of not returning to Florida next hurricane season – maybe finding someplace safe for Sanitas to stay in the islands while Capt. Mike and I travel on land. So in that case, we’d like to do as many projects as possible while we are in the land of West Marine and Amazon, and we can get almost anything we want with free 2-day shipping.

So here’s the list of projects we’ve completed so far – all three pages of them – several of which I’ll document in more detail in separate blog posts:

  • Replace foam in settee cushions
  • Make portlight shades
  • Shop for dinghy outboard
  • Order cockpit cushions
  • Polish stainless steel
  • Refinish external teak
  • Install cockpit shower
  • Fix manual bilge pump hose
  • Rebed deck fittings
  • Repair teak deck rail – saltwater leak
  • Fix stove top – weld grates in place
  • Curtain for quarter berth / garage
  • Try to fix water pressure
  • Hook bilge pump up to electronic control
  • Inspect rigging shackles
  • Reinstall sails
  • Replace jib and staysail sheets
  • Wax non-skid deck
  • Replace mouse fur in the head cupboard
  • Clean fruit hammock
  • Clean up wood and mold from summer storage
  • Wash and polish hull – Salt Creek Marina
  • Apply new coat of antifoul paint – Salt Creek Marina
  • Wash mast track cars
  • Fill propane tank
  • Check each switch on electrical panel
  • Replace house battery bank
  • Clean and grease the winches
  • Adjust steering quadrant
  • Check medical and first aid kit
  • Check lights
  • Inspect mainsail for wear or damage
  • Repair anchor bridal chafing spot
  • Buy old fire hose for chafing protection
  • Improve ditch bag
  • Build new soda stream system
  • Rebed steering pedestal
  • Repair aft port locker bulkhead rot
  • Caulk countertop in head
  • Replace propane sensor
  • Install mount for fresh water strainer in fridge
  • Replace anchor locker door latch
  • Clean prop and replace anodes
  • Install new fridge pump
  • Normalize lazy jacks
  • Fix sail cover zipper

Sanitas is back in the water!

After spending hurricane season safely tucked away in Salt Creek Marina in St Petersburg, Florida…. SV Sanitas is back in the water where she belongs!

We left Sanitas stored in St Pete while Capt. Mike and I visited friends and family in New York and Colorado in July and August. Then we returned to hot and humid Florida and spent two months working six days a week in the dirty boat yard to repair and maintain our boat, and to get her ready for another cruising season. She was in pretty good condition when we returned, however we found a few leaks admitting water and slimy mold, and we had a list three pages long of things we identified last year of “Must Dos” before we ventured forth on our 2nd season of cruising.

I admit, I’m a little nervous. I may have gotten soft over the summer – too used to long hot showers, comfy beds, and cooking in a kitchen. In the next 24 hours, we’ll be moving aboard again, somehow trying to fit everything that’s currently in our storage unit, and everything that’s in our rental apartment into a 37-foot monohull sailboat. (Spoiler alert: its not going to fit. We have several trips to Goodwill in our future).

We need to start paying attention to weather and battery charges again, and go back to small, simple living. But … we also get out of the boatyard, and are able to start looking forward to winter in The Bahamas. We’re off the Salt Creek for the last time; to install a new battery bank, inspect our mainsail, and to move to the St Pete Municipal Marina. Wish us luck!