Painting the Hull Bottom

Painting the hull bottom is a bit like going from Elkhart, IN to Grandma Liechty’s house in Archbold, OH when we were kids. Dad loaded up the six kids in the blue Dodge station wagon, generally with a brief fight about who had to sit in the back rear-facing seat. Then after what was probably only minutes into the two hour trip, someone would ask, “Are we almost there?” At an early age, everything was unfamiliar, and gave no reference point as to when it might end.

Below are photos of mom and dad in front of our house, and Joe with a neighbor friend at the back. Behind them is the blue Dodge station wagon.

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As we got older, we began to know Route 33, past the Midway outdoor theatre in Dunlap, the A&W Root Beer Stand, Olympia Candy Kitchen across from the Goshen Courthouse, and the big white house in the country near New Paris. The we came to the T-intersection where we turned left on Highway 6, heading over to Ligonier. After the stop light, it was down the hill around the pond, and through the country where we would sometimes race a train on the tracks heading east.

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At the stop light in Edgerton, the official route for Highway 6 went left through the business district, but we always turned right across the tracks to beat the inevitable truck ahead of us. Then there was another straight stretch of road where we would try to keep concentrated on the horizon. Finally, someone would yell, “I see the church steeple.” A few miles more and we would reach the old white church at the corner of 6 and Route 66. Then it was less than 5 minutes north into Archbold, past my Uncle Herman’s shop, Uncle Wes’s Chrysler Dealership, the A & W Root Beer stand, and the huge limestone church, to Brussels Street where Grandma lived.

Here are Grandpa Joseph and Grandma Emma Liechty, with Uncle Wayne, Shirlyn and EllenĀ and Dad and Mom, Anne, Margaret and I

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We hadn’t really arrived though, until we checked out the deer head in the den, heard the chime of the Grandfather Clock and sampled a lemon drop from the cut-glass bowl in the living room.

So when the boat hull planks were installed and the surface faired, I started thinking about when we could have the turning party to get going on the topside again, wondering if “we were there yet.”

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Looking back, I remember discussing my painting time schedule with an experienced sailer/builder who just smiled knowingly. I imagine he was thinking, “You aren’t at Grandma’s house yet.”

My previous experience with paint was of the house variety, redecorating walls at some houses where we lived. There, we just opened the can, which was already mixed at the store, and started brushing paint around the trim and the corners. Then we got out the roller for the big surfaces. It seemed like quite a job, but we might complete a room in an evening.

Then I got introduced to the complexity of finishing the bottom of a boat. The first activity after fairing the wood was to place the glass fiber cloth and imbed it in epoxy. This would have been a great time to call my friend Brad Collins for expert advice, but I didn’t think of that. It seemed similar to what I had done on the inside so Jeff Margush came over and we plunged ahead.

The first problem was that a 20 foot boat (even a skinny one) is a big surface. Second, since I couldn’t imagine positioning the 6 oz. fabric after a sticky sealcoat, we started dry on the hull. Third, I laid the fabric out on both sides, overlapped at the midline, which gave no great stopping point.

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Fourth, the strakes provided a difficult contour, making it difficult to stretch the fabric evenly.

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This led to using much more epoxy than was needed, so during the time before it kicked off, the epoxy flowed down under the fabric and created some mini-waves. Fixing it required much extra effort and some new tools which I had to acquire immediately. I bought a carbide paint scraper, some 60 and 80 grit sandpaper, and went to work.

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I have heard that the only two ways to learn are by instruction and by experience. Experience helps you to avoid making mistakes, but you can usually only get experience by making mistakes. I would rather wear the big “S” (Superman) on my shirt, but it keeps popping up on my forehead (Stupid).

The net result was that when I put the glass fabric on the sides (this time 4 oz.), I made sure to be more careful. I still laid it on dry, because it is so hard to position a large piece alone. This time I used a minimal amount of epoxy, which I applied by brush, and a large plastic spreader, with fine success.

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Then, it was time to start an entirely new adventure. With wood furniture, the way to change the shape of wood is by carving or sanding it, to retain the natural grain to finish. I have never added any fairing material. However, in the case of this boat, I had to add some green fairing compound to blend where the fiberglass cloth overlapped.

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When I began to research boat paint, and bottom paint specifically, I found a complicated array of choices. Since the boat is intended to be used mainly in fresh water, and kept on a lift or trailer, the anti-fouling paints were not so important. Instead, I took a recommendation from the tech team at Jamestown Distributors to try Interlux VC Performance paint which is a hard 2-part epoxy finish used on speedboats and racing sail boats.

This meant starting with the Interlux 2000E Primer, following these steps of preparation:
1. I washed the surface with warm water and a Scotch Brite scrub pad to remove the amine blush. This really does matter, and success can be readily seen as the water on the hull goes from beading up to laying flat.
2. Next, I used the recommended solvent wash, and dried immediately behind it.
3. Then I mixed the base with reactor in the recommended 3:1 ratio.
4. Let it set for 20 minutes induction time.
5. Used a short nap foam roller and a natural bristle brush to apply.
6. Repeated two more coats.

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The manufacturer says that VC Performance Epoxy is intended to be sprayed, although others wrote of applying by the roll and tip method. This was my only option, so I read about it, made some notes and plunged ahead:

1. I opened the can of base and first took 10 minutes with a stir-stick to get the solids mixed into the liquid uniformly. Shaking the can was not recommended as it would introduce many bubbles into the paint.
2. Added the catalyst into the base with a 1:1 ratio, mixing again around 5 minutes.
3. Allowed to sit 25-30 minutes for induction.
4. Applied with a short nap roller and brush tipping.
5. Did total of four coats.

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Various instructions say either not to thin, or to thin as needed, not exceeding 15%. Having no previous experience with two-part epoxies, I didn’t know what it should act like at 65 degrees. Bottom paints are made not to flow much, so vast expanses of hulls can be rolled on without rivers of runs. This is done by making the paint more like mayonnaise than honey.

I also didn’t know how much to sand between coats, and so the defects of the first coats just got passed along into the remaining layers. After the third coat, my rolling and tipping had produced a mediocre finish which I spent a 13 hour sanding Saturday trying to fair and work out the tipping lines.

I tried one more coat rolling without tipping, hoping it would lay well enough to leave the paint sheen alone. This produced positive stipples like textured wall paint. It could be that I did not thin enough, and that there is a technique possible to do it well at a certain temperature. I just know it is temperamental and difficult.

Epoxy paint soon becomes very hard to sand, filling the paper quickly if you try to sand dry. Wet sanding preserves the paper, but makes seeing the defects more difficult. Epoxy hardness requires using 60-80 grit paper to remove, but also needs 1000 grit paper or higher to bring a bit of sheen to it. This means a lot of frustrating repeated steps, going through grits like 120, 220, 360, 600, 800, and 1000.

Eventually, the best results were gained wet sanding, using a spray bottle to dampen the surface, an orbital, wood and foam hand blocks, and a squeegee to clear the surface for the best observation.

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My cousin Jon Smucker was kind enough to come over and help with the second long Saturday sanding. He has the craftsmanship of a surgeon and the perfectionism of our Liechty relatives. Jon told me a story of twenty plus coats of varnish on his Century boat trim work and said, “Given time and commitment, nearly anything can be accomplished well.” That, plus lunch provided by his wife Jan, was a great encouragement for getting back on track.

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So the question still stands, “Are we there yet?” Some of the most challenging activities involve difficult repetitive action with no specific end in sight. But then again, it’s only work if there is something you would rather do. As Bob and Judy Herrold recently emailed:

“Never be afraid to do something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark and professionals built the Titanic.”

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