Boat Yard Blues
By Gene Gruender

Copyright 2001


Even though we still have many cruising stories to tell, Rainbow Chaser has been sitting in her slip in Rockport Texas for some time.  So long, in fact, that the barnacles have taken over.  It had been 6 years since I repainted the bottom and it was way over due.

I drove down to Rockport, found a retired friend to help shuttle vehicles and we motored her over to Hooking Bull Shipyard.  In short order we had her hauled, pressure washed and blocked up.  Then the fun started.

I got out my new variable speed random directional orbital sander the guys on the internet boating group recommended and started taking off my old High Dollar blue bottom paint so I could put on new High Dollar blue bottom paint.  Very soon Rainbow Chaser had a slight bit less paint on her and I had a great deal of paint on me.  I began noticing that I was sanding off massive amounts of very thick High Dollar blue bottom paint that cost a lot of money, using a sander and sanding disks that weren’t cheap.  I wondered if there wasn’t a conspiracy going on somewhere.  Paint company: “For proper protection, you MUST use 3 coats of our great 90% copper, everlasting supergel High Dollar bottom paint.”  Tool Company:  “After 2 years, when you MUST remove that old High Dollar bottom paint, we have just the tools for you.” Just repeat, it goes on forever.

Of course, when the old paint is gone, both you and the tools are worn out and it starts the other half of the cycle. putting on new paint.  I made a mental note to remember where I removed massive amounts of paint.  Those spots would get only one coat this time, regardless of the marketer’s pitch.

After a day of sanding I was bluer from the roots of my hair to the soles of my feet than the blue water we all long for.  If someone had walked up and not known what I was doing, they would have thought I was made up for some fright scene in a horror movie.  Most of my old High Dollar blue bottom paint was in my hair, in my eyes, on my clothes, on the ground and everywhere except a place it could fight a barnacle. My new sander was probably on it‘s last leg with it’s warrantee cancelled due to “blue paint damage” and most of my sanding disks were on the ground, just fodder for the landfill.  I just knew that as I finished using my last disk on the last bit of old paint the sander would die, the whole mess to be thrown away so the cycle could be complete.

The sander actually never died and I had a few disks left, but I think it was only because I gave out before them. Had I been a couple years younger, we’d probably all have quit at the same time, but I gave in while there was still some paint on the bottom.  Shame on me - the marketers will have a stroke!

Once I regained a bit of strength I tackled the next steps - wash, then paint.  If I spent that much effort getting that old paint off, I darn sure wasn’t going to leave any floating around on the surface to get mixed into my new High Dollar blue bottom paint. It would be my luck that it would make the new paint totally worthless, it would fall off in less than a week and I’d be back at Hooking Bull for a second visit.  I wasn’t falling for that, not me. I was sick of working on boats and hoped I’d never have to do this stuff again.

After rounding up enough hoses to reach from the faucet to Rainbow Chaser, I mixed up a bucket of detergent and went to washing.  Not the top, like most boat washing projects, but the bottom.

I started at the rudder.  As I washed it, I noticed that it was still bent.  I noticed that the top was still sawed off and gone.  That was the result of not paying attention one day as we returned from Port Aransas on our way back to Rockport.  As we left the Lydia  Ann Channel we were too engrossed on things other than steering and ran aground on a spoil bank.  That was nothing new for us or Rainbow Chaser, except this time there was  25 knots of wind and a 3 foot chop.  As I got her unstuck, the rudder made one last fighting stab into the bank and bent badly.  We might still be there going in circles, since we could only turn left, except I spent 2 hours on a February afternoon with a keyhole saw cutting off the top 4” of that rudder. Ah, the memorys, good and bad.

We actually planned to replace the rudder, having located the manufacturer and priced it.  When it came time to go cruising, though, the rudder hadn’t made it to the top of the list.  When I pointed this out to Nellie, she asked what problems it would cause.  I told her that it would look strange.  She pointed out that most of our friends thought we were strange anyway, what else?  Well, it made it a bit harder for the auto pilot to hold a course, but it still worked.  We looked at each other, and said, “The heck with the rudder, let’s just go!”

Someday we’ll replace it, but for now I’ll just wash it and put on more paint.  It’ll take us to a to a few more adventures just as it is.

As I moved on around, carrying my bucket, sponge and hose, I started washing the keel and noticed that the keel had no paint on the bottom edge.  I remembered why that was.

Back when we were in The Bahamas we’d gotten stuck at low tide.  We’d spent an hour trying to motor our way through sand, slowly working our way out.  I remembered the white sand, the sand dollars, the clear water.  I also remembered doing the very same thing in the very same spot 2 weeks later. Yes, I remembered why that paint was gone.

After the keel was rinsed I walked towards the bow.  I admired my new water line.  Every cruiser should raise his waterline, just on principle.  I’d just raised mine 6”.  I was tired of seeing little barnacles growing just above my High Dollar blue bottom paint.  Let’s see those little buggers jump up there now and try to grow!  Even when we load Rainbow Chaser up to go cruising again, they are going to have a tough time getting up high enough to stick on the side of her hull.
As I was washing the forward part of the hull, I ran my hand into the little wheel that is supposed to measure boat speed.  There was a time ours did, that time ended about 7 years ago. I’d tried to fix it a couple times but gave up.  What I’d really like to do is meet the moron who invented that thing.

Now, let me get this straight.  We paint the whole bottom of our boat and everything attached to it with High Dollar blue bottom paint to keep those barnacles from growing on it.  Then we hang this little paddlewheel in the same water and expect those same barnacles to ignore just this one little item and let it turn?  And, on top of it all, people spend good money and expect this miracle to happen?  Maybe this inventor really was more of a marketer, even better than the ones at the High Dollar Paint Company and the tool companies.

As to my little paddlewheel, I’d take it out and toss it, except I can’t find the plug that goes in place of it.  I suspect that one of my guests packed it as they left, or tossed it, not knowing why I’d have this plastic thing that looked like it was packaging for some round object I’d long since used up. As a result, I’ll still have a little paddlewheel hanging just in front of my keel.  It’ll spend the next 3 or 4 years not turning, just as it’s spent the last few years.  And, whether it turns or not, I just don’t care.

Looking down, I noticed a ding in the front of the keel, right at the bottom. I remembered that ding well.  Current Cut, Bahamas, 1997.  My introduction to coral banks. We fought our way through Current Cut going against the current. We were going 7.4 knots through the water, with 7 knots of current against us.  We spent a long time enjoying the view in Current Cut.  Once we made it through using the motor I went forward to raise the sails.  I was raising the main when we found that coral shelf.  I nearly went right over the front of the boat in that encounter.

As I got to the bow I noticed my bobstay fitting. It’s now way below my new waterline, which is fitting, because it was often way below my old waterline.  Like many things on her, the bobstay fitting, as well as the bowsprit, was something I’d made myself. It wasn’t the prettiest fitting, it was something I’d cobbled together myself on the dock out of some �” stainless plate using a drill and a file.  A trip to a friend who owned a TIG welder and - presto - the bobstay was born.  It really didn’t matter how good it looked, since it spent much of it’s time underwater.  It had served us well, holding that bobstay for about 10,000 miles so far - mostly underwater.

As I got to the starboard side, I was sitting down, spraying water up under the hull, when it struck me that I was looking at a familiar sight.  The difference was, the last time I was underwater and Rainbow Chaser was sitting anchored in Grand Cayman.  I had been swimming with sting rays in Sting Ray City with Rainbow Chaser keeping her silent watch overhead.  I noticed that as I wet the bottom now, the wet barrier coating where all the High Dollar blue bottom paint had been removed had turned a different color of blue.  When it was dry, it was a dull, light blue.  Now that it was wet it turned the same color as my High Dollar blue bottom was when it was wet.  So, now I was looking at the bottom from below, and it looked just as it did when we were anchored in a number of crystal clear anchorage in the Bahamas, Cayman, and other faraway places.

I started recalling the many times I’d spent diving under her repeatedly, wearing a mask and flippers, and  taking a brush to clean the scuz off the High Dollar blue bottom paint.  Sometimes I’d dive under and forget to brush.  I’d get distracted by the fish, who were attracted by what I was doing.  Sometimes I’d notice a big fish on the bottom and get completely distracted and swim off to check it out.  I usually planned on an hour, but some days it took a long time to clean the bottom. By the way, when they sell this stuff, don’t they call it “Anti Fouling” paint?  If it was, why would I always need to go under with a brush?

All of a sudden I realized I was still in the boat yard!  I still had to put on the new High Dollar blue bottom paint.  I had a lot of work to do so I could get Rainbow
Chaser out of Hooking Bull and go somewhere. I guess a little sanding and painting is not such a high price to pay for all the memories under a boat!