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The purchase survey turned up nothing terribly wrong about the hull. It had the normal battle scars of a 40 year old boat. The gel-coat was faded to a "seasick green" color. The thru-hulls and a seacocks were in suspect condition. Otherwise the hull was okay.
Stripping the bottom
My first project on the whole boat was stripping the many many layers of old and peeling bottom paint. I first tried taking the paint off with my grinder and a 'flap wheel' attachment. The flap wheel is a real workhorse but lacks some finesse. This was doing a terrible job of dishing out the hull, creating a scalloped surface that was difficult to get smooth. So, I switched to my DA sander (Porter Cable 7335 5 inch dual action - the most used tool in my inventory) and 80 grit sandpaper and this was painfully slow. Next, I went down to 60 grit and this was slightly less painfully slow. It took a month of weekends to get the job done in the midst of a summer heatwave. I lost a few pounds, and fed a few mosquitoes but I got it done. Now I know better. First of all I would have gone straight to 40 grit on the DA sander. No messing around. Second of all, I have found a good carbide tipped paint scraper - and tons of pressure - actually strips a lot of bottom paint in a hurry. Its tough work but it goes much faster. Ablative bottom paint, such as I had (and still have), is very soft and gummy, and plain sanding can take a long long time. Eventually, though, the job got done.
A little keel repair
At this point, I discovered a problem. With the bottom paint removed I started seeing water 'weep' out from the forward end of the keel bottom. I admit, there was a moment of panic on my part. I had visions of a water filled ballast cavity and the lead ballast plug sloshing around inside. I investigated by drilling a series of holes up from the bottom into the keel until I started seeing lead shavings come out. No water came out of the holes so I breathed a sigh of relief. Next, I took a grinder to the areas that were 'weeping' the water. Under a layer of fiberglass I found a soft gray filler material; mostly likely Bondo, a polyester based filler. That explained a lot. Water flows through Bondo over time which is why it should never be used below the water line on boats. I wouldn't use that cheap crap anywhere above the water line either but that is just my opinion. Save the Bondo for rusty cars. Epoxy is the only way to go. Epoxy = good. Polyester = bad. ( or maybe just, Polyester = cheap crap with poor secondary bonding properties, only to be used on new construction)
Anyway... At some point in the past, a previous owner had found the rocky Maine sea bottom unexpectedly and the resulting crack had been repaired with Bondo and a layer of fiberglass over it all. My guess is the fiberglass covering was applied with polyester resin which didn't bond well (anyone surprised?). Water had then seeped into the damaged area and stayed there until I had sanded into the paint enough to break the seal allowing the water to flow back out. Continuing to grind, I exposed all of the damaged area, removing all traces of cracks. I found a shallow pocket behind the Bondo about 6 inches in diameter that was holding the water in. In the image below you can see the area after I had ground away the bad repair. The investigative holes that I drilled are visible too. Those holes I filled with epoxy thickened with colloidial silica.
Then, I had to replace what I had ground away, First a thin skim coat of thickened epoxy to fill the air pockets in the original laminate and fill other minor 'irregularities (possibly a result of grinding away the bad material). Then I applied 4 layers of 14 oz. biaxial cloth to the damaged area and extended it up the front of the keel. I figured the keel could use the extra reinforcement in an area prone to bottom impact. The boat was 40 years old and I had no idea what sort of damage history she might have. A little extra thickness was not going to hurt. A little fairing filler to smooth it all over and it was ready for bottom paint.
Filling old holes
After some thought I decided to remove all the old seacocks and thru-hulls, fill the holes, and start fresh. That way I would know for sure what I had keeping the sea out of my boat. Knowing for sure is kind of a nice feeling I believe. The cockpit and sink drains were just fiberglass tubes 'gooped' into the hull with hoses clamped onto the smooth sides of the tubes. All that stood between me and my boat sinking were some 40 year old rubber hoses. I wanted all thru-hulls below the waterline to have a seacock on them. The engine raw water inlet was a thru-hull with a ball valve screwed on top. You see this being done a lot by boatyards and it is a really bad habit born out of trying to save money. 1.) A side impact or load on this improper installation puts all the stress on a small area of the hull around the thru-hull. A seacock has a wide mounting base that spreads this load considerably. 2.) Thru-hulls have straight threads. Ball valves have tapered threads. The shape of the threads are fundamentally different and the two don't mate well together. You will get them them together but in reality only a thread or two is actually holding the parts together. Seacocks have straight threads and are designed to work with thru-hulls. Doing it any other way is just being cheap and stupid. In my humble opinion of course.
There isn't much to show about this process. After removing the old 'fittings', I used my grinder to dish out the area around the holes. Because the hull was so thick at the turn of the bilge, I dished out both the inside and outside. Otherwise, to get the proper angle, I would have had to dish out an excessively wide diameter area on one side. Doing it from both sides brought it to a more manageable area. I used 5-6 layers 14 oz. biaxial cloth on each side; more to build up to the correct surface thickness than any real need for that kind of strength. After I did the outside layers, I put a little thickened epoxy into the hole to fill the minor voids between the inner and outer layer repairs. Then I applied the inner layers. A few layers of epoxy with fairing filler and some sanding and the hull was ready for paint.
The starboard cockpit drain and the raw water inlet were so close that I simply combined the repair into one larger patch. Pretty sloppy job by the looks of it. I was just learning. Now I do better work. Honest.
Prepping for paint
The hull sat in this condition for quite a while. Just before the cruise in 2005, I applied bottom paint but otherwise didn't touch the topsides. After the deck was mostly prepped for paint I started getting the hull ready. Compared to the deck, the hull was pretty easy. That isn't to say it was truly 'easy' but compared to my deck it was pretty straight forward. The gel-coat was in decent - if not attractive- condition so unlike the deck I didn't have to remove it all (whew!)
My first step was to fix the old battle scars from the lose anchors and rough docksides. That required grinding away the edges of the damaged areas and filling them with epoxy mixed with fairing filler. After sanding these smooth, I then sanded the rest of the topsides; first with 80 grit and then with 120. There was a bilge pump outlet in the middle of the transom that I simply filled with epoxy thickened with colloidial silica- plenty strong for its application above the water line.
I removed the metal rub strip along the hull-deck joint and found an ugly looking joint. Secure enough but not pretty, so I filled the gaps and sanded the edge flush. The second picture is looking up at one particularly bad area where the deck section was wider than the hull it was meant to join with.
Once the rough fairing was done, it was time to say good-bye to the ugly 'seasick green' and say hello to Awl-Grip high build primer 'beige'. High build primer is interesting stuff. It is incredibly thick and takes a long time to mix when you forget your drill motor paint mixing attachment. Awl-Grip high build primer is a two part mix. The instructions say to 'thin only as necessary'. My thought was that since I was trying to achieve a thick covering I should avoid thinning unless absolutely necessary. In the instructions online, there are specific numbers relating to the initial laydown and final cured thicknesses. I just don't know what a 'mil' is by eye and I didn't have any real way to measure it - not that I would have taken the effort to try if I did- so I just rolled it on raw. That was my first mistake with high build primer. Even with a thin, quality mohair roller, the unthinned high build primer set up with heavy roller marks that had to be sanded later. A second mistake is that there was a bit of wind that day and this greatly decreased the 'tack free' time. The primer was dry to the touch long before the brush marks had a chance to level out. For my third mistake, I had been told that high build can sit a while before you sand it. That was wrong. After 24 hours, the high build primer was still a bit soft and was clogging up my sandpaper. So I left and came back two days later. At that point the high build had set up like a rock; a rock with roller marks. My advisors later told me that they hadn't actually used Awl-Grip high build primer before, they based their advice on a competitors product (Alexseal). It took some seriously aggressive sanding to fix it and that meant that I burned through to the underlying gel-coat in a few places. In all, two coats of high build primer were applied, sanding between coats.. A little bit of advice here: If the primer is applied by spraying, all three coats can be applied an hour apart and the surface is pretty smooth requiring a light sanding. When applied by hand, each coat must sit for 24 hours and be sanded in between. There was a lot of sanding involved in this process. Sanding between coats also makes building up a suitable thickness that much harder. That is why I now believe spraying is the only way to go with these products. You can apply them by hand but it is much MUCH faster and easier with spray equipment. Another lesson learned. Ultimately, the high build primer was applied and finish sanded with 80 and then 120 grit sandpaper. These pictures were taken before the sanding had commenced. This was the best the hull had looked in many years and I cherish these first photos of 'what she could be...'
Minor blemishes were then filled with Awl-Fair, a very fine grained filler made by Awl-Grip paints. Mixing 1:1, Awl-Fair spreads very thinly and a little goes a long ways. Put it on too thick and it will take a week to cure. Put it on thin and it takes 15 minutes before it is dry to the touch. Very nice stuff. I didn't go crazy trying to fair the hull. It was a 40 year old boat manufactured when fiberglass boat making was still being worked out. There is nothing fair about these old hulls and it seems pointless to me to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. During this process I had the opportunity to closely scrutinize the hull surface for hours while sanding and there are tons of little oddities about the shape. It is neither symmetrical side to side nor smooth nor fair. It is what it is. After the topcoat was put on I think it came out quite well, all things considered. Anyway, after the fairing filler was applied the hull was sanded in stages up to 220 grit sandpaper. The second photo shows the topsides sanded after applying the Awl-Fair. I couldn't help but take a picture after washing down the hull. It was my first chance to see a shiny hull. A polka-dotted shiny hull notwithstanding. Some of the burn through in the high build primer is clearly visible too.
With the hull faired and sanded to 220 grit I applied final primer, in this case Awl-Grip 545. Unfortunately, when I was ordering primer materials I made the decision to go with the white primer. A gallon was more than enough for both decks and topsides and since the decks would require white primer I thought I would use white throughout. This turned out to be another mistake. I couldn't get enough coverage to completely cover the underlying colors. Unlike the high build primer, Awl-grip 545 final primer is very thin stuff. Think "painting with water" and you will have an idea as to the consistency. Take a freshly loaded paint roller and push it firmly against the hull while you start to roll and you are going to be instantly doused with primer spraying off the roller. I ruined several pairs of dark safety glasses learning this. Lucky for me I was wearing glasses. Again, I was sanding between coats which wasn't helping my attempts at building up a good covering coat.
After three coats of white and having limited success covering, I broke down and bought gray 545 primer. This did a much better job of covering up the underlying colors. After two coats of the gray (and still sanding between coats) I then hand sanded the topsides to 320 grit sandpaper. I was getting pretty tired of sanding at this point yet I kept finding more blemishes. The closer I got to pefection, the more the small stuff started to jump out at me. Finally, my solution was to walk around the boatyard and look closely at the other painted boats that I had admired. From one foot away they all exhibited the same blemishes. That gave me comfort and I was able to call the prep work done at that point. There is one more mistake that I feel compelled to acknowledge. I found a few light spots where the underlying color was peeking through and I had a can of 24 hour old mixed 545 primer. It seemed okay so I applied it over those few spots. I realized I had a problem very quickly. The paint didn't set up well. It went off extremely quickly and left big ridges along the edges. So I mixed up some fresh primer and touched up the remaining spots. The problem wasn't as bad but I still had slight ridges along the edges. By the time I had hand sanded the touched up spots smooth I had burned through the primer along the edges. I just made it worse. Next time I will leave well enough alone. I certainly didn't improve it at all. Luckily, the final topcoat application took care of my mistakes quite well.
I had decided by then that I didn't want to learn to apply Awl-Grip using the roll and tip method. The learning curve was proving to be too much effort and I knew I wasn't going to be happy with my results so I decided to have the topsides sprayed by someone else. Prior to sending the boat to the shop for the topcoat application I painted the bottom. I didn't want my first look at the final topcoat to be marred by the black bottom paint. I chose green.
Applying final topcoat
At this point I gave up some of my responsibilities and let a pro deal with the topcoat application. I helped mask the deck and bottom edge below the water line off but otherwise was not really involved. The color I had chosen was a standard color in Awl-Grip's Awlcraft 2000 line; an acryllic based topcoat that is a spray-only product. Since I had already decided not to roll and tip this wasn't a problem. The actual color I chose was a big risk for me. I like green, particularly dark green. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. My boatyard is full of green boats and I wanted to be different. There is another Triton with really dark green topsides that looks great but I didn't want to copy it (much). So I hunted around for something more unique. The answer came in the form of a suggestion from another Triton owner; dark, dark purple; eggplant purple. Normal purple would look terrible (in my opinion) but a super dark, almost black purple might be intriguing. It would have to be dark enough not to jump out and scream "Purple!" when someone first saw it. When I called the Awl-Grip rep about a custom color he pointed me to the stock color "Aubergine" already in the product line. I went for it.I will readily admit that I was nervous about the choice. I am not a purple kind of person. I am green but that wasn't going to work in this case. I gave an awful lot of thought about Claret which is a great color, in my opinion, but I couldn't quite do it. Most of my friends and family urged Claret but I started to think about being very unique and I really liked the idea. Flag blue is always good but, like green, has become pretty common, particularly if you cruise into Hinkley country around Southwest Harbor Maine (I do). So my plan was to try the Aubergine and if I didn't like it switch to Claret. Once the prepping is done, I assumed that applying a new topcoat color would not be such a hassle. I wished the painter the best and I crossed my fingers...
To say I loved it on first sight would be a stretch. Even the painter had some concern. After the air had cleared enough to look it over the two of us kept walking around and around saying "hmmm..." It wasn't what either of us was expecting. It was much more purple than we expected and where sunlight hit the bow through the open door, the color went to a light purple/ almost pink. I felt that the color choice was a bold move and I had to have the stomach to take whatever the outcome was but it was tough for either of us to make up our minds. The more we looked at it, the more we liked it, but it wasn't what either of us had expected...
Curiously, over the next week or so, both myself and the painter have concluded that the topcoat continued to darken as it cured. After a week it became the color we both expected (much to some relief) and I am thrilled with the final product.
Marking the bootstripe
One of the best things I learned while helping with the painting operation was a good way to strike an absolutely straight bootstripe. A truly straight bootstripe is a very rare thing these days and I am grateful to have one on my boat.
The first requirement is a level boat. We took some pains to get the boat level fore and aft as well as side to side. Then we attached some vertical 2x4's to a couple of saw horses positioned on the ends of the boat. A horizontal 2x4 was attached between the vertical 2x4's. We adjusted the heights of the vertical 2x4's to get the horizontal 2x4 absolutely level. Then, we ran a string down the side of the boat and weighted each end; in our case we used full paint cans (in a moment of absent mindedness one of us lifted up a can sending the other crashing to the cement floor. Luckily the lid held...) The fore and aft string was moved in until it just touched the hull and a small piece of tape was put on the hull to mark the spot. The string was then taped directly to the hull at the point of contact and the string was moved in again until it touched the hull six inches in front of the previous spot. Marking and then taping the string was repeated. Taping the string to the hull is necessary because with the curvature of the hull, the string will want to curve. Here is a picture of the jig that was set up and a picture of me marking the contact points with tape.
Once the series of contact points was marked, we removed the string and ran a continuous line of tape along the marks. From there it was a simple measure to mask off the hull and spray the Alexseal White on the bootstripe.
As a final touch, after the rubrail was installed, a silver metallic flaked tape from an automotive detailing supplier was applied two inches below the rubrail. I can't be certain how well the tape will hold up but it does look pretty nice.