Mailport April 15, 2002 Issue

Mailport: 04/15/02

Topside Paint Test
Practical Sailor is to be commended for its attempt to compare topside paints (February 15). While your test will provide you with a "photograph" of some important information, you may want to consider the following.

Paints (or in the trade, surface coatings) are manufactured for specific tasks and perform through different mechanisms. That is why there are so many types.

Water-based products are generally chosen for exterior house application for their ease of application, and clean-up. They may survive for a while in brackish water but have very poor saltwater service. Even the best water acrylic or water-based epoxy coating will be left in the dust by its solvent-based counterpart when applied per the manufacturer's specification.

Generally paints are applied as a "barrier coating" to protect the underlying surface, but not always. Some water-based products actually allow the environment to permeate and exit the coating, similar to rain upon a concrete surface. The exterior appearance may look fine, but breakdown and corrosion may be hidden from view. This is especially true with thick films of water- based paints applied on wood.

No mention of priming or undercoating of your test area was mentioned, and this is important because some of the best-performing surface coatings will reward this vital step with many more extra years of durability. Some better coatings can break down prematurely even before "inferior" coatings, because they are designed to have a very tough film thickness over a primer with less surface tension. An example of this is found on wood surfaces.

It is possible that marine oil-based enamel might, under certain circumstances, beat a better environmentally resistant coating, such as an epoxy or pure two-part urethane. The reason for this is again the surface tension of the dried coating vis a vis the movement of the substrate (in this case wood). So a better coating can actually fail a poorly designed test, using inadequate priming and preparation.

Surface preparation like the sanding you described, will extend the life of the coating. Paint affixes to the surface in most cases mechanically with a few important exceptions, such as epoxy coatings chemically binding to cement. Anchor patterns of the paint to the substrate are extremely important. Not only the surface roughness, but the sharpness of the profile is vital. The lack of adequate priming will show up as chipping, blistering, or more likely "peeling." This is especially true of your higher-performing surface coating like two-part urethanes, because of the inherent greater surface tension of the cured coating film.

I should note that while the Clorox washing and rinsing that you describe is admirable, for certain kinds of paint over certain kinds of surfaces, no matter how well you believe that you have rinsed, a predictable paint breakdown due to chloride contamination can be predictable, especially if painting over steel. The fact that you have various types of coatings in your test, complicates this, for they will all be diversely affected by the minute traces of dry chloride residue.

Dry film paint thickness (dft) should be considered, as it is quite unfair to compare one coating with a dft. of two and a half mils., compared with one at say seven mils. (thousandths of an inch).

In the actual test, the angle of all the dry paint to the destructive ultraviolet sun's rays will make a considerable difference. Also if the Whaler is never in salt water service, the individual paints' resistance to real-world environment will not be tested. Ideally, one half of the bracelet ought to suffer salt water immersion. Further resistance to gasoline, diesel, and the various cleaners we use ought to be considered.

Over the years, the most optimum and durable coating system on fiberglass, steel or aluminum, has been found to be two coats of 4mils of a two-part mix polyamide epoxy primer, followed by two coats of two-part aliphatic or acrylic urethane (3mils dft. / coat) over adequately prepared surfaces. A life expectancy of 12 years or much more might well be expected in normal marine service, providing no mechanical damage occurs.

Any coating is only going to perform according to its design, preparation, priming and application. Your test will no doubt further educate us all. I'll give you an A+ for effort and all the hard work involved.

-Michael R. Bingham
Deer Park, TX


I subscribe to your publication because it is read by many of my customers, and I try to keep up with what they are reading so I might respond responsibly if they ask questions about one of your topics. Many of your articles offer useful information for boat owners and for boat service professionals. I appreciate your efforts and hope that you keep up the good work.

However, your article "Topside Paint Test Kick-off" is not one of your better offerings. The tone and accuracy are woefully misleading. In my opinion, this type of journalism is a disservice to your customers and to boating.

Your suggestion that boatyards think their customers can't multiply is totally inappropriate. Many boat service professionals respect their customers' intelligence and try to provide the high level of service they require. Many are active members of the state trade associations and national organizations such as the International Marina Institute, American Boatbuilders and Repairers Association, and American Boat & Yacht Council. Participating in these encourages them to sincerely strive to provide their customers with quality, reputable service. Many also voluntarily participate in activities such as the Clean Marina Program offered in several states to improve our environment and encourage boat owners to do the same.

Your suggestion "You can paint your own boat. Right?" inferring that an amateur brush job can compare to a professional spray or brush job is misleading to say the least. Even though we do charge what appears to be a lot of money for high-quality polyurethane refinishing, most of us struggle to come out profitably on our estimates. It is tedious, demanding work that often requires costly, un-billable rework to achieve the desired results. If you want quality, you should expect to pay for it.

I know of some yards that offer 2 prices for their polyurethane refinishing quotes. One is for near-perfection at a 5-foot distance from the hull, and another lower quote is for near-perfection at 20 feet. This approach has a lot of merit. Quality is measured in gloss, fairness, uniformity, lack of blemishes, texture, etc. It is not possible to evaluate these on such a small sample as you are using on your test boat.

I am curious what you intend to suggest by your statement that "preparation—filling, patching and almost endless sanding—is outside the confines of this paint test." Does this mean that you don't consider the effort required for preparation as part of the job? In reality, it represents the majority of the labor cost for the work if done by a professional. Applying the topcoat is a small fraction of the effort and cost.

You also fail to caution your readers of the risks of painting a previously light-colored hull with a dark finish.

I will look forward to better articles than this in the future.

-Philip G. Conner
Crockett Bros. Boatyard, Inc.
Oxford, MD

Mr. Conner, we're sorry you felt the need to come out with guns blazing, because there was no attack. We thought we'd made it pretty clear that a do-it-yourselfer would have a huge amount of work to do even to approach the kind of finish a professional yard could provide with an Awlgrip job— and it would still fall short. Our question, though, was expressed in one of the captions—could a do-it-yourselfer get most of the way there for a fraction of the cost?

The fact is that there are plenty of boatowners who simply can't afford to have a yard paint their boats. This ongoing paint story is for them.

It's true that we barely scratched the surface of the preparation issue (that issue really was outside the scope of the article), and that it's preparation, not so much the paint application itself, that costs so much in a professional job.

In any case, we don't think this is a subject on which most boatowners will be swayed by arguments in either direction—some either won't feel capable or willing to do the work themselves, and will stretch their budgets to have a professional job done (or will have enough money not to think twice about it); others simply won't be able to afford the yard bill and will have to do it themselves. We don't see that there's much of a middle ground, except maybe the idea you suggest—5-ft. quality versus 20-foot quality. We hadn't heard of that. It's a good idea.


Best Putty for Hull Damage?
While the article on Hull Hole Damage Control (December '01) was as usual well-researched and presented, I can't help feeling that few of us are going to follow the good advice given due to expense and other priorities.

I sail a Hunter 28.5 on an Arkansas lake and carry just two $1.39 toiletsealing rings for puncture protection. These rings are completely moldable,  have incredible sticking power, and have virtually unlimited storage life in their indestructable plastic wrapping. They will bond virtually anything to the hull. Once I packed the propshaft from the outside and changed the shaftlog packing without so much as a drop of water coming through. Cleaning it up afterward was no problem, in that case. My fellow readers, go to the hardware store and spend $3.

-Lawrence White
Memphis, Tennessee


Bruce Anchor Notes
Your introduction to "A Tale of Two Anchors" (January 15) leads me to send you a few thoughts and observations concerning the use of Bruce anchors.  In fairness to Bruce anchors the following observations are based entirely on my experience with them in South Florida, the Florida Keys, and the Bahamas, and a couple of experiences with them on Long Island Sound.My experience with the anchor is limited to the 33-lb anchor, which I have used with both an all-chain rode and with nylon/chain combination. On the nylon/chain rode the chain was 50' of 3/8" proof coil.

As Practical Sailor noted, the Bruce anchor is one of the fastest setting anchors on the market.  In sand and mud bottoms my experience agrees with this finding. However, in the weed bottom found throughout South Florida and the Bahamas the Bruce is frustrating at best and untrustworthy in its ability to reset.  

The problem is in its design, in that the flukes act as a scoop, much like the shovel on a backhoe. This design causes the anchor to load up with bottom material, which subsequently prevents it from setting, or worse, resetting. I've experienced this problem in New England mud, and most prominately here in South Florida and Bahamas, where large areas of the bottom are covered with a layer of heavy weed about 6" deep over sand. Instead of digging through the weed and setting in the sand underneath, a Bruce anchor scoops and loads up with the weed, then refuses to set.

When recovered, the flukes will be full of weed, sometimes to the point of being too heavy to recover without a windlass. If a patch of sand cannot be found, several attempts will be necessary to get a secure set.  In this type of bottom I have absolutely no faith in its ability to reset itself.  

In mud bottoms the problem is limited to resetting, as usually the anchor sets quickly and stays set until there is a violent wind shift that causes the anchor to break out, carrying bottom material with it, which then prevents resetting.

Unfortunately I have had many more of these experiences than I would care to have, as the majority of charterboats I drive are equipped with a Bruce.  On the few boats I've driven equipped with a CQR-type anchor, the weed hasn't been a problem, as this type of anchor literally plows through the weed and sets well in the sand underneath.

In the end all this points to the fact that no one anchor is going to be satisfactory in all bottom types and everyone needs to equip their boat with suitably sized anchors of different designs to ensure a good night's sleep.

-Alan Hatch
Via e-mail


Where Credit Is Due
To Barnacle Anchors, East Ellenton, FL: "Three years ago we installed a 55-lb Barnacle anchor on our 1999 Hylas 49. We have used it extensively from Maine to Georgetown in the Bahamas and it has performed flawlessly. About six or eight months ago I noticed the tip of the anchor was showing some rust. This became progressively worse, so that eventually the lower 1/3 of the fluke was showing rust. I tried to get it regalvanized in Fort Lauderdale, but most shops either didn't want to touch it or wanted to charge more than the anchor cost originally. Finally I called Ken Guynes at Barnacle Anchors (800/295-2766) and asked him if he could help me get it regalvanized. He said 'Regalvanized my foot—that's a warranty issue and I am going to replace the anchor.'

"He replaced the anchor at no cost to me, including shipping, and arranged to have my old anchor picked up. This was a three-year-old anchor. Barnacle is a superb anchor and the company is first-class in my book."

-Larry I. Mann, MD
Tucson, AZ

To OCENS, Seattle, WA: "...for improving their product and sending updates to their customers before they request it and free of charge.

"OCENS markets the 'Weather Station 2000' system, which provides ways to download weather either from satellites, or through an SSB or just your modem.  Much of the information is web-based and so they are expanding to providing additional services using new satellite-based telephone systems.

"In previous correspondence to you I had indicated that my experience with the system was a very happy one and that I thought your review did not give OCENS credit for the flexibility and growth potential it has.  I did share a concern—that since the system relies on software and web-based information, the company would have to keep updating their product to keep current.

"I was very pleasantly surprised when I was informed that OCENS has done just that.  A new version of the system is now developed and is being sent to previous owners free of charge.  It updates the software for operating systems that Microsoft has distributed in recent years and it also includes new capabilities and ways to get and use weather charts.

"Well done and thank you OCENS."

-Paris Genalis
Via e-mail

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