Whether we’re out cruising or not, our older sailboat (1977 Aleutian Ketch) needs continual maintenance, especially since I don’t want people to think she’s tired and worn down. Despite being a 44+ year old boat, Tulum seems to be in the prime of her years, but needs continual upkeep and preventative maintenance to keep her looking all spruced up. Keeping the boat neat and clean isn’t the same as preventative maintenance…which I do when I can start projects with a reasonable expectation that I’ll finish before we find the next weather window to jump to another pretty anchorage to start the cycle again. Last March, my friend and neighbor on the dock (M/V Noeta) in La Cruz motivated me to think about brightening Tulum up by painting the inlaid non-skid; especially as we discussed how to properly do the prep and painting while he worked on his gorgeous Nordhavn. My friend’s Nordhavn wouldn’t be so pristine and gorgeous if he didn’t put the time and effort into her maintenance. Cruising port to port, it can be easy to forget about taking care of a boat when you’re in a place like La Cruz and even more easy to slip into margarita bliss.
Painting Tulum’s Non-Skid and Gutters
After discussing the steps needed to do a decent paint job on my inlaid nonskid on Tulum’s topsides, I decided I had the time to knock out the project while we were in La Cruz. This paint project was a preventative maintenance job to me, but it also added an aesthetic appeal by cleaning and brightening our non-skid and gutters. No amount of cleaning would have given the same result without also painting.
First, I needed to get our current paint matched so I took off a stern locker cover and hauled it into town during a provisioning run. In the neighboring town of Bucerias, I followed the directions to the small paint store on the “lateral” where the owner paint matched our non-skid color and his son delivered the supplies via motorcycle an hour later. I chose to use the same type of paint that my friend used, which is an industrial polyurethane topcoat called Imron. Imron isn’t cheap (approx. $240 per gallon) but it’s a high-quality paint that’s readily available, in Mexico.
Here’s directions from AXALTA.com:
Thoroughly mix prior to activation. The use of a Cyclone® shaker is recommended. Combine components and mix thoroughly. Filter material prior to spray application.
Imron Elite Topcoat (EA quality) 3
194STM Activator 1
Improve pot life and dry time:
Add up to 2 oz. of 389STM Accelerator or 1 oz. of 8989STM Accelerator to activated gal.
Note: 8989STM will shorten pot life.
The paint is probably meant to be used in a paint gun but I chose to apply with a brush. This paint is a 2-part (3-1) mix of topcoat and activator, plus you can use a thinner if you choose to use a layer as primer or use it in a paint gun. I chose not to use the thinner as I wanted all the thickness I could get with the recommended two layers of paint. By far, the most important and exhausting part of the painting job was the preparation.
Prep and Paint
My non-skid isn’t the roll-on kind, it’s inlaid in the fiberglass, so preparation to paint the non-skid went like this: First, I used a hefty portion of Simple Green and water plus a scrub pad to give each piece of non-skid a really good scrub to get as much dirt and grease off as possible, making sure to dry it as I moved through the various pieces I wanted to paint. Then, I came back over the non-skid (very quickly and lightly) with an electric sander and light sand paper (270) to give it a bit of scuff and finished the process with a generous scrub of acetone to get anything that was left over out of the non-skid pattern. This all seemed to work fairly well. Then, I had to wait for it all to completely dry. Because of the constant sun and high temperature in La Cruz I was soon mixing my two-part paint in a 3/1 ratio and painting away. I gave each piece of non-skid an entire day to dry out and then went back the next day and put on the 2nd coat.
Getting out to anchor for a week after all that painting, I was fairly disgusted when looking at the sorry shape of my deck gutters, which are on either side of our teak decks. After years of neglect they had permanent stains: varnish, dirt, dog hair, fish blood, wine and various kinds of epoxy inside the gutters, making them an ugly shade of off-white. Since I still had paint left from my non-skid paint project, the gutters called to me asking to be cleaned, prepped, and painted. So, I obliged and made this one of my projects at anchor. It was a more complicated project because of the afternoon wind and the dog hair all over the decks. I did, however, tackle the project using the same steps as the non-skid. What a difference it is to look over the like-new white gutters and know that in just a few day’s time they went from plain ugly to glistening white. The other benefit of painting both topside nonskid and gutters (made of fiberglass) is that this paint will fill some of the small spider cracks, especially when the second coat is applied a bit more thickly.
I can’t put into words how many years these few days of work took off Tulum’s topsides and deck gutters. Semi-glossed white and shining brightly, the non-skid and gutters now shimmer in the sunlight (almost glow) and are 100% easier to clean: just soap, water, and a mop and the stains are gone without much work. Overall, this wasn’t a hard project and I think we’ll get more Imron next month when we’re back in La Cruz. There’s more painting to be done on Tulum as we go.
I did this project both to keep up the boat and because I’m a strong believer in preventative maintenance. Someone I respect, Andrew South, taught me the importance of preventative maintenance. Tulum is a 44+ year old boat that’s already circumnavigated once, she’s got some experience. As such, we’ll have to continue to put in the time and maintenance to keep her fresh and healthy, but that’s part of boat ownership and cruising no matter where you are in the world.
The author lives on a 51’ 1977 Aleutian Ketch with his family and their Great Dane and are currently cruising in Mexico and prepping to head to Central America. This story has been submitted to Good Old Boat Magazine for what the author hopes will be his first printed story.