Eventually the day will come when you have to bare your bottom. No, I don't mean your college reunion or Mardi Gras—I'm talking about stripping your antifouling paint, taking your boat's bottom down to bare surface to prep for fresh primer and paint, to find and repair blisters, for surveying, etc. Unless you are a masochist of Herculean proportions, stripping paint, bottom or otherwise, is best left to the yard. Most yards won't let you do your own bottom work anyway, for environmental and economic reasons, so your job is to choose the best method, then find a yard that uses it.
There are three ways to strip your bottom. Aggressive methods like sandblasting can damage the gelcoat, possibly leading to osmosis problems later on; it takes a skilled hand to blast a fiberglass boat safely. And the sand creates hellacious dust and finds its way into everything within sight. Chemical stripping is messy and poses a clean-up problem but is okay for relatively small projects. Modern chemical strippers are less noxious than the old-fashioned kind—for example, Soy Solvents makes Soy-Strip from 100-percent American-grown soybeans—but smart workers still wear breathing and eye protection. Scraping is not worth considering, unless somebody's paying you by the hour to do it rather than the other way around. (Sanding paint off? Fuggedaboudit. Life's way too short.)
Blasting is the most effective, most economical way to remove antifouling; it's how most yards do it. But instead of sand, modern blasters use biodegradable media that are environmentally friendly and easy to clean up—even such unlikely materials as baking soda are used (see "Green Machine," April 2004). I like the Farrow System, a patented method using proprietary organic media—natural volcanic pumice the company calls Green Clean and hot water at low pressure. When workers needed to strip red-lead from the orlop deck of H.M.S. Victory, the most cherished ship in the Royal Navy, they chose the Farrow System, which is enough endorsement for me.
During application, Green Clean absorbs the water propellant, so there's no dust, and cleanup is easy—just sweep up the damp residue. The system is so clean it can be used indoors and so gentle it can strip varnish without damaging the wood underneath. Four grades of Green Clean can handle everything from stripping furniture or cleaning smoke damage to blasting away graffiti, road markings, and barnacles from steel hulls. Removing antifouling is a snap, and the gelcoat is left paint-ready. According to Rick Halliday, service coordinator at Cardinal Yacht Sales and Service in Somers Point, New Jersey, the Farrow System "doesn't make a mess, doesn't destroy the boat." He's tried all the other stripping methods—dry sand, wet sand, walnut shells—but says, "The Farrow System is the best we've ever had."
To locate a boatyard or subcontractor using the Farrow System in your area, contact the local distributor; or see the Farrow System authorized dealer list.
I'm having problems with the macerator valves in my 1998 35-foot Egg Harbor. The flushing mechanism on the toilet isn't working, but I'm also getting an awful odor from the toilet; I assume the flapper valve on the macerator system isn't sealing. Will replacing the flushing mechanism fix this? What's the best way to access the macerator valves? One person said I'd need to rip apart the entire saloon!—Chris B., via Maintenance forum
My contact at Egg Harbor suggests consulting a boatyard before tearing anything apart since repairing the macerator shouldn't involve major surgery. He recommends Niemiec Marine in New Bedford, Massachussets. That's a ways from you in Peabody, Massachusetts, but maybe they can advise you by phone in return for this free plug. Otherwise, find a yard in your area. Boatyards repair things in unreachable areas every day.
As for the odor: Yes, a faulty "flushing mechanism" (a worn joker valve?) will make your cabin smell like an outhouse, but you may need to replace the sanitation hoses, too. After nine years they're likely permeable, and odor is escaping through them. Wipe them with a clean, damp cloth; if the cloth smells like sewage, replace the hoses with SeaLand Odorsafe, Shields Super Head, or similar hoses. It's a big, messy, smelly job, but make it easier by flushing the system beforehand with plenty of water and biodegradable soap or the manufacturer's recommended cleaning solution. Don't forget to flush the holding tank (followed by a chemical or biocide treatment) and bilge.
This article originally appeared in the September 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.