Shiny Objects

Well, I took at little time off last month and had a vacation, and now I’m back in the barn with my boat, Passage, plugging away toward getting her in the water. 

One of the big tasks I tackled again this week was taking the old, dingy hull with the muddy gel coat finish and trying to make it shine. I’ve talked a little about this before in these blog posts, but this week has been all about gelcoat. Gelcoat, to recap, is the outer coating on fiberglass hulls that makes them shine. When they’re new. After decades, the finish and the situation get complicated. 

That’s where the do-it-yourself contingent of boat owners can supposedly use educated elbow grease and the proper chemicals, scrubbing away time (in a sense), in an effort to make the boat look good again. In this case, that DIYer would be me.

So, buffing gelcoat: I have never done such a thing in my life (as it is with many of the tasks on this boat) and so I am truly learning as I go. Reading a lot, watching videos, listening to advice from experienced people, and trying to use my common sense. Every resource I have read assures me that I’m the gal for the job and that it’s doable. Gulp.

But when you tackle anything for the first time, there’s that wobbly period where you don’t make much headway and you just kind of feel pretty nervous… 

That’s where I have been with this gelcoat thing. Serious approach avoidance. With many things on this boat, I am constantly trying to get the feel of a project and what the proper outcome should be, so that I know what I’m doing, or at least feel that I am not totally in the dark. All of this while I’m doing that thing for the first and probably only time. So there’s a bit of pressure to get it right. And the learning curve is necessarily steep. I have no other boats to practice on.

It’s been that way with this gelcoat situation, trying various ways to buff away the dull finish without taking away too much. Going carefully, carefully, maybe too carefully?

I finally hit a sweet spot this week: after muddling around in a halting sort of way with my electric buffer and lots of research on different kinds of rubbing compounds, I finally managed to get some meaningful shine to part of the hull. 

My relative success has given me faith in my original plan: go over the hull with the heavy compound, then again with a lighter version, and then wax. It seems like by the time I do all that – she’ll look pretty darn spiffy for an old boat.

That’s all well and good, and nice in theory. But today I actually managed to make the old hull truly shine a bit. I saw a respectable reflection in my work light, and not just dull spots with a little shine peeking through, as I had seen before.

And that success was a very good thing. It made me very happy to feel like I was on the right path and had some idea what I was aiming for.

I sat on the platform next to Passage with my respirator, goggles, rubber gloves, microfiber cloths, rubbing compound and the buffer in my hands, and told her she was beautiful. Because she is. 

And I told her we were making progress, that she should take heart, and that soon she will be where she wants to be, which is gently cradled by blessed water once again, at one with the river and sky, and a real boat once more.

But not quite yet. Tomorrow I keep going with the buffing, as I make my way around the hull. I can see a big difference between the before and after. And that’s a good thing. And I’m gaining confidence as I go…. and a renewed respect for shiny objects.