Yacht Maintenance- Antifouling for the Club Racer 

image of Firefox
Firefox in the boatyard at Sussex yacht Club looking absolutely pristine


William Mills suggests in Yacht Maintenance- Antifouling for the Club Racer  that the annual trip to the boatyard should be seen as a new challenge rather than a dreaded chore


Every year the boat owner is faced with the dilemma of whether to lift out for an expensive session in the boatyard or whether there is a way around it.

Many have tried to escape the annual chore by buying fabulously expensive copper coating antifoul paints which claim to protect our hulls for many years thereby making the annual trip to the boatyard unnecessary.

In the twenty years that I kept a yacht on England’s south coast I always lifted her out each year.

The below waterline hull was pressured washed off by the boatyard staff, and then over the next three to four weeks I sanded down the old antifoul and added a fresh coat. I also inspected the propeller and its shaft.

As a keen club racer I wanted my boat to go at its fastest so I pondered which paint to use, and how much work, some of it arduously back breaking, was really necessary.

On a chilly February morning, standing in the yard’s boat park looking up at my yacht in its cradle I surveyed the thick layers of paint still left on from previous years wondering what to do.

I gingerly started to wrap a piece of 80 grain wet and dry around a sponge sanding block dipping it into a bucket of warm water thankful I’d brought a kettle with me.

I rubbed, realising there were layers of old paint. I wondered whether I should try to just smooth the surface a bit, before adding yet more paint, or take it all off?

At that moment, I heard a friendly voice behind me say,

‘Take it all off, c’mon don’t be lazy’.

It was Ron Moles, one of the nicest people I’d had the good fortune to meet. Sadly, he later drowned in a boating accident outside the entrance to Brighton Marina.

He went away and came back with a small paint scrapper which he gave me and explained the only way to deal with my hull was to chisel the paint right back to the gelcoat.

It took three weeks starting off with a tiny patch that inch by inch got bigger.

It was hard work but I was really proud by the time I was finished. It also gave me the opportunity to closely inspect the state of my hull and any little blisters and blemishes could be filled.

Next, the choice of paints.  A good coat of premium undercoat is the key to success as it helps protect the hull and gives the best surface for the subsequent topcoat.

Much has been written about the wisdom of copper coat paints. The primary purpose of the antifoul is to protect the hull from microscopic marine organisms damaging the boat’s structure by burrowing into it.

I’m sure they all do an excellent job and if I was planning a multi-year around the world cruise, or to areas where foreign boatyards are few and far between, I would look for the longest lasting paint.

image of W Mills and Firefox
Firefox and then owner William Mills at Sussex Yacht Club around 2007

However as a largely stay at home club racer, I’m looking for performance for the duration of the season.

I used to work in the local chandlery, but as an office based accountant, and not in a sales or technical role.

One year, the underneath of my boat was a patchwork quilt of lots of different coloured paints which were revealed to our competitors when overtaking them to leeward on a beat.

‘That’s cheating!’ said a woman angrily, ‘you have access to paints that the rest of us don’t.’

Actually, I’d asked for a staff discount and was told to take the samples left by the various salesmen and any left tins over from last year that our customers didn’t want.

The newest, best, and most expensive paints were always on the front of the shelf available to everyone.

The patchwork was awful to look at, and its effect on performance was questionable. Every year subsequently I always bought the top of the range hard racing antifoul.

It worked perfectly.

After I’d completed my refit, the boat felt much lighter and as it glided through the water I found it was much faster than previously.

image of Firefox results 2007
If you are prepared to put the work in victory will follow victory

I initially enjoyed the success I experienced in winning races, although the downside was increased rivalry in the yacht club.

I still have Ron Moles’ paint scrapper. He was a good man.

Visits to the boatyard should be seen as part of the hobby of sailing. If one is young and fit enough to go sailing, then one should also be up for a day in the yard.

Yacht Maintenance- Antifouling for the Club Racer 


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