It’s always sad when you have to put your boat on the hard or the dock to return to the “real world” for an extended stay. Not only is it a downer to give up cruising and playing for a while, but the idea of abandoning your boat for lengths of time during storm season is not one that most boaters are thrilled by. There are precautions that you can take to make your departure a little less anxiety ridden though.
Let’s get the big bad wolf out of the way first. There was a time not very long ago when all of us in the northern Caribbean cringed at the “H” word - those dark years when we could have multiple storm scares during a single hurricane season. We’ve been lucky in recent years, but we haven’t uncrossed our fingers or stopped knocking on wood.
If you are new to hurricane season preparations and looking for advice, be careful. It’s very easy to find “experts”, but we’ve heard an awful lot of bad advice over the years. Do some research before you decide how you are preparing your boat for your absence and the possibility of a storm. There’s plenty of information available on line from qualified marine surveyors and insurance companies who’ve identified some of the most successful ways to avoid storm damage. Use it to put together your own plan. Put your plan in writing and in the hands of someone who is responsible, as knowledgeable as possible, and hopefully does not have a great deal of his or her own to secure in the event of a storm. Avoid putting yourself in a situation of helplessness, i.e. when a storm is approaching and you’re hundreds or thousands of miles away and can do nothing but watch and worry. It’s wise to have all of the equipment that will be needed to secure your boat for a storm put together before you leave. We have unfortunately encountered an awful lot of people in our stores before storms who are scrambling to put together equipment to secure an absentee boater’s boat during a storm scare. More often than not we see those people making compromises you probably wouldn’t make yourself. Make sure that you have adequate lengths and sizes of anchor lines, sufficient chafe gear, anchors, chain, shackles, thimbles, and all other equipment needed to realize your hurricane plan before you leave.
Now that we’ve addressed the doom and gloom of storms, let’s talk about some of the other things you should prepare for when storing your boat. Storing your boat while you return home doesn’t have to result in a moldy cabin, fouled fuel and rusty equipment, but if you don’t take steps to prevent these things from happening, they almost certainly will. Toward the end of hurricane season it usually rains a lot more than at other times of the year, and before that we usually have less wind, higher temperatures and a lot of Sahara dust. There are ways to mitigate the damage that all of these factors can cause.
Stored fuel can become a problem if left for a long time in the wrong conditions. In hot humid conditions, condensation can cause water in your fuel a lot faster than in milder temperatures. The water will sink to the bottom of the tank, and where the water and fuel meet, microorganisms will grow. Try to run those colonies of microorganisms through your engine on your return and you could end up with engine problems. One way to prevent this is to have your fuel tank full, (but not over-full) to lessen the chance of condensation. The goal is to minimize the amount of air in the tank, but still allow only enough room for the fuel to expand and contract. Another way to prevent problems with stored fuel is to use an enzyme fuel stabilizer. This is a better alternative than the microbicides that are also available because it will prevent and remove microbial growth, reduce emissions, prevent fuel oxidation, and stabilize diesel chemistry. Microbicides will kill the growth, but sometimes the sediment remains in the fuel and can still gum up your filters and still cause engine problems. They also don’t really do anything to stabilize the fuel as the enzyme treatments do.
Hopefully you are stowing your deck canvas and upholstery while you are away. It’s the smart thing to do for a number of reasons – primarily reduced windage for storms and preservation of your canvas. There is that moment of stark realization once you’ve stripped your boat and feel the sun beating down on you and your naked decks though.
If you aren’t planning on completely redoing your varnish when you return, it’s not a bad idea to throw a few coats on before you leave. Even the best varnishes will start to lose their UV inhibiting properties after a few months. Once that top layer of varnish is no longer providing sunscreen for the underlying layers, it becomes more likely that your varnish will lift and fail. Make sure you are using an exterior varnish with good UV inhibitors, and the more coats you can get on before you leave, the better. Two part varnishes provide the best protection from the sun and will last longer than traditional varnishes. They require a little more expertise to apply, but the results are well worth it when you end up recoating less often. It’s usually best to build up coats with one part varnish, allow the base coats to fully cure, and then apply a top coat of two part varnish. Just a note: Don’t leave the masking tape on after you’ve varnished thinking that you will return and slap another coat on. While painters tapes are made for extended use, “extended use” is usually weeks, not months.
A really good polymer or Teflon wax will give some protection to the gel coat on your cabin top while it is not covered or shaded. We’d recommend avoiding some the soft waxes and cleaner waxes that you might use for regular maintenance. They may be perfectly suited for regular waxing, but they might not provide the protection that you really need for months of blaring hot sun. Make sure that the wax that you are using specifically says that it protects against UV damage.
You can jury rig shades for your hatches, but there are also different kinds of hatch roller blinds that will keep the sun from destroying your upholstery and interior varnish while you are without topside shade.
Ventilation, or lack thereof
Ideally, you could leave your boat in a place where you have no worries about theft or critters and have someone who can open your hatches to air your boat out. When you find that ideal place and nice person, please let us know! Unfortunately leaving your hatches open while you are gone isn’t the safest option, but now that you’ve stowed your deck canvas, fenders, and everything else from topside, there’s even more need for adequate ventilation below. We do see people leave their cowl vents installed even after they’ve stripped everything else from their decks. Properly positioned cowls can really help with the ventilation problem, but collecting wind isn’t exactly something you would want to do in a storm. Mushroom vents or UFO vents are a better option for stored boats. The mushroom vents can be closed if the need arises, and both of these types of ventilators are omnidirectional, so they are much better for use in the yard or on the dock.
Ventilation isn’t going to completely prevent a musty, moldy and mildewy interior. A pellet dehumidifier that does not require power is a must to keep your interior for becoming an ideal home for mold and mildew. The pellets absorb moisture from the air. Once the pellets are saturated, the dehumidifier no longer works, so make sure that you get one that is an adequate size for size of your salon, engine room, or wherever you are putting it. Smaller items that are especially prone to mildewing can be put in plastic garbage bags with a silica gel desiccant.
Even with the above precautions, you still might have problems preventing a musty cabin. We’ve tried a number of different products for eliminating mold and mildew and their odors, and the one that we’ve found that works best is Kanberra Gel. We at Budget Marine are consummate skeptics who really don’t appreciate gimmicks and fads. We understand that the products that we carry need to go the extra mile, because the environment in which we live is very harsh on our boats. Sure, we like to think that we are the experts, but we often get some of our best ideas from our customers. When customers started asking us for Kanberra Gel, we greeted the product with skepticism, but we very quickly discovered that this stuff works, and works well. We have been converted.
If you are preparing your boat for storage anywhere in the Caribbean, you’ve probably already been here long enough to know that corrosion protection is a constant battle year round. Flush your engine with fresh water, and make sure your bilges are left dry.
Thecorrosion inhibiting products available have different properties that make them more or less suitable for different applications. What you use on your engine isn’t necessarily the best product for your rigging and visa versa. It shouldn’t cause harm if you use a lubricant that is not ideal for the application, but for the purposes of storage you want to make sure that what you are using is going to be the most effective and long lasting, and not create a mess.
Corrosion Inhibitors form a wax like layer that seals and insulates. Most of them are slow penetrating and will displace water. These are especially good for engine room applications and longer term storage of non-moving parts below deck. Some corrosion inhibitors are recommended for use on rigging as well.
More viscous lubricants like teflon and lithium provide protection, but they are designed for protecting moving parts from wear. Most of the heavier weight lubricants that we sell are waterproof, but they aren’t really suited to topside protection, other than inside winches and steering drives. Non-drying lubricants will attract dirt, and can end up being very messy on deck.
Penetrating lubricants can also provide protection for lighter duty applications, like locks and padlocks. They penetrate faster and are thus the best option to free up frozen metal parts, but they are not our first choice for longer term storage and heavier duty applications below deck.
There are many products made to protect stainless steel, aluminium, and other metals that are good for topside metal fittings. Be careful to use the least aggressive product that will successfully get the job done. Some of the waxes and protectants do contain abrasives that aren’t great for new metal surfaces that are protected by passivation or anodizing. Surfaces that have already been damaged might need the products with abrasives in order to clean them well enough for the protection to be effective though. We do carry a lot of options, but the reason for that is there really isn’t a one size fits all solution.
See You Next Season!
If you’ve been cruising for a while in the Caribbean, you’ve probably gotten to know some of the staff in our stores and we’ve gotten to know you too. We’re here to help if you have questions or need advice, and we’ll be here when you return to help you to get back on your way. Have a great trip!