Friday, November 29, 2013

BLOG 59. How to Winterize Your Canoe or Kayak

by Cliff Jacobson

I live on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border where winter stops boating cold.  Snow arrives in late October and hangs around till May or when insanity sets in, whichever comes first.  By Thanksgiving, even die-hard paddlers have garaged their canoes and waxed their skis!
Spring often comes suddenly to Vikingland, and serious paddlers want to be prepared for the first nice day.  So, they repair and winterize their boats before they store them away.   Everyone has an annual ritual.  Here's mine:

Wash the hull inside and out.  Flush under the decks of canoes, and deep into the ends of kayaks.  You won't believe how much debris accumulates there.  Gummy tree sap and ground-in dirt can be safely removed with a wet sponge and "Soft-Scrub®" kitchen cleaner. I use Star-brite®. a commercial hull cleaner for serious stains and scum lines.

It's easier to repair chips on fiberglass/Kevlar canoes if you don't follow the canoe maker's instructions.  Gel-coat is runny and difficult to get a good color match.  Here's my method:

            Materials:  White polyester putty (available at marinas) or auto body bondo.  For the strongest repair, mix colloidal silica or strands of chopped fiberglass with epoxy.  Important: use boat-building epoxy, not quick-cure hardware store stuff. Sixty and 100 grit sandpaper, and 200 grit wet-dry finishing paper; color-matched auto acrylic spray paint, paste wax and pumice. Note: gel-coat is purely cosmetic—it adds no strength to the laminate, so it probably doesn’t matter what you use—that is, as long as the resin sticks to your canoe. I recommend epoxy because it is compatible with epoxy, vinylester and polyester hulls.

Tears and gouges in Royalex are easily repaired with epoxy.  You’ll get a stronger, longer lasting repair if you sand off the thin vinyl layer that covers the ABS substrate before you begin.  Then, just fill in the damaged area with epoxy resin thickened with micro-baloons or other thickener.  When the resin is rock-hard, sand it smooth then spray paint to match the hull.  Use fiberglass and/or Kevlar cloth to repair major damage. Epoxy degrades in ultra violet light so apply 303 Protectant to your finished work.

            1. Pick out the shards of damaged gel coat with the blade of a knife.
            2.  Catalyze polyester putty (use extra MEKP to produce a hot mix) and work the peanut-butter-thick mix into the break to over-flowing.  Thicken epoxy resin with colloidal silica.  Caution: be sure to wear a mask when mixing colloidal silica.  The fine particles go deep into the lungs!
            3.  When the putty is firm, slice off the excess with a knife.  Allow the remainder to cure completely then sand it level with progressive grits of sandpaper.  Finish to silky smoothness with 400 grit wet sandpaper.
            4.  Spray paint the patch with matching auto acrylic.  When the paint has dried, use paste wax and pumice to blend the paint to match the hull.  If you have a natural gold Kevlar canoe (or one whose color you can't match), mask a short artificial water-line along the stem (photo) and paint the masked area an attractive color.
Note flat-black artificial waterline on this solo canoe.  Damage to the stem is easily repaired by filling the gouge with thickened epoxy, then spray-painting.  Don't like black? Choose any color you like.
It’s wise to apply an ultra-violet inhibitor (I recommend 303 Protectant®) to the hull at the start of the season and again before you store it away. 303 hides light scratches--gives a slick new look!--and prevents sun damage.  To hide deep scratches, apply Penetrol® (available at hardware stores) and buff with a cotton rag. Afterwards, apply a finish coat of 303 Protectant.

Canoes flex as you paddle; screws work loose and thwarts and seats crack.  The vibrations of car-topping also have an effect.  Nuts and bolts should be tightened at least once a season, and again before winter storage.  
Tip: owners of wood-trimmed Royalex canoes are advised to remove the gunnels (near the decks) of canoes that will be stored in sub-freezing weather—uneven rates of material expansion cause Royalex to crack.
Here’s a better plan: Unscrew the wood the rails about two feet back from each end, then slightly enlarge the screw holes in the Royalex (just the Royalex!).  Then, screw the rails back in place. The Royalex will shrink when it gets cold but it won’t crack because the enlarged screw holes won’t pressure the screws. Another option is to horizontally slot the screw holes in the Royalex.  You need only enlarge or slot the holes near the ends; no need to do the whole boat.  Note: By the end of 2014, Royalex will be no longer available (the sole maker went out-of-business).  Take good care of your Royalex canoe--it is sure to increase in value during the coming years!

Ultraviolet light is a killer (aluminum canoes are the exception), so store your boat in a weather-protected area out of the sun.  If you use a garage, be wary of windows that project a focused beam of light on to the hull.  If you must store your boat in a light path, apply an ultraviolet protectant to the hull or cover the sun-exposed areas with a cotton sheet.  Do not place black plastic against the hull;  It will encourage condensation and cause the gel-coat to discolor.
Winterizing a canoe or kayak is mostly common sense: clean out debris, wash and polish the hull, repair damage, apply an ultraviolet protectant to plastics, oil or varnish the woodwork, tighten bolts and store your treasure in a weather-protected, well-ventilated area, out of reach of small animals.  Get your boat ready before the snow flies and you'll be ready to climb aboard when the rivers run again.


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