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Fixing Small Blisters at the Waterline

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We have owned Arctic Tern, an Island Packet 45, since December 2005 and have applied the antifouling paint on the bottom since the first haul out in the summer of 2006.

I have always been lucky about getting advice from the experts in the yard even when we choose to do our own work. We were satisfied with our work and the bottom boat paint until the summer of 2008 when small blisters appeared under the fresh paint at the water line and on the rudder.

We consulted with the paint specialist at Peake Yacht Services in Trinidad and were relieved that the problem was only as deep as the paint. These were not osmosis blisters; our blisters were a result of the many layers of paint and wear at the waterline and rudder.

Blisters form when the volatile chemicals of the bottom paint do not dry evenly, especially in the areas of high wear. After the paint dried we would open the blister and sand the spot until the edges were fair. The paint and coatings specialist said that we should live with it as long as we could since the only remedy is to remove all of the paint.

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In 2011 we decided to remove the paint and had Peake Yacht Services do the work of grinding 16 years of paint off the bottom. It was a really hard job and we are glad that we did not have to do it. We did look into chemical strippers but the ones that we would have used were not available in Trinidad.

Grinding off bottom paint is tedious and requires a high degree of skill.

The difference between removing the paint and cutting through the gelcoat can be a mere few thousandths of an inch. I am so glad that I did not take on that job. Sixteen years of bottom paint does not come off easily.

When the workers were done with the sanding and grinding, the hull was as smooth as a baby boat’s bottom. First we inspected the bare fiberglass for any signs of osmosis or any other issues. We found nothing of concern so we prepared to apply Seahawk Tough Stuff as a barrier coat.

Tough Stuff is designed to be permanent once applied and I still have some on my watch, so plan accordingly.

You need a day with a good forecast for no rain and it really helps to get all of your supplies ready and in your work area.

Tough Stuff is a two part epoxy and needs to be thoroughly mixed for twenty minutes and it is important to avoid any impurities. The Tough Stuff comes in gallons (and quarts) so we had to mix two gallons at one time. We bought a new bucket and a new stirring tool, both inexpensive when you consider the cost of supplies and our labor. We had already taped the waterline and propeller and while my husband, Hunter, started the mixing process I wiped the bottom down with acetone, including the bottom of the keel. We used rollers to apply the Tough Stuff and a foam brush for the corners and parts of the rudder. Tough Stuff is designed to be permanent once applied and I still have some on my watch, so plan accordingly.

The directions for Tough Stuff tell you to apply the first coat to your clean surface and begin application of the second when the first coat is still tacky. Hunter began the 20 minute mixing process while I finished the brush work on the first coat.

The first layer of bottom paint should be applied when the second layer of Tough Stuff is tacky so, with just enough time for a drink of water and a bit of food, we began the clean-up of the Tough Stuff and preparation for the Seahawk Islands 44.

Before applying the antifouling bottom paint we taped a two inch area around the jack-stands to ensure that when we moved them the bare area is surrounded by Tough Stuff. That process took us a few intense hours, but the hard work was done. After a day or two we applied another layer of bottom paint.  In another day or two we had the stands moved and plastic placed between the fresh paint and the Jack-stands.

We peeled off the tape and repeated the two layers of Tough Stuff and a coat of bottom paint and finally the last layer of bottom paint. We hope that this bottom job will give us a good foundation for many years.

Join the Conversation below!  We’d love to hear about your experience with bottom paint or boat blisters!

For information and specifications relating to Tough Stuff and Seahawk paints, visit: www.seahawkpaints.com

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  1. Erik Norrie – Thought you might like to see this recent post from one of our cruising columnists while you were healing from the shark bite.  (My son asked “Do you think he tasted good?)


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Devi Sharp is a retired wildlife biologist and exploring the Caribbean with her husband, Hunter, on their sailboat Arctic Tern.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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