Sailing blog of Clay Watson

Cockpit speakers & forward cockpit bulkhead rehab.

I took Swedish Fish to the yard in May 2016 to accomplish several important tasks:

  • new bottom paint
  • remove slack from centerboard cable
  • installed through-hull fitting and seacock for a future central air conditioning system
  • replaced external strainer on engine raw water intake
  • out-of-water marine survey, so that I could buy full insurance for the boat

I got delayed by the Memorial Day holiday, and a bout of bad weather. But while I was prohibited from work on the bottom waiting for these delays, I decided to use the down time to start doing some work on the cockpit, specifically, removing the antique instrumentation and beginning the process of filling the unused holes left behind, and installing the panel for the engine gauges and the new stereo speakers. A speaker would fill one of the holes, and the gauge box would swallow up two more. But I had to cut one new hole, so I was able to use the plug from that new cut to fill the remaining empty hole. I didn’t finish this job until a couple weeks after I got back in the water. I am very happy with the results. It’s just another example of how fluidly and beautifully a good ol’ boat like Swedish Fish can be brought fully into the 21st century.

Companionway Doors

Companionway doors.  I have been wanting to get this project done almost since the day I bought this boat, but there was always something else more pressing – until now. Hallelujah!

I did about 90% of this work myself. The Grill Man cut out the stainless steel blanks for the door frames, but I ground down all the sharp edges and corners, drilled them, tapped them, and most significantly, I polished them from dull metal all the way up to the mirror finish you see on them here. Polishing alone was about a day’s work. If you really want to know how that’s done, email me and I’ll share (or check YouTube).

And my expert carpenter friend Russ Hirshman did the initial cutting of the doors. But I had to actually make them fit and work myself. The corners were chamfered way off, everything was sanded, checked for fit, and the process was repeated about four times before they started to come into shape.  And I had to fabricate HDPE shims to make the doors line up properly with the hinges on the frames. I applied polyester resin to the finished doors, then three coats everywhere of Benjamin Moore Super Spec HP Urethane Alkyd Gloss Enamel in the same color as the rest of the boat exterior (AF-25, “Paper Mache”).

What an improvement! Not only aesthetically, but just on a practical, day-to-day basis, it’s like night and day. I’m so grateful to finally have these.

This is what the companionway looked like when I bought the boat. These are hatch boards, not doors.

This is what the companionway looked like when I bought the boat. These are hatch boards, (two) not doors.

Russ cutting the doors. Not simple: a symmetrical split trapezoid with beveled edges top and bottom. And this he cut from an original piece with no plumb edges - what a craftsman!

Russ cutting the doors. Not simple: a symmetrical split trapezoid with beveled edges top and bottom. And this he cut from an original piece with no plumb or square edges – what a craftsman!

The new doors. The dirty spot to the left is where I removed the old winch handle holder. This spot will be re-painted, and a new holder is going on.

The new doors. These are as bomber as the new hatches; I would not concern myself with leaving these up in virtually any storm. The dirty spot to the left is where I removed the old winch handle holder. This will be re-painted, and a new holder is going on.

New doors, opened.

New doors, opened.

New doors seen from inside the boat.

New doors seen from inside the boat.

New Upholstery

Updated the groovy harvest gold 1970s salon and aft cabin upholstery with a 2016 alternative. After the face fabric was selected, many choices remained. The first criteria for fabric selection was NO COTTON. Cotton certainly has it’s place, especially ashore, but on a boat it’s just something waiting to rot, or it’s already rotting. So the new face fabric is 100% polyester. The backs of the vertical seat cushions are a heavy nylon canvas. The fabric chosen for the seat tops is actually taken from a polyester sofa cover. And the bottom of the seat cushions is an open polyester-plastic-coated mesh, to allow those cushions to breathe and not retain moisture, which if allowed, would precipitate mold growth.

Hey, personal tastes are like bellybuttons: everybody has one. So don’t judge me! But I hope you’ll agree that the new upholstery is a big improvement over what we had.  :-)

New Salon Deck

After years of neglect, the original salon deck, like so many other components of the boat, was toast. This month replacing it finally came to the top of the priority list.  After seeing the prices of new 3/4″ teak & holly veneered marine plywood, I paused. But what really convinced me to use something else was the fact that veneers today ain’t what they used to be.  They are paper-thin, and I need something that’s TOUGH. Besides, I also need something that’s not as slippery as ice.

I consider this a real-life, practical live-aboard boat, not a cream puff that will be crushed under the rigors of cruising life. So I opted for marine plywood, which I would paint (it isn’t pretty enough for varnish). Marine plywood (3/4″) ain’t exactly cheap either, at $90/sheet, and this job would require two of them.  Yeah, regular plywood probably would have worked just as well, but after living with the horrors of the original delaminated decking for the past two years, I wanted to know that the new deck was not going to delaminate again – ever.

The original decking was in two pieces, and Irwin must have put it in before they put the deck on the boat, because it was impossible to get the larger of the two to fit through the companionway door. Which meant that I first had to bifurcate it, in situ. I took all the pieces to my workshop and used them as templates for cutting the marine plywood into the new decking. All of the perimeter of the deck is undercut at a 45 degree angle, making this a rather complicated task of carpentry. Not having a carpenter available to help mandated that I do the work anyway, and simply do my best not to screw it up.

It worked! After all the cuts were made I sealed every side of the wood with Thompson’s, paying special attention to the edges.  After that dried, I applied three coats of Benjamin Moore Super Spec HP Urethane Alkyd Gloss Enamel in the same off-white color that the rest of the boat is painted. This was applied to the entire top, and every edge. Edges received additional coats until every spot stopped absorbing paint. After that dried, I masked the top with pin stripes, and applied two more coats of the same paint, but this time in a cocoa brown color, and with the final coat containing a non-skid additive. The end result is a faux teak & holly look, only it’s much tougher, and can easily be spot-fixed as needed in the future.

The old deck. Note the water stains to the right where a milk crate must have sat for years. And the duct tape in the lower right, holding down the delaminations. These were not only a trip hazard, but as an added bonus, it contributed to the overall heinous aesthetic.

The old deck. Note the water stains to the right where a milk crate sat for years, and the duct tape in the lower right, holding down some of the delaminations. This not only ameliorated the trip hazard, but as an added bonus, it contributed to the overall heinous aesthetic.

New salon deck components nearing completion in the shop.

New salon deck components nearing completion in the shop.


New salon deck installed (except for some screws yet to be). The step leading to the galley in the lower right had been varnished, but the wood is so stained and grungy, it will look better painted to match the rest.


Sail Pack

I really didn’t see how not having a sail pack was a reasonable way to cruise a boat. Every time you lower the main, the sail is all over the cockpit, including all over the helmsman. Then it takes two people to wrestle it back atop the boom, flake it, and lash it down. But the work’s not over! Now you have to sort out the sail cover and put it on. This tedious ritual is repeated every time you douse the main. That’s unacceptable when there are better alternatives.

For me, the answer is a sail pack, aka “Mack Pack,” aka “stack pack,” aka “snack pack.”  No, I made up that last one.🙂

Anyway I had one made (from the Sailrite kit) and it’s everything I expected – a world of improvement. Thanks so much to Helena for sewing it. Now the sail just drops into it’s “taco,” we pull the zipper, and viola! Done, and you’re ready to think about something else. The work in putting away the main is slashed to a fraction of what it formerly was. Yay!

Sailpack underway. Later adjustments gave a better fit.

Sailpack underway. Later adjustments gave a better fit. The long boom on Swedish Fish allows it to reach beyond the aft end of the bimini.

Full battens in the main help tame it inside the lazy jacks, and into the sailpack.

Full battens in the main help tame it inside the lazy jacks, and into the sailpack.

Hatches Rebuilt

Every yacht builder does things their own way. Some of these are ingenious. Some are shortcuts that are incredibly dumb, and sometimes worse. Sometimes the innovations are a little quirky. Irwin Yachts was no exception. When other builders were putting off-the-shelf OEM hatches on their boats, Irwin decided to build their own, probably because they could do it much cheaper, and translate the savings into lower sticker prices on the boats themselves.

Irwin factory hatches have teak frames, and 3/8″ thick smoked plexiglass tops. At first I didn’t like them, and thought Irwin should have put the “plain vanilla” Bowmar or Lewmar hatches on their boats like every other manufacturer did. But after some years I came to love the Irwin hatches, because they built each one by hand, they looked old-school, and kinda salty. It was like something your dad built by hand. You just love it because of that individual craftsmanship character, even if it isn’t “the best” in every way.

The old hatches. (!)

The old hatches. (!)

But the old hatches were emblematic of the neglect that the boat as a whole had suffered over the years. The teak frames were gray and ridged, half of them leaked, and the plexiglas tops were scratched, cracked, and generally kaput. In the winters I heavily insulated them to keep heat in the boat, and the summers they were always covered in some way to keep radiant solar heat out of the boat. So with them always being covered, why did I need plexiglas? Besides, plexiglass isn’t very strong, and it’s slippery as anything; you should never think about standing on it. Therefore I decided that opaque fiberglass tops would be a great replacement for the plexiglas. They could be painted the same color as the boat, and non-skid could be included. Again I turned to Tyndall Marine in Bridgeton NC for the solution. Keith Tyndall custom built new 3/8″ fiberglass tops for each of my hatches, including the companionway sliding hatch. They were all made to match the color of the boat, with the non-skid built in.

Butterfly latch closed.

Butterfly latch closed.

Butterfly latch open.

Butterfly latch open.

On the inside I also replaced the latch mechanisms (aka “dogs”) that the factory had used. Instead I installed two stainless butterfly latches on each hatch. These are inexpensive, easy-to-find, easy-to-use, strong, and virtually indestructible – everything you would want a hatch dog to be.

After I refinished and varnished all the frames, I reassembled all the hatches with the new fiberglass tops. I also upgraded the crusty old aluminum hinges to polished stainless steel hardware from Sea Dog. The hatches are bombproof now, and they look great!

The rebuilt hatches.

The rebuilt hatches.

About Paint

After I painted my topsides, I received a lot of compliments – and questions about the paint I chose.

strb paint

Detail of the paint, taken 5 months later. The boat hasn’t even been washed here, and still looks pretty good. Note that the teak “eyebrow trim” has been discarded and replaced with a navy pinstripe. Zero maintenance.

new paint

New topside paint. The cove stripe was repainted with Rustoleum Topside navy blue.














I knew what I wanted from my paint:

  • reasonable cost
  • high gloss
  • durability
  • easy prep, application, and clean up

but I only had a vague idea about the technical aspects that would actually define that paint.

After I read many dirtbag-sailor’s testimonials about avoiding “boat/yacht” paint (or anything possible with those words on it) and their satisfaction with their results, I was convinced I could do likewise.

At first I had settled on Majic Tractor Truck & Implement Alkyd Enamel sold by Tractor Supply Company.  This is decent paint and there is a hardener/catalyst available for it. I bought two quarts of this, but it wasn’t available in the creamy-white shade I wanted, so twice I toted it to my local Benjamin Moore dealer so he could tint it to my desired color. He wasn’t too happy about mixing another paint brand for me, but did because he’s a nice guy and because I was a regular customer.

During my second visit the shop owner asked me about my project, and when I told him what I was doing, he suggested I simply switch to Benjamin Moore Super Spec HP Urethane Alkyd Gloss Enamel .


He assured me that it was the same or better than the Majic paint I was using, and I could buy it right there and he could mix the color for me on-the-spot, and it just made more sense. This is a commercial, high VOC urethane paint that is not available in home stores or even in BM stores that market to homeowners. The particular store I was in is an old hardware store (Riverside Hardware in New Bern, NC) that has traditionally catered to commercial/professional customers as much as to consumers.

I did get excellent results, and since then I’ve done more homework, and now I can give you a summary of why this is a good paint choice. Without going into a protracted and boring technical analysis of the chemical composition of paints, here’s a short description of what you really want to know (if you’re still reading this).

When it comes to topside boat paints there are basically two types:

The First Type: 

Two-part polyurethane enamels e.g.,

  • Interlux Perfection
  • Awlgrip
  • Imron

These are the best paints made for this application, period. They produce the highest gloss and the toughest durability available. But they have some downsides:

  • Very expensive @ about $93/QUART on average
  • dangerous to work with, as the catalysts required have cyanide in them, and require the painter to wear what is essentially a hazmat suit and a very specific type of respirator. (Fun! Not.)
  • Extra work mixing the two parts correctly.
  • Restricted in their availability for purchase.
  • Messy, difficult clean up requiring acetone – a harsh chemical that triggers allergic sensitivities in most people after repeated exposures.

If you can afford that type of paint, and especially if you can afford to pay a pro to put it on your boat – go for it. You will be happy with the results.

 The Second Type:

One-part, urethane or “polyurethane” alkyd enamels, e.g.,

  • Interlux Brightsides
  • Petit Easypoxy
  • Benjamin Moore Super Spec HP Urethane Alkyd Gloss Enamel
  • Sherwin Williams Pro Industrial Urethane Alkyd Enamel

The first two paints are sold to the boating market at about $130/gallon, and the latter two to the pro/industrial/commercial market at about $50/gallon. Otherwise, there is little difference between them.

These one-part urethane alkyd enamel (UAE) paints have been the backbone of the topside marine paint market for over 50 years. They are very good paints, but just not quite as good as the two-part enamels (Imron, Awlgrip, etc.). These UAE paints are used all over on ships, commercial fishing vessels, work boats, many small boats and yachts, and yes, farm tractors and backhoes. Advantages of these paints are:

  • Quite reasonable cost compared to the two-part paints – especially if you avoid “boat” paints; compare $93/quart to $13/quart!
  • Good gloss
  • Tough, durable finish (just not quite as tough as the two-part paints)
  • Relatively easy prep, handling, and clean-up (paint thinner will do).

So for the average DIY sailor on a budget (hey, that’s me!), the choice is pretty clear.  The enormous differences in price, risks, and hassles, just aren’t worth the modest gains in gloss and durability. A one-part urethane alkyd enamel offers very good results at reasonable cost and DIY ease-of-use. Touch-ups are a simple matter of breaking open a can, stirring, and putting it on. Chunk your disposable brush, pop open a cold one, and climb back into the hammock.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Under Sail – Finally !

After my company departed in October, I focused hard on getting the boat ready for her first sail since the restoration began more than a year ago. Actually, this would be her first sail in a few years, exactly how many I don’t know, but I’m guessing that it has been at least three years, and possibly as many as five!

I had purchased and installed a new mainsheet, new halyards, and a new headsail furling control line. The sails were hanked on and ready. Finally, on November 5, the weather was good, I was available, and my buddy Dave was available. I really wanted Dave along for this maiden sail, since he had put so much work into the boat too – especially on the engine. I wish Glenn could have come, as he too had put in a lot of work on the boat, and he wanted to, but he had to work that day.

So Dave & I motored out to the broad part of the Neuse river, and it was time to raise sail. Dave insisted that he take the wheel so that I could have the honor of cranking up the main. There’s not much more to say except that the main went up, the genny came out, we sheeted in, the boat heeled over, we killed the engine, and suddenly…WE WERE SAILING!!!

Top observed speed was 5.7 knots, but I know we got faster than that when some gusts over 15 miles per hour started heeling us over. 15 mph was enough to overpower with the 150 genoa we had up. After we furled in a bit, everything was good to go again. At that point we were too busy sailing to fiddle with our phone speed apps. We were both so happy to enjoy some fruits of all our labor.🙂

Six days later I had her out again, this time with Glenn on board. The last two photos are from that sail.

Hotel Swedish Fish – and some “Before” and “After” photos

Around the first of October I was informed by my eldest sister Nell that she and my dad (89!) would be stopping by to visit me in two weeks. I welcomed the idea, and assured her that Swedish Fish was big enough for all of us to stay on board – including her two small dogs, a west highland terrier and a mini-schnauzer!

Only problem for me was that, uh, well actually there were a few problems.
1. The forward cabin had no cushions in it (they were in storage).
2. The forward cabin was full of tools and boat/engine parts.
3. I had no linens for the forward cabin.

Well, that was about it. These were hurdles I knew I could overcome in two weeks. Only the toilet in the aft head was fully functional, so I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out. Generally speaking, women need a toilet more than men do, but I couldn’t put Nell in the aft cabin because I didn’t think dad would be able to climb into the forward berth. So my plan was to put dad in the aft cabin, Nell (and her dogs) in the forward cabin, and I would sleep on the port settee in the salon. So as long as we could all manage the toilet arrangement, this would work. Besides, it was just for a couple of nights at the dock.

I went to work packing up and out all of the tools and parts, cleaning, and bringing the cushions back from storage. Then it was time to think about bedding. I measured the shoulder width of the V berth and was surprised to learn that it is actually a couple of inches wider than a king-sized bed! So I was going to need a king-sized bed set to fit the V berth. Wow! I went shopping and found just what I needed, including a memory foam topper.

This brings me to a juncture I’ve been putting off since I purchased Swedish Fish II. I have had the “before” pictures in my possession all along, but chose not to publish them here because most of my boating-uninitiated readers would not be able to understand them. That is, they reveal the shocking condition of the boat at the time of purchase, and those readers would not be able to understand why anyone would want the boat. But now I’m going to show some of them, alongside their “after” counterparts. However, I must add that these aren’t really “after” photos either, because I still have so many things planned to do to the boat’s interior. But Nell and dad were on the way, so it is what it is, and by comparison to the “before” look of things, the improvements thus far are still pretty substantial.

Here goes…




Progress with the aesthetics

In August and September progress was made with several overdue exterior aesthetic improvements including brightwork, paint, and new hawespipes at the bow cleats.

Paint and varnish, like many or perhaps most other things about boats, have as many opinions and religious fervors surrounding them as they have boaters. Whatever – I don’t enjoy those debates much, I just want my boat to look decent, and for reasonable money. Here are a few of my observations and thoughts along those lines.

Varnish and paint are not permanent. That is, once you’ve decided to use them, you’re either going to be re-doing them or watching them go to ruin. Granted, some paints (e.g., professionally applied Imron) last much longer than others, but you have to ask yourself if the cost differential is worth it – and we’re talking major league cost differential.

On the other hand, varnish has to be re-applied at least annually, no matter which brand you use. I’ve tried the ritzy Epiphanes, the popular Cetol, and also the run-of-the-mill hardware store (Rustoleum) stuff. To me, it doesn’t matter which one you use, to keep it looking good you have to re-do it at least once a year, and twice a year is better. So for now I’ve come to the conclusion that cheap varnish (about $14/qt, Rustoleum) is just fine. It comes out golden and glossy and lasts a season or so. Then, just like the ritzy varnishes that cose 3x as much, you have to freshen it up again at the end of the season if you want it to keep looking nice.

I decided on the simplicity and low cost of roll and tip for my paint. I have no plans to paint the hull (yet), and only did the topsides. For a discussion of my paint selection, see my other post, About Paint. I washed the boat, filled and sanded a few rough spots, and laid it on. Two coats covered adequately. Didn’t use anything for primer. Call me lazy. The boat looks good and draws many compliments. The paint is far from “perfect,” but Swedish Fish is a real, working boat, operated and maintained by the same guy who enjoys her (me). That means compromises have to be accepted, but honestly I don’t feel like I’ve compromised much.

new paint

Here’s the new topside paint. New teak handrails are still on the way, old ones trashed. You can also see the new port hawsepipe. The cove stripe was repainted with Rustoleum Topside navy blue.

strb paint

Detail of the paint, taken 5 months later. The boat hasn’t even been washed here, and still looks pretty good. Note that the teak “eyebrow trim” has been discarded and replaced with a navy pinstripe. Zero maintenance.


Detail of new hawsepipes. It was difficult to find just the right size. By pure serendipity, I found these heavy polished stainless ones on clearance at a chandlery that was going out of business. Oddly, they were made in Switzerland and were the perfect size.