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The Mast-Head: Boat Chemistry

Wed, 06/29/2022 - 11:59

Cerberus was later getting into the water than I had expected this year. By the time Nick, the boat mover I use, was able to haul it from town to Three Mile Harbor, the boatyard had nearly been emptied of its winter storage customers. The upside was that I completed a fair number of my long list of tasks getting the 43-year-old Cape Dory sloop into sailing shape.

Among the jobs that needed doing were installing a new plumbing setup and varnishing the brightwork. Also important was dealing with the remnants of a tern colony that had established itself last season while Cerberus was on its mooring. Because the topsides had not been tended to since I don’t know when, the birds’ droppings bonded firmly to the bare gel coat. Bleach did not budge the crusted white accumulations. Nor did vinegar, scrubbing, or even muriatic acid show any results. Science saved the day, however.

As I learned to my surprise, the white part of bird waste product is not calcium, but uric acid, which is mostly insoluble in water or alcohol. But sodium hydroxide, or lye, the active ingredient in oven cleaner, was effective. Supposedly, baking soda would have worked, too, but I grabbed right for the hard stuff. It worked.

Even left on overnight, the Easy-Off did not appear to damage the boat, and after working the surfaces with rubbing compound, followed by wax, its appearance was much improved. Along the same lines, I discovered that the persistent yellow stain just above Cerberus’s water line would fade away with an application of rust remover; there is a lot of iron in Three Mile Harbor’s water, apparently.

There is, of course, plenty more left to do. The boom is not mounted yet, the rigging needs tuning before I put the sails on, and tools lie strewn in the cabin. But the boat is floating, and there’s a full season ahead. And it’s not even quite July. I’d say that I am ahead of the game, frankly.

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