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Dull or glossy?

Today I’m sporting four stitches in my right index finger and a very sore left arm thanks to a Tetanus shot, all courtesy of the bowsprit hanging project. We still hope to hang the bowsprit on Friday, but I am obviously working at a disadvantage. Speaking of working at a disadvantage (at least with regard to knowing and understanding all of the technological aspects of Oracle’s boatbuilding program) I think its conspiracy theory time!

I’ve already discussed that OTUSA 17 was really dirty when it arrived and cleaning the platform was the first thing I tackled. As I cleaned I was repeatedly asked whether we were going to leave the hulls with their current dull-looking surface or whether we were going to try and bring back the glossy finish. At first there was a distinct difference in opinions; visitors viewing the boat wanted to see it nice and glossy while Lyles, and I think the Oracle people we were working with, felt that the boat should reflect its history of use—bumps and bruises included.

Wet surface on the left. You can see the dry surface on the right has very distinct horizontal abrasion marks.

Over the course of the assembly project Lyles and I became enamored with the possibility of bringing back the beautifully glossy finish. Assuming we were just seeing a time and weathering problem we hit West Marine and bought a couple of basic cleaning and glazing products (3Ms Marine Cleaner and Wax and Finesse-It II Glaze). I immediately went to work but no matter how I applied the products they made absolutely no difference. Someone else suggested Softscrub and another suggested simply using a rubbing or polishing compound—nothing—no change whatsoever.

Trying to help, Lyles posed the question of how to restore the surface to his contacts at Oracle but just met complete silence (granted they have bigger fish to fry right now).

I assumed (not knowing better, after all, I’m a museum person who happens to work with boats, not a boat person who happens to work in a museum) the problem might be related to the use of products designed for fiberglass on a carbon fiber surface so I started researching how to reglaze carbon fiber. I ran into a product designed to bring back the oxidized finish of carbon fiber parts on high-end sports cars: Dr. Beasley’s Carbon Glaze. I ordered a bottle… followed the directions… nothing. Desperate, I called the company and spoke with one of the technicians who suggested using a random orbital sander with a microfiber pad. Nothing. Thank god I could just wash the stuff off because it looked terrible.

At this point I knew something was “off” about the surface. I called the nice people at Dr. Beasley’s again and told them the results of my efforts and said if I didn’t know better I would swear the surface had been intentionally damaged or removed. If you look at the image below you’ll see what I mean. The image shows a section of the hull in the process of being cleaned. The left side has just been wiped down with water and a drop of Triton X-100 (a nonionic surfactant) and the right side shows the hull dry. Am I the only one who sees nice long horizontal abrasions that make it look like the surface has been sanded with some sort of superfine grit sandpaper? The people at Dr. Beasley’s agreed that the surface seemed to be damaged and said the only way to bring back the finish was to apply a new gel coat–which we obviously aren’t going to do.

Thus the hatching of my theory that there was some sort of coating on the hulls that Oracle didn’t want anyone to know about. If it wasn’t some sort of super duper technological secret then why go through the trouble of removing it?

Spot under the hull where the glossy finish is still visible.

I tried two final products–just because I’m the type of person who hates to give up. Defeat is never an option; there is ALWAYS a way to achieve a goal, you just have to keep searching until you find the solution to your problem. Those two products were: Blackfire Wet Diamond All Finish Paint Protection and Turtle Wax’s ICE. The result was… complete and utter humiliating defeat. It was like I had poured water on the ground in the Atacama Desert—worse… it was like the stuff evaporated before it ever touched the surface!

You name the product… I’ve tried it.

So, when you come to visit the Museum to see this amazing boat don’t ask why the surface is dull, it will be like rubbing salt in an open wound—one that requires four stitches.

ADDENDUM: So I did eventually learn why the gel coat was removed and its perfectly logical–IT’S TOO HEAVY! The application of the gel coat adds hundreds of pounds of weight to the boat and since the point is to keep the boat as light as possible they would just sand it off whenever they raced.

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