Sunday, July 13, 2008

How to Paint a Black Boat in the Nevada Desert in Summertime

This was originally printed in the August of 2006 edition of the Gondola Society of America newsletter. With summer upon us, I thought this piece was fitting.
Recently, I had the occasion to do something that was clearly difficult, and quite possibly, stupid.
I painted a gondola in the Nevada desert in July.
Yes, I could have chosen a better time to do it, but my schedule would only allow me to attempt this great feat during the hottest part of the year.
(insert your favorite “Murphy’s Law wisecrack here)
The gondola in question had been needing new paint for a very long time.
I had revived a ten-year-old gelcoat with some professional-level buffing.
Not by me – by a professional named Jose who has asked me to keep his last name confidential because he would like to remain living in this country and continue buffing out boats. He may…or may not be a US citizen, but man, that guy can buff. But I digress. After ten years (three of them in the desert), the gelcoat needed to be covered in new paint.
I suppose the most sensible approach to an article entitled “How to paint a black boat in the Nevada desert in Summertime”, would be to simply say “don’t do it you idiot, why would you even think of such a thing?”
Or the more practical approaches of “drag it into an air conditioned building, heck! Drag it to California and then paint it”.
No my friends, I am neither sensible nor practical. I had my mind wrapped around this challenge and I was going to accomplish it.
My wife thought I was crazy – she makes that assumption quite often, and is usually right.
Armed with all the tools and materials, I drove from hot Orange County, California through remarkably hot Barstow , stopped in ridiculously hot Baker, California  (home of the worlds tallest thermometer), and reached our final destination in Lake Las Vegas. As you might guess, it’s usually hot there too in summer, but this summer, we’d seen St. Louis evacuated, people dying in other parts of the country.
Yes, you guessed it – it was hot there too.
With daytime temperatures routinely reaching 117 fahrenheit, I decided that early mornings would be the best time. Actually, I had originally thought that night time would be cooler, but then there was the whole “sorry, can’t paint a black boat in the dark” argument. I thought about using lights but decided that I didn’t want every bug in a 20 mile radius joining me, and my paint.
As I stepped out into the morning air, I was delighted to learn that at 6:30AM, it was only 105 degrees. Joy!
I have a wonderful manager who oversees the operation in Lake Las Vegas. His name is Wayne and he’s a very patient person. I know this because he works for me.
Wayne and I began by sanding the gondola with a random orbital disk sander and wiping it all down with acetone.
Once every surface was prepped and ready, we covered the boat in blankets, as the sun was already heating the decks up to the point where it hurt to touch them.
Next, we mixed the paint. If anything can be given credit for the success of this endeavor, it is that we refrigerated the paint and thinner overnight.
This is an old method I learned from a boat builder who had won lots of awards and knew all sorts of clever tricks. While our gondola decks were cooling down under their blankets, we were mixing. When you refrigerate paint,
it thickens up, thus requiring more thinner to achieve the right consistency. As the paint warms up, it thins out, allowing the extra amount of thinner to keep it brushable. In normal conditions, the painter has more time to brush,
in these desert conditions, it was just enough time to roll and tip.

At about 7:30AM our paint was mixed and ready, we pulled off a blanket and painted the deck before it could heat up. Removed another blanket, painted more deck, and on down the line. The hull side facing away from the sun was our next stop. Then we dragged the gondola, which was on a trailer, until she was facing the other direction, let the unpainted hull side cool down and painted it too. When we finished at 8:30AM, the first part of the deck we had painted just an hour ago was already curing and could be touched without leaving a fingerprint.

Maybe it was the heat, the fumes, or the fact that I only got four hours of sleep the night before, but I went back to bed until about noon.
The next day, Wayne and I managed to get a second coat on using the same process.
We felt really good about the results, although we’ll know for sure if we were successful in about five months. If the paint still sticks and looks good then, I’ll celebrate.
Am I happy with the results? Yes.
Would I do it again? Mmm, maybe not.
My wife still thinks I’m crazy – and as I said before,
she’s usually right.

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