Summer boat storage problems

3 Summer

To the editor: Those of us who live in the north and cruise in the south during the winter have almost as many problems putting our boats up for the six summer months in the south as we do storing the boat up north in the winter. We’ve found the three main problems are: 1) keeping the sun off the brightwork, 2) preventing mold and mildew growth below, and 3) keeping the batteries charged.

We leave our vintage Tartan 34, Endeavor, at Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage in Placida, Fla. Arguably the best yard we have ever been in but, at no fault of the yard, it rains hard nearly every day in the summer.  

Since we try to preserve the teak above and below deck, we want to arrive at the boat after Thanksgiving and not have to face dried-out and peeling teak toe rails and handrails and acres of mildew below. Re-doing the Cetol on deck teak and cleaning up the mildew below can take weeks, never mind the effect six months of excess moisture below can have on anything metal — rusty tools, engine, etc. Electrics especially don’t like excess moisture. 

It seems water gets into the boat no matter what we do. The ports don’t leak much but there is so much rain that it still gets in somehow; even the bilge becomes full. We store nearly every piece of on-deck equipment that can be affected by abundant rain in the cabin below: Nissan outboard, HONDA 2000 generator, cushions and more. Without some form of humidity control, they too become saturated and rusty during the summer. 

We have discovered a number of ways to protect the teak, prevent mildew below and even keep the batteries charged. 

First, we cover the boat. Some sailors we know here in the yard, some who have actually run boatyards and marinas in the south, claim that certain popular boat covers don’t work.  

After looking at a few other boat covers, we decided two years ago to make a cover from a tough, plastic woven sun shade available from Sun Screen Fabric by Easy Gardener Products Inc. This stuff is a sunscreen only and does not shed water. It’s sometimes hard for northern people to appreciate the effects of the Florida and Caribbean sun, but it is ultimately the sun, not rainwater, that kills the on-deck teak, the deck itself and stainless fixtures. 

The fabric costs about $140 for 600 square feet — enough material to cover a 34- to 36-foot boat. We also bought a jug full of colorful wire ties and 200 feet of tie-down line. We measured the boat and cut the fabric to drape over the boom and a spinnaker pole lashed between the mast and bow pulpit. We cut it so it draped over the lifelines and down the side of the hull as far as possible. 

Three big pieces joined together with wire-ties constitute the complete cover: sections forward of the mast, aft of the mast, and around the backstay and over the stern. I installed some grommets along the lower edge of the cover to tie it down, but the fabric is so tough a couple of wire ties could be used instead of grommets. After two hot and very wet summers, the cover is still fine and we’ll use it again. We store the cover in a big plastic bag in the back of the car when we go sailing. The cover solved the teak deterioration problem.  

A cover alone doesn’t make matters worse, but it won’t solve the belowdecks mold and mildew problem. It used to take Kathy a heartbreaking week or more to clean the inside of the boat. Meanwhile, I agonized over things that didn’t work due to rust on the exposed metal. We religiously string eight moisture-absorbing sun packs overhead from the V-berth to the cabin ladder inside the boat, and place gallon-sized water absorbing desiccant pots in the head, main cabin and the hanging locker before we close up the boat. This helps but doesn’t really solve the mildew and mold problem for our boat. 

For an additional $25 per month storage fee, we can have AC power on the boat all summer. So we bought the smallest dehumidifier we could find that had an external hose connection. The GE 30-pint dehumidifier — model ADEL30LRQ1, about $180 at Home Depot — fit the bill. The problem was where to put it and how to drain it; we couldn’t empty the bucket during the six months away, so we needed a hose. Fortunately, we could set the unit on the stovetop to drain into the sink. 

I had several concerns: Was the unit sized large enough to do the job? What humidity setting should we set, or should it be set to run continuously? Will it restart if the power goes out? And, last but not least, what happens if the sink drain or seacock gets plugged during the summer? Would the dehumidifier work fine and fill the sink and overflow the boat? 

Before going aboard the boat last fall, I looked for signs of water on the ground under the sink seacock: nothing. My heart sank thinking the unit failed during the long hot summer. For once in our long cruising life, none of our concerns came to pass. When I went to the main hatch I could hear the dehumidifier running. I slid the hatch back and went below, thinking the cabin would be full of water. Instead there was no mildew, very little mold and the bilge was nearly empty! It ran as it should for six months at my 55 percent humidity setting. The yard people told me that they had several power outages during the summer, so the unit restarted as it should. The desiccant bags and pots still had some material in them so, likely, the dehumidifier could have done the job without the desiccant. You can be certain we will use the dehumidifier in the spring when we close up the boat. 

Now for the last storage problem: batteries. Like most cruising boats in the yard, we have an expensive set of house batteries (three G31s) and want to keep them fully charged throughout the summer. Since we will have shore power available for the dehumidifier, I bought a small 12-volt “maintenance” charger. It failed sometime during the summer. The batteries were down but fortunately not out; all three together took a quart or more of distilled water. Next spring we will leave on shore-power to power the GE dehumidifier and our built-in Heart Freedom 10 inverter/charger, which has a float stage to maintain batteries at a full charge.

—Richard de Grasse is a Seven Seas Cruising Association member and lives in Islesboro, Maine, in the summer.   

By Ocean Navigator