Dreaming In Sky Blue: Repainting my Boat's Topsides

Post by - Published on 01/04/24 15:08 PM

When I think back to 2023, I will always remember it as the year I bought my dream boat. And also the year I repainted it. 

February 2023

When I saw Maui for the first time, I had the feeling. It was the feeling I was searching for while I shopped around for boats last winter. With Maui, it just clicked. 

It came time for me to upgrade from my O’Day 25, Cita, and I narrowed my search to heavier built boats from the 60’s and 70’s. I looked for solid fiberglass hulls with full keels. Re-bed decks, rebuilt engines, and replaced standing rigging were all a plus. These boats, though outdated, had good bones. After all, boats built in the 60’s continue to prove themselves as solid ocean crossers and reliable expedition platforms. 

As a young person with big dreams and low funds, that’s all I needed– good bones. Everything else was simply an added bonus, and I knew I would replace, fix and add features over time. 

“Just sail her, she’ll tell you what she needs” 

I drove to Haddam, Connecticut to see Maui in person, and fell in love. The previous owners bought her the year I was born, spent years cruising the east coast with their kids, pouring love into her each year. Maui was perfect on so many levels. She just needed a topside paint job. 

Let me paint the picture: This boat… is absolutely stunning. We can thank Carl Alberg for that. His designs, from a variety of iconic Cape Dorys to the classic Triton 28’ are simply timeless. Maui, a 1967 Pearson Alberg 35, is no different. Her downeast lines lay low to the sea, boasting an original wooden boom and arguably too much teak. She sails strong- like she just can’t stop. 

When it came time to paint, there was no half-assing the project. 

I had enough of a background working on boats to know that this was going to be a lot more work than I had ever experienced. But, Maui was so perfect in my eyes, that I didn’t care. I told myself that repainting the topsides would be my project of the year. I would do the research, spend the dollars on the right products, and put in the work to deliver an outcome I was proud of– and that Maui deserved. 

I prepared myself the best I could- but boy, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. 

March 2023

As the days started to get warmer, it was time to get to work. Luckily, my boyfriend's parents lived close to the boatyard Maui was at (which was a big factor in the decision to buy a boat on the Connecticut River, 4 hours from home), so I was able to crash with them while I prepped the hull for new paint. Shoutout to Deb and Pete for the hospitality and life-saving meals. 

I did a lot of research into what paint I was going to use, how I was going to use it, and what environment I needed to produce the best results. Remember, I did not have a spray gun, I did not have an indoor space to control dust and temperature, not to mention that I am in no way a professional. I was scheming to roll on paint in an outdoor environment, on the most beautiful boat I have ever been on. What could go wrong? 

For DIY boatyard applications, there are a couple paint options I looked into. 

Of course, there are classic single part paints, like Pettit's EZ Poxy topside paint, but, partially due to my own ignorance and overachieving mindset, that was never an option for Maui. I wanted the hull to shine like fresh-out-of-the-mold gel coat. No brush strokes allowed. So, I looked into multi-part paints like Awlgrip and Alexseal. 

My biggest turnoff from Awlgrip, was that it's tough to repair and buff. With any boat, there's an inevitable risk of scratches and small collisions (lol). I was worried that I would put in all the effort, only to skim a lobster pot while healed over that would leave a big-ole scratch on my hull. Because of that reason, I decided to look into alternatives. 

Alexseal on the other hand, though complicated, seemed to check my boxes. This 4-5 part buffable paint is magic. I watched YouTube videos (like this one) over and over, studying the technique and chemical ratio to perfectly apply the paint. I talked to an Alexseal rep, who walked me through his pro tips and tricks. After careful deliberation, I picked Alexseal as my product of choice and special ordered two gallons of sky blue topcoat through Andy from Boatworks Today.

While you may be excited to hear about that final coat of Sky Blue on Maui's hull, I need to backtrack a bit - rewind through a couple hundred hours of labor, all the way back to the longest days I’ve ever spent in a boatyard. It's time to talk about the prep work.

April 2023
Every person I reached out to for advice about Alexseal warned me: It’s all in the prep. 

I tried to wrap my head around this. I tried to prepare for the hours and hours of sanding. As much as I thought I was ready for the manual labor that went into getting Maui ready for that first primer coat, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. 

Day 1 of sanding

Maui had been repainted before, with who knows what or when. This left me with chipping paint, uneven surfaces, and multicolor splotches around the hull. Before painting, I had to sand, fair, and sand every one of those spots. Over the next six or so weekends, we spent a ridiculous amount of time in the boatyard. I am talking hundreds of hours of sanding. I was lucky enough to take advantage of some free labor from my boyfriend, Jack, and my dad, Mike. Thanks Jack, thanks Dad.  

This was hard work. Long work. Toxic work. We sanded and sanded and sanded, until it was time to fair, and then we sanded some more. Let me tell you, 35’ of boat might seem small to some of you, but when you're sanding every square inch of 70 feet of lateral surface, you might change your mind. 

May 2023

When it came time to fair, TotalBoat hooked us up with their TotalFair two part fairing compound, which was great to work with and made Maui’s hull flat as could be. Even though the sanded fairing compound was green, which contrasted with the multi-color hull, it was the first look I had of smooth topsides– and the difference was already noticeable in my eyes.

This re-energized the project for me. We had put so many hours into sanding and fairing, and by the time it was time to break out the paint, I was a little burnt out. I was physically tired and mentally drained- truly pouring my heart into the project. I remember driving 4 hours home to Maine, after another long weekend of sanding in Connecticut. I was absolutely exhausted, getting ready for the week of non-boat stuff ahead. All I wanted was for Maui to be painted and on its mooring in Maine.

To summarize, preparing for paint was mind-boggling-tough. I can’t describe it any other way. 

That next week at home, I obsessively checked the weather, manifesting a perfect painting weekend in Connecticut. The temps were rising all week, warming Maui’s solid fiberglass hull, and the weekend was shaping up to be a good one. Low winds, mid 60’s, spring sun. It was time for primer. 

Like I said, Alexseal is complicated. I scoured the internet for information about the chemical ratios, best practices, application methods. Even the primer is a four part paint (none of which are repurposed for the topcoat application). See below, for more of my application tips, if interested. 

I used the following Alexseal products to prime: 
  • Finish Primer (P4420) 
  • Epoxy Primer Reducer (R4042)
  • Accelerator Finish Primer (A4429)
  • Finish Primer 442 Converter (C4427)

I was riding solo on primer weekend, which was tough because the moment that the primer, reducer and converter mix, the clock on the paint’s chemical properties starts ticking. There’s a small window in which you have to get the paint on the hull before the mixture times out and goes bad. 

I worked in small batches at first, then learned that sometimes medium-sized batches are better, to avoid lines of cured paint that would inevitably dry while mixing the next batch. With bigger batches, I had to paint faster. By the second coat, I got the hang of it. 

Two days and two coats of primer later, I stepped back, and for the first time, really saw the satisfaction of all the work. Maui’s downeast lines were exaggerated with that smooth white primer, and I realized, for the first time, I had bought a true head turner. Maui was the kind of boat I gawked over as a kid.

I’ll admit, seeing Maui’s smooth white hull was such an influential moment in the midst of all the chaos, that it almost caused me to catch a case of what I call “Primer-itus”. In that satisfaction, I almost pivoted colors- from my special ordered sky blue to white, since that bright primed hull looked so damn good. 

Flash forward- I got over my case of “Primer-itus” when we picked up a mooring near the mouth of the Connecticut River. I looked around, and every single surrounding boat was white. Maui’s sky blue hull was unique like her. It was bold. And I was proud. 


The weekend after priming, we were blessed again by the weather gods and it was time for top coat. 

I used the following Alexseal products for the topcoat: 
  • Premium Topcoat (T5117)
  • Topcoat Reducer (R5015)
  • Topcoat Converter Brush (C5012)
  • Topcoat Accelerator (A5035)
  • Rolling Additive (A5018)

Jack drove down from Maine with me. We were shaking with anticipation and excitement (or at least I was 😂). Jack and I sanded the primer coat at dawn with 400 grit paper, washed the hull, and taped the teak toe rail and boot-stripe. 

Just like that, it was time to break out the blue. Like I said, I had learned from my primer experience, and was thankful to have Jack as my partner in crime. Having two people was key, as Maui has a unique rub rail, located a couple inches below the teak toe-rail, which made it tough for the foam rollers to fit in the crevices. We created our own scaffolding system between two ladders. Jack went ahead with a foam brush to get into the crevices above the rub-rail and below the toe-rail, and I followed behind with a fine foam roller, smoothing out his work and rolling most of the freeboard. 


Alexseal has a new(ish) rolling additive that is quite literally magical. Unlike most DIY paint procedures, this rolling additive eliminates the need to roll AND tip. All we had to do was roll (less room for technique error), and look back to see the bubbles in the paint disappear. It was awesome. Another huge reason I chose Alexseal.

Stepping back after the first coat of sky blue was simply… unbelievable. This was easily the most satisfying moment in my short five years of being a boat owner, and to be honest, it’s going to be hard to top. Core memory. 

We took a big sigh of relief and admired our work. After cleaning up and going home exhausted to Jack’s parents house, the two of us showered, decompressed, and celebrated. Then, we set our alarms to do it all again the next day. One more coat! 

It went flawlessly. It looks just about as perfect as DIY gets. 

A couple weeks later, I finished the project by adding a white boot-stripe, a couple inches above the waterline. I painted the bottom black, which made the topsides pop even more. Hundreds of labor hours later, we did it, and boy, was it worth it. 

Looking back on this project, I shake my head thinking about how crazy it was, but hold so much pride in the sweat and tears we put into it. It meant a lot to me. It feels like the paint job was my right of passage to own this boat. To this day, every time I approach Maui I can't help but to smile with pride. She really is a head-turner.

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June 2023 

We successfully sailed Maui to Maine in June, and used her hard all summer long. I learned the quirks of the boat, tested the systems, broke things, fixed things, swore like a sailor in the engine compartment and got my hands dirty with infinite projects (that’s what you get for buying a boat from the 60’s!). Each time yet another surprise project presented itself, I shook my head and said “Well, at least she’s pretty!”. 

Will I ever buy a boat that needs a paint job again? Never say never, but probably not. That said, I definitely have never completed a project so satisfying, and every single time I look at Maui, I am prouder than I have ever been in my whole life. So, here’s to more adventures, boat projects, and learnings in 2024. I’m sure there will be plenty! 

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Follow along with Maui and me: @SailingCita

Using Alexseal: Tips, Tricks, Advice 
  • Reference the Alexseal mixing chart here. This describes the ratios you need to follow for primer and topcoat application. (Note: I used Finish Primer 442 and Premium Topcoat 501 products for this project).
  • Don't cheap out on tape!!! I learned this lesson painting the boot stripe, and had to go back with better tape for round two, raising the level of my bootstripe by a centimeter to account for paint bleeding the first time around. The green painters tape works much better than traditional blue. 
  • Once you think your done sanding, go around one more time.
  • If your boat is located in a seasonal climate, remember that even if their air temperature is high on a warm spring day, your hull might still be cold from a long winter. Allow the temps to consistently rise for a couple days before you paint. 
  • Between steps, wash the hull with dawn dish soap and water (nothing stronger as chemicals could interfere with the properties of the paint!). Then, right before painting, use a tack cloth to get any final dust molecules off the hull right before you start mixing. 
  • Press very lightly with the foam roller— let the paint do the work. 
  • Work quickly as a team. Do your best to continue around the hull in one swoop. My advice is to make a plan with your partner. Who is on mixing duty and who is continuing with the painting? 
  • Mix your primer and reducer first, and wait to mix the converter until right before you're ready to paint. The converter is what sets that clock. This goes for the primer and topcoat.
  • Remove painters tape right after you complete each coat. Yes, its annoying to re-tape for every coat, but Alexseal is a hard paint, and it could be problematic if you wait to remove until the end. 
  • Trust the process :) 



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