As part of the refit of our project boat, Ostara, a 1973 Norlin 34, I decided to scrap its vintage hydraulic system for tensioning the backstay, boomvang, and babystay, along with the control panel in the cockpit. In its new role as a coastal cruiser and occasional racer, the boat had no need for such powerful trimming gear or for hoses full of hydraulic oil leading throughout the boat to control it.
Removing the 15' x 6' hydraulic panel doubled the number of gaping holes in the cockpit. There already was a 12' square opening (from the original engine panel) that the previous owner had covered with a piece of plywood. I filled in both holes with patches cut from ' fiberglass panels, leaving myself with the problem of painting the new fiberglass surfaces. Shiny new paint over the patches would stand out against the scuffed, faded 35-year-old gelcoat covering the remainder of the cockpit. If I painted just the cockpit, the deck and cabintop sides would look even dowdier in contrast. There was no way around it; I would have to paint everything above the hull-to-deck joint. See how one thing leads to another? I should have let the hydraulics be.
The kind of paint you use will depend on (a) your budget and (b) your aesthetic standards. If the boat is an old beater and you don’t intend to keep it long, you won’t want to spend a fortune on paint. In this case you could use a semigloss oil-based house paint or, preferably, an oil-based yacht enamel (Pettit, Kirby, Interlux, and Epifanes all make well-regarded enamels). These yacht enamels will look fantastic at first, but will lose a good part of their gloss in a couple of years.
You’ll get more life out of a single-part polyurethane like Interlux Brightside or Pettit Easypoxy; these paints flow sweetly off the brush and will look good for years. They’re only a little more expensive than the oil-based enamels, and the preparation time is the same for either paint, so I think it’s worth spending a little more for a better finish.
In terms of the luster of the finish, it’s hard to tell a single-part polyurethane from more-expensive two-part paints. The two-part paints are tougher and more durable. They set rock-hard and shrug off the daily wear and tear of onboard traffic. I had no intention of taking on this project again, so I settled on Interlux’s Perfection two-part polyurethane. I had never used two-part paint before, so I decided to go by the book and use only the recommended products for preparation and finishing.