My old warhorse has seen better days. It’s been some years now since I bought my 1996 Nigel Dennis Romany Explorer used at Rutabaga in Madison, WI. I’ll never forget how scary it felt to drop the $1500 back then on of all things, a kayak! Now after years of paddling, some harsh landings, intimating crashes, and just years of sitting out under the Midwest sun, the warhorse was in desperate need of care.
Let me start right off by saying I believe your kayak should be an off-road vehicle and not a “vette”. I see paddlers every year acting all silly trying to avoid scratching up their kayaks. In the end they always lose the battle. Either that, or they never really become strong paddlers. You just can’t live this sport and keep your kayak pristine. Period.
A kayak that survives anything you toss at it for years on end with little care is worth it’s weight in gold (And rare as hell these days, I might add). My old Explorer is one of those kayaks. Heavy as hell and tough as nails. Say what you will about Nigel’s boats over the years, but back in the day he was putting out floating tanks. It’s no surprise NDK ruled the world of expedition paddling for so many years.
I was actually in the middle of another project and was waiting on that one when I decided to get after the Explorer. Not that it’s going to survive much longer. The Gel coat is getting flaky, and even the combing is filled with fissures and spider cracks. Still, my warhorse was always my first love and even as it slowly disintegrates, it deserves to go down looking cared for. Well, occasionally cared for. In the last year or so the bits of oxidation that I had always put off dealing with suddenly ran rampant and turned the whole kayak a shade of bluish milky-white.
I’ve been around this whole kayaking thing long enough that I’ve faced this task before. Depending on the level of oxidation you may be able to hand polish it out, sometimes you need to sand. This was the case with my warhorse. After I cut all the deck lines and bungies off I went about wet-sanding the deck, first with a medium fine paper, then very fine. In the picture above you can see a pretty distinct line between where I had worked the deck (left side) and where it was still oxidized (right).
After wet sanding, I washed and wiped down the boat, then dried it with a towel. At this point the color was restored and consistent other than were a few old stickers had been removed, however it was also dull. This is when I get out the buffer with a bit of very light grit polishing compound. Beginning at the bow I work a small area at a time with a very small about of the compound and lots of time. You start by applying a bit of pressure (not too much) and you will get a sense of resistance on the chalky hull until the compound begins to do it’s work. Slowly I ease off using less and less pressure until I could hold the buffer easily with one hand. I continue to work until I can see the clouds and sun reflecting in the surface of the boat. I can’t express enough that this takes much more time than one would think, but you can’t rush the process by pushing too hard or adding more compound. You simply have to use as little of both as possible and be slow and methodical. With patience the shine will come back.
I had just finished the top deck as dark clouds appeared on the horizon, and I needed to get back to my other project of the day. As for the warhorse I still have the hull to do then I can get to the task of adding new deck-lines and bungies. More on that later…