Friday, 8 March 2013

The Enemy Within

One of the other scourges of winter sailing, we’ve discovered, is condensation.  When warm moist air inside the boat touches the “walls” (hull) or the windows, the result is a continual cold-sweat inside the boat.  A little bit of this is manageable – you just wipe it up with a sponge from time to time.  A lot of it, however, leads to mildew, ruined cushions, mouldy food stores, a damp feeling everywhere, and nights punctuated with Chinese water-drop torture.

Dehumidifier (only marginally helpful.)
I had taken all the sensible precautions I had learned:  turn on the heat and open some windows, increase ventilation, turn cushions on-end when not in use to increase air flow, always open a porthole above the stove when cooking, eliminate cotton, put food in plastic containers, etc.  I even bought a small dehumidifier (the chemical absorbent kind) and we recently just installed some great “akwamats” under our bed cushions.  These thick mats of latex-coated coconut fiber help increase air circulation and insulate cushions from the bulkhead walls.  (They stink a little bit, though…hoping that will go away with time.)   

But one month in the boat yard this winter without much ventilation highlighted several weaknesses of my strategy that beg to be remedied.  Patrick, ever the pragmatist, suggests we simply stop navigating when it’s cold, but I am convinced that even wintering-over in warm places will still lead to humidity problems at some point and measures must be taken.

This epiphany came to me last week when I discovered that condensation had ruined my breakfast tea, properly stored in a plastic container.  Even some of the herbal teas in individual plastic-like sachets had to be thrown out.  Okay, admittedly, the lid to the plastic container may not have been fully sealed, but still… this meant war.

As I began looking around the boat, I quickly identified several problem areas.  First, the former owners of the boat ripped out all the wall linings and simply painted the surfaces a matte white.  When I first visited the boat, I loved the effect – clean and neat.  Nothing is worse than dingy sagging mildewed wall lining.  But this facelift also means that there is no longer any insulation between the cold bulkhead and the warm air, so we now have lots of surface area for condensation to form.  This is particularly troublesome inside the food and clothes lockers. 

The other big culprit is the metal rims around the portholes and hatches.  This is where the majority of condensation forms.  In the mornings, after a night of breathing in a closed environment, the drips are everywhere, but mostly concentrated on these cold metal surfaces.  One morning last week, the hygrometer read 81% while the temperature was only 8° C / 46° F.  With a dew point of 5°C,  we were very close to creating our own rain clouds.  In such conditions, wiping drips off the window frames with a sponge works for about 1 minute before the beads re-form.  Of course, the answer here is ventilation, but who wants to crawl out of a warm sleeping bag and open the windows in a howling sub-zero wind even before having that first cup of mouldy tea ? 

After reading several blogs from live-aboards in cold climates, I have a few new tricks I’m going to try.

My favourite idea and probably the one least likely to work is Anti-Condensation Paint.  This paint, readily available and reasonably priced, was developed for bathrooms and kitchens, and a few blogging yachties have said it works well for them on their boats.  The paint contains micro-beads of glass, a great insulator.  And it’s available in matte white, so we can test it in a few places before committing to a full interior paint job. 

French version, anti-condensation paint with glass micro-beads.

The next idea is insulating the hatches.  You can make or buy insulated covers that you put on the outside of your hatches.  Apparently, the camping car industry is way ahead of us on this.  Some of the fancier ones are actually a bit oversized, allowing you to leave the hatches open a crack to improve circulation.

The third trick is a simple one, but one that will force us to abandon our ecological moral compasses.  We must accept to turn the heat on full blast and open all the windows.  The idea pains me, and yet, it’s the best way to get rid of condensation. 

I figure that by the time I implement these tricks, the weather will be warmer and this won’t be an issue.  To add insult to injury, I just read that the anti-condensation paint can’t be applied in temperatures less than 12° C / 54° F !  I guess the bright side to all this is that I can strike “painting” right off my list for the next couple of weeks.  Lesson learned: you must winterize your boat BEFORE winter !    

For more articles on winter sailing, visit The Monkey's Fist !


Unknown said...

This reminds me of our first big trip with our then-new camper. We took fall break to re-visit Niagara Falls, camping on Grand Isle. Of course it's that year that the greater Buffalo area receives it's largest ever fall snowfall - some 12" +/-. We had a blast, but poor Vickie was forever going around the interior of the camper, including in cabinets and closets, wiping up condensation. Still one of our favorite trips through.