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Skipper’s Tips

The Laid-Back Layup: Simple steps to safe summer storage  –  Somehow it seems as if only a few weeks have passed since you got the boat out of the yard and set it up for a season's cruising. You've had fun; friends and family have visited and watched as you patched up your pride and joy in various bays and coves. You've thrown back a few sundowners, eyeopeners and nooners. You even caught that pesky rat. Now it's time to get your little ship ready for a summer's storage. Whether on the hard or in the water, you should follow these few essentials for a happy season's layup.

Summer inevitably brings lots of rain, which in turn can cause a multitude of problems. The biggest bugbear is humidity—all that water trickling into your bilges or infiltrating your storage areas makes for a sodden environment. When the weather turns seriously stormy, and there is wind-driven rain pouring down on your boat, running down the mast, oozing through a broken seal around a hatch or a deck fitting, the bilges can fill rather quickly. If the boat is being kept in the water, you'll want a dependable electrical supply to keep the bilge pump pumping, probably a solar panel or wind generator, or shore power if in a marina.

On the hard, it is a good idea to remove a through-hull fitting, such as a depth instrument or a saspeed gauge—ideally one situated at the lowest point in the hull—so you're not depending on an electric pump to keep the boat from “sinking on dry land.”  This method allows you to remove batteries from the boat for safe storage.


The first order of business, though, is to thoroughly clean the boat. Any dust or bits of gunk lying about the boat will absorb moisture and will host mould and mildew which will smell bad. You don't want that.

Before you clean, get organized. You'll be cleaning and wiping all over the boat, so have your favourite chemical weapons close to hand. If you're not sure what to use, just make up a solution of white vinegar and water—it'll wash just about anything and it's cheap. Rubber gloves are essential for all the gooey stuff. Paper towels, too. Ready? Then let's have at it.

The galley is a good place to start—empty out your cupboards of any and all items that might suffer in the heat and humidity. Cans can stay, but items in cardboard (such as pasta) or other materials that can absorb moisture, must go. Perishables, too, of course. Drain your refrigerator and freezer as much as possible and flush fresh water through the plumbing to remove any particles of food left in the hoses. Leave the refrigerator and freezer doors open. If you are storing the boat in a yard, remember there is a chance that insects and rodents might find their way aboard, so to protect against roaches and rats and mice, close all seacocks. Cockpit drains should have a strainer or other impediment to foreign visitors. Stainless steel wool or a plastic scouring pad stuffed down the drain can help, though it shouldn't be too tight so as to prevent rain water flowing out.

Richard Coles had his boat in a yard which he won't name, “Just say it wasn't on Tortola,” he told YG. There he acquired a large and aggressive rat which either shimmied up his jack stands or up a ladder or jumped from another boat, nobody was quite sure. But once there, it stayed. It took quite a few weeks, but Coles got rid of the rat by way of a classic spring trap. “On my last night in the BVI, I baited the trap with a bit of meat left over from dinner and placed it between some sticky pads,” Coles said. “Come 1:30 AM, a loud bang and a squeal, and the rat was in the trap. I shovelled him into a plastic bag and unceremoniously emptied him over the side. He was last seen heading west at about two knots.”


A rat is a problem, alright, as are spiders and ants, though these are all clear and obvious menaces. Mould on the other hand, is insidious and rarely announces its presence, other than by its acrid smell. A closed space baking in searing summer heat in a humid environment will sweat and allow the formation of moulds and mildew. A constantly operating fan will ensure air movement which in turn can inhibit the formation and growth of mildew. Humidity is also an issue when it comes to stored clothing, books, charts and so forth. Anything that can absorb moisture will do so, especially electronic toys, whose terminals can corrode quickly. If your cabinets and lockers don't have ventilation slats or woven rattan inserts, leave all cabinet doors open so there's at least some air flow. Products such as “Damp-Rid” which are available from most hardware stores do a great job of soaking up excess moisture, or you can make your own equivalent by mixing salt and dry tapioca, or half-fill a few socks with rice and leave them lying about. Dehumidifiers will help as well, though you will need to keep your boat's batteries well charged to provide energy for these appliances. Your boat will need to be plugged in to shore power or have adequate solar or wind generation to keep the electrons flowing.

Bedding and cushions need to be ventilated, too. Remove all sheets, blankets and pillows if possible, and set mattresses on their edge to ensure some air flow around them. Clothing should be removed to avoid mildew. If there is no place to store clothing off the boat, place items in storage hammocks or hanging in a closet rather than leave them in drawers, but do leave all doors and drawers open. If you vacuum cushions, clean the insides of cabinets, and wipe all hard surfaces with a damp cloth, you will give mould and mildew less chance of getting established.

Layup time is a perfect opportunity to have rigging inspected. You'll want to secure all halyards and remove sails for storage to reduce damage from wind and dust. If you are planning to have a sailmaker inspect your sails, now is the time to do so—perhaps he can store them for you until next season. Keith LiGreci of Nanny Cay boatyard says he “won't haul a boat with the jib still on it. Some folks will pull straight up to the dock from being at sea,” he told YG. “The yacht needs to be properly prepared” before they'll haul it out, he said. Tortola Yacht Services suggested pulling all halyards through the mast, having attached a messenger line for retrieval. This way you avoid incurring months of UV degradation as well as reducing windage (in case of a Big Blow) and eliminating the annoying mast slap that creates the sound of an out-of-tune gamelan orchestra when the breeze gets up in a yard or marina filled with a hundred yachts.


Layup provides a good opportunity to service your winches—salt and grime shouldn't be left to work their corrosive evil. At the very least, flush all external equipment, such as blocks and shackles, with lots of fresh water. Another suggestion is to wash, dry and then coat all stainless steel structures, such as stanchions, pulpits and radar arches with Vaseline. This will protect the steel and is easily wiped off at the beginning of the new season using distilled spirits or turpentine. Be aware, though, that the oily jelly can soften in the hot sun and run down onto teak decks, causing spots of discolouration.

Engines don't benefit from lying idle. It's a good idea to change the oil before layup—this way you can run the engine and coat the piston rings and walls with good, fresh oil complete with inhibitors and additives to prevent corrosion. Fill diesel tanks to the brim before layup, as this will reduce the chance of moisture condensing inside the tank and creating an environment for the growth of bacteria and fungi.

There are a myriad of other steps you can take, but the bottom line is that you are leaving your boat during hurricane season, and you have to prepare for the worst. Remove anything that will host mould or mildew, ensure there is adequate ventilation, remove anything that will create windage or else secure items such as the dinghy, thoroughly. If the boat is to be left on the hard, remove a through-hull fitting so as to allow any water that reaches the bilge a means of escape.

With thorough preparation and a spot of luck, your boat will be in as good shape at the end of the season's layup as it is now. The less you leave to chance, the better your odds. You can engage a management company to prepare your boat for storage and to keep an eye on it throughout the summer, but at the very least, ask a friend to take a look every now and then—it'll be worth that case of beer.

The major BVI boatyards have space available, unlike previous years, when the yards were full with repeat customers. Nanny Cay's Keith LiGreci says that this year “lots of boats were sold. We usually have 250 customers returning each year, but not this season.”  Nanny Cay has, at the time of writing, space for about 20 monohulls to 55 feet LOA, and space for a few catamarans to 50 feet LOA: www.nannycay.com (284) 494-2512.

Tortola Yacht Services at Wickham's Cay has spaces available also: www.tysbvi.com/services.htm
(284) 494-2124.

Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour manager Keith Thomas says his yard still has some availability for boats up to 70 feet LOA. Catamaran space is limited to vessels with a max beam of 21 feet: www.igy-virgingorda.com (284) 495-5500.

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