A Boat Refinishing Experience In San Blas, Mexico


by Lynn Appley

sv Cricket     

Our boat needed work and we had a budget.  The amount of work needed, exceeded the budget necessary to hire professionals.  New bottom paint would be a must; the hull needed painting, but would have to wait.  The stainless was rusty, the topsides dull, the name and hailing port barely readable.  Workers would be hired to prep the bottom, buff the hull and paint the name.  We would have to do a lot of the work ourselves; or so we thought.  Once we arrived in San Blas and met Alex, our expectations changed and happily to our favor.

We began our research for this project by asking friends about their experiences with Mexico’s Pacific Coast boat yards.  From the internet, we learned about Fonatur’s Marina San Blas.  It’s a new marina, has a 50 ton travel-lift, a large cement dry storage and work area, with covered areas available in the yards.  The docks, facilities and work areas are well lit and have good security.  This marina allows the use of your own supplies and workers, without charging an additional fee.  We considered all the input, our needs and chose the Marina in San Blas.

Alex - "Do it right, or don't do it."
Alex – “Do it right, or don’t do it.”

On the way to San Blas, we radioed a boat sailing south.  During the conversation they told us about Marina San Blas, saying they had the “best yard experience in 40 years of boating”.  They gave us a name, “Alexander ‘Mijito’ Abunader Andalon” and his phone number.  We were feeling even better about our decision.

Arriving at San Blas, we easily maneuvered the entrance and made our way to the marina.  After checking in, we contacted Alex.  In less than an hour he and Raphael arrived at our boat and in English, spoke with us about the project.  They offered us a quote based on the work they would do.  It was more than we had budgeted, though for much more work than we had expected.  The extent and value of the project would justify digging into the cruising kitty.

Paint or Gelcoat?

The main question was which finishing process to use.  Painting had always been recommended as the accepted method to refinish old gelcoat. Alex and Raphael disagreed and said that gelcoat was the medium they preferred.  It resulted in a superior, longer lasting finish and it was their area of expertise. Though it required more labor, they assured us that that was included in the quote and worth the cost.  We contacted friends in the States experienced in boat building and maintenance.  The consensus was, painting was the more common and less labor intensive option; but, if the craftsmen doing the work are more comfortable with one process over the other, then that process would be the better choice.  We told Alex and Raphael we decided to go with gelcoating the hull.  They were pleased, “do it right, or don’t do it”, Alex commented.  Those are words a boat owner likes hearing from a newly hired crew.  Cricket, our forty-one year old Cal 43 would be the twenty-third yacht and fourth sailboat to be refinished by them.

The boat was hauled the next day. The Marina San Blas crew that operated the travel-lift and maneuvered the boat in the sling were conscientious and professional. The boat was well shored.  Supplies, tools and equipment arrived, and Alex’s crew began work.

Lynn Appley SB spraying waterline 4320x3240Getting To Work

Layers of newspaper were taped to the hull above the water line and tape was used to cover the varnished rails. The work was extensive; old layers of bottom paint were scraped and sanded away.  Small blisters below the waterline were pierced and left to drain and dry.  When the blister holes had dried, fiberglass filler was used to fill the voids and smooth the surface.  During the drying time all underwater metals, the prop, shaft, through hull flanges, even the anchor was sanded clean.   The work site was kept clean and the toxic scrapings disposed of properly. The men wore protective suits when working with toxic materials. This was a professional crew.

The process of recoating the hull began with the application of the sheer and waterline stripes.   Alex custom tinted the gel coat, we approved the brighter color and Raphael applied multiple coats using a spray gun.  When dry, the stripes were wet sanded to a high gloss and taped for protection. The bottom was sanded before and between the two applications of epoxy barrier coats.

Lynn Appely SB Wet SandingThe hull was readied for the application of its new finish; dings and imperfections were filled and sanded smooth. Raphael began his artful process; eleven passes were patiently sprayed onto the hull.  That’s eleven thin, coats of gel coat medium.  To bring the gel to the hardened, highly reflective finish of a new boat required hours of sanding.  This was a task for the whole crew; Alex, Raphael, Frank and Judas.  Beginning with 120 grit sandpaper, they wet-sanded the hull, working toward the mirror-like finish they valued.  This sanding process was repeated using 180, 220, 360, 400 and 600 grit papers. As they worked, their images reflected in the new gel on the hull. The hull was further buffed using coarse, medium and fine rubbing compounds.  Before the final waxing and buffing, the boat name and hailing port were painted, using the tinted gel coat, in the font and size we required.  The sign painter’s work was careful and accurate; he was an artist at his craft.  The stainless was cleaned and waxed; restored to shining.  The topsides were scrubbed, waxed and buffed.  The last task was the application of the anti-fouling paint.  Three coats of were rolled onto the bottom.  A liter of paint was reserved to paint the bottom the keel.  Cricket shone and was ready to be returned to the water.

Back In The Water

The travel lift crew prepared for the splash.  Sturdy straps were fitted and huge shackles fastened; plastic was wrapped around the straps to protect the newly refinished hull and bottom.   A gang plank was put into position and we were helped aboard.  The crew again performed carefully and competently, lowering us safely into the water.

Alex’s team is comprised of local skilled craftsmen.  He owns a paint shop and has over twenty years painting experience.  For the past twelve years, he has worked with Raphael who brought his gelcoat expertise to the team. Vidal, their plumber, did through hull work for us which was well done and reasonably priced.  In addition to plumbing, he also has welding skills and is capable of working on both stainless and aluminum. Carpentry is available by another team member.  As a side business, they refurbish neglected fishing yachts for resale.

We did our homework, were present daily to answer any questions and the crew performed well, giving us an excellent product.  The entire process took a little over three weeks.  We expect to return to Alex and San Blas to have the topsides resurfaced.  Our experiences at the marina, with the crew and the town of San Blas were all positive.  We recommend them to anyone who appreciates quality work for a reasonable cost.







  1. Sounds like a great experience!

    Anyone know where I could get the same treatment on the US east coast?

    • thank you for your comment. It was a great experience. Doubt though that you could find it on the east coast.

      • Hi Lynn,
        My boat also needs exterior repainting. Echoing Mike D, approximately how much did it cost to refinish Crickets hull? Did you do only the hull from caprail down to waterline, or all topside including cockpit?
        sv HumuHumu

  2. A shame the work had to be outsourced out of of the US. As a marine professional i am seeing so many marine businesses here in the states going bankrupt. I hate to read of others taking work away. I do understand of course and unfortunately with raising costs of land, labor, insurance, and more EPA requirements it is harder and harder for a small marine business to stay open. Personally I do not encourage taking a boat outside of the US to get work done but can understand why someone would. I would however say if you can please support a small business and stay close to home for the work, trust me those of us in the business need the work.

  3. That was a lot of work that was accomplished in the 3 weeks. Very labor intensive and I would think adding 11 layers of gel coating would make the boat even stronger. I'm surprised you didn't post a finished pic.

  4. I hate to read of others taking work away. I do understand of course and unfortunately with raising costs of land, labor, insurance, and more EPA requirements it is harder and harder for a small marine business to stay open. Personally I do not encourage taking a boat outside of the US to get work done but can understand why someone would. I would however say if you can please support a small business and stay close to home for the work, trust me those of us in the business need the work.

  5. Gelcoat is used as a finish on fiberglass boats because it is about the cheapest way to produce a gloss finish when the boat pops out of the mold. They don't use it because it is better that a good LP paint job. It isn't.

    Gelcoat is far more porous that a good LP paint job and, when new, gloss will not last more than about a year before it starts to deteriorate. That's why it must be polished (to remove any oxidation) and waxed or poly applied frequently to maintain gloss.

    Walk through any marina and you will see examples of gelcoat finishes heavily oxidized due to lack of preventive maintenance. If too heavily oxidized, they must be painted to regain the gloss.

    Save yourself the expense and shortcomings of gelcoat and paint with a good LP properly applies over a well prepared surface and you will be good to go with minimal maintenance for about 10 years, more or less.

  6. Replacing and and the upkeep of all things affected by the water, on top general maintenance makes owning a boat expensive. If you don't like to spend your time "messing about in boats," then it might be an endeavor to own one. If you don't mind, just remember that "the most expensive boat you every buy is the cheapest" i.e. maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.

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