Damp & whiffy !

The follow-up post to ‘Sour’.

Title photograph : ‘Inanda‘, Weymouth UK.

June 2018……

It’s the summer of 2018 and i’m sailing the 80 year old gaff cutter ‘Inanda‘ from her home at the Orwell yacht club around to Plymouth and the Tamar river which will be her new home.   So far, iv’e emptied her out and cleaned her right through…..she was filthy with mold inside….sailed down the Orwell, into the Walton Backwaters, across the Thames and then been on a hard dead-beat every day since leaving Ramsgate.  Inanda isn’t at all at home in the bigger channel waves and she is a very wet boat so iv’e had to stow her for the voyage almost like a canoe in whitewater , everything in drybags and at the end of each day mop her out and dry off a cushion to sleep on : i almost regret not having brought a bivvi bag to keep my sleeping bag inside.

Before clean out.  The black areas are mostly mold.


At the end of one very long day on the water i beat up behind the long shingle spit that Dungeness power station is built on (why ?) and decide to anchor there for the night as close in to the beach as i can.  The guard boat for the firing range just along the coast comes to check me out but they only want to warn me not to sail inshore the next day as they will be firing live ones !.      It’s been a very long and tiring day, i’m hungry and thirsty because iv’e had to hand steer every bit of the way and iv’e been reef-in, reef out all day and every time iv’e tacked iv’e had to run forward and clear the headsail sheets from something that they have found to catch on…..the first time it was one of the cleats at the gooseneck band and she hove-to quite nicely !.  Iv’e also completely given up on the Wykeham-Martin jib furling gear for now and have been free-flying the jib on it’s wire luff instead.


The anchorage, St Mary’s bay is a bit roly-poly but it’s the best place for miles and a long hard beat to the next stop, which i think will have to be Newhaven further west.  I work out my tides for the next day ; it’s going to be another very early start, make a hot meal, have several drinks to try and catch up and then just get my head down with my old sleeping bag loosely thrown over me.   I must have got a couple of hours sleep but am woken up by rain drumming on the cabin top and drips hitting my face from the port on the forward cabin face….even though it’s screwed down hard.  There’s nothing for it but to get up, set the anchor light, close the hatches and then swap sides to the port berth ….except that’s now got a drip both ends so there is now nowhere that i can lie down in a dry space to sleep.  I give up any hope of sleep but instead i go on deck again, rig the chimney for the Pansy stove and load that with some charcoal…..may be wet but may as well be warm and wet !.

Inanda on a dry day, notice the difference where you ca see the planking !


Inanda’s forepeak after cleaning.


Inanda was certainly the wettest boat that iv’e ever owned ; not just that her sailing qualities, or lack of them, made her a wet boat to windward, but that she leaked through the seams of her cabin top and along her carlins i think….added to that her old portlights mostly dripped some of the time and that her old hull ‘made’ a bit of water.  When i went to collect her she was also the dirtiest boat that iv’e taken on ; because she was permanently slightly damp inside all the time…..did i mention that she, like most boats of her era, didn’t have a self draining cockpit ?….so rain came in through the cockpit sole as well……she also had a lot of mold and mildew spots in every space between frames.  For her small size, all of 23 feet, she took me most of 2 days to clean right out, frame space by frame space and bucket after bucket of clean soapy water going in and filthy black coming out.  After 2 days she looked and smelt a whole lot better although it took me another few days to work out that her berth cushions were still wet inside their covers as i was waking up with a damp back every morning.

Wet and dry boats then….

Of all the boats that iv’e owned and/or sailed Inanda was by far the wettest and i think WABI”’ is the dry-est ;  in my previous post it might have sounded as though WABI”’ is a wet boat and she isn’t, it’s just that i had extremely heavy rain on the last morning of my autumn cruise and i had to pack her up and leave her with my wet oilskins and a bit of rainwater inside, and then didn’t get back to her for nearly 4 weeks.  Normally in that situation i would tip all the cushions up and leave her with one hatch-board out so that she could at least get some air through her but much more rain and heavy wind was due that week so i took critical kit ( camera, computer etc) home and shut her down completely.

One small problem as i briefly mentioned is that the vent over the heads had broken so she also had a 4” diameter hole in her roof !.   She also had quite a bit of damp and salty gear stowed in her cockpit locker and i didn’t get the chance to strip her sails off either.    When i did get back to her…..well that the situation i described in ‘sour’….so i thought i would follow that post up with another one, about the remedial action i have taken , how i ‘winterise’ my boats normally and then some observations about other boats in the yard that are really suffering from being damp inside.

Newhaven, and another Deben 4 tonner i think



  1. First, i took as much loose gear off the boat as i could, so ; bedding, clothes and foulies, i got those home in one go washed and dried everything as normal.  Iv’e since only taken one berth cushion home but i have taken the other cushion covers off and washed them as well.
  2. Emptied out the cockpit locker and tied everything onto to the stern rail and guard-wires after dunking all the lines in fresh water, that includes the 2 anchor warps which i then looped over the rail to catch some rain for a few days (wash the salt out) and then dry out in the breeze.
  3. Washed out the stern locker and the heads compartment with fresh, soapy water and then sprayed a bit of diluted bleach around.  Those 2 compartments are the really difficult ones to clean ; the heads not so much as it was designed to take a body but the cockpit locker is very difficult to get at all the surfaces and i have to make up a cleaning tool out of a soft sweeping brush taped to a stick !.

One comment that from the previous post that i wanted to answer today was that of not using bleach to kill mold spores but using vinegar instead.  Iv’e never used vinegar as a cleaning agent except at home and not, so far. on a boat.  I believe that bleach does kill mold spores which is why iv’e always used it and found it to be effective in the past but always after a wash down with soogee first.  I’m very happy to take comments on this so please do ‘fire at will’ on this one.

I had just one day of reasonably dry and windy weather for the clean out and then i knew we were going to have a week of rain so what i did was to leave all the lines and warps looped over the stern rail to flush through in the rain and for the next week i ran a dehumidifier inside the boat with all the hatches closed.  The week turned into 10 days, it’s been a very wet autumn here but we have just had a short spell of dry (and bitterly cold) easterlies so iv’e had the boat open to the extent of one hatch board out, and the fore-hatch slightly open for a few days.


This is the first winter that iv’e taken WABI”’ completely off the water and not even kept her in a mud berth ; this year iv’e got so much to get through at home and boat jobs to do that i don’t want the distraction of going out for winter trips.  To be honest iv’e had a very good sailing year with 110 days continuous cruising in France and then another month in the west country.

WABI”’ is in a semi stripped-out state with her sails and loose gear at home but iv’e kept the galley intact after a thorough clean, so that i can sit aboard and have a hot drink as i please.  I haven’t covered her over because iv’e put the rigs back up so that i can take the measurements for the new mainsail and proposed mizzen mast…of the boats in the yard that are covered up with tarps it’s some of those that appear to be wetter inside than the ones left uncovered ; and it’s that, that i’m going to base the main part of this post about.

To cover….or not to cover : this is the question !

I’m really not convinced about the benefits of covering up GRP boats with tarps and not that sure about doing it with wooden boats either.  Here, there are 3 wooden boats, tarped over and only one of them i would say is benefiting in any way and she might be going slightly the wrong way as she’s a carvel built Folkboat that is maybe getting a bit too dry and she will have to take up a lot if and when she ever goes back in the water : that one has been out in the yard for at least 4 years now !.

Much worse are 2 other boats ; the Harrison Butler ‘Bogle’ that’s been in the yard for at least 5 years and the little Rossiter (might be a shelduck).  The HB does have a tarp cover, which is torn, and which usually has large collections of water in deep pockets where the tarp has sagged.  I went aboard once, last year, to try and sort the cover out and the boat was very damp, sour and nasty inside.  To be honest she smells bad inside and there is water seeping out around the deadwood which i think is rotten.   I don’t think iv’e ever seen her owner at the yard, she was up for sale at too much, even when she was in good shape and she is deteriorating rapidly now.

Part of her problem is that she is wet inside all the time and covered , and also in the sun, so she goes through very warm/wet cycles inside on a hot day and the moist air has nowhere to go……that, to me is the one surefire way to destroy a wooden boat over time.  It might just be my opinion but she either needs to be in the shed or left open so that she can at least air out.

The little Rossiter does have a partial cover but her mast is still up so it’s very difficult to secure the tarp flat around all the parts of the rig.  The tarp doesn’t serve much use in keeping her dry ; just like the larger HB she has got deep pockets of water in the tarp and when i had a look through a porthole i could see condensation dripping off her deckhead inside.  To me, that’s about the worst state to leave a boat in and i may be wrong but i think the boat would be better off open to the air even if that meant getting a bit of rain in the boat ; and there are simple ways of doing that….a bilge pump with a float switch connected to the ships battery and powered by a PV panel for example.

The Rossiter before being partially covered.



For wooden boats i think that they have to be completely dry inside to be covered over and even then i think that they need some amount of air flow through them.  There are a couple of things that always make boats damp and dank inside , one of them being salt crystals anywhere ; in the cushions or sailbags if left aboard for example.       I’m prety sure that most of you will have noticed the fine haze that you can see inside a boat on a breeze-y day and the right light…..that can be a very fine cloud of water vapour and salt crystals….the salt being highly hygroscopic.                      I used to notice this with some race boats, so called, that were left with their sails aboard and where the sails and bags had got salty on deck during the season.  I used to have a problem with this in my maxi sailing days because it was then normal practice to have the next genoa already on the rail in it’s bag so they were always getting a lot of spray….and without lots of spare bodies it was almost impossible to move the headsails around by myself.

I do think that all boats should get a complete fresh water wash out at the end of a season and if possible that should be done with all gear out of the boat and ideally then the gear should go home for a wash and airing as well : i know that doesn’t always work out for boats that are kept a long way from home.  Where taking all the loose gear home, cushions for example, isn’t feasible, i would definitely recommend taking the covers off and taking them home.

A little bit of science.

I spent a bit of time doing some basic research on mold and mildew, by most accounts the black stuff sounds like cladosporum rather than mildew which is a different form of funghi (all molds seem to be various forms of funghi).  I cut the following section from a wiki article.   The main points here are humidity, especially condensation, and warmth + plus and available food source.  Many mold funghi seem to grow on a ‘bio-film’ on the surfaces where condensation can also collect so it’s not unusual to get a lot of mold and mildew around a galley area.   I also checked to see what other sites had to say about eradicating mold and mildew….both bleach and vinegar are recommended and both do kill the spores and hyphae (fungal filaments) : diluted bleach is stated as being effective on hard surfaces whereas vinegar may be slightly more effective on other, more porous surfaces so i’m going to invest in a few bottles of spirit vinegar which is basically acetic acid.

On a health note iv’e met many patients who state that they are allergic to mold and i reckon that the presence of lots of mold spores make me cough a bit….they definitely affect people with asthma as well.

Mildew requires certain factors to develop. Without any one of these, it cannot reproduce and grow. The requirements are a food source (any organic material), sufficient ambient moisture (a relative humidity of between 62 and 93 percent), and reasonable warmth (77 °F (25 °C) to 88 °F (31 °C) is optimal, but some growth can occur anywhere between freezing and 95 °F (35 °C)). Slightly acidic conditions are also preferred.[5] At warmer temperatures, air is able to hold a greater volume of water; as air temperatures drop, so does the ability of air to hold moisture, which then tends to condense on cool surfaces. This can work to bring moisture onto surfaces where mildew is then likely to grow (such as an exterior wall). Preventing the growth of mildew requires a balance between moisture and temperature either in such a way that minimal moisture is available in the air and the air temperature is low enough to inhibit growth (at or below 70 °F (21 °C) without causing condensation to occur, or in such a way that warmer air temperatures, without an actual change in the amount of water vapor in that air, is by its nature “drier” (has a lower relative humidity) than cooler air and will tend to inhibit mildew growth in this way[clarification needed]. Warm temperatures coupled with high relative humidity set the stage for mildew growth.

Air conditioners are one effective tool for removing moisture and heat from otherwise humid warm air. The coils of an air conditioner cause moisture in the air to condense on them, eventually losing this excess moisture through a drain and placing it back into the environment. They can also inhibit mildew growth by lowering indoor temperatures. In order for them to be effective, air conditioners must recirculate the existing indoor air and not be exposed to warm, humid outside air. Some energy efficient air conditioners may cool a room so quickly that they do not have an opportunity to also effectively collect and drain significant ambient water vapor.” (wikipedia)


  1. There are dehumidifiers that are designed specifically for cool, damp basements. Oddly they are referred to as basement dehumidifiers. I have owned one for nearly 8 years and it runs nearly 24/7. A very good bargain… I’m not only impressed by the longevity but too, by the efficiency of the moisture removal. The basement is about 700 square feet with all the usual nooks and crannies, plus shelves full, and piles of “mustkeeps”. So, my thoughts are leaning me towards buying a second one to leave run inside my 22′, wrapped, grp boat. It may not red to run as much but it will need to drain through the galley seacock.

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  2. I bought the little Shelduck and hopefully will be back on the water soon. Boat was remarkably sound for its age (60 years) and what little rot (stern and a small piece of planking repaired) I’m recaulking at the moment and will be painting soon. Sails have been cleaned and engine serviced.


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