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The idea of gel coat suppliers, and what impact that has on the industry is really pretty foreign to most average boaters. Most boaters couldn't tell you what brand of gel was used in the making of their boat, and truth be told most wouldn't care to know. If you are in the market for a new boat, you design your graphics, pick your colors, and that's the last thought regarding gel coat you will have... Until it comes time for a repair, which brings us to this weeks article "Where's the gel?"

About a week ago I called Lee Spindler from Schiada boats to find out when we would start production on my new 12' Schiada mini boat. We got to talking and he said the words "There's no gel in the world right now." To which of course I asked "What are we talking about here?" What I didn't
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know is the vast majority of west coast manufacturers used a gel coat product from a company called Valspar. Valspar has recently, and very unexpectedly to the industry, shut down their gel division. So you ask how does that affect you? The answer is simple, the likely hood that your boat has a stock Valspar color is pretty high. The likely hood that the blends (custom colors) and fades on your ride were blended with Valspar colors is also pretty high. When you get that scratch and you need it fixed, the company that more then likely made the colors that are on the boat is no longer in business. The picture becomes very clear, or rather very muddy as we will get into in a second in a big hurry.

This isn't a "huge" problem for new boat builds as there are other gel coat manufacturers out there, and if a customer wants a "red" boat they will just use the new existing red. However if the customer is very particular and would like this new boat to be the exact red of his old boat, this is where things get a little more complicated. Note not impossible, just more difficult. In the case of a repair though, having a shade of red that is a hint off isn't an option so things get exponentially more difficult because it has to be exact.

After having this conversation with Lee I called up two of the top tier fiberglass repair shops to ask how this was impacting their business, and what they were doing to overcome the problems. The answers were borderline startling! First I called "Pats Fiberglass" as they are a very highly regarded long term shop in Southern California. I spoke with the owner Don Heydon and asked him more or less if Valspar going out of business had an effect on his shop and what was it.

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Don a long time gelcoat professional didn't skip a beat and was very forth coming about the substitute gels, and what he thought of them. The suppliers all claim to have matching colors to Valspar but none of the colors match exactly. When you blend them to get that correct color they turn a bit "muddy" and do not have the depth that the Valspar gels provided. So now what used to be a simple blend of these two colors has turned into days of blending colors to get them to turn out correct and have the right "look" and depth to them. More importantly being that most boats used stock Valspar colors and the new colors don't match, you can't just pull the color code and spray new exact matching gel. He now has to blend what used to be stock colors which is adding quite a bit of shop time to what was previously simple tasks. He also went onto say some of the products are just outright inferior and the companies don't have them dialed in yet. He told me a quick story about a boat that he had sprayed for a customer, and the gel never kicked off. If you're not familiar with the term "kicked off" imagine paint that never fully dries. He ended up having to strip the whole boat and re-shoot it on his own dime. Frustrating wouldn't even be the word to describe that.

I asked Don
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how they are overcoming these obstacles because obviously not doing any work isn't an option. Don told me that they have finally somewhat gotten dialed in using these other products, and are able to blend them and get them to have the depth and match the colors of Valspar. The only real issue he has right now is he doesn't trust the way they blend and kick off. To put that into laymens terms you can think you have the right color, and when it kicks off it might be a shade or so different. To by pass that currently he is literally taking a small part, shooting it, wetsanding it, then buffing it and holding it up to what he is trying to match to make sure that when they repair the boat, the repair is 1st rate and invisible to the owner. In talking with Don you can tell he is very proud of his work, and he would never let something less than perfect go out the door.

Next I called Rick
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from Islander Marine ( to ask him what his thoughts were. When Valspar went out of business Rick also tried some of the different companies that had come around knocking on his door to sell Gel. They all promise that they can match Valspar's colors exactly, but to date none have been able too. He told me a quick story about the latest company making that claim and he had them try to match a yellow, after the tenth try they finally gave up. Which brings is back to Rick blending and matching his colors in house. Rick like everyone else has been on the learning curve of trying to mix and blend the substitute gels, but in his words Valspar just used better pigments and better clears than what is available right now from other companies.

For the last four years Rick has been playing with a proprietary method of making "custom" colors in gel. When Valspar folded it lit a fire under him to dial in and perfect the process. He has been working on that quite a bit lately and has told me as recently as today that he can now create any color in gel. He actually said there is a color spectrum in gel, and he has surpassed it and can now match any paint color in gel coat materials, offering the colors of paint with the durability of gel.

So how does this affect us the end consumer? Generally it means
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if you have a repair, even something so simple as respraying your beaching scratches white on the bottom. It's going to cost more, and if the shop isn't 100% dialed in, it's likely you're going to see the repair on your pride and joy. Now more then ever isn't the time to bargain shop and get your scratches fixed on price. Go with a shop that will stand behind there work 100% or wait it out until somebody does finally match the old Valspar colors exactly.