P is for Paint

The sea is a harsh environment and most things on a boat, if they’re not stainless steel or aluminum, need to be coated in some fashion. Even fiberglass requires a gel coat to keep out the water and salt that would damage the structural integrity of the material. Moreover even fiberglass needs antifouling bottom coatings if it’s a boat that lives in the water most of the time. So for all boats and for wooden boats in particular, that generally means some kind of paint. Bottom paint is a peculiar animal, meant for antifouling, which means there’s chemicals in it that keep algae and barnacles and other nasty things like teredo worms or shipworm from devouring your vessel right out from under you. By the way, the naval shipworm, or Teredo Navalis, is not a worm at all, but a special bivalve mollusk adapted for boring into and living in submerged wood. The creature literally eats wood and has been the scourge of sailors since mankind began to put wooden boats on the water. They really are disgusting creatures and all kinds of methods have been developed over the years to keep them at bay. They only live in salt water, so old time sea captains used to run their ships way up rivers periodically to the point that the water was mostly fresh and anchored there for a few days to kill off the worms. In colonial times they used to cover the ship in thin woolen felt, soaked that down with pine tar and installed another covering of thin planks on top of that as a sacrificial layer. In naval vessels where expense was less of a limitation, hulls were covered in copper. In one more diversion from the subject at hand, I’ve learned on a survival show that they are actually edible if you’re in extremis and can dig them out of driftwood. Sort of like eating a very long slender raw oyster.

Yum yum yum.


But back to the subject at hand. Let me give you my own take on boat paint. I have a rowing and sailing skiff that I designed and built myself (photo above). I’m not saying I’m an expert of any way, shape or form, but my boat suits me and does the things I want it to do. I painted my boat bottom with marine paint. It’s the thing that was recommended to me as being the best and a friend of mine that was sailing across the Atlantic gave me a quart of beautiful stuff and I used it and it looked great. The problem was, that from then on I was bound to purchase that paint for the outside of the hull. Being marine paint it has a premium price. As part of my self-education, I read a book called ‘Skiffs and Schooners’ by R. D. Culler. Mr. Culler was a dyed-in-the-wool wooden boat builder, sailor and captain. In the chapter ‘Paints and Goo’ he put forward an idea that for me was a revelation. You do not have to paint a boat with marine paint. For him, topsides paint was generally white (as it tends to hide inperfections). His preferred choice of paint brand for topsides paint? Sears Weatherbeater. It is formulated for exterior, the semi-gloss chalks over nicely and best of all, it’s much less expensive. I took his advice one step further. For my boat’s interior/topside paint I chose porch paint, the paint for the floors of porches, the stuff that you walk on. It too is formulated for outside harsh environments, it is very hard (which is good for scuff and wear), it can be mixed in any color you want and best of all, it’s a quarter of the price of marine paint. So I learned two things from Mr. Culler. One, that there’s more than one way to skin a cat and two, you don’t always have to do what the ‘experts’ tell you.

I’d call that a win.


6 thoughts on “P is for Paint

  1. Never knew toredo worms weren’t worms, or that you could eat them. The latter is not something I think I’ll try anytime soon. Good info about the paint, though. We always used marine paint, but way back then, there wasn’t a lot to choose from.

  2. Your post brings back good memories! I used to race wooden sailboats when I was a girl and the paint job was very important for the speed of the boat. We used to paint the bottoms white, but I don’t remember the reason! Our rudders were also painted white so we could see the seaweed on them. Once my uncle painted my sister’s boat with house paint – not good, but I also don’t remember why!

    • I’m glad it brought back good memories. I’d hate to dredge up old bad ones! It’s possible that painting a boat that stays in the water a long time with house paint is not advisable because house paint doesn’t have any anti-fouling properties. Pure conjecture on my part, other than that I have to shrug and say ‘I dunno’. Painting a rudder white to see seaweed on them sounds like a good idea, I might well do that as part of my spring preparations. Thanks!

  3. The next time I’m project managing boat maintenance, I’ll actually sound like I know something, although I’ll need to keep your post in my pocket to refresh my memory.

    • It sounds like you have a few boats to project manage. My hat’s off to you for taking it on. I’m considering buying a boat that’s large enough to stay out on for a week or so (but small enough to trailer) and the consideration for maintenance is daunting. xx

      • I haven’t considered the maintenance angle. I delegate that sort of maintenance to my husband who is a gifted Mr Fix-it. I rate as ballast.

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