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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Monday, April 14, 2014

A KISS of Paint

The pleasures of paint
Colorful Sailboat by Bill Jones

There are only two colors to paint a boat - black or white - and only a fool would paint a boat black.

 - Nathanael G. Herreshoff on How to Express Oneself as an Opinionated Old Fart

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. 
Two can be as bad as one. 
It's the loneliest number since the number one.

 - Three Dog Night on Color Schemes

A KISS of Paint

'Tis Spring, and this young man's heart turns to thoughts of... paint.

Paint and painting goes hand-in-hand with boats and boating. Wooden ones, at least. Even the brightest, glossiest yacht sports a fair amount. Paint seals and protects wood, cleans much more easily, brightens dark corners and dresses her up.

It's unbelievable to me how much ink has been spilled debating the proper scheme for a yacht (naturally, I'm spilling my own, here). Opinions (like ol' Nate's, there) run strong and deep.

Color schemes range a wide gamut.

So-called fisherman's finish (stark, raving white) anchors one end of the spectrum. It's cheap and easily applied. No trim or detail work. No edges to cut, anywhere. Get it on, get out there and make money. But One is the loneliest number...

To tell you the truth, I've only ever seen one case of full-blown fisherman's finish, and that guy was himself on the stark, raving side. Fisherfolk in our area use a range of color and detail structures which provide natural trim.

At the other end, are the gorgeous kaleidoscopic flourishes of color usually found in many southern climes, often among the least cash-ready folk. I've often wondered if this is in part due to having access to a cup or two of any given color at a time?

We stick to a more utilitarian (one could say boring) scheme.

The following considerations apply for the way we live:
  • Thermal Dynamics - White reflects well, cooling and reducing thermal flux in wood joints. The more pigment is added, the more stress on wooden structures. This is the science behind NH's proclamation.
  • Glare - White is easy on wood, but hard on the eyes. Sunglasses help, but aren't always handy. Other colors help ease eyestrain.
  • Footprint - It's good to have paint on board when ready to slap some on... the fewer the cans, the better.
  • Clean-Up - Solvent based paints generate (especially) nasty pots of Evil Incarnate. Water-based paints can be disposed of in-the-field with (relatively) little harm.
  • Aesthetics - A little variation, a little trim, a little color are nice, when practical. A white hull, grey decks and whale, and eyes to keep watch decorate the box.

Our solution has been to use latex paints and primers. These have come a long way, due to development for the humongous housing market. Cheap, easy to apply, durable, water clean-up. Seem to get about two years between exterior coats. Interior depends on use, but seems on a par with oil paints.

Flat paint outside 'chalks off' over time. This means it doesn't build up and require stripping every so many years, and naturally provides good 'tooth' for the next coat. All we do is feather edges and spot prime any barespots. 

Gloss paints inside - especially 'Porch and Floor Enamels' once cured are very durable and hold up even under heavy scrubbing. A little harder to touch up, but then, you're out of the weather and not limited to its vagaries. You can not sweat the small stuff.

Color scheme is based on black and white, mixing our own, light greys. Anything else is a 'guest-star' (something we might add when near town, then give the dregs away). Hull and interior get white, name and eyes get black, decks and cockpit vertical faces get grey (doesn't show dirt as much on decks, and verticals cut down glare). This keeps it down to two cans on board.

At the beginning of each season, we start with two new chip brushes each, and store them in two peanut-butter jars of water (tight lid)... one for white, one for not-white. To paint, shake it out on a dry log and go. Brush out at the end of the job, but don't bother to rinse.

And that's it.

Our paint jobs tend to be gritty affairs. Paint suffers from over-wintering, forming a few but ubiquitous lumps. Without fresh, running water, there's always a bit of 'texture tread' that evades the broom. We try to wash things down in the rain, shortly before painting, then let the chips fall as they may. 

Let's say an afternoon of prep a year, and a morning to paint. We don't win blue ribbons, but do pass the 50 foot test.

Good enough for us!


TIPS from Work Boats:

Consider ways to ease free-hand painting. For instance, a trim piece or right angled edge dividing two color fields provides a physical stop. Overlap paint with by the thickness of your brush (or tip), and sweep it on.

Consider making more complex areas (the cockpit, say) monochrome. Sweep it on.

Consider git'r'done for traffic areas or out of sight zones. Pour paint and slather it around. Skip brushing out unidirectionally, from dry to wet, as you might where visible. Dust Bunnies won't be impressed, either way.

Consider oil primer + latex topcoat for best economy. Oil primers penetrate wood pores deeply, rather than 'float' on the surface. Solvents can be recycled in most towns, so its a relatively green option on the first round.

Consider solid pigment oil stains. These are inexpensive, very easy to touch up, and seal well. Take a look at how they hold up in waterfront housing in your area.

Consider resin + primer (apply while resin is 'green'... not completely cured) + topcoat. This has been the most durable paint coating I've seen. First noted it along our dory's tape n glue, then used it on SLACKTIDE's decks. Downside is resin cost, mess and toxicity.


  1. Interesting post, Dave. I am not yet to the stage of painting our boat, although it's getting closer. I have looked into it though, at length too. I am almost certainly going to use acrylic paints, inside and out. Partly encouraged by our postbox that was painted with cheap house paint years ago to which the paint is still sticking tenaciously! Price wise there probably won't be much of a difference. Work wise I am sure it will be far quicker and better for our health to use water based paint. I am using fibreglass set in west epoxy on the ply though. That will make a big difference as to how long the paint will last. I am also using peel ply. I am converted to peel ply big time! It made it much easier to get a clean surface with no dancing whatever, so far anyway. The peel ply is still on the hull, protecting the surface until I am ready to paint. I'd not use epoxy without it now.

    1. Hi Joel,

      A couple of questions... by acrylic paint, do you mean 'acrylic reenforces latex', or they type often uses as a substitute for artist's oils?

      And what is 'peel ply'? Sounds intriguing. Anything that saves dancing with sanders is okay, in my book!

      One consideration: Fiberglass is inelastic. Good structural properties, if you need that. BUT, as (ply)wood swells and shrinks with humidity, high shear stresses set up along the interface with glass/resin, which can lead to delamination.

      Acrylic cloth set in resin, on the other hand, is cheaper than glass, pleasant to work with, has very high abrasion resistance, and is elastic, conforming to sharper turns and moving with the wood. Delamination is much reduced.

      In either case, we've had very good luck with priming the resin while still green... in effect gluing the primer to the resin. This has seemed especially so with epoxy resin, which has smaller molecules than polyester... once set up, it's much harder for the primer to get a grip.

      If you get a chance, I'd love to see some pics of what you're up to!

      Dave Z

    2. I sort of forget we live on different sides of the pond. What is called acrylic paints here is, I believe , what you Americans call latex paints. They are water based paints used for houses, inside and out. There are matt, egg shell, which is a semi gloss, and full gloss variations. They are much better nowadays. I have pretty much given up using oil paints. Acrylics are much easier to use being water based have little smell, dry far more quickly than oil paints. Better for the environment if we are to believe the blurb. I believe artists paints are fairly similar in their chemical make up, maybe more purified, although i am not sure on that. will give you more info, they have an american option too. Their paints are meant to be the best quality, should be too with their prices!!

      Peel ply. I think of it a a wonderful creation! Its another thing to buy of course. But its saved me hours and hours of backbreaking epoxy sanding, not to mention avoided the inhalation of tons of toxic epoxy dust. Have a look at: and search for peel ply. There is a bit of info on the net about it, but basically its a lightweight fabric, nylon I think that you applies on top of your fibreglass/epoxy before its had time to harden. The epoxy will soak through if you have put too much and look white it there is not enough. Once the epoxy has hardened, you can leave the peel ply in with until your ready to paint. You get no amine bloom, a very good surface that provide good grip for your paint, and no dirt/oily marks etc thatrequire further cleaning before painting. As you can probably tell, I am totally converted to the use of peel ply! Having built a wharram tiki 31 years ago and "suffered" endless days of epoxy sanding, scrapping and cleaning, I appreciate not having to do it ever again!

    3. Although plywood is definitely subject to swelling and shrinking, it's far less than solid wood. I have seen traditional boats that were subject to encapsulation, and that's a recipe for disaster. The wood can swell so much as to crack the cloth and delaminate from the wood. Ply is far more stable than solid wood. Once the cloth is epoxied on, there is little vapour penetration (there is still some going on as epoxy is not 100% waterproof). I haven't come across plywood/epoxy/glass delamition myself, which does not mean it can't happen of course. I think the quality of the ply will make a difference too. For the joints, I am using a heavy biaxial (400g/m) tape, saturated in epoxy, with peel ply of course, with the 200g/sq m finishing cloth on top. The joints will show of course, but I don't mind the cosmetic side of this. I beleive that will provide very strong joints. Of course, nothing is infallible. However hard one tries to avoid damage, it will happen that something will ding your boat somewhere. The epoxy/glass cloth is harder, stiffer that the ply beneath, so eventually water will find its way into the ply. Like with all boats one has to be constantly on the lookout for damage. our boat is likely to live a more sheltered life that yours so should last well. Hopefully. My blog is long due for an update, that would be the best place to see some photos of the building going on. Google for my name joel delorme, or the blog : a woodman's wanderings and ramblings there are lots of photos there as well as well as my prattling on about it!

    4. Hi Joel,

      You clearly know what you're doing... enjoyed reading your back posts on your blog! Your barge is coming right along. Nice work!

      Turns out I had visited a long while back, and admired your knife work.

      Thanks for the tip on peel ply... I haven't heard of anything similar in the US, but most anything can be ersatzed. Concept sounds simple enough.

      Dave Z

  2. Arrgh. Not dancing, meant sanding!

  3. Peel ply is available here. Chesapeake Light Craft uses it on his own boats.

    Nice photo, very inspiring, I tend to slightly more colourful paint jobs than you, but I have smaller boats. I've sometimes considered finishing two identical hulls, one with a shiny paint job, the other with tar, oil and black anti-fouling below the waterline and see what people think. Paint for pretty, oil, tar and bare wood as theft deterrent.

    1. Hi Glenn,

      I'm a fan of the oil/tar approach, myself. We've gone the paint route mainly as we've been using 3M5200 for structural gluing, with light fasteners... I've been concerned that the oil approach could degrade the glue bond.

      But otherwise, I love the simplicity. Pine tar and oil stains are good ingredients, too!

      Dave Z

  4. Our decks on WAYWARD were acrylic cloth set in TiteBond III, primed while the last TBIII coat was 'green' and topcoated with a single layer of latex house paint. At four years, it still looks great, save a few spots of mechanical wear through the paint and primer!

    This turns out to be a very durable and cost effective approach. Can be applied to any of the outboard surfaces above the waterline.

    Dave Z