Winter has arrived in rural Devon. I can tell, there’s a foot of water lying in most of the lanes leading to civilization, and no black, german, 4x4s adorned with mountain bikes are left around to ford through it at 70 miles an hour. This is bad news for the amateur boat restorer. Rain ruins epoxy, paint, and varnish comprehensively. It’s also too cold now for anything to dry out from its current sodden state before the next inevitable band of low pressure systems sweep across us. In short, that’s probably it now for outdoor painting. Luckily, I managed to slap on a coat of “Norfolk Green” before autumn buggered off.
A quick word on brush painting. I used to do a bit of spray painting on old vehicles. In a dry, dust free environment nothing beats the finish possible with a spray gun and a degree of practice. If you have the facilities to paint a project boat in a dry shed then this is the way to get the best results. However, paint is a bit poisonous. You need to have a proper air fed mask as well as the compressor, spray gun, airlines, and dryer/ regulator. Suddenly the equipment you require is costing far more than the boat is worth. Not a viable option then really. You can though, achieve a very good finish using only a quality 3 inch paint brush, a can of thinners, and some clean rags. This is the option I take every time now, as boats live in a totally different environment to cars and are subject to a lot more knocking about anyway. After a year of having chunks taken out of Macavitys gleaming blue paint by flying, tide driven, tree branches or abandoned shopping trolleys, I’m a lot less precious about it than I was.
I’ve now restored and refinished five dinghy projects and one Westerly 25. Through a bit of research and a lot of trial and error, I think I now know how to brush paint a hull reasonably well for minimal cost. Preparation is always important. No loose, flaky old paint or gel coat. Well sanded, filled surface, properly cleaned of all dust and grease with brush, airline, and solvent. Prime bare substrate with the product recommended by the manufacturer of your chosen paint system (International toplac in this case). Chose your day wisely. Don’t try to rush on with the job if it looks like its going to be a freezing cold day or a blazing hot one. Definitely not worth starting if it looks like it may rain or if it’s late and there will be a dew fall on all your hard work. Of course, if you’re not fussy and just want to get the thing all one colour then crack on. Seems a waste of good money though, probably be a better/ cheaper option to just use a standard, tough, one coat type poly- like a workshop floor paint.
I start painting at one end on one side and progress all the way around, thus always working away from the wet edge. Keeping a wet edge is really important. The next brushload of paint will blend into a wet edge seamlessly and there will be no line visible when it’s cured. If you work on random patches, the paint will cure before you get back around to that section of the hull again, and the new brushload of paint will end up running or hanging in “curtains” where it overlaps. I load up my brush from the pot (usually sat in a saucepan of boiled water to reduce viscosity in cooler weather) and brush it over an area of about a foot square. Long but quick brush strokes are required, horizontaly at first until all paint is off the brush, and then diagonally, then finish off vertically. The aim is to evenly spread the paint applied quickly, over as much surface area as it will stretch too, before loading the brush again. I always spread the paint until the colour below is just showing through on the edges, then tip off vertically before moving on.
I had some nasty runs appear on the side I started at with the project dinghy final gloss coat. It was too early in the morning and the hull was too cold. The paint simply chilled and congealed on contact making it impossible to spread properly. It was also too cold for it to cure quickly and so started to sag under its own weight. I stopped after completing the port side and waited a couple of hours. By the time I went back to the other side, the sun was shining, the air temperature was up, and I could get a lovely finish. Everything else was the same. Temperature is critical.
Obviously I could have got a much better result had I waited until spring to paint this old tub. The problem is that I want to get out on the estuary over the winter, and despite the fact that I could have simply plonked the thing into the harbour as it was, I still take a certain amount of pride in my boats. Not to excess, you understand, but enough to stop people thinking they’ve been abandoned.