Boatyard University

I started thinking about my first time in a boatyard—my most memorable one. It wasn’t really burnout, but it sure was an eye-opener. Perhaps that’s because it was my first boat, a 26-foot wooden Folkboat. It was in 1979 at Cracker Boy Boat Works in Riviera Beach, FL. I was living onboard and hauled the boat for a coat of paint on the bottom and in the cockpit.

This was in the days when you could do your own bottom paint. The only painting I had done up to that point was very limited house painting, using water-based paints. I knew enough about painting to be dangerous. What I knew about boat painting was even less.

My first shock was when I saw the price for a gallon of paint. If I recall, it was about $40 a gallon (cheap compared to today). I thought, “What’s in this stuff, gold?” At that time, the only paint I’d ever bought was $5-$6/gallon for some house paint. The quart I bought for the cockpit was not that much, but it was enough. The learning had started.

Next, I had to apply this stuff, so I bought some good brushes. Since both paints were oil-based, I had to get some thinner for clean-up and brush cleaning. Painting the bottom was uneventful and pretty easy—as I watched the dollars stick to the hull—but it was the cockpit painting where I really learned my lesson. There was some unfinished teak trim around the cockpit that I had to mask off to have a clean edge with the white cockpit paint. I was going to do two coats. I did one coat, with no hitches. But it rained that night. It was long enough after the first coat was put on that it was no problem, but it rained a bit the next day, so I had to wait a bit longer.

After it dried, on the third day, I put on the second coat. After that dried, I proceeded to remove the masking tape. What I should say is: I tried to remove the masking tape. I didn’t realize that masking tape—the traditional white tape—doesn’t come off so easy when it gets wet, and the longer it’s on after being wet the harder it sticks. You end up pulling—and scraping—off the tape in a thousand little pieces. It took me hours—perhaps it was a day. Now I know to take it off immediately if it threatens rain, and in Florida, with the humidity, one rainless night can be enough to make it wet enough to be a problem. Today, we all use blue tape to prevent that problem. Since those days, I have become somewhat of an expert on painting and have come a long ways from that eventful day.

I learned another lesson at Cracker Boy. I became frustrated with getting the brushes cleaned, since the paint was oil-based and I was used to water-based paints. Frustrated, I just threw those expensive brushes away. The trash can was near my boat. One day, I saw this guy look in the trash can. He picks up the two brushes I had thrown in there. He checks them out and walks away with them. Hmmm. From then on in, I was determined to learn how to clean brushes. I eventually learned how to clean stiff brushes (with lacquer thinner). Today, I am proficient at buying good brushes, keeping them clean, and holding onto them for years.

It wasn’t boatyard burnout. It was boatyard university.