Boot tops or waterlines

The first race of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club is Friday, the Fourth of July, and a winter’s worth of procrastination comes down to a final few days of rushed boat painting so I can get #19, the Chugworm, painted, launched and rigged in time for the starting gun. I’ve been picking away at the boat since May, but I never seem to get it together until the final week, best intentions of working on the boat in the fall and winter notwithstanding.

Today I finished off the hull, tomorrow I’ll sand and varnish the spars: the boom, the mast, and the gaff. Hull work is fun. All shine and precise line work. Thanks to some masking tape and my secret weapons – a foam roller and a little disposable foam brush – I can get the hull, the bottom, and the waterline, or more nautically, the boot top, done in an afternoon.

So, I set the instant messaging status to “away from computer,” finished up my last calls, and hit the garage for a few hours of fumes and brushwork. When I sand a boat I like to listen to fairly obnoxious music – stuff like Alice in Chains, Fu Manchu, Queens of the Stone Age – head banger music I can blast and hear over the electric sanders. Painting, now that I think about it, should be much more artistic. Say some Verdi or Rossini – but for some reason I blew $75 on the complete iTunes collection of Industrial (a genre best suited for ergometer rowing) and so I listened to Throbbing Gristle, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and Skinny Puppy while I did my Michelangelo impersonation.

The hull gets a single coat of thinned marine enamel ($50 a quart) applied with a 4″ foam roller. That goes on smooth but a little bubbly, so I flatten the coat down with a good china bristle brush. While that dries I open the $300 gallon of Petitt white antifouling paint. That’s right. $300. At least I only use about a pint per year, but still. White bottom paint is one of the stupider things in the world. I mean, here I am painting the bottom of the boat so barnacles and slime won’t grow on it. Which will happen anyway – so a white bottom is like trying to feed hogs while dressed like Tom Wolfe in a white linen suit. You will get dirty and you will look silly.

The bottom paint goes on pretty fast and dries even faster. I mask off the boot top with very expensive ($25 a roll) masking tape that is rubberized to curve and stretch. As the hull and bottom set up, I pop off the tape (before it dries on) and get ready to do the boot top. Now boot tops were, in my family, work left to the more precise painters, like my grandmother or my wife. They’d go at it with expensive sable brushes and approach it like surgery. Me, if left to my own devices, would botch the job and commit a laugher of a line which would get laughed at all summer long.

I have since improved and can paint, by hand, a yellow stripe in about 30 minutes per side, with only an occasional swipe of the drip rag to catch my misses and sags.

The final result isn’t too bad. There is always something on a wooden boat to criticize, especially one built in 1948, and I always have to remind myself, the boat will never look as nice all summer.

So, spars tomorrow, launch and rig Friday morning before the parade, get the sail on after lunch and make the 2:30 (in Cotuit we start much later than the scheduled time) starting line for the first sail of the summer.



Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Boot tops or waterlines”

  1. Michelangelo has nothing on you, Dave. the boat is pretty and looks ultra clean. No fair ramming your way to victory. I hope the rigging sings your way to first place. Is Fish sailing against you?


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