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Old 09-26-2000
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Painting a Boot Top

I want to paint a gold-leaf looking boot-top on my Friendship sloop. What’s the best way to get the lines on straight, and should I put something in the paint to discourage weeds, slime, or other growth?


Tom Wood responds:

There are several brands of boot-top paint that already have some additives mixed in, but none that I know of act as true antifouling. In a few places, sailors mix antibiotics in their bottom paint as well as Cayenne pepper, but I have never heard of this being done with boot-top enamel.

Most "gold leaf" looking paint is little more than finely ground copper or bronze dust suspended in a clear lacquer. This must be stirred often and thoroughly to keep the heavy metal particles evenly suspended while being used. Being rather thin, several coats of this type of paint are usually required. In my experience, however, these paints would make a poor choice for a boot top since they turn a lovely green in a short period after they come in contact with seawater. The life of the golden color can be extended by putting several coats of clear sealer over the "gold leaf" paint, but even this will wear off quickly along the waterline.

Pulling on a true boot-top line with "fine line" masking tape is an art that requires patience. If the old boot-top line is visible, this is a good start—if not, the hull will need to be marked at intervals of about three feet where the new line is to go. If the hull is leveled, this can be accomplished with a water-tube level, a transit, or a laser level. Be aware that most boot tops, to look right in the water, are wider near the bow and stern than amidships—that is, they are straight on the bottom and flared upward at the bow and stern. This is especially important on a fine-lined boat such as a Friendship, because a boot top the same width for the length of the boat will provide the optical illusion of being "hogged," or wider amidships—very unbecoming.

The masking tape cannot be put on accurately in short pieces without the broken, up-and-down effect so often seen. Instead, it must be applied in one long, even, flowing motion. Once the rough marks are on, tack the tape on at the bow and walk outward and toward the stern, pulling off an entire boatlength of tape (choose a windless day) as you go. Have a second person stand off at a distance amidships, talking you through the process of raising and lowering the tape as you pull the tape toward the hull. Always maintain tension on the tape to keep it straight. If you make a major mistake, walk backward, pulling the tape off the hull all the way to the bow, and try again. When you finish, you should be able to sight along the tape from any angle and not see any "humps" or "dips."

Take your time, maintain your cool, and measure your patience—I have had the four pieces of tape take the bulk of an entire day to get on in perfectly true lines.

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