Careful preparation and no masking tape yield a timeless finish
Written by Mark Haley
SYMRA is a classic wooden sloop designed by John Alden and built by the Edison Vocational School in Seattle, Washington. She was launched in 1941, and has been in my family for 66 years.
When I took over her stewardship from my father in 1974, I soon grew extremely frustrated with the quality of the paint lines I was achieving with masking tape. Unless that 1970s-vintage tape was applied with enough pressure, paint would seep under its edge and leave a mess; tape applied with enough pressure to prevent seepage often pulled away small pieces of the underlying freshly applied topside enamel when the tape was removed.
In those days I was masking both the boot top and covestripe. After those early disastrous experiences, it was easy to jettison the accenting covestripe and leave the cove the same shade of white as the hull. SYMRA has relatively low freeboard, and didn’t need this accenting element. But I wanted to keep the boot top, and this presented a different problem.
I solved the boot top problem by scribing in its lines and painting freehand—that is, without masking—to these scribed lines. In the heyday of wooden yachts, this was actually the standard approach to painting waterlines. It yields a line that’s more eye-pleasing, and more repeatable, than a taped one.
Emboldened by my newly developed skill at painting without tape, I soon learned how to paint the enamel surfaces above decks—the cabin sides and trim—without resorting to tape. I now paint everything without tape except for the line where the paint of the cabintop meets the varnished teak trim; for this line, I use automotive detailing tape. Practice has made me a better painter. But one must start somewhere, so here are some fundamental concepts I’ve learned over the years.
SYMRA needed new paint on the cabin sides. That project serves as an example of how I prepare her for painting, and what can be done without tape.
Mark Haley, who is now in his seventh decade, is a lifelong sailor and racer. He has been sailing on SYMRA out of her home port of Tacoma, Washington, since he was a one-year-old; his father began having him at the helm, on his own, at age 11. He has sailed out of or between five continents.
Painting Scribed Waterlines
A yacht’s waterline is typically scribed into the hull, meaning it is delineated by a shallow, precise, line that’s cut into the wood’s surface. If there is a boot top, then there are two such lines to scribe. These lines do more than record the locations of waterlines; they also provide a means by which one can “cut-in” the paint.
A waterline has to be periodically rescribed after sanding and paint begin to obscure it. If the line is still fair and correctly located, then one can simply tack a batten along it, and then, with light pressure, drag the corner of a saw along it to scribe the line. If the scribe marks have been obliterated, then the scum line, or line of oxidized bottom paint, can serve as a reference provided the boat has been in proper trim. (The bottom paint should reach above the line of flotation for effectiveness as well as appearance.)
The boot top is maintained in the same manner as Mark Haley’s cabin sides: scrape, sand, prime, glaze, sand, prime, and paint. As with Haley’s description of cutting-in the red trim detail against his white cabin side, a scribed waterline provides a natural detail to which to cut. When an observer backs away just a few feet from the boat, the scribe mark is imperceptible to the eye; all one perceives then is the crisply cut waterline. Some painters imagine the scribe mark as a sort of micro-moat. They load the brush with a modest amount of paint, and hold it slightly skewed to its direction of travel so that only the tip is contacting the scribe mark. As the brush moves along the scribed line, paint flows off it and into the “moat.” It takes a steady hand, but the scribed line provides a sure reference. If the amount of paint is, indeed, modest, then the paint will be contained by the scribed line, and a fair and smooth painted line will develop. Other painters see the scribed line as a sort of fence, to be painted up to, but not in to; this has the benefit of not filling in the scribed line with paint. Regardless of which technique you develop, the rest of the area is painted as portions of the line are cut-in.
Mark reports that he used a 1″-square residential painting pad—an “edger”—to paint his waterline, with very good results. —Eds.