Saturday 14 February 2009


Blacking narrowboats

WB needs to have her bottom blackened

It's two years since she was last out of the water and the rust is starting to show through. I am quite tempted to do it myself, and the guys at Stafford Boat Club are very happy to hire out their cradle and hard standing for a very reasonable fee. However, the annodes are shot and welding is currently beyond me - I have neither the kit nor the experience. I therefore think that this calls for professional intervention, and that usually means Phil Jones.

My dilemma is simple: Bitumen or two pack epoxy? I know that Bitumen is cheaper and Epoxy calls for shot blasting the hull, but is the two pack approach really worth the extra money. Come to that, how much more does it cost and how much longer does it last?

Blacking is a big expense but I see relatively little written about the alternatives. If you have a view please comment!

So, with the decision deferred till the end of this season, I am faced with a very scruffy looking hull for 2009. Wand'ring Bark has quite a hard life, she is out for nearly 10 weeks per year and a good proportion of that is in the relatively harsh environment of the BCN. She therefore suffers more than her fair share of knocks and scrapes. But that's OK, I subscribe to the school of thought that says that you paint a narrowboat mainly to protect against rust, and then enjoy knocking it all off again.

I know it is vanity, but the sight of her badly scuffed lower sections, and rusting rubbing strakes irritates me. I like a shower before I start a day and I like WB to look spick and span before we start the season. I therefore took her off for a wash and brush up in a handy little spot where there is a 12" recess, about 30 feet long and complete with a smooth concrete edge. Just right for straddling WB across and giving easy access to the sides down to the waterline.

My escapades in the ice had not been kind to the blacking at the front, and frankly she looked in a right sate. However, when we were out in the ice I happened to have a ton or so of timber in the front well, so she had been riding very low in the water. I therefore had the brainwave of emptying both the timber and the water tank, thus taking about three tons off the front end. The end result were the bows rising up about nine inches and the bare metal emerging into the fresh air.

A good rub round with a scraper and a wire brush provided a sound dry surface, down to within two inches of the new waterline. After a couple of hours aided and abetted by a small roller, a paintbrush and some rather stiff bitumen (it was only 5 degrees C) I had WB looking smart and clean again. With the bitumen dry, I then refilled the water tank which took the freshly blacked front back into the water, with the blacking extending a good three inches below the surface.

I know its mostly vanity, and the real benefit is the bit below the waterline, but it was most satisfying to look along the newly blackened sides and see an end result which matches the carefully applied paint job higher up.

If you see WB at the end of the season her nether regions will probably have returned to their natural state of abraded degradation, but by then she will be booked in to see Mr Jones and ready to feel the gentle caress of his pressure washer.

What do you suggest: Bitumen or 2 Pack Epoxy?

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