Getting to the bottom of the problem

It’s a foul job – but someone (including the wife) has to do it

“DARLING,” I ventured carefully (which should have warned my wife that I was after something). “Have we got anything planned for next weekend? Because I was just wondering whether you’d fancy helping me down at the boatyard…”

After much fencing and probing, I was finally forced to admit that what I was planning to do was to re-antifoul the bottom of the boat. Which, for the uninitiated, means lying underneath it, normally in a soggy puddle of mud and gravel, scraping muck off the underside before roughlng the surface with sandpaper and then applying two coats of extraordinarily expensive foul-smelling goo. (I’ve come to the conclusion that’s why they call it ‘anti-fouling’ – because once you’ve done it once, you’re always anti in future.)

I don’t know how many other boat owners are brave enough to invite their wives to take part in this annual ritual, but I guess I’m an extremely lucky man because my good lady generally says yes. (I think she views it as paying her dues for all those idyllic summer days when she can enjoy sitting on top of it enjoying the sunshine).

Mind you, it’s a lot less unpleasant now than it used to be. Until they changed the regulations a few years back, anti-fouling paint used to contain all kinds of toxic substances – such as lead – designed to stop things growing under the waterline. The trouble was, that when you cleaned the bottom before reapplying new anti-fouling, you used to end up covered in debris and dust that would probably make a health and safety expert’s eyes light up with horror. Now, at least, that problem has gone away.

Another strange aspect of anti-fouling is that a boat which, when you’ve got four friends and two kids aboard during the summer, seems much too small suddenly takes on the dimensions of the QE2 when you have to paint the bottom of it.

“It’ll just take a couple of hours,” I remember saying jauntily as we prepared to head off to the boatyard clad in overalls and clutching goggles, breathing masks, kneeling pads and enough other equipment to convince our neighbours that we were trying to join the American astronaut training programme.

“Just a quick rub down, mask off the topsides with tape and we can get on with the painting.”

Stupid man – how naive can you get? Because, of course, when you actually get down to it, the preparation alone takes hours and that’s followed by the arguments over whether the masking tape is following the correct line to separate the anti-fouling from the rest of the paintwork.

The other major problem is that you’re painting upside down. It doesn’t matter whether you use a brush or a roller, gravity has an inevitable part to play in the process and the result is that your hands and arms ends up with slightly more paint on them than the bottom of the boat.

However, after all the expense, discomfort and grumbling, boat owners can relax in the knowledge that there won’t be any unpleasant growths on their bottoms (if you’ll pardon the expression).

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