Monday, 30 March 2015


Here's our lovely new boat, but what should we paint the red and the white bits with?
It’s the time of year when we boat owners are painting our hulls and keels with anti-foul paint. It may look good once it’s on, but it’s awful stuff, intended to be life-threatening so as to put off any marine life that might otherwise look on the underside of a boat as a potential house site. The instructions on the tin say that it is threatening to the marine environment, but that is exactly where it is intended to be used. They say we should wear masks, goggles, disposable gloves and protective clothing when using it. This stuff is dangerous. It should probably be banned.

Back in the Iron Age, I imagine just like now, the boat people would get busy in spring preparing their vessels for the summer sailing season. No doubt they would be scraping away at the barnacles and mussels and weeds that were trying to get a foothold on their keels. The wooden and hide boats were presumably painted with pine pitch or other foul-smelling oils and caulked to try to keep them waterproof.

All around the coasts there are nousts, boat shelter hollows in the ground just above the high water mark, and some of them are very ancient indeed. I imagine these places as the Iron Age equivalent of modern day marinas, where people hauled their boats out to protect them from winter storms and no doubt to do maintenance on them in spring before launching again.

There is a friendly craic among people with boats. There is so much to admire, and so much to compare, as everyone has their own quirky way of resolving the many challenges of keeping afloat, traveling when, where and how you want to, staying put when you don’t want to go anywhere, getting between shore and sea, avoiding the worst of bad weather, making the most of good weather and being as comfortable as possible whatever the weather. Stories of adventures at sea need to be told, and plans discussed for future journeys. There is no end to the potential for conversation about these matters.

And just at the moment, one of the hot topics is how to stop the wildlife moving in on the bottom of the boat: what toxic blend to smear all over the hull, how thickly, how often and at what cost. I dread to think what the cumulative impact of all these paints is on the world’s marine life.

What do Greenpeace’s boat maintenance people use for the Rainbow Warrior and their other campaign ships? Should we just let our boats grow green beards? And was there anything at all stopping the mussels from taking up residence on the bottom of the boat that Pytheas was sailing in, two thousand years ago?

1 comment:

  1. The boat shelters / hollows are called Nousts in Orkney. Thats a nice boat you have, it looks similar to ours.

    George Gunn