Wednesday, 2 July 2008


We decided, for reasons of cost, to black Lucky Duck ourselves. For the cost of £220 for drydock and enough cans of bitumen paint (straight from the barrel, lovely...) to give several coats, Caggy's boatyard was less than half the price of some other boatyards.

Having resolved to cover the bottom of the boat with sticky, caustic, gloopy bitumen ourselves, we looked at the internet for a guide as to how to actually go about blacking a boat. Surprisingly there is no single guide that we've found. Everyone tends to just show photos; though it is just a matter of slapping on paint thickly- just the kind of painting I'm good at!- there are a few stages to it. I thought I'd just write down my own opinions here and detail what worked for us, as much to aid my memory next time we do it as anything else!




The surface to be blacked needs to be prepared first. The boat was dry docked and pressure washed, luckily not by us as the boatyard pressure washer has a 50cc engine and would be suitable to disperse rioting crowds with its force! After, we set about finding the pits in the hull the surveyor had found (2.5 mm deep in a nominally 5mm plate... ) and having them filled with weld by the current owner. He also used an angle grinder and abrasive disk to remove any traces of rust so the hull was smooth and ready to paint.

In terms of the paint itself, it seemed to be literally just bitumen and thinners- gloopy and smelly, but surprisingly not as caustic as other types. When we met Sarah of nb Warrior and chatted about blacking, she gave the sage advice to make sure we had the right kind of paint to match what was already on there, and to ensure that we stirred it VERY well to ensure the thinners were spread throughout the pot, so we didn't end up with watery black at the top of the can and a thick glutinous mess at the bottom!

We also prepared ourselves with overalls (in a very fetching blue colour!), white spirit (to remove any errant bitumen from hair, skin, Jess, (she was protestingly dragged along with James and Emma in their car) etc.) and, most importantly, a big box of disposable latex gloves. Be advised, though, despite all this protection the bitumen still soaked through onto the clothes underneath- my jeans are covered in it- so make sure you wear old clothes! We also bought a few big cheap paintbrushes and a roller and tray, all from Mackays; it really is a place of wonder, with lots of shiny, dangerous-looking tools.

Painting- First coat

Whilst you can use a roller and tray to get a consistent coat of paint, we found it best to just lollop on the black with big paint brushes for the first coat, to make sure that it was thick and got into all the nooks and crannies on the hull surface; as an old boat, Lucky Duck's hull is far from smooth, and making sure all the surface was covered is important.

Well, I say we daubed the black on thickly. I mean that I did the bits below the waterline, slopping it on, and Amy took a smaller brush and, with horizontal strokes, produced a lovely smooth coat above the rubbing strake, in contrast with my dollopy, runny and drippingly saturated coat below.

We didn't black the bottom of the boat, although it is going to be on a river. As a canal is mostly stagnant anaerobic water, generally the bottom plate is left unattended. It is VERY hard to get to, and the thought of lying on my back in the mud and slime of the dry dock with bitumen dripping on my face was too much for me. Having said that the plate is in good condition and we'll probably pay someone to black it in the future.

I did black the Uxter plate- the horizontal plate that forms the bottom of the round counter above the triangular swim at the rear of the hull. This was particularly fun, as using copious amounts of bitumen resulted in saturated overalls and black-kneed jeans beneath. Still, it looked impressive! The swim, stern tube, skeg (horizontal bar that supports the bottom of the rudder behind the propeller) and rudder were all blacked in this coat.

This first coat was 80% done on Friday night and was finished off in the morning; blacking at 10pm in fading light isn't a great deal of fun!

Taking care of the brushes wasn't too difficult either; just leaving the brush in an open pot overnight and stirring in the morning was enough to make the bitumen runny enough to slap on.

Painting- Second Coat

The second coat was less messy than the first! I still used a brush below the waterline, and Amy took the roller and managed a nice smooth consistent coat above.

Painting- Third Coat

The third coat was the easiest and quickest to apply- we had the hang of it by then! The problem comes, though, when you forget where you got up to and can't see the difference between the old and new coat of black!

Tunnel Bands

Lucky Duck had a somewhat faded blue and red set of tunnel bands- that is, the blocks of colour on the round counter underneath the tiller. These are a direct throwback to working boat days, and Amy wasn't at all impressed that the shiny newly painted hull was complemented with faded and scuffed bands, so she took a can of scarlet paint and repainted the red one. We rubbed the blue down with white spirit to remove the layer of grime from the surface and brighten the colour up.

The best way to get a smooth edge, we found, was to use a small brush and precisely cover the red with the black paint, after the red had dried.

We also noticed that the rubbing strakes (round metal bars on the hull that stand proud and take any impacts) were coloured the same as the tunnel bands, so I carefully covered these in black bitumen, without too many drips onto the fresh red paint! Nothing white spirit and a quick blob of red couldn't fix, anyway! We found that this really improved the appearance of the boat, and made it look far more traditional. We did notice, however, that the semi circles at the end of the band have the colour as a semi circle, not the black as a semi circle onto the colour. It's not too noticeable, though, and makes the Duck more unique!

Other boats have them a bit more like this (Photo stolen shamelessly from nb Warrior); the colour is concave, not convex:

Overall, it was actually good fun to do. It was messy and sticky, and Amy did manage to get bitumen in my hair which required a prompt haircut; but the result is fantastic. Blacking is clearly my kind of painting!

Lucky Duck in dry dock:

The wonders of Tipton:

And the best thing about it? Chip shop chips and gravy, yum!