On painting the roof

Now the job is nearly complete I can reflect on what I have learnt about painting the steel roof of a narrow boat. I am sure there must be lots of other things that I am not aware of, that I will become aware of as time passes, but for now here is a bullet pointed list.


Do not:

Do not work with your wallet in your pocket or be prepared to do and instant belly flop on the towpath to catch it as it gradually sinks into the murky depths.

Do not believe the claims for any mechanised paint stripping/sanding tools. If it’s serious enough to cut through the old hard gloss then it will also cut up the softer steel. Cup brushes, knotted wheels, flap wheels , overlapping discs don’t do it. A sharp one inch chisel is what one needs and about 300,000 scrapings to get the paint off 13 square metres of roof.

Do not believe that the wind blowing tree debris onto the roof is also strong enough to blow away the sanding dust, wear a properly fitting mask or suffer from a tight chest for several days.

Do not lean the extension cable reel up against the part of the generator marked “Warning, hot exhaust”


Do not blow insects or tree debris off the bit you are about to paint, they will end up on the bit that you just painted, no matter which way you blow them.

Don’t bother telling yourself not to knock over the thinners you have just put on top of the solar panel, that is just asking for that prophecy to be fulfilled.


Always work away from the power cords not towards them or risk the sander catching and trying to wind up the cord, as well as winding up yourself.

If you must get a generator make sure you are going to be able to get it onto the boat, by yourself.

a 42 kg generator

Always keep a salvage magnet on board to retrieve the hand tools when you fumble their safety wrist strap knocking them overboard.

When taking off ones shoes to get on the roof, stay well away from the edge or at least one of them will end up treading water down the gap.

Try to get real, physical colour charts rather than relying on a computer image and description. “Light Admiralty Grey BS381 697” .. Light -yes, Admiralty ? Grey .. no, more baby powdery blue greenish. Oh well, it looks OK under the motorway bridge.


Always check with your fingers whether you have just re-coated a part of the roof before walking on it with woolly white socks.

Always start off by using masking tape rather than part way through once you have already wound yourself up by getting paint where is shouldn’t be. Otherwise the job will take longer and there will be remedial work to do.

Ensure you have ear plugs if you intend to try to sleep under an eight lane motorway, enjoy 3 am to 4 am, it’s the only sleep you will get.

Enjoy whatever company turns up, as long as it stays off the roof.


And seriously

A motorway bridge does make quite a wind tunnel resulting is paint drying as it is being applied and debris blowing onto the roof. It did keep the sun and rain off.

With the quick drying paint it was worth having thinners and a brush to lay off the paint as it skinned quickly.

The matt applied with a roller produced a rough and uneven finish. For me this happens to be much better than the previous gloss because it will give me better grip for walking on without having the dirt holding capacity of a sand impregnated finish.

I should have thinned the primer and used two coats to reduce the roughness that was due to it drying too quickly.

I bought more than enough paint, therefore I will be going for a third top coat and will have some left for patching with the same baby powdery blue greenish shade. Rust treatment was Vactan, zinc oxide primer, top coat (also a anti rust primer and top) was Combi color from Rawlins, mixed to order and delivered next day, great service.

Painted Lady

Gentle Breeze has a new coat, of paint. Steve Marriage has done a great job taking off 30 years worth of badly reacting paint and producing a finish like new.

Because the various layers had reacted and crazed Steve recommended taking the paint back to metal. That revealed a load of mill scale on the roof. That is a problem that starts when the sheet steel is rolled and it gathers ash and adsorbs water before it even gets its first coat of paint. Thus for years it has small rusty patches under the paint. You used to see it a lot on cars in the 70’s, it’s not as common on cars now due to better control of milling fluids and steel treatments.

Anyway all the paint was stripped off by hand and the whole topside primed and then base coated. Steve finished her off with two blues of my choice and a gold/yellow coach line. Three weeks of hard work real paid off.

There is not as much contrast between the blues as the colour chart suggested, but never mind, as the painter said, “it’s subtle”.


king fisher tiller pin

A lovely birthday present

The trouble is that now I am worried about scratches, bumps, knocks etc. Oh well as some else said, you’ll just have to scratch it and get over it.


My contribution to the work was to paint the inside of the doors. I used a one coat paint, and wish that I hadn’t. It took ages to dry and when I peeled of the masking tape it pulled a fair amount of the paint as well.

aboard the painted lady

More success was had with the new boat pole and boat hook. Both were given coats of primer followed by exterior gloss.

And so to the painters

Monday 5th March

March winds they say! Well March certainly came in with a howler, and a cold northerly at that! This was going to be a fun challenge I thought as I was stripping off the canopies ready to move her south to the painters at Hayes. I know I have a reputation for saying that all inanimate objects are out to get you but it really was as if the wind was being vindictive. At every opportunity it tried to rip the canopies out of my hands. It whisked the loose corners about and wrapped them around my head, flicked them in my face and desperately tried to get them into the water. But to no avail, they are home and dry. Then it started on the poor guy who wanted to move his 65ft boat to the pump out station, 50 yards up wind, broad side on. My sympathy went out to him and his crew as they polled and pushed and hove etc to try to get her off the other eight boats that they had been blown sideways onto. I was lucky, in that the wind dropped just a bit so I just “went for it ” at fairly full tilt and managed to miss everything else and get her out into the canal. With my back to the cold northerly and sun in my eyes it was a lovely trip down to Hayes.

However there were somber moments when passing the homeless make shift beds under some of the bridges. Cocoons of plastic, cardboard and old blankets. Sometimes with a pair of boots neatly left outside the mound that presumably contained some poor soul sleeping off the night, with little reason to get up on a cold March morning.

In places at the backs of factories and housing estates there are avalanches of plastic bags and empty cans cascading down into the canal. A black bag got wafted up and floated above the canal as if held by invisible cords before falling onto the water and, being filled by the wind, scudded off on its own mission to seek out a new home.

A passing boatman, noting my boat’s name, shouted through the wind “There is no Gentle Breeze today!”.

And so to Hayes. I know its daft but I felt the same as if I was leaving a child at school on their first day. well I suppose the time will soon pass. A bit more on the paint problem on the Making GB my own page.