Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Boat Maintenance in France

 Bear with me. This Blog is about renovating a boat – but there is a context, the boat and its owner are English, the location is France – and that makes some things different – not better or worse – just different.

In my last post I reported that my boat was built to UK specifications (Imperial measurements) good old feet and inches, whereas my tools seem to be all metric. As a result I had to resort to some drastic measures to remove some items from her. It felt more like vandalism that restoration. Well, now here are a few other differences I have encountered this week.

Firstly, I have discovered the ‘price’ of living in a truly beautiful rural area – distances are vast and fuel bills are high. Popping down to my nearest chandler is a thirty mile round trip. It’s a beautiful trip but a long way to go for a stainless steel jubilee clip. Careful planning and thinking ahead doesn’t pay dividends but it keeps costs down. It’s even harder to find Marine ply in the sizes I require. My first port of call was Bois Marine at St Malo – they had the stuff alright but only as full size metric equivalents of standard 8’x4’ sheets. For smaller amounts I was advised to contact individual boat builders to see if they have suitable off-cuts from other jobs. These tend to be sole traders or family businesses and their premises are only open when they are around. A builder who gains a few days work down at the marina may not bother to open his yard for several days on end.

Well that’s OK; I have time, so a day spent touring boatyards in the hope that one or two will be open is no great hardship for me – in fact I enjoy it, except for the two and a half hour’s ‘dead’ period between noon and two thirty when there is no point visiting anywhere at all because the entire region (many supermarkets included) is ‘at lunch’.  It’s a different approach to life, and its one of the things that attracted me here so I’m not complaining but on occasion I have been left kicking my heals in some pretty distant and obscure places waiting for the end of a long lunch break only to be told that the item I’m seeking is not available.

When it comes to hard wood, I have admitted defeat. The original wood on this boat was Iroko (called African Teak by the builder) but this area of France is full of Oak. Excellent mature Oak is available everywhere – Teak, Iroko and Mahogany are considered to be rare and exotic. As a result these species are difficult to locate and extremely expensive so any new wood brought aboard will be have to be Oak.

The strangest thing however, was my encounter with bilge-paint. I have decided that all the bilges should be cleaned and re-painted. This decision is not based on an obsessive desire for neatness or cleanliness, rather a practical view that clean bilges are a good indicator of a boat’s health. If, for example, I launch with pristine bilges and subsequently discover rust stains or watermarks, I can assume I have a problem in that location. If however, I launch with dirty oil and water stained bilges I might not know I have a problem until seawater laps around by ears.

Now, to my simple eye, Red Danboline (International Paints) is the best. I have used it before, it brings bilges back to ‘as-new’ condition, and oil, rust or water make obvious stains on it.  International Paints produce Danboline in Red and Gray (possibly white also). For some reason however, the red isn’t available in France. Now this isn’t simply an oversight on the part of International Paints, it is a decision that someone has taken. Red Damboline is actually marked as ‘unavailable in France’ in their publicity. Fortunately I visited the UK recently and came back with some from there. So is there something about the Red Damboline that the French authorities know about? Something sinister? Toxic? Dangerous? If so, I wish they’d tell me.