Boot Stripe

Painting a boot stripe is painstaking work. Just ask generations of seaman, boatyard workers, and boat owners. For the uninitiated, it’s that pristine, no streaks, perfectly straight line that is painted between bow and transom just above the waterline. It can add dash and color to the boat and make a small boat appear longer.
The origin of the boot stripe is lost in time but probably dates back to some Viking bosun who needed to find an occupation for the crew between raiding sessions, cow tipping, and drinking. It’s a picky job. A moment of inattention and it wanders off true, and the bosun will smite you a great wallop alongside your head.
On Psyche, there were dots marked on the hull that you could use as way stations. I’d lay the masking tape between the dots and wait for my wife to give me the thumbs up that there were no dips or bumps between stations. Much mindful preparation went into preparing that tiny red stripe alongside that bikini blue hull. At last, we applied paint.
Into this, carefully orchestrated effort barged the Cap’n and his wife, Cora. The Cap’n, normally unsolicitous of other family members’ opinions, always took Cora’s seriously. Cora had been looking at what the Cap’n called yacht magazines.
In an article, Cora had seen photos of boats with fancy boot stripes. She wanted Daddy to use boot stripe tape in multiple colors to “add a bit of visual interest to the old boat.” Up to this point, the Cap’n had been listening indulgently to his wife. Now he grew flustered – “old boat?”, his beloved 34-foot ketch- his wooden beauty? My wife and I looked at the boot stripe we were almost finished with, looked at Cora’s glowing face, and then took in the scowl on the Cap’n. We decided that this was an excellent opportunity to go to Spinney’s office and mooch a cup of coffee.
As we left, we heard the Cap’n explain that the job was almost done, that there’d be the added expense of the tape and that such a fancy detail might make the boat look tarted up. As we hove out of sight, he looked for a compromise solution with Cora waving a boating magazine below his nose.
An hour later, the Cap’n and Cora caught up with us. The compromise was a new boot stripe next year and new colorful floatation cushions for Psyche’s cockpit this year.
Arm in arm, the two departed for lunch. The Cap’n smiling in victory winked at me. As she passed, Cora gave us a satisfied smile. Cora was a believer in the long game. Or, as Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

5 Replies to “Boot Stripe”

  1. What a lovely story. Very interesting too. I didn’t know the stripe had a name so thanks for the education.

    Incidentally hats off to anyone who can paint a straight line on boat. I cant keep a straight line for more than three inches on a page!

    1. Painting or taping boot stripes had to be my least favorite thing to do, like you I can’t keep a straight line for more than three inches.

      1. It’s tough isn’t it. I’ve seen painters freehanding straight lines on cars. Knowing it would cost thousands if they messed up, I find that incredible.

        I’d put about six inches of masking tape either side of the line before I began painting just in case!

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