Tired of Mat­ter­horn White, Flag Blue and Sea Green? It’s time to re­think your color pal­ette. By Mike Smith

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Tired of Mat­ter­horn White, Flag Blue and Sea Green? It’s time to re­think your boat’s color pal­ette.

Only two col­ors are ac­cept­able for paint­ing a boat: white and black. And only a fool would paint one black. At least that’s what Nathanael Greene Her­reshoff be­lieved. Her­reshoff, the “Wizard of Bris­tol,” was a naval ar­chi­tect, ma­rine en­gi­neer, in­ven­tor and ship­builder, and per­haps the great­est yacht de­signer of the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies. In­cluded in his cat­a­log of more than 2,000 de­signs are the suc­cess­ful Amer­ica’s Cup de­fend­ers in six con­sec­u­tive chal­lenges; Her­reshoff skip­pered one of them him­self, the 124-foot Vig­i­lant in 1893.

But re­ally, Capt. Nat didn’t have much of an eye for color. What would he think of the rain­bow of hulls we find in a typ­i­cal ma­rina to­day? In the 21st cen­tury, the sky’s the limit when it comes to hue, and it’s not just blue. Paint man­u­fac­tur­ers of­fer an ex­ten­sive pal­ette of stan­dard col­ors, and if that’s not enough, some will cus­tom-mix any color. Maybe you’d like a gold hull, or bronze, or tore­ador red or pearles­cent green? You can even have pink, if that’s your thing, although I’d think hard be­fore go­ing that route.

What Is Color, Any­way?

Color is re­ally light, and light is ra­di­a­tion. Vis­i­ble light is just a small seg­ment of the elec­tro­mag­netic spec­trum, which in­cludes X-rays, gamma rays, mi­crowaves, long and short ra­dio waves, and ul­tra­vi­o­let and in­frared lights. Vis­i­ble light lives right about in the mid­dle of the

spec­trum and is com­prised of many, many col­ors. How many? De­pend­ing on who you ask, any­where from 7 to 10 mil­lion—though the av­er­age per­son can dis­tin­guish about a mil­lion. No won­der it’s hard to choose just the right color for your top­sides.

There are three pri­mary col­ors (red, yel­low, blue) and three se­condary col­ors (green, orange, pur­ple). The­o­ret­i­cally, all the other col­ors can be mixed from the three pri­maries. I tried it dur­ing sev­eral art classes and the re­sult was rarely what I en­vi­sioned—usu­ally brown or sickly green. But who cares? There are so many paint col­ors on the mar­ket, al­ready mixed and in the cans, that most of us can buy what we need off the shelf. For those few who can’t, there’s an easy way to get cus­tom col­ors of al­most any hue.

So Many Col­ors, So Few Boats

Awl­grip, for ex­am­ple, lists 120 stan­dard and 48 metal­lic col­ors. I counted 30 shades of white, both warm and cool, but only one black. Alexseal Yacht Coat­ings of­fers 52 Pre­mium Top­coat col­ors, with 12 whites and one black, and 24 metallics. Both Awl­grip and Alexseal metallics con­sist of a color base that’s coated with clear gloss for shine.

That should be enough choice to suit most skip­pers—but not ev­ery­one. Some peo­ple want cus­tom col­ors, some­thing the guy in the next slip, or the next har­bor, doesn’t have. And that’s easy, too. It doesn’t take the color sense of an artist to blend just the right hue; all it takes is a color chip, and a lit­tle help from the paint com­pany. Both Awl­grip and Alexseal can mix cus­tom col­ors.

Awl­grip can match al­most any color ex­cept flu­o­res­cents, says re­gional mar­ket­ing sup­port man­ager Marissa Sanchezal­dana. Re­quest an or­der form from your lo­cal Awl­grip dis­trib­u­tor or through the tech line on the web­site. Fill out the form, check­ing off the prod­uct line you’re in­ter­ested in—stan­dard Awl­grip top­coat for most col­ors, high-gloss Awl­craft 2000, or Awl­craft SE for metallics and pearles­cents. Re­turn it with a sam­ple of the

color you want to match—a swatch of cloth, a chip of old paint, what­ever, as long as it’s flat; curved sam­ples won’t scan ac­cu­rately, ex­plains Sanchezal­dana. A 2-inch square sam­ple is ideal. A chemist at the head office in Hous­ton will scan the sam­ple and de­ter­mine the blend of col­ors to recre­ate it. Most Awl­grip dis­trib­u­tors have the equip­ment to mix cus­tom col­ors, but some must be or­dered di­rect from the fac­tory. A min­i­mum or­der is just a quart, so al­most no job is too small for a cus­tom color.

If you don’t have a color sam­ple, a Pan­tone num­ber will work, although Sanchezal­dana says a sam­ple is bet­ter. Pan­tone has more than 2,000 col­ors and is the stan­dard ref­er­ence for print­ing, pack­ag­ing, fash­ion and prod­uct de­sign. Pro­fes­sion­als use a Pan­tone Color Guide to see them all, but buy­ing one will set you back a cou­ple hun­dred bucks. There’s a color se­lec­tor tool on the Pan­tone web­site that’ll get you close—but color on a screen doesn’t look the same as color on a sur­face, so I ad­vise in­vest­ing in a Color Guide; get the one for prod­ucts, not for graph­ics. The cost is neg­li­gi­ble com­pared to the price of an Awl­grip job.

While you’re surf­ing, check out Mixit, a color-re­trieval tool by Ak­zoNo­bel, par­ent com­pany of both Awl­grip and In­ter­lux. Mixit lets you search for col­ors by a spe­cific name—for ex­am­ple, I looked for Mata­dor Red, found its color codes (E7020 and 771228) and that it’s a metal­lic paint in the Awl­craft SE and SE S lines. Or let’s say you want to re­paint your boat, a Grady-White, say, and match the orig­i­nal gel­coat. Mixit re­veals four choices of Grady-White white, two in Awl­craft 2000 and two Awl­grip

Top­coats. Many col­ors lack vir­tual color chips, so it’s not so good for brows­ing, but if you know the color you want and just need the code, it’s fine.

Is This Trip Nec­es­sary?

But not every­body wants, or needs, Awl­grip, Alexseal or an­other high-end paint; plenty of boats will look fine with con­ven­tional ma­rine enamel, the paint that’s been mixed by In­ter­lux, Pet­tit, et al., for gen­er­a­tions. If I could get back all the money I’ve spent on In­ter­lux prod­ucts over the past five decades, I could buy that Mi­ata I have my eye on. And I never had trou­ble find­ing a color I liked.

No cus­tom col­ors from these guys, so you have to pick from their color chart, or mix your own cus­tom hue (good luck with that). How­ever, there are enough choices to sat­isfy a skip­per with rea­son­able aes­thetic tastes. Far-out folks want­ing neon—or some­thing more vis­ually ag­gres­sive—should try DayGlo, with col­ors that’ll knock your eyes out. Their oil-based 215 Alkyd Brush­ing Enamel comes in 11 flu­o­res­cent col­ors and glows in the dark when ex­posed to black light. I see some real pos­si­bil­i­ties here!

But not for most peo­ple. Back in the real world, In­ter­lux of­fers 23 col­ors in its one-part, easy-to-brush Bright­side Polyurethane enamel, 17 in its two-part Per­fec­tion polyurethane. Pet­tit has 32 col­ors in its EZ-Poxy sin­gle-part polyurethane line. VP of Mar­ket­ing Scott Townsend says the ba­sic 24 col­ors have stayed the same for 50 years; the rest change to match the style of the day. Ice Blue and Mint Green are pop­u­lar now, he says, along with a light grey. Pet­tit matches some of the col­ors of Awl­grip and Alexseal, mak­ing EZ-Poxy a good choice for touch­ing up hatch or door frames and other trim pieces, or for paint­ing the ten­der to match the Awl­gripped moth­er­ship.

Of the 32 top­coat col­ors, there are a dozen whites, adds Townsend, and Pet­tit’s best-sell­ing color is Mat­ter­horn White, as it has been for years. That should make Capt. Nat Her­reshoff very happy.

Find­ing Your Color

Ev­ery paint man­u­fac­turer, whether ma­rine paint or house paint or au­to­mo­bile paint, of­fers color chips that help you vi­su­al­ize how the fin­ished project will look in that color. I al­ways choose an overly in­tense color us­ing chips: The yel­low that looked so good to me on the sam­ple is too gar­ish in the kitchen. I need to see it big, and maybe you do, too.

Paint­ing a boat is way more la­bor- and cash-in­ten­sive than rolling a fresh coat on the ha­cienda walls, and mis­takes are a lot more costly. Rather than wing­ing it based on a mi­cro color chip, or try­ing to vi­su­al­ize how your yacht will look wear­ing the same color as your wife’s fa­vorite cock­tail dress, color-shop at the lo­cal paint store. I pa­tron­ize Sher­win-Wil­liams. Sher­win-Wil­liams sells ma­rine paints, too, but mostly for com­mer­cial ves­sels. If I had a steel or alu­minum yacht, I might try their SeaGuard 100 Ma­rine Alkyd Enamel.

For a few bucks, Sher­win-Wil­liams, and many other paint man­u­fac­tur­ers, will sell you small sam­ples of any of their 1,500 col­ors; you can buy sev­eral, paint them onto some­thing and see how they look. Pick an alkyd trim enamel in gloss, which is clos­est in fin­ish to a ma­rine top­coat. When you find a color you like, send a sam­ple to Awl­grip or Alexseal and they’ll match it and brew up how­ever much you need. Maybe, un­like me, you’ll get it right the first time.

What’s in­ter­est­ing these days is the va­ri­ety of paint col­ors avail­able. Like red? There may be 10 shades of it.

Top-shelf paint jobs tend to re­sist the sun-driven fad­ing that can some­times plague gel­coats.

Un­less you’ve got the knack, spray paint­ing high-end paints is for pros.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers cus­tom-blend small batches of paint—even just quarts.

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