Saint Jean de Losne: The Paint Survey

Wanderlust being removed from the water for her survey in June of 2017.

From the start it appeared to us that Wanderlust had problems with her paint.

Within weeks of launch we emailed the builder after an unsuccessful attempt to clean the top deck saying, “It looks like it [the deck] needs a coat of paint which is crazy after a month of occupancy.” We had no idea at the time how right we were. On closer inspection later it was clear that the deck looked dirty because there was gray primer showing through the too thin Oyster White topcoat. There wasn’t enough paint applied.

Within months of launch several other problems were developing.   On the side deck the paint started lifting up revealing over sprayed shiny cabside paint. Though the steel was protected, the widespread peeling paint was and still is unsightly.

The gray side deck paint lifting up from the Oyster White cabside paint. This is a widespread problem.

We had duly reported the problem in writing in an email to the builder as required under the contract:

“In many places our gray deck paint is peeling off.  It seems that the deck paint has been applied directly over gloss oyster white without significant surface preparation.”

The problem was also shown to the builder in person. Never once was there a response. Warranty or not, our complaint was ignored. Likely the builder knew already what we would learn later: This was a very expensive and time-consuming problem to fix. For the builder it seemed a better choice to ignore his warranty obligations.

Paint failure at the interface of the stainless deck fittings and the mild steel is widespread.

The paint at the stainless interface on other boats of the same age, including those built by the builder, generally appear good.

In other places the paint at the interface of the stainless fittings and mild steel deck peeled off. The builder attempted repairs for this problem roughly a year after launch, scraping the loose paint off with a screwdriver and adding a coat of a red primer. It was left to us to over paint the unattractive primer, which we did. But it didn’t matter. The repairs failed quickly to the metal. In the places that weren’t repaired the paint at the stainless junctions continued to fail. As the underlying steel was revealed it was clear that there had been no surface roughening attempted during the build or during the repairs. Under normal circumstances paint adhesion would be difficult near the stainless fittings. Without any preparation there was no chance that the coatings would adhere.

Things got worse, much worse. Two and a half years after launch the top and side decks developed numerous patches where the paint was lifting off the primer. Worse yet in places both the primer and the paint were lifting off leaving behind raw rusting steel. You don’t expect to see streaks of rust coming from undamaged sections of paint on a boat that is less than three years old!

The paint lifting off the top deck early on.

The deck paint issue worsened with time causing rust streaking.  The gray streaks in the photo is the primer appearing from beneath the very thin top coat.

It looked to us that the remedial works needed to resolve the paint issues was going to be a big job. Clearly it was outside the scope of what we could personally handle. Indeed, it seemed outside the range of many boatyards we talked to.

We are not experts on paint; few boat owners are. But over time we collected feedback from paint experts, boatyard personnel in France, and our general surveyor, as we sought solutions for Wanderlust’s paint problems. We realized we had vastly underestimated the cost of doing the remedial work even though we already assumed it was going to be expensive. Pretty much everyone we talked to told us that the exterior of the boat needed to be grit blasted to bare metal and the paint build-up needed to be redone from the steel up. The repairs would be very involved, time consuming, and expensive. Indeed, it would have been easier and cheaper to repair if Wanderlust had been delivered with no paint at all.

A conservative estimate of the cost of fixing Wanderlust’s paint issues was included in our general surveyor’s report. The response from the builder and his surveyor were typical: They did not agree. We were told in the builder’s surveyor’s report that Wanderlust’s paint problems were “minor” and were largely maintenance issues. The builder’s expert suggested that the repairs could be completed for no more than £20,000. He saw no need to take the failing paint back to the metal.

Wanderlust’s underwater areas being grit blasted in 2018.

In contrast, experts from the paint’s manufacturer, International, who inspected Wanderlust’s paint said the entire boat needed to be grit blasted to the raw steel and the paint needed to be reapplied from primer up to the topcoat. This would not be cheap. A boatyard in France quoted €115,000 (£103,000) to do this work. Perhaps we could find a yard that could do the work for less. Still it was obviously going to be expensive to do the job properly. The paint quickly became monetarily the largest part of the legal dispute with the builder.

The enormous discrepancy in the scope and cost of the remedial paintwork complicated the dispute. Our general surveyor, without seeing the full extent of the problems, had provided benchmark costs well in excess of the £20,000 suggested as the upper limit by the builder’s expert. The builder disputed our expert’s figure and dismissed the even higher quote from a boatyard who had seen Wanderlust and had estimated the time involved to do the repairs. The pushback left us with no choice. We needed to bring in a true paint expert to examine Wanderlust and provide a report.

The cover page for the first report generated by Safinah.

Thus on the recommendation of our principal surveyor we contracted Charles Atkinson of Safinah. Safinah are leading experts in marine coatings in the UK. We were fortunate that Charles agreed to take on our small job.

Mr. Atkinson inspected Wanderlust at the end of June 2017. His report was issued on August 8th.

Before he began his inspection Mr. Atkinson examined the build contract and the builder’s promotional literature for information about the painting system that was contracted. There should have been more information available. There should have been a detailed paint specification.

We had repeatedly requested through our solicitor over the last year all information about the actual coatings used and documentation of the paint application process. Others had told this information is normally freely shared with the boat’s owners, no matter the state of their relations with the builder. The builder claimed to have this information but did not reply to our solicitor’s requests, choosing to keep the details of Wanderlust’s painting scheme secret. Though we had paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for Wanderlust the builder felt no obligation to share basic details about her construction.

Part of the limited information that we received indirectly about Wanderlust’s paint.

We did eventually learn about Wanderlust’s paint indirectly. While working up the quote for the remedial paintwork, a yard in Saint Jean de Losne contacted the builder directly and asked for background information on the paint. Though the builder refused to provide paint information to us, even through legal channels, they did provide a sketch of the painting process to the French boatyard. The yard in turn felt no obligation to keep this information secret; they forwarded the builder’s descriptions of Wanderlust’s painting process to us.

The builder had quickly answered the boatyard’s questions about Wanderlust’s paint. But they would not answer the questions from us, even through legal channels. It was disturbing, to say the least.

The description of Wanderlust’s paint in the signed build specification.

In preparing for the survey Mr. Atkinson scrutinized the information from five sources:

  • The manufacturer’s brochure “Dutch style barge specification
  • The signed specification that served to define the build details in our contract with the builder, including the exterior paint
  • The information provided by the builder to the boatyard in France
  • The coating manufacturers’ application instructions and guidelines
  • The report from the builder’s surveyor

Summarizing Safinah’s conclusions:

The steel

Brochure:

“All steel conforms to EN S235JR and is de-stressed, rolled, grit blasted (both sides) and sigma primed in one single process eliminating any chance of corrosion. It is commonly known as Lloyds Grade A shipbuilding steel.”

From the builder via the yard in France:

“The hull is fabricated with Lloyds grade A plate blasted and primed with sigma holding primer to 35 Microns”

The black areas of the lower half of the hull

Brochure:

“The lower half of the hull is painted with a marine vinyl tar. This is easily applied and remains flexible when dry. The inevitable ‘lock rash’ can be easily touched in and because of its low sheen level you can disguise repairs easily. This product is proven and works well even in brackish waters. If the boat was to be kept off a saltwater mooring then we offer the upgrade to a 2-pack epoxy system. Some systems offer a 10-year warranty on hull protection.’”

Build contract:

“Jotunastic to the hull at £300 extra cost”

[This, we later learned, refers to Jotamastic 87, a 2-pack epoxy system, which was touted to provide superior hull protection.]

From the builder via boatyard in France:

The hull [meaning the black area] is Jotamastic 87 epoxy. Epifanes Multiforte single pack satin paint was applied down to waterline.

Safinah:

“IM2 for medium durability, epoxy based system A6.05 would have, according to the table, 330 microns DFT [Dry Film Thickness] (Epoxy) for a two coat system. It also states that due to the durability requirements of the system, blasting to SA2 1⁄2 is necessary for this level of durability if the shop primer has been removed. Therefore no hand tool cleaning back to bare metal is allowed.”

Our comment:

The Jotamastic 87 is a 2-pack epoxy system sold to us an upgrade that would provide superior hull protection versus the standard Comastic Vinyl Tar. In reality the cost difference for using the Jotamastic is for the application of Epifanes. Epifanes was used above the waterline as it does not gray and is easier to repair.

We were told later that the builder was only willing to warrant the paintwork for one year, irrespective of the paint system applied or the 10-year warranty suggested as possible in the brochure for an alternative two-pack epoxy system.  The reference to “Some systems offer a 10-year warranty on hull protection” is curious in the context of “we offer the upgrade to a 2-pack epoxy system”.   It’s misleading at best.

The builder’s communication with the boatyard made no mention of the blasting specified by Jotun.  It is our understanding later that the builder did not have this capability.

Wanderlust black areas: The underwater areas are painted differently than the places above the waterline.

The exterior of the boat, above the black:

The sales brochure at the time of contract signing:

“The outside of the boat is painted using Awlcraft marine paint. This is another marine paint that is closely associated with the International paint brand. Awlcraft is widely used by the Dutch steel boat industry and is widely regarded as being the best available.

“The system we use has been compiled by International Paints for our boats.”

[Alwcraft 2000 is a Awlgrip product. Awlgrip is one of International Paint’s brands.]

The signed build contract document:

“Full Awlcraft marine paint system in two main colors”

From the builder via the yard in France:

Nautix HPE primer to all areas above the black hull area, Awlgrip 545 epoxy primer, Awlcraft mid grey gloss with polymer beads added for non-slip to deck areas. The grey deck has 30% Awlcraft matting agents added. Awlcraft Oyster White with polymer beads for non-slip was used on the coachroof along with 30% Awlcraft matting agent. Awlcraft Oyster White was applied to the cabin sides. Awlcraft Light Green was applied to the top plank.

The builder further stated that Lloyds grade A plate was used. The steel was blasted and primed with Sigma holding primer to 35 microns.

The builder did provide documentation that Wanderlust’s steel was Lloyd’s certified.

Safinah (paraphrased where not quoted):

Awlcraft explicitly defines the build-up of their above the waterline paint system as Hullgard Extra, Awlfair LW (as required), High Build or Ultra Build, 545 Primer or 321 HS Undercoat, and Awlcraft 2000 or Awlcraft SE. The coatings applied by the builder deviates from the “Full Awlcraft marine paint system” in the build specification.

“C5M system would be appropriate for a Cat. C craft that have a basic requirement of annex A – an A5I02 system, which equates to 320 Microns DFT. As with IM2 the surface has to be blasted.

“It should be recognized that the Classic Awlcraft system would exceed this requirement if it was followed as per Ref: 6.1.3.”

From the distance most boat’s paint looks good.  Awlcraft 2000 is the brand of the white and blue green areas of Wanderlust.

Our Comments:

There were some small discrepancies between information that we had received from the builder and what was provided to the French boatyard. Before the dispute, in July 2014, the builder told us they used Jotun matting agent as it “works better and is cheaper than the Awlcraft equivalent”. This contradicts the information provided to the boatyard. At delivery we received beads for the deck. These were not the Awlcraft Griptex branded beads claimed.

Before the build we had reviewed the information provided and were comfortable in the choice of the “Full Awlcraft marine paint system” as described in the product literature. It seemed like a high-quality system.

Summary, pre-survey information:

Overall Charles believed that the Awlcraft paint system listed in the contract was fundamentally sound. If it was applied as specified, we should expect good performance. But according to the builder’s communication with the French boatyard, the contracted paint system was not applied. Mr. Atkinson was concerned that the builder had deviated significantly from the signed specification without notifying us as required under the rules laid out in the contract.

Why does this matter? There was no information available suggesting the combination coating system used by the builder had been rigorously tested by any paint manufacturer. No paint company could stand by their paint if it was used in a combination system. There was no one to back up the builder.

Mr. Atkinson’s examination of the underwater hull areas was well documented. The “knob” in the picture is used to measure paint adhesion. At the left, near the scale, the lack of paint adhesion is apparent.

Tests and Measurements:

Mr. Atkinson arrived in Saint Jean de Losne on the June 28th 2017 prepared to fully survey Wanderlust’s exterior coatings. Before he reached Saint Jean, Wanderlust was removed from the water and her bottom cleaned using a power washer.

Safinah’s survey entailed a close examination of the paint using sophisticated measurements of both the paint’s thickness and adhesion performance. With the background history for the paint in hand, Mr. Atkinson proceeded on his examination of Wanderlusts’s coatings. Scrape tests were performed and 594 dry film thicknesses (DFTs) were measured using a PosiTector 6000 coating thickness gauge with a calibrated PosiTester 6000 FNS Probe.

Reference standards:

The DFTs measured for the application of Jotunastic 87 to the underwater areas of the hull should meet, per the manufacturer, the Nominal Dry Film Thickness (NDFT) 90/10 rule. This means that a minimum 90 % of all DFT measurements shall be greater than or equal to the NDFT and none of the remaining 10 % measurements shall be less than 90% of the NDFT.

There is a similar though lower bar for assessing NDFT’s in EN ISO 12944-5:2007, the relevant legal standard generally covering Wanderlust’s coating application. Per the codified ISO standard, the arithmetic mean of all of the DFT’s shall be equal or greater than the NDFT. Additionally all measurements must exceed 80% of the NFDT. Only 20% of the tests can show a DFT between 80 and 100% of the NFDT. For Wanderlust the differences between the two standards proved to be of little consequence as the 80% of the NDFT bar was rarely reached by any measurement.

International provided a recommendation for repainting Wanderlust. This included preparation by grit blasting and a paint build-up of 514 microns not including the Sigma primer on the steel.

Safinah’s findings:

Blue Green Awlcraft 2000, the upper areas of the hull

Safinah:

Charles measured the dry film thickness of the paint at 13 locations using his calibrated PosiTector 6000. The measurements were supported by other methods.

The paint system outlined by the French Awlgrip representative recommends that there is a final dry film thickness of around 550 microns including the Sigma primer on the steel (20 uM was used for the calculations). This number would be in the addition to the added thickness of any Awlfair LW, a fairing agent, used.

Safinah’s measurements indicated coating thicknesses were within a range from 184 to 298 microns. In all places measured, the coatings were 54% or less of the manufacturer’s specified thickness. Thirty-eight percent of the tests showed 40% or less of the specified paint amount had been applied.

Wanderlust during the paint survey

Our perspective:

We note that all of the measurements recorded were significantly below the 0.8 x NDFT minimum threshold.

To us the appearance of the blue green Awlcraft 2000 paint applied to Wanderlust’s hullsides, with some blemishes, appears to be acceptable. In this case, most of these surfaces are vertical, which means that water drains quickly. We are told that vertical surfaces are less demanding on coatings. Based on our experiences with Wanderlust, that would appear to be the case.

Oyster White Awlcraft 2000, cabsides and wheelhouse

Safinah:

All told 43 measurements of the paint thickness on this area of the boat were made. The results were grossly similar to those for the Blue Green paint above. At best one reading reached 73% of the manufacturer’s thickness. Overall 91% of the tests showed that there was less than 48% of the recommended amount of paint applied to the cabsides.

Safinah’s report presents the thickness measurements in tables in ranges. On the left 25 measurements found coating thickness in the range of 171.3 to 217.3 microns. The thickness should have been higher than 550 microns.

Our perspective:

We note that only four of the 43 measurements made (9%) were above 0.8 x NDFT threshold.

Like the Blue Green paint above the Awlcraft 2000 paint applied to Wanderlust’s cabsides and wheelhouse, with some localized exceptions, appears to be acceptable. Again in this case, most of the surfaces are vertical, which means that water drains quickly.

Safinah’s scrape test

Cabin Top Oyster White, non-skid, matt

Safinah:

Charles examined this area thoroughly, making 67 paint thickness measurements. In no instance did the dry film thickness reach the manufacturers recommendation. Indeed, the single “best” measurement only showed at best 48% of the expected amount of coating. In total 88% of the measurements showed that only 43% or less of the specified amount had been applied. Indeed 24% of the measurements showed 21% or less of the proper amount of coating.

The report continues on noting issues with the surface preparation and cleaning. Areas of blistering and pieces of embedded fly rust were mentioned. Safinah concludes that the deck paint problems can largely be attributed to poor surface cleaning and low paint film thickness.

A chart depicting the distribution of the relative paint thickness applied for the Oyster White top deck paint. The red area depicts the distribution of the paint thickness as measured.  The blue represents the manufacturers required paint thickness.

Our perspective:

We note that all of the measurements were 10% or more below the 0.8 x NDFT minimum threshold. The surfaces in this area of the boat are horizontal and tend to collect water making it more challenging for the coatings.

The paint in this area never looked right from launch. It looked dirty no matter how hard we tried to clean it. With time things only got worse. We now know that the primer is visible through the topcoat leading to a permanently unclean appearance.

In 2018 we initiated work to apply primer to hold the surface protect against rust streaking. It was quickly clear that there was little underlying adhesion in the bad areas. Evidence of the blistering (the dots in the photo) was widespread.

Inside the orange tape are the areas to be primed after the 2018 cleaning. The paint problems are widespread and the numbers are increasing.

Side Deck Medium Gray, non-skid

Safinah:

The report details 48 measurements of the coating thickness in the grey deck paint areas. As with the top deck, there were no measurements showing the coating thicknesses at or above the manufacturer’s recommendation. The best two measurements were below 41% of the NDFT. Twenty-five of the 48 measurements (52%) showed less than a quarter of the amount of coating indicated by the manufacturer. Eight measurements (17%) showed paint in the range of thicknesses between 58 and 91 microns, less than 17% of the thickness specified.

As with the cabin decks, Safinah concluded that the deck paint problems could largely be attributed to poor surface cleaning and low film thickness.

Safinah’s distribution of the DFT’s for the gray side deck paint. The manufacturer’s target thickness is 550 uM. No measurement came close to this figure.

Our perspective:

The eight measurements between 58 and 91 microns are shockingly low considering that the primer on the steel is supposed to be 20 microns on its own. (The builder stated that the primer on the steel is 35 microns, which we believe is inaccurately high.)

One of the early paint issues referenced the side decks. In multiple complaints we noted that the gray paint was lifting up exposing the gloss white paint underneath. This appears to be a consequence of the grey paint being applied without suitable preparation on top of a hardened coat of over spray of the cabside Oyster White. Not surprisingly there was little adherence of grey paint.

The widespread peeling of the grey deck paint is a cosmetic issue. More troubling are numerous areas where the paint is failing from the steel in a similar manner to the cabin top, as described above. There are many places where paint has begun separating from the primer. Like the cabin deck above, the gray decks are largely horizontal and are more challenged by moisture accumulation.

We note that none of the measurements approached the 0.8 x NDFT legal standard.

A detailed photo of the paint failure on Wanderlust’s rear deck. This has low foot traffic and is protected by a cover from the weather. Nevertheless the paint issues are widespread.

Hull Below the waterline

Safinah:

Charles did an extensive examination of Wanderlust’s underwater paint area that was coated with Jotamastic 87. The dry film thickness (DFT) was measured in 318 places. The coating depth exceeded the ISO standard (320 uM) in just 4% of the locations tested. In 78% of the places checked, the coating was less than 68% of this standard. Thirteen percent of the measurements (51 data points) were less than 38% of the required thickness. Twelve measurements were less than 89 uM.

Visible voids were observed that showed small pockets of the red steel primer appearing through the black coating indicating that there was not enough coating applied to spread and cover steel surface.

In the report Safinah discussed a second mode of coating failure. This, it is said, is related to surface preparation of the underwater welds. Virtually all of Wanderlust’s welds were prepared by light disking or by the use of Scotch cloths rather than grit blasting. This has resulted in very low adhesion of the paint.

All told Charles estimates that the coating on approximately 130 linear meters of the underwater welds was defective. Wanderlust is 20 meters in length.

Pictures from Safinah’s report that show good coating adhesion (left) and poor adhesion (right) for the underwater area.

Safinah’s measured Dry Film Thickness for the underwater area. The manufacturer and the standards require a thickness of 320 uM.

“Visible voids” occur when the coating was not applied thickly enough to spread and fully cover the steel. Here you can see areas where the red steel primer shows.

Our perspective:

We had learned that there are widespread issues with the black hull paint on our builder’s barges. Indeed, we’ve seen evidence of adherence problems of the underwater coatings on ten barges.

A yard owner in France told us that, based on his experience, it was a near certainty that Wanderlust’s bottom would have paint adherence issues. Thus it seemed sensible to have Safinah check Wanderlust’s bottom paint during the paint survey.

During his inspection of Wanderlust in October of 2016 we asked the builder if he had seen the paint problems on the bottom of one of his boats nearby. He answered simply, “How old is the boat?” The point being that this boat is due to have its bottom re-blacked.

The steel was polished shiny on many of the underwater welds during the build. There was little hope that paint would adhere.

That comment was fair enough, however the usual re-blacking the bottom involves a thorough wash, a light sanding, and then the reapplication of the hull black paint.  The approach presupposes that the original paint adhesion is sound and the underlying layers are intact. It does not allow for the expensive mitigation of paint adherence issues, which can require surface preparation by grit blasting.

The builder has further argued to others that the bottom paint adherence doesn’t really matter. Steel rusts slowly under the water and the bottom plate is 13 mm thick. The boats won’t sink from underwater rust anytime soon.

There’s a point to what the builder has said. Corrosion is slow underwater. Arguably you don’t need paint at all. That said few customers would want a boat with no paint under the waterline. And if the bottom is painted, customers expect that the work be done properly.

Indeed, one of the builder’s boats was recently surveyed as part of a sales transaction. The surveyor observed adherence issues on the bottom paint apparently similar to Wanderlust’s and specified that the bottom of the boat be grit blasted and recoated much the same as we have been advised. Much of this expense was borne by the sellers. It may not matter to the builder that the bottom paint on his boats is failing, but it does to others.

Another of the builder’s boats with apparent paint adhesion issues.

The dismal performance of the underwater coating is particularly disturbing as we paid £300 extra for an upgrade to Jotamastic 87 in order to get, we were told, better corrosion resistance. We did not spend extra money expecting to see the paint coming off of the steel due to poor preparation of the welds and inadequate paint thickness.

Another issue is the method of application. The Jotunmastic 87 was applied to the black areas by roller. Jotun states that roller application is acceptable as long at it is used for small areas. Wanderlust underwater area covers 82 meters; it’s not a small area. Jotun goes on to say that roller application is not recommended for first primer coat and care must be taken to achieve the specified dry film thickness. The builder’s chose to apply the first bottom paint coat by roller; it was a decision that clearly complicated an already challenging paint thickness situation.

Through our solicitor we requested to see the builder’s paint invoices. These would have demonstrated that the builder had ordered sufficient paint to be able to properly coat Wanderlust. But they were never provided. This causes us to believe that builder undercoated Wanderlust to save money on painting costs. If sufficient coating were ordered why wouldn’t the invoices be shared?

We received this scheme back when we requested the paint thickness documentation from the builder. It was not clear whether the builder differentiated dry and wet films. Safinah’s measurements are roughly consistent with this being a final wet film thickness, indicating that the builder may have been targeting a thickness that is roughly half of what is required by Jotun, Awlgrip, and the ISO standards.

 

Underwater paint failure at the skeg

As Charles mentioned, Jotun, in their Jotunmastic 87 literature, states that corroded and damaged areas of the shop primer must be blast cleaned to a cleanliness minimum Sa 2½ (ISO 8501-1) on damaged shop primer and welds for an application in an immersed environment. This did not occur.

Even when significantly undercoated, the adherence of the Jotamastic 87 to the grit-blasted, shot-primed steel was impressive in Charles’ measurements. Jotun makes a good product that works well when applied properly. The key here is that it needs to be properly applied.

By our calculations more than 89% of the measurements were below the 0.8 x NDFT minimum threshold. Recall that per the standards, it is not acceptable to have a single DFT measurement below 0.8 x NDFT. Jotun uses a higher standard, 0.9 x NDFT in their literature. (“Minimum 90 % of all DFT measurements shall be greater than or equal to the NDFT and none of the remaining 10 % measurements shall be below 0.9 x NDFT.”). Only 7% of the thicknesses measured were above 90% of the NDFT.

Safinah’s measurements for the black areas above the waterline. The manufacturer’s thickness is 270 uM. None of the measurements reached that threshold.

Hull Above the Waterline

Safinah:

In this area Safinah made 105 measurements. No single measurement identified a place on the hull with dry film thicknesses at or above the manufacturers recommendation (270 uM made up of 150 uM Jotamastic 87 plus 2 x 50 uM Epifanes Multiforte and 20 uM for the Sigma primer on the steel). Indeed, 37%, of the measurements made showed coating thicknesses that are less than half of what the manufacturers have recommended.

Our perspective:

Once again we note that this area of the boat failed the ISO Nominal Dry Film Thickness (NDFT) 80/20 criteria.

Wanderlust’s black paint above the waterline is Jotamastic 87 followed by overcoats of the single pack Epifanes Multiforte. The Epifanes does not gray with aging, as does the Jotamastic, which provides an esthetically more pleasing appearance that is easy to maintain.

Though there are areas of coating failure in this portion of the boat, they are less common than elsewhere. Safinah believes that the paint may be holding up better in these areas as it they are vertical and not continuously wetted.

Summary points from Safinah’s survey

  • The builder did not apply the coatings as specified in the build contract.
  • The average dry film thickness of the coatings from 594 measurements is less than 50% of manufacturer’s recommendation. On the decks, where the problems are at their worst, the paint thicknesses average less than 25% of the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  • The builders have consistently not prepared the surfaces correctly. If all weld seams had been grit blasted then primed many of the failures in the superstructure, hull and underwater systems might have been avoided.

 

Safinah’s survey spanned two days. The boatyard built a ramp so Gigi could get on and off.

Our thoughts:

The coatings used:

Prior to the build, before we signed the contract, we researched the two entries in the specification that described the paint to be applied: “Full Awlcraft marine paint system in two main colours” and “Jotunastic to the hull at £300 extra cost.”

We looked at the Awlcraft paint system in the manufacturer’s brochure. It seemed to us to be a high spec system. After the required surface preparation the system specified the use of two substrate sealers (Max Cor CF and Hullguard Extra Epoxy Primer), an optional fairing compound (Awlfair LW), an epoxy surfacer (High Build or Ultra Build), 545 Primer, and a topcoat of Awlcraft 2000. Each product comes with detailed application instructions keyed back to ISO standards. Further research showed generally favorable comments on the Internet. From this we were comfortable that high-end marine paint was included in the contract.

After the build we hadn’t thought much more about the paint system, and whether it had been applied properly, until the problems started to develop.

Mr. Atkinson noted that the system used did not correspond to the system described in the build specification. On review we see that the Nautix HPE primer replaced two substrate sealers and the epoxy surfacer. It was a change that required our approval under the contractual terms.

Charles was very thorough, going as far as cross checking the paint batch numbers with the manufacturers, sometimes with surprising answers.

The concern here was that the mixed painting system applied was untested under rigorous conditions. It might work OK, but there would be no guarantee. If problems developed in any part of the coating system the paint manufacturer would take no responsibility.

There was some confusion about the “Jotunastic” in the build specification. We were told that the Jotun product was an upgrade over the vinyl tar compound applied as standard; this would give increased corrosion resistance. For £300 we felt this would give us peace of mind.

We hadn’t noticed at the time that “Jotunastic” isn’t actually a product. The product actually used was Jotamastic 87.

Paint application:

Safinah’s report was unequivocal; privately Charles was even more emphatic: The paint was applied improperly. The conclusions in the report weren’t marginal or minor technical points. In its 35 pages Safinah’s report demonstrated that the preparation, particularly in the heat-affected zones, was inadequate. More concerning was the paint thickness. Of the 594 measurements made during the survey only 14 points showed the dry film thickness at or above the recommended range.

The paint survey in progress

The consistent lack of paint thickness did not seem to be an accident, which prompts the question why? How did this happen? Why was Wanderlust’s paint thickness so much less than specified? This is not a simple case of missing a few spots.

It seems to us that this was a choice. The matt deck paint, though technically the same type as used on the shiny cabside and bulwark paint, is notably thinner. (The decks are 24% of the manufacturer’s spec; the more visually apparent vertical bulwark and cabsides are coated to 41%.) This seems to us to be intentional, perhaps because the builder could claim that the decks need a coat of paint for maintenance earlier if a customer with paint problems complains.

On the surface the most obvious reason for the thin paint is cost. Rough calculations show that painting to the manufacturers’ specifications would have cost the builder somewhere over £2,000 more in coating costs. Add in the labor and the builder may have saved around £3,000 or more by undercoating Wanderlust. Financial motivations favor the use of less coating material, over the short term.

Was a business decision to skimp on the amount of coatings used worth the risk?

The location of one of Safinah’s adhesion tests. The round circle is where a dolly removed the Awlcraft 2000 from the primer, clearly showing an inter coat adhesion issue.

I don’t think so. The cost of doing remedial repairs that require stripping the paint back to the metal is substantial. Repairing one barge with paint issues could suck up the money saved by shorting the paint on 20 barges. It’s high risk and low reward. Past the direct financial costs, choices such as this rightfully endanger a builder’s reputation.

How the coatings were applied is also important. The Safinah report details the poor preparation of the surfaces, particularly in the Heat Affected Zones (HAZ). The builder might have gotten away with the poor surface if the proper amount of paint was applied, or vice versa, but problems were inevitable with both errors.

Looking more closely at the manufacturers application instructions we can see that the paint was not applied properly.

Jotun specifies for an immersed application:

“Cleanliness minimum Sa 2½ (ISO 8501-1) on damaged shop primer and welds.”

This specification is for blast cleaning. Wanderlust’s welds and damaged areas of the shop primer, where revealed by the paint failure, show no evidence of grit blasting. Indeed, the steel that was revealed where the coating peeled off of the underwater HAZs was often polished shiny. They were definitely not blasted nor worked well otherwise. For less challenging non-immersed applications Jotun states, “…care should be taken not to polish the metal surface [with power tools].” This appears to be exactly what did happen.

It is our understanding that the builder did not have the capability to grit blast during Wanderlust’s construction. The lack of grit blasting at the welds would appear to be a significant source of adherence issues on the builder’s boats.

A blasting nozzle lays near the grit used.

Wanderlust’s hull after blasting

The report’s impact and follow-up:

Safinah’s report was thorough and thoughtful. It seemed to us that it would be very difficult and expensive for the builder to dispute. The conclusions and necessary remedial actions followed logically.

Nevertheless the builder continued on, re-emphasizing the numerous stances articulated in his general surveyor’s report. It was odd to us that the builder insisted on leaning so much on his expert’s report; his surveyor was clearly not a paint expert. Indeed the paint opinions of the builder’s general surveyor seemed so sufficiently uninformed that we encouraged the builder through our solicitor to hire his own paint expert. We had hoped that advice by an expert would rationalize the discussion.

Our suggestion to the builder went unheeded. Ultimately, at significant additional expense, we commissioned a follow-up report from Safinah. The report would serve as an explicit rebuttal to the builder’s surveyor’s report. It would also lay out the needed remedial actions in detail.

Jotunastic 97 being applied to Wanderlust’s bottom during the build. It can be seen clearly that the welds were no blasted as specified by Jotun.

Jotunastic 87 being re-applied to Wanderlust’s hull.

A few quotes from the follow-up report and rebuttal:

On the paint used:

Safinah: “It is clear to the author that the products selected for painting, although not listed in the bill of sale but all from reputable paint makers, could have performed adequately if [the builder] had followed good surface preparation, application techniques and observed correct film thickness requirements.”

On the claim in the surveyor’s report that the boat paint finishes should only last 8 to 10 Years:

“Safinah would agree that a paint finish would have done well to last this time when exposed to UV etc. However this is not true of the complete system. If the primers and high build epoxies were correctly applied these would have been protected by the top coats and therefore the replacement will be limited to the topcoat primer and topcoat +repair of mechanical damage”

The builder’s surveyor made a case that price paid for the barge did not correspond to painting in a state of the art paint facility.

 

Wanderlust during the build showing the process of covering adjacent boats to protect from sprayed paint. It can also be seen that the welds in the underwater area appear shiny.

Safinah: “This argument is pitiful, as the majority of the defects relate to surface preparation and specification. This has little to do with State of the art paint facility. [The builder] have bought very high quality products and simply not learnt what constitutes an acceptable surface on which to apply them. It is common practice to erect a tent to blast and prime steel in many situations in many industries.”

Conclusion:

The builder’s brochure had told us that the paint being used was “widely regarded as being the best available.” Now the builder’s surveyor and the builder had claimed that we had no reasonable expectation of having paintwork hold up for three years because the considerable price we paid for the boat was not sufficient to guarantee a high quality paint job.

Wow.

The builder was effectively saying that they could spend money on the highest quality paint but can’t afford, with the price paid, to apply it properly. It was a shocking stance. If we heard this before the build contract was signed we would have walked out the door immediately. Certainly other customers would have felt the same way.

Through various solicitor-mediated exchanges with the builder it had become clear that the painting system applied had been cobbled together by the builder’s paint wholesaler as a “cost effective” solution. Substantial further costs saving were likely realized by using less than the minimum amount of coatings. Past the amount of coatings used, there did not seem to be a good understanding of what constituted proper preparation. Nor did appear that the paint manufacturers application instructions, particularly for the surface preparation, were followed.

It didn’t have to be this way. If the paint is purchased directly from International Paint, manufacturer’s representatives willingly come to the purchaser’s facility to train the staff in the paint application. Indeed it would seem a better use of money to hire Safinah for a couple of days to evaluate and optimize the overall paint application procedures rather than spending several thousands of pounds on surveyors and solicitors to fend off just one legal claim caused by the paint going bad.

At the end of the survey Wanderlust was put back into the water and we headed down river.

Most troubling was the apparent underlying attempts to save costs by reducing the amount and type of coatings used. This was seemingly done without consideration of the longer-term consequences. It was also done without discussion with the customer.

One of our biggest concerns when we initiated Wanderlust’s build was that there would be hidden shortcuts made in an effort to reduce costs. These shortcuts, we feared, could rear there head later and could be difficult to rectify. We raised this concern with the builder during the contract discussions. At the time we were comforted by the response we heard. We shouldn’t have been.

 

12 thoughts on “Saint Jean de Losne: The Paint Survey

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  2. Having followed this story with a strong interest, mainly because I was going down the same road to Pipers it made me stop and think more deeply. What comes out strong in this story is basic prep of the surfaces the company has zero grit blasting machine yet he is working in the heavy steel industry and again has zero paint shop areas example a poly tunnel even to get around this problem yet looking at the build in progress the man hours to to cover other in builds boats masking ect must over time cost thousands. Then the actual paint expert report is a real eye opener with only 25% paint in some places and the most 50% paint thickness in other places all to save maybe £3000 tops , the condition in the Skeg picture says it all together with shiny rubbing strakes whilst in the paint process on your build pictures. Then the admittance of using other paint brands not on the contract but the biggest sin in my eyes was mixing the brands together as a cost cutter , the long term effect of this is unknown for the long term. The statement from the builders survayor basicaly saying what do you expect at this price ! I hope one day you name and shame this guy, because his reputation went south on just those few words. In the original contract you asked for excess hatch s to the bilges you clearly did not get that for some reason yet now in your recent pictures hatch s have been made , in my eyes the wine celler is a gimmick only to sell the product .So to sum up if your in the market to buy a barge visit the maker ask to see the grit blaster or the area where the grit blaster does his work if contracted out, then ask to see the paint shop , I note Nickolls boats uses a poly tunnel shown on google earth not sure about Aquiline Poland yet im in the middle of checking these facts and then its a visit very soon. The puzzling thing in my mind why O why have other Piper owners kept so quiet to which indirectly helps sales which long term makes the maker keep building a product that has large problems for future owners.
    About to read your second post sent today.
    kind regards Misha.

    • It is dangerous to assume that all boats are this bad. Most look good, on the top, though underwater problems are more common. I have seen other boats that are similar above the water to Wanderlust, but in many ways she is the worst case example.

      We have friends with a Aqualine barge that was completely repainted about 4 years after launch. I don’t recall that they represented the paint in the same way, but you’d have to check. I suspect that this was a common problem.

  3. EEK ! Thanks for that comment on Aqualine Poland built I did not see that one comming. The big question is why the problems on fresh water it just should not happen , with salt water I would expect certain problems. Whilst all the problems you have had upto now if you were buying again who would you be looking at Dutch ? it made me cringe the comment its no worry its 13mm thick . Looked at Spall s MATILDA d b and whilst not ultra shiny example it was sea going most of its life, hence why I looked at Nicholl s. Got any builder out of the top of your head you have heard good things . Your second posting was easyier to read I could hear the bird sounds and the country life in my mind thank you for that. kind Regards Misha.

    • Generally I would not blindly trust any builder on the paint. It’s too easy to hide things. OK, maybe Linssen. At the least I would insist that the paint plan and all documentation of the painting process be provided ASAP. I would then insist on checking the DFTs at each step as an acceptance criteria. Better yet would be to get Safinah involved.

      More than anything it is in the interest of builders to perfect their painting process. Yes it is more expensive, and you would expect to pay a premium, but it would be worth it in the long run.

      If you have someone who is capable of doing a high quality spray job, it is possible for builders to do really top class paint job.

      • Ha Ha ! Looked at Linssen early on my hunt and if I remember correctly only went upto 48ft or somwhere around that size so I discounted them in my search, slowly comming in my reseach to stay away from steel and ditch dwelling back to the open sea s on a Cat and the only thing that is stopping me is my age at 72, my brain says I can still handle sails but the body thinks lets have an easier life. All builders have in fact got you over a barrel by the part payments in the contracts , right upto hitting the water if you refused delivery on some contractual point they can withold delivery, therefore you lose control of the whole deal, example your request for bilge access points — never in fact happend. This was not being personal just making a point.
        Kind Regards Misha.

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