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The Mast-Head: Blue Tape

Wed, 06/08/2022 - 15:48

When people complain about tape, most times, it seems to me, they are talking about red. But in my case, my beef is with blue, literally.

Readers of The Star’s letters pages might have noticed Jeff Plitt’s frequent mention of my brightwork, or varnish, and wondered why. It comes from a period of time last summer when I tied my boat near where he docks his own. That spring, thinking that I would see to refinishing the wooden cockpit coamings and grab rails on the cabintop sometime that season, I, perhaps foolishly, put blue painter’s tape over the raw spots. My idea was that the tape would prevent more sun damage and keep out rainwater.

Sharp-eyed, Jeff noticed the tape right away; it was still there when I returned with the boat in the fall to get ready for its haul-out.

Curious about the derivation of the phrase red tape, I learned that it comes from a tradition dating at least to the 1600s in England of binding high piles of official documents with red fabric tape, what today we might call ribbon. In time, it became a way to describe the fussiness of British law and of those who applied it. I noted the parallel. Red tape of the bureaucratic kind is tenacious, persistent, and annoying. So is blue tape, especially if one does not deal with it quickly after it is applied.

After a summer at mooring, the blue tape on Cerberus’s rails was firmly stuck. It would not peel, nor did ordinary solvents do the job. Scraping was the only choice, since it clogged sandpaper in an instant. Jeff will be pleased to hear that I have at last tackled the blue tape and begun on the brightwork.

Don Casey, the author of a classic handbook on old-boat care, advises dealing with safety and structure first and leaving that sort of finish work to last. There are some things, though, that boaters like Jeff and, frankly, me, can’t get past. Being that it is time to get back on the water, the red tape we’ll let slide until another season.


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