Hempel Paints- the choice of a sailing legend

Sir Robin Knox-Johnson on Saga Insurance
As far as famous old salts go, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is legendary. The first man to complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation in his Bermudan ketch Suhaili, a past winner with Peter Blake of the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation in 1994 and, at age 68, the oldest competitor in last year’s VELUX 5 OCEANS race. Never one to rest on his laurels, Sir Robin is currently overseeing the fleet of Clipper 68s which have just left Hawaii.

Sir Robin has had a long-standing association with Hempel, the Danish marine paint company. His relationship with Hempel started about 25 years ago when they offered him marine paint for the 32-foot teak-planked Suhaili.

'I used it and liked the quality of it. We tended to use their paint and just got closer together on that basis.'

Suhaili is 44 feet from bowsprit to the tip of her mizzen boom and is based on the Norwegian sailing life boat designs of Colin Archer. After her record-breaking circumnavigation, Sir Robin offered her to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in 1997 where she remained on display for five years.

Unfortunately, the museum’s controlled environment did not agree with old timber vessel; her 1¼ inch planking began to shrink and separate. So she was refloated and now lives at the Museum’s pontoon at Falmouth. Suhaili still sails and Sir Robin continues to be her proud owner.
Hempel Paints
Hempel Paints

Hempel again offered their services to Sir Robin when he started preparing Saga Insurance for the 2007 VELUX 5 OCEANS. The VELUX 5 OCEANS is recognised as being the longest, toughest solo race for an individual sportsperson in the world It is a gruelling trek of over 30,000 nautical miles across the globe’s wildest oceans; the ultimate test of man and vessel. It’s the kind of race that necessitates not only psychological and physical toughness, but a boat and equipment that can withstand the worst nature has to offer.

After his long association with Hempel’s Sir Robin knew the company and trusted their products. He couldn’t afford to have anything on his boat less than top quality. Gear failure is always a headache, but thousands of miles from assistance, even minor damage can lead to catastrophic consequences.

'I knew them well. I needed some rather specialist paint so I asked them if they could help me, and they said yes, they would like to.

'It was special in so far as it was stuff they had to specially make. We needed a particular paint that would be sufficiently robust to put up with the Southern Ocean and come back looking as good as new, which in fact it did do.'

Hempel supplied all the paint used on Saga Insurance including antifoul, deck and hull products. Onlookers waiting on the dock when a gleaming Saga Insurance steamed past the finish line, after a journey of more than 30,000 hard nautical miles, would attest to the fact that the boat looked like she’d just been out for a day sail.

Good quality products are rarely developed overnight. There’s a reason why some companies stay in business a long time and it’s got surprisingly little to do with their marketing and everything to do with their products. Founded by Mr JC Hempel with the business motto of ‘Quality and Service’, the company opened its first factory in Denmark in 1915 and over the years went on to become a global enterprise.

Today Hempel is an acknowledged world leader in paint systems and services for a wide range of industries including marine, shipping, protective and decorative markets. With six research and development facilities around the world, Hempel continues to develop products that will be embraced by the marine industry well into the future.

David Neumann, Australia’s Marine Sales & Yacht Segment Manager, said one reason for Hempel’s longevity was a philosophy of product development that balances innovation with common sense.
Hempel Paints, sailing towards innovation in silicone-based antifoul 300px :
Hempel Paints, sailing towards innovation in silicone-based antifoul
Hempel Paints

'It comes down to being conservative about things as well as dynamic and forward thinking.

'It’s the balance between the two which makes for a very positive scenario for us and for our clientele. We go forth and investigate new frontiers in the coatings world, but at the same time don’t do it flying off the cuff.

'There’s the conservative side which says ‘that looks great, and aren’t you great R & D people; now let’s really make sure this is going to work’. And that’s what we’ve done historically, and what we continue to do today.'

A hot product currently being put through its paces in Hempel’s research and development laboratories is Hempel’s silicone-based antifoul. These antifouls are already being used on container vessels and other large commercial vessels.

Valued for its lighter weight and sleeker surface finish than traditional copper-based antifoul, Hempel’s Foul Release systems improves a vessel’s speed through the water creating fuel savings, a key consideration in large commercial shipping operations.

Another advantage is, unlike traditional copper--based antifouls which are designed to shed or sacrifice paint layers over time, silicone is environmentally friendly. 'There is no biocide being released,' says Neumann.

Hempel’s are now testing its Foul Release systems for use on vessels with lower speeds and more extended idle times.

'The silicone system is working an absolute treat. What it does require however, because it is completely non-biocidal, is reasonable speeds and activity level,' Neumann says. Silicone works best when a vessel consistently moves at high speeds of anywhere from 15 knots upwards, and has very little down time. Although many recreational vessels can meet the speed requirements of the product, the amount of time they spend back at the marina becomes a problem.

'We’ve got plenty of powerboats that can achieve the speeds necessary, however most of the silicone systems require the boats to have more than 50% activity level. That’s a constant activity level; 50% of the time someone’s using their boat.'

Another benefit of silicone paint is its longevity. Many commercial vessels use paint systems designed to last five years or longer. But for recreational boats, indefinitely extending the amount of time they remain in the water between slipping for a new coat of antifoul, is not necessarily a good thing.

As David Neumann explains, just because you have the technology to drastically extend your vessels in-service period, doesn’t mean you should do it.

'I used to be in the boat repair and paint application business prior to joining Hempels. I found people mainly talked about the high cost of slipping the boat as opposed to engine repairs and other maintenance work.
'But the thing is, you really don’t want to think you are saving on costs by keeping your boat in the water, trying to over-extend the time between each slipping. There are many important reasons boats should still come out of the water regularly.

'‘If a pleasure boat comes out of the water after 12 to18 months, for example, you can have a good look around to make sure everything’s okay - checking keel bolts, shaft bearings and skin fittings externally for fouling, preventative maintenance, etc. The list goes on.'

With the low-weight and smooth finish of the silicone-based antifoul possibly offering a small speed advantage, racing sailors and power-boaters of the future will be watching the development of this product with interest. After all, it sounds like just the sort of thing that Sir Robin would want on his yacht.

Contact details:
The list of Hempel office/representatives contact details world-wide can be found by going to – click here to go to Hempel and search for country's contact details