On a Tiny Island – St Helena

For the Elegant Line Road Painters Team, no project is too big or small. Even when a big project takes place on a small island in the middle of nowhere.


Before we even started on this project with Basil Read, we had to take the following into consideration:

  • Various governing bodies are involved, all with their own ideas and specs on how this would enfold:
    • British Airports Authorities Spec.
    • ICAO Spec. ( International Civilian Aviation Organization )
    • British Consulting Engineers using U.K. Specs.
    • South African Consulting Engineers using S.A. specs.
    • Local On-Island Engineers using their specs.
  • A disconnect between these governing bodies as to the paint to use: Water based paint, solvent based paint, thermoplastic paint, reflective paint, non-reflective paint, only part of it reflective paint, anti-skid material in paint, no anti skid material in paint, only part of it anti-skid,  reflective and anti-skid, only part of it reflective and skid, and so on. Changing the specs of the paint and project every 2 days.
  • The runway is unique in many respects, in that is is entirely cast out of concrete . This presents a number of challenges to the road markers in that to get the best strength out of the concrete, it needs to have a wax-based curing compound sprayed over it to aid water retention and enhance the curing time.
    • Nice for the concrete guys – great strength.
    • Not so nice for the Roadmarking guys – ever tried painting onto wax..?
    • Okay,so now we need sandblasting to get the wax off…
    • Great – so where do they blast ? Can’t blast the whole runway…
  • The products recommended by the amazing technical team from Plascon for this project:
    • A two-part epoxy primer that has to be mixed together in exactly correct ratios, sprayed onto a clean, dry surface. (little island in middle of ocean –  rain ? …..nah! )
    • Solvent based Roadmarking paint to be applied over the primer between 18-24 hrs after primer.(see above ref moisture…)
    • Abrasive grit to be blown onto the wet paint to achieve 50% coverage,then over coated in three different directions with paint to imbed the grit into the paint (Does wind blow almost all day over 30km/h on little islands in middle of ocean  ….? ). Take lots of grit (Because most of it is ending up in the ocean…)
    • Reflective glass beads applied into wet paint film where required ( see above ref howling gales).
    • 100mm black lines around every marking, to make them ‘stand-out’ on the white concrete surface.
    • Accuracy of 6mm tolerance on any and every dimension of all markings.
    • (Try spotting the 7mm skew markings when next coming in to land at 150km/h…)
  • And to top it all of:
    • Vehicle/ painting rig had to fit inside standard shipping container- that chucked out 95% of our options to start with.
    • Team members ( only 2 painters and 1 Quality Controller allowed -labour to be supplied on island)…do you get the feeling you’ll be hearing more about this…?
    • Above crew to take collard shirts/jacket & tie for dinner on the RMS St Helena.( Roadmarkers in penguin-suits…yeah right ..!)
    • Over 19000 square meters of coating to be applied.
    • Some reflective, some not. Some with anti-skid grit imbedded, some not.
    • Blasted areas that need painting, next to un-blasted areas with wax – how do you not ‘track’ the wax on the bottom of your shoes onto the clean (blasted) area as you hand-spray the large block-areas of markings ( some of them 40m X 6m )..?  See if you can spot the ‘trick’ on how we did it in the photos…

The big day finally dawned,three nervous but excited crew were checked in, photos taken and they were on their way. Travel was seamless and we soon had pictures of people who had never seen the sea, standing nonchalantly at the docks. Customs and boarding took place after lunch,with more pictures of the well appointed cabins with on-suite bathrooms, bowls of fruit, fine linen and gowns etc awaiting our wide-eyed travelers…

A last few shots of Table Mountain ,taken out in the bay passing Robben Isand – and that was it.

After all of this, and a long boat ride, the Elegant Line Road Painters Team has arrived at their location, over 3000 km away from their homes in South Africa. Ready to get started on this new road marking project, with maxed out vehicles full of paint pumps, compressors, road marking paint, grit and more.

On the Island – Getting ready for the job at hand:

A week after their departure, we made contact with the crew. They had to go through the laborious task of having everything/everyone off loaded onto lighter-boats to be taken ashore to the small wharf. The slope of the island into the water is so steep that it makes building a harbour virtually impossible.

The crew then began the process of unloading the containers at the airport site after they had been hauled up a narrow and winding roadway.

Checklists were completed, all stock and materials accounted for (Except for our fire extinguishers -which had been earmarked as ‘hazardous-cargo’ ).
Safety files and methodology procedures and inductions, getting the crew’s accommodation sorted, meetings with the construction management team, meetings with Engineers and project managers etc which all took up a lot of time.

The weather was not at all co-operative, with regular rain squalls and strong winds making things difficult for all concerned. In addition, the local labour team that were allocated to our crew did not speak English,which presented quiet a challenge…

On the Island – The “easy” task of getting some food and money:

The next challenge was visiting the local shops to buy some basic food ingredients…
A loaf of bread ? Sorry,you have not booked one! Only bake to exact orders. No, you can’t have those on the shelf – they are already booked. Island style -with a twist!

And then on to the bank, a quaint little place with a counter and an assistant -and not much else. On being presented with the amazing money-card, there were blank looks and furrowed brows. Electronic banking has not yet hit certain little islands in mid-Atlantic…
Great – now we immediately have a cash flow issue for the crew. Luckily the BR team on island were able to assist.

On the Island – Bad Weather & Difficulty Communicating:

Eventually all the basic issues were addressed and we were able to commence work on the airport, starting out on the apron markings. It became immediately apparent to the crew that the setting-out skills of the surveyors with gps’ were not up to a roadpainter’s skills with a tape measure and marker – crayon…
Lots of re-blasting of surfaces were required, presenting our crew with delays from the word go.

As the days went by, the delays grew, as bad weather and re-blasting ate into our two-month allocated slot (the crew were already booked onto the return-voyage…not negotiable ).
The project management team on the island took up the challenge, re -arranged many things and we were able to start making some real progress. It must be stressed that the assistance our crew received from the Basil Read team on-Isand was really amazing, with a solution found to every problem.

One of the tasks we were asked to do was to train the local team on ‘how to do Roadmarking ‘,
an interesting challenge as we could not communicate with them! This crew is supposed to be able to do all the ‘land-side’ markings (as opposed to the ‘ air-side ‘ markings that we were doing, where all the aircraft traffic happens). Training proved to be a nightmare, until a local teenager was brought in. This youngster proved to be an instant success and became a firm favorite with our crew. The project Team had brought in a small Roadpainting machine to do ongoing maintenance once we had finished the initial marking and this was pressed into service to do some of the tightly-curved lines whilst training the island crew.

The bad weather plaguing the project slowly started abating, with longer workable periods happening, which allowed the crew to claw back some of the initial delays. It was still a very close and tight call to get it all done, inspected, snagged, touched-up, re-inspected and finally signed off.
There had been a few issues ahead of us with concrete having to be re-poured, cured and blasted before we could get onto marking it.

During all these difficulties, the Basil Read Team was absolutely amazing, assisting in any issues arising.

On the Island – Final Sign Off:

Eventually the day arrived when the final sign-off had been completed, the equipment loaded and the crew could complete the reverse process to return home (With another flurry of insurance policy changes each step-of-the-way).

A trip of a lifetime for three very lucky South African’s, a big learning curve completed for our company – and a great marker laid down for our ability to deliver on time, on budget and to a very challenging specification.

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