VALLEJO -- Twenty years ago, Dwight Barnes made a promise that would change his life.

Barnes was working through a welfare program at the Vallejo Marina when the owner of Vallejo Boat Works approached him with an offer to work for the business.

"I told him that I know nothing of the boating industry," Barnes recalled. "But I promised him that 'you will never be ashamed of any paycheck you cut for me.'"

Through two decades and a change in ownership, Barnes has kept his promise as he nears a personal milestone.

He is set to paint the bottom of his 2,000th boat hull.

Almost 2,000 times he has donned protective clothing and a mask to climb under a boat to restore it.

Barnes, now 61, said the process of painting the bottom of a boat is extensive.

After a boat is mechanically lifted from the water, it receives a high-powered wash to remove slime from the section that usually remains submerged.

Barnes uses a scraper to remove barnacles and other sea debris plastered to the hull. Then he sands down the entire bottom.

He then begins to apply various layers of paint.

"I love it," Barnes said as he looked around the Vallejo Boat Works yard. "There are two feelings I get. One is a feeling of personal pride. The other is a collective feeling of what we (at Vallejo Boat Works) have accomplished."

Barnes said he set the goal of painting his 2,000th boat hull around boat 800.


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"Goals are important," he said. "I said to myself, 'Before I retire, it would be nice to reach 2,000.'"

Barnes began his work career teaching special education at Napa State Hospital for 15 years. Then he taught transitional special education at Vintage High School in Napa. After 17 years in education, he found himself with the welfare work program.

For two years, he worked for the welfare program until his chance encounter at Vallejo Boat Works.

Barnes said there was a reason he accepted the offer to work at the business, despite having no experience with boats.

"I have this disease of needing to eat," he said with a laugh.

Barnes is eating well these days, as he is routinely requested by repeat customers.

"There is nothing like being singled out (for my work)," he said.

Barnes said it takes him about three days to have a boat cleaned, completely sanded and painted.

He still remembers a metal barge that took 10 days to complete.

"That was no three-day turnaround," he said, laughing. "The hull was pitted, so there was more barnacles attached to the hull."

In March, Barnes will officially celebrate his 20th year at Vallejo Boat Works, but he has no plans to stop anytime soon.

He said he will continue "as long as I can continue to put out a good quality project. This is an extremely hard job -- that can give you immense satisfaction."