June 28, 2009

Paint that teak

ANYONE WITH ANY SENSE paints exterior wood on a boat, even if it’s teak. I don’t have sense, so I can’t do it, but I know from long, bitter experience that paint is right. A nice, buff-colored paint even looks like varnish from a short distance, and it’ll last six times as long.

The trouble with clear finishes is that they let the sun’s rays damage the wood underneath. It’s not the varnish that gives up. It’s the wood, shrinking and squirming in the heat, that finally shrugs off the varnish. A reasonable paint job, the kind that you and I can do with an ordinary brush, will protect the wood and last for many years.

But if you’re like me, and couldn’t paint teak any more than you could put pajamas on the Venus de Milo, then use ordinary marine spar varnish. Don’t use epoxy, polyurethanes, acrylics, or clear car finishes.

Spar varnish is soft. It was originally made for wooden masts and booms. It squirms with the wood. It doesn’t get hard and split off when the wood swells and shrinks. Rub it down gently once a year in northern climes, twice a year down south, and slap on another two coats. When you need to scrape down to bare wood because you’ve neglected the finish too long, you’ll bless your spar varnish because it comes off easily. Iron-hard polyurethane is hell to get rid of.

Don Casey, the boat-maintenance guru, says your spar varnish will last indefinitely if you treat your teak this way and maintain the seal. It would still make more sense to paint it, of course, but teak, I’m afraid, has a way of making sense fly out the window.

A little varnished teak on deck sets a boat off. It gives a boat the warm glow of a cherished object. It tempers the pale, sterile plasticity of fiberglass. At the same time, too much varnished teak is murder on a boat’s crew and her owner’s bank balance. Too much varnish, to put it bluntly, is a sign of poor judgment.

So take three deep breaths — and paint the damn stuff.

Today’s Thought
Painting is the intermediate somewhat between a thought and a thing.
—S. T. Coleridge, Table Talk

“How about a kiss, gorgeous?”
“Certainly not, I’ve got scruples.”
“No problem, babe, I’ve been vaccinated.”

1 comment:

Becky Williams said...

Thanks for writing this John. We have decided to paint the wood on our 33' Cape Dory. It's not that we want to, mind you, it's just that it's in such a poor state of repair that it is beyond making it look nice with varnish. I described my problems on this Cruisers Forum post:


I know it will not set us in good stead with other Cape Dory aficionados, but for us, and for now, it's the best solution to our problems.