September 14, 2010

Varnishing vs. sailing

WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT of singlehanded cruising I’d like to steal some more of the wisdom of Francis B. Cooke, the English sailor and author. Almost 90 years ago, in 1924, he was concerned with a subject that still affects many of us today: How much should we work, and how much should we sail? How much of our labor should we devote to the way our boats look, and how much to practicality?

Here are his thoughts on the matter, from his book Single-Handed Cruising:

“I am now going to preach what most yachtsmen will, I fear, consider rank heresy. My advice to the owner who contemplates working his craft singlehanded is to concentrate his attention upon the saving of unnecessary labor and let mere appearance go hang.

“I do not mean to suggest that he should keep his vessel in a slovenly inefficient state, but merely that he should eschew such pomps and vanities as white sails, white decks, glistening brass work, and other ‘yachty’ conceits of a like nature.

“It seems to me that if you elect to go cruising alone in a craft of from 5 to 10 tons Thames measurement, the picturesque side of the sport must be eliminated from your programme, for what spare time you are likely to have will be fully occupied in attending to the necessary domestic economy. And after all, one does not keep a yacht for other people to look at and admire, but for use, and her appearance concerns nobody but the owner.

“All the same, it would be horrible to think that your boat looked dirty and uncared for, and what the singlehander should aim at is to fit her out in such manner that she will always look clean and tidy and yet need scarcely any work to keep her so. At a first glance, this may appear a difficult manner, but it is not so in reality. It is merely a question of selecting suitable materials at the start....

“In the first place there is the bright work, by which I mean varnished wood, spars, blocks, etc.... I am prepared to admit that nothing looks nicer than a varnished teak cabin-top, coamings, well lockers, and covering board, but when one has to keep it all in trim oneself, is the game worth the candle?

“Personally I do not think it is. By substituting paint for varnish the boat will have a clean, workmanlike appearance, and if she does not look very ‘yachty,’ well, call her a boat and have done with it.”

Today’s Thought
The final good and the supreme duty of the wise man is to resist appearances.
— Cicero, De Finibus

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #94
Traditionally a sailboat’s galley is placed on the port side. This puts it down to leeward for easier food preparation when the boat is sailing, or hove to, on the starboard tack, when she has right of way.

“Nurse, you’re gorgeous. I’m madly in love with you. I don’t want to leave this hospital. I don’t want to get well.”
“Don’t worry, buster, you won’t. Your doctor is in love with me, too, and he saw you kissing me last night.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Ken said...

After owning three wooden vessels, one built in 1963 (that I used to singlehand), with a varnished mahogany hull (see: Sailing, August 2007 "She's a Keeper) and then a 1935 Henry Gielow designed sailing cutter FREELANCE (38'on deck, 49' overall) and at present a little Elco Cruisette power boat built in 1935 is why.....

at a young 57 years old my wife and I will be moving aboard a nice white 34' fiberglass catamaran by next fall. We are a tad tired of keeping up old wooden boats. We want to sail more!

Mike said...

All the "brightwork" on my 60 year old wooden boat is now 'Tung Oiled', not varnished.

Ken said...

Mike, I'd be curious to know how often you have to "bring her back" and how you do it, using tung oil.
You know with varnish or Cetol (ewwww)you have to eventually strip and start over and even bare teak needs to be kept clean and sanded out eventually.
I always thought oil would tend to get dirty looking (not that there's anything wrong with that)after a lot of applications. Do you have a way or method to keep your "brightwork" looking fresh?