March 28, 2013

It's the unvarnished truth

IT’S SPRING TIME around here, and in the spring a sailor’s thoughts lightly turn to thoughts of varnish.

But nobody with any sense scrapes down and revarnishes unless absolutely necessary. For a while, you can get away with patching, or rubbing down a small area and varnishing over it to disguise the injury. Specifically, you can do this for shallow scratches and abrasions—perhaps even for deeper scratches—but you must do it before water, fresh or salt, soaks into the wood.

In the passage of time, you’ll notice darker patches where water has discolored the wood and lighter patches where the varnish has lifted away from the wood because of the action of the sun or the impact of some piece of equipment on deck.

Some defiant owners try to treat dark patches with a mild bleach such as oxalic acid. They sand the white patches down to bare wood and build up several coats. But they know in their hearts that they’re fighting a rearguard action.

Personal conscience is the best guide to when it’s time to scrape the whole darned lot down to bare wood and start from scratch. When your brightwork is suffering from the pox and you can’t live with it a minute longer, your conscience will nag you into action.

Incidentally. here’s an old rule for telling when you need to sand down and apply a couple of coats of varnish to freshen your brightwork for the season:

Wash the work thoroughly to get rid of all grime. Wet a piece of old toweling cloth and drag it, dripping across the surface of the varnish.

If the water left behind forms beads, the varnish is still in good condition. If the water sheets, or lies in flattish streaks, the brightwork needs attention. So get to it, and remember the prophetic words of the poet John Keats: “A thing of beauty is a job forever.”

Today’s Thought
Beauty . . . is merciless. You do not look at it, it looks at you and does not forgive.
— Nikos Kazantzikas, Report to Greco

Other people think you’re dumb only because you don’t know they things they know.

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


Wanda H said...

Just looked up John Vigor's website url to pass on to a friend who is considering a boat. Who better to read? Then saw the blog. Good one! Thanks.

Edward said...

How about an entry on how to rescue long neglected wood. Or at least how to get a little more life out of the pieces:)

John Vigor said...

Edward, I'm not an expert on boat renovation but my advice would be to sand the hell out of it and paint or varnish it again. For real professional help, consult Don Casey's Sailboat Maintenance Manual or This Old Boat. Pure gold.

John V.

Steve Crompton said...

The amount of work to keep a boat up to scratch is incredible, even a new one. I'm for ever finding the odd job to do on mine!! :)