My friend Don dang near had a conniption fit a while back when I made my little announcement. In fact, his gesticulations caused the waiter to hustle over to our table at our favorite restaurant and ask if everything was okay. Don’s wife Jiji also seemed to be a tad flustered, although she was considerably more reserved about it. “Oh no,” Don told the waiter, “everything’s just fine. I was just taken aback by what my friend Bill here just said. More Splenda, please.”
Don loves Splenda—it has a soothing effect on him, especially in post-prandial decaf coffee. And despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that he and Jiji have owned teaky sailboats and trawlers over the years, he also loves old-school brightwork, by which I mean vast expanses of decorative exterior teak meticulously and laboriously submerged under ten to 12 coats of golden, lovingly applied tung-oil varnish. So having someone—and a friend at that—turn thumbs-down on the stuff, and all the 220-grit sandpaper, badger-hair brushwork, and tedium that goes with it, was outright blasphemy to him, especially considering what I planned to do instead.
“Cetol...WoodPro Plus...Rapidclear...Armada?” he howled, stirring his coffee with enough fury to dissolve granite. “You can’t, Bill! You just can’t!”
I stood firm, though, explaining exactly why my Grand Banks 32 Betty Jane would soon sport one of the new, increasingly popular synthetic coatings from Interlux (Sikkens Cetol), Epifanes (Rapidclear and West Marine’s WoodPro Plus), or National Paint Supply (Armada). I said that over the preceding months I’d been assured by several do-it-yourselfers that while synthetics won’t duplicate the depth and gloss of traditional varnish, they will produce a reasonable appearance, dry faster, require fewer coats (with no sanding between them), last longer, and be generally easier to live with. And I also said that, temperamentally speaking, I was the perfect guy for synthetics because all vestiges of varnishing purism had been burned out of me years prior by a carvel-planked Seabird Yawl I’d owned, which had immense spruce masts and gaffs and a thirst for Z-Spar Captain’s Varnish that was freakin’ insane!
This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.