April 2002 — By Capt.
Fast and Fabulous
|Hate varnishing? Here’s how to do a nice, almost painless job.|
I like the aroma of freshly cured varnish–but that’s about it. All the other aspects and activities associated with the stuff, like doing the stoop-labor shuffle with a dusty handful of 220-grit production sandpaper, precisely applying rolls of neon-colored marinized masking tape and then pulling it off again, and endlessly anointing acres of pampered cellulose, usually of the teaky variety, with a badger-hair brush dripping with sticky amber goo, I pretty much hate. And why shouldn’t I? Over the past 40 years or so, I’ve done enough of it, whether on commercial vessels or my own personal boats, to qualify for a graduate degree in maritime masochism. In fact, I’ve completely eschewed exterior brightwork on the Scrumpy Vixen, my boat. Even her nameboards are low- to no-maintenance stabilized polyethylene!
But let’s say you’re not as down on varnish as I am. Maybe you even like the traditional ambiance that a swoopy, gleaming varnished teak caprail gives to the exterior of a boat or the salty romance a bunch of teak louvered doors imparts to the interior. How do you deal with this if the prospect of spending the next few weekends wearing a dust mask and squinting through solvent fumes isn’t appetizing? Is there a simple, fast way to get the job done? And still come up with a nice finish?
I’d say the answer to both these questions is a big, fat "yes," although I’m betting there are all sorts of fume-flummoxed varnish freaks out there who’ll vehemently disagree. And what’s more, I’ve got a little backup for my cheery attitude, a master varnisher with decades of experience behind him: Jimmy Becker of Rybovich in West Palm Beach. Becker uses pretty much the same classic products I’ve sworn by for years–Interlux’s glossy Schooner Varnish among them–on the elegant sportfishing boats Rybo builds, boats that are justly famed for their brightwork. Becker also approaches his industrial-strength varnishing projects with techniques that are certainly more refined than my own but have a lot in common with them as well.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.