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Ahhh Yes--It's That Time Again

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About this time of year--every year--my thoughts turn to a favorite (or sorta favorite) topic: varnishing. One of Betty Jane's more gorgeous aspects (and something that lots of folks comment upon) is her brightwork, consisting of teak rails, teak caprails, teak trim strips, teak nameboards, and teak sidelight boxes (is there a recurring theme here and could it be the word: teak?????????). And keeping this brightwork looking presentable for public consumption is far from a full-time job although it's certainly a once-a-year job.


To deal with it as devilishly as possible, I've got myself the little varnishing kit shown above. My kit is housed in an old fishing-tackle box and includes one quart can of Awlgrip Awlspar varnish, one quart can of Pettit Flagship varnish, a tack cloth, several pieces of 220-grit sandpaper, a drop cloth, one cheap three-inch brush (disposable), one expensive three-inch badger-hair brush (I can't remember for sure but I think the darn thing originally cost me $25), a couple of Scotch-Brite pads, two rolls of blue varnishing tape, a bag of inexpensive rubber gloves (over the years I've virtually bathed in diesel fuel while working on commercial boats and later while hooking up magazine test gear on diesel engines and anything that's even close to diesel, whether aromatically, chemically, or genetically, inflicts a rash on me that's dang-near tantamount to leprosy), and a bottle of aspirin to be used only in emergencies.


Because I've got so many coats of varnish on Betty's brightwork already, I don't have to get too tangled up in prep work each year. I just start out with a piece of sandpaper on Betty's flying bridge and lean on  it pretty hard as seen above. Then I proceed downwards, in large part thanks to the help of momentum, gravity, and exhaustion, and finish off with the nameboards at the transom.

The critical thing with the whole shebang is to make sure the new layers of varnish truly adhere to the old stuff, which tends to be fairly weathered and dull after a year of languishing in the Florida sun. I use Flagship for my topcoats mostly. It imparts a nice amber color to everything and, I believe, has the highest UV rating going. Maybe this latter claim isn't true, but hey--the  stuff hangs in there like fish smell in a fish box. I use the Awlspar for spots that, for one reason or another, have been rendered bare, either by scratches, gouges, or other difficulties. Two or three coats can be applied in a day and then the Flagship applied after that. The two types are quite compatible, by the way. 


The happy result is a glowing finished product, of course. I am not an expert on varnishing by any stretch of the imagination--about the only true expert I know of is Brian Hicks, a guy who lives and varnishes in Panama City and actually varnished Betty for a couple of years--but  I do have three little tips that seem to be working for me these days.

The first is use the tack cloth liberally--no sense having bumps in your finish. The second is keep your coats thin--I know the thick stuff looks glassy and good going on but it tends to look uneven and problematic upon drying. And the third is don't be in a hurry--in this age of super-computerized, attention-deficit-disordered, multi-tasking mayhem, there are few jobs that require, nay, even induce a meditative state of mind and varnishing a boat's brightwork is one of them.

Up with the varnish! Down with the iPhone!