Sunday, August 21, 2011

To Varnish Or Not To Varnish?
By Michael

Our stripped, sanded teak toe rail awaiting it's fate.
I admire the efforts of those people. They spend a lot of time varnishing the teak on their boats. The wood on their boats gleams. Their boats are beautiful. My friend Dar is one of those people. For more than a decade, she maintained 23 coats of varnish on more than 100 feet of teak toe rail on her Passport 47. The wood on her boat gleamed. Her boat was beautiful.
The varnish on our toe rail and the rest of the outside wood was in pretty bad shape when we arrived. Our long to-do list of before-we-move-aboard projects does not include wood care. Painting lockers, replacing batteries, repairing the engine, and installing fans are high on our to-do list. Making the teak on the outside of our boat pretty is not on the list. We didn’t even bring anything down here with us to do that work. And stripping old varnish down to bare wood requires a heat gun and is a lot of work.
Ricardo works in our marina on some of the big, snazzy powerboats. He gave us a bid on stripping our wood. It was a lot of money, but a bargain. Windy and I began rationalizing. We decided it wouldn’t take much of our time because someone else was doing the work. We neglected to consider the time and effort that would be required once the stripping was complete.
Windy seemed to be leaning toward letting the wood go gray —a clean, uniform gray—or paint it. Re-varnishing wasn’t out of the question, but not likely, we are not those people.
Then the stripping progressed and we saw that the wood was stained in places and the black caulk in some of the seams was cracked and dried. Where we removed all of the hardware we saw teak that is further cracked and water stained where no bedding compound was used. Going gray looked like a poor option in terms of protecting the wood from future, additional damage. I could smell the paint on the horizon when we began to imagine aloud just how beautiful all of that bare teak could be re-varnished, after all of the repairs were completed.
Windy declared, “Maybe we should varnish just the toe rail…and the handrails, the wood would look sharp and stay protected.” She was leaning towards painting the hatches and off-white to match the gel coat.
Today I finished applying the third of four coats of varnish to all of the wood surfaces, including the hatches and the companionway and the cockpit table. The wood on our beautiful boat is beginning to gleam.
We acknowledge we have a new chore on our hands, a coat or two of varnish ever so often, sanding between coats. But the payoff is seeing every day beautiful, finished wood trimming the outside of our home. Cruising aboard a 1978 boat means we forego a lot of the niceties common to more modern designs. Varnishing our large, solid teak toe rail is a positive trade-off, a reminder to us both that they don’t make them like this anymore.
Grandma Linda (my mom) is recovering well from her fracture and surgery. My dad flew in and they are holed up at the Hotel Flamingo, just a short walk from our rented villa. Her room overlooks a pool where she can watch the grandkids swim and my dad pushes her along the marina malecon in a wheelchair. She is eager to get home.
Her extremely detailed, itemized hospital bill came to over $23K. This includes about $2,500 for all the drugs they gave her and just over $9,000 for the services of the surgeon and anesthesiologist and others. This seems reasonable for a private hospital, and I suspect less expensive than a comparable surgery and stay in a U.S. hospital. I wonder how much this would have cost in a public Mexican hospital and how the level of care would have been different.
It hasn't all been about the wood. Here I am yesterday repairing the dodger, working inside
and taking a respite from the sun. I'm getting pretty good with the sewing machine,
but I worry that I used just standard thread, nothing specialized with protection from
UV exposure--I may be repeating this job soon. I also repaired the mattress cover
on Frances's berth.


  1. Hey Guys...
    She looks beautiful and the hard work is really paying off. Thanks again for all you did for mom. Love you...Ryan would like to know when you plan on losing the beard. Miss you all, and will look into getting down there.

  2. Don't lose the beard! I love it!


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