I know what you teak purists are thinking…
“Oh, the horror!”
…and what you cruisers are thinking…
“Told ya so!”
Varnishing our exterior teak is no longer practical. No longer desirable. It has become a never-ending battle. Sun vs. finish. Sun always wins. Always. The severe Mexico heat is our nemesis; it was never this bad in Maryland or even sunny California. We cannot varnish enough coats enough times during the year to keep it looking nice. We’re just wasting our time.
We knew better. We were told. We just refused to listen. Why? Varnish Vanity.
There’s something exquisite about a sleek piece of freshly varnished teak. It’s, quite frankly, sexy. The rich caramel color… the divine dark grain threading through layers upon layers of sanded and applied coats… that lustrous wet-look despite being bone dry. Whoowhee! We appreciate its arresting appearance; we recognize the enormous effort expended. If a boat could be sexually harassed, varnished teak gets the brunt of our attention. “Oooh, honey, look at that teak!” (Insert head nod + chin rub + raised eyebrows + sly smile.) “Niiiiiice.”
We loved the look, we didn’t mind the work. Now… we are minding the work.
Shedding Snake Skin
Our teak rubrails (along the hull) and eyebrows (paralleling the cream cabin top) cannot physically be covered. Subsequently, UV rays beat them to death year-round. Each time we return from a 5-month hiatus, we witness the consequence of this constant solar assault…one flaking layer after another. Our beautiful varnish looks like sunburned, peeling skin. Maddening. And gross.
Our handrails are covered during the hot summer and stay relatively intact over 5 months. But the zip ties securing the cover causes thin shadows while the remainder finish lightens in color. Ugh, zebra varnish. Sunbrella covers would only delay the inevitable. Because when cruising, we traipse around up top and end up stepping on or kicking the handrails, even if we’re careful; we secure the dinghy to them, cinching the ropes tightly and grazing the finish every time; we slide watershoes and wetsuits under it to dry; we grab it to steady ourselves, nicking it with the flick of a wedding ring; our poor rails get whacked by the kayak, the dinghy, paddles, gas cans, snorkels, even my camera (don’t tell). So WHY do we keep doing all this work to keep them pretty when they are so difficult to maintain? They’re handrails. They’re meant to be grabbed and used and abused. Not to be pretty.
I said, they’re meant to be used! Not to be pretty!
So, after three seasons in Mexico, we had an “Ah Ha” moment. This is what we’ve finally recognized:
Our boat is now a cruising boat, not a weekend boat; she’s a workhorse, not a showpiece; an actual home, not a model home.
Except, painting over varnish in the interests of practicality is akin to digging out the grass in your front lawn and replacing it with fake grass because you’re tired of the one full week of work it takes to cut it every 5 months. We hate that we’ve stooped so low. But we’ve come to terms.
We learned about this particular paint, a Pettit brand called “Brightwork Brown”, from our friend Dave, formerly of sister ship “Swan”. A durable epoxy, this paint is used on everything from fiberglass to wood to metal. At a distance, one can mistake it for varnish; its coloring is similar to a dark varnished mahogany. But up close, one can definitely tell the difference…it’s opaque. No more wood grain. No more lovely caramel teak color. No more compliments. But the upside is tremendous. Our yard neighbor painted his handrails a long time ago. I asked him how long before he had to coat them again? Ooooh. ‘Bout 5 years.
5 YEARS! Done.
OK, I’ve come to terms after hearing that. Brian, not so much. Painting over our teak made him miserable. (Just like that initial faux grass installation makes your stomach turn, right? Same thing.) But after finishing, he decided it didn’t look half bad. I think he can live with the decision.
We even got compliments by several yardbirds: Hey, is that varnish? Looks great! Oh, I love you for saying that!
We Aren’t Idiots - Paint Goes OVER Varnish
(Brian) It is important to note that we did not ruin the teak. Varnishing it 2 years ago was the first necessary step to protect the wood. And we kept it varnished for as long as we could stand. Painting OVER the varnish keeps the paint from soaking into the wood. This important step makes it easy(er) to strip the paint later on and bring the teak back to its’ brilliant varnished luster.
(Marya) In other words…we could bring the teak back to normal… if we wished… someday… (but we won’t - shhh).
Admit it. Switch it. Stop Stressing.
Varnish Vanity. It’s OK to admit we have it, but confessing is just the first step.
Switching to paint is the second stage. It’ll be OK. Just do it.
The final phase? After you’ve done the deed, release the remorse. Stop feeling like you’re a failure…that you’ve somehow let the boat down…that you’re not a real mariner without a spiffy varnish job…that you’ve been beaten by the elements.
Vanquishing varnish vanity…it’s freeing!
Brian still refuses to paint the caprail. Fortunately, our makeshift cloth cover is doing its job. But guess what we’ll be doing soon. Varnish! Arrggh.
No matter. I’ll wear him down eventually. (Insert fingers tent + evil laugh.) Meh, heh, heh.