Varnish Insanity

Written by Steve

Topics: The Cruising Life

Before we found this boat we had a big list of likes and dislikes. I absolutely said NO PILOTHOUSE and NOTHING WITH LOTS OF WOOD. Well, we found this boat at about 1/3rd to 1/5th of market value and guess what? It’s a pilothouse with 2 1/2 acres of wood to care for.
Varnish, sanded & oiled, Cetol, or bare wood?
Dock Lord swears that Cetol is absolutely the only way to go (I HATE Cetol, looks like mud) and he will fight to the death to defend it. He’s the Holy Roller of the marina.
The Marina Expert will go on and on about how “REAL CRUISERS” only sand their teak and leave it bare. He should lead a teak care Sunday School to indoctrinate them when they’re young.
Greybeard Dock Emperor #3 insists that if you leave it bare or even just oiled your teak will split and crack and probably spontaneously fly right off of the boat without any warning. Fire and Brimstone Preacherman.
Bellyman is a devout clear shiny varnisharian. Any deviation will land you in purgatory or hell, no exceptions. A kind and reasonable pastoral Varnish Prophet.
The Snake Charmer. A Loving wooden boat owner who has won boat shows swears by Epifanes Clear Wood Gloss. She prosletyzes daily in a Bay Area Chandlery for your convenience.
I have meditated long and hard. I fasted. I crawled on my knees for several miles to the chandlery seeking enlightenment. I prostrated myself before the exotic wood lumberyard.
I’ve determined that pride in the face of Teak is my path. I will varnish. VARNISH with the shiniest, clearest, most luminescent product that I can find.

1 Comment Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Traveler says:

    Hi Steve,
    I believe we have sister ships. I live aboard Traveler, a 39′ Vagabond pilothouse cutter in New Orleans. I bought her four years ago in Virginia Beach, where, like you, I got a very good price because all of the teak was in sad shape. Covered with Cetol that was wearing off. Here’s the good news. Five or ten gallons of stripper, forty or fifty small bronze brushes and a couple of years effort got me to bare teak, which is beautiful. Like you, I wanted a nice varnished look, and a friend introduced me to Le Tonkinois, a Vietnamese varnish made naturally from linseed oil and tung oil. It is beautiful stuff and goes on almost like an oil. Since our boats have so much detail (17 spindles in the stern rail), it helps that Le Tonkinois is slow drying and you don’t have to rush as much to keep a wet edge as you do with regular varnish. I’m pleased with the results, although living in the New Orleans tropics I do have to work to maintain the finish. You can get Le Tonkinois at American Rope and Tar ( Good luck with the project. Let me know how I can send you some photos.

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