Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wood finishing in a wet climate

How I would love my deck to look
Dealing with boat projects in the spring has us stressing out over when and how we're going to cope with it all. It doesn't help that we chose a 57-foot "classic" that this year is turning 40 years old. While Alex replaces all the through hulls, I am dealing with brightwork and teak decks, miles of them. Every time I tackle this chore I think, "we should have bought a smaller boat." It is what it is. 


For the teak decks, I bought an industrial supply of oxalic acid and spent a full day scrubbing, yes with a brush, the 40-year old decks that have been severely affected by green slime. In fact, having our boat in Ireland is a real problem because at least one side (dark side) always turns green, depending on where she is. In Galway, overwintering at the docks, the poor old lady developed multiple issues. The green slime (mould and mildew) naturally, specks of metal dust which rusted, and oily spots giving her a poxy look. Galway is a commercial port with a metal recycling facility and oil deliveries by ship. Ugh. Trying to get her cleaned up after spending last winter in the water there and sanding the decks for the first time ever I think is a real chore. 

The teak coaming, which I have had to re-varnish every year, looks horrible, too. I have come to the conclusion that the problem is two-fold. First, the teak has some embedded mould, and second, it never really dries out completely. So varnish has discolouration issues where the mould that you cannot see turns black under the varnish. In addition, there are places where it doesn't adhere and so you get air pockets which eventually chip. I am giving up. I will strip it and go back to natural. I'll just preserve it with teak oil and that's it. If Alex isn't going to work on it, neither am I.  It's driving me crazy!

Getting back to the decks, the "dirt" on teak decks is tiny spots of mould or mildew. Additionally, green algae can appear. I have given her two treatments of oxalic acid, one in the Fall and one last week.  It will take at least one more treatment and scrubbing around deck fittings with a copper scrunge  which works great. And don't tell me that I'm removing too much teak. Our teak decks are still very thick. They overspec'ed everything back in those days. 

After cleaning, I've heard there is a very easy way of keeping the green stuff at bay. Best of all, it involves almost no work! Hallberg-Rassy recommend treating teak decking with a product called Boracol, which is generally sold as a timber preservative. It’s highly effective in killing green algae and mould spores. It also prevents them from regrowing for 4 to 6 months. I like that. Unfortunately, it's only licensed for professional use in this part of the world. 

After sanding and first cleaning.
Still a long way to go. 
However, the two active ingredients, disodium octaborate (a fungicide) and benzalkonium chloride (an algaecide), are available in various easily obtainable products. Easiest to find and use is Polycell 3-in-1 Mould Killer, a colourless liquid spray. Most mould and mildew products contain bleach. Polycell does not have bleach, but does have the powerful fungicidal ingredients which get rid of the mould. It also has a residual effect and a treatment can last 4-6 months depending on the conditions. Homebase carries it in Ireland and it's pretty inexpensive. 

To apply it, they recommend to clean the deck thoroughly first and allow at least 24 hours for it to dry. I had to laugh when they recommend choosing a day when rain isn’t expected for 24 hours and apply the liquid liberally with a soft paint brush. Two days -- 48 hours -- of no rain is just not possible to expect in Ireland, although we did have a sunny spell that lasted for a week this year.  I guess I missed my chance there. But they do say that it's okay if it drizzles the next day.  Apparently it does take several days to several weeks for it to work completely, so you need to be patient. 

I plan to use about 3 litres on my 57-footer. You are supposed to apply it to dry deck with a brush in a quantity sufficient to stop being absorbed. You should wear protective gloves and safety glasses. Wash splashes off skin immediately. It won't harm GRP.

I bought a mould remover and another mold preventer at Lidl. They are German products. But the remover cannot be used near wood. The preventer is, however, benzalkonium chloride so I have another source that I'll test as well.

If last year's summer-that-never-happened repeats with its constant rain, then all bets are off. If not, maybe we'll celebrate Aleria's 40th birthday in style. Every lade can use an uplift from time to time. I'll share my results with you when I see them if I succeed.

One person has also recommended using the same liquid on the inside and outside of a canvas spray hood. I wonder if it can be used on Sunbrella rather than canvas, because our brand new one has molded on the inside.

Wood Finishing

Now here's some advice from the expert on brightwork Rebecca Wittman via Practical Sailor magazine. I have her first book Brightwork: The Art of Finishing Wood. It's beautiful and chock full of good advice, but I'll never manage to do the quality of work she achieves in this climate. Even Sisyphus wouldn't try. Nevertheless, I had to chuckle at her new advice  via The Brightwork Companion...

"Organize projects according to the weather, and you're guaranteed to finish them within your lifetime.

In the hierarchy of organizing projects around the weather, start first with seasonal organization:

SPRING - when it's frequently raining...is the best time for exterior bleaching, because the air is cool and moist. Sometimes you get lucky and can get started on other exterior projects like painting and varnishing (depending on your latitude). It's a lovely time to varnish interiors, especially cabin soles.

SUMMER - when it's often sunny...is when it's easiest to bank on completion of exterior work of all kinds, which is why so many people set aside entire blocks of vacation time in July to work on their boats. This accounts for the high vacancy rate in the cruising marinas during that month.

FALL - when mother nature is still fooling herself ...is a good time to wrap up, as quickly as possible, any uncompleted exterior finishing business, and focus on projects below decks that require strong ventilation and open hatches (wholesale varnishing and oiling, for example).

WINTER - when the mercury dips below 45° F...is the time to take projects to the shop or confine interior projects to light oiling, or the perfect time to just curl up with a nice book.

For more information and advice on the products and methods to use to create stunning brightwork, purchase Rebecca Wittman's The Brightwork Companion today!"

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