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Having a Grand (Banks) Summer, Sanding, Scraping and Varnishing (BLOG)

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Some summer I’m having.

Here I am, on hands and bony knees (ouch!) refinishing a teak sink cabinet on the aft deck of my Grand Banks 42.

Last week I watched a contractor rebuild a pair of wood steps leading from porches to my "yard."
This greatly resembled working with a boat shop: the contractor’s opening bid was $X. As old components were torn away and damage revealed the bid went to $XX. The final bill was even more.


The contractor apologized. But I understood that happens.

For too many weeks I’ve been tending a few blooming plants that can survive in a half-acre of forest land – if they are not first eaten by one of the scores of deer that live on my island.

And, I’ve been going to lunch with “the guys” at the Brown Lantern, Anacortes’ favorite tavern/bar/restaurant.

What I have not been doing is cruising. But I’ve been thinking about it.

Without checking every log book, and I have them back to 1979, I am sure that there have been only a couple years my Grand Banks has not cruised the British Columbia Coast or seen the glaciers of Southeast Alaska. I last stayed home in 2007, the year my wife, Polly, died after 30 years of fending off cancer.

This year the GB is in its 35th season and the house Polly and I built is in its 15th summer. Both need TLC.

I couldn’t get excited last winter and spring about going through the routine of recruiting a volunteer crew to accompany me and share in boat handling chores on a cruise into favorite places along the coast. I’ve done that over several years with great success, but the best no longer are available because they have become boat owners themselves. As I write this, one of them is exploring the northern coast of British Columbia in his own boat. So, no long voyages this year.

That gives me a lot of time to think. And that’s what I’m doing while down on my knees scraping, sanding and brushing.

My Grand Banks lives in a covered marina. Thus, varnish on the acres of teak exposed to the weather still looks good – except for some dings, scratches, and small failures along joints, in half-round trim (that seems to be particularly susceptible to weather damage) and where stanchion bases are mounted. The sink cabinet showed signs of neglect, wear and weathering.

So, one challenge was to strip the entire sink cabinet to bare wood and repair the damaged areas and then lightly sand and recoat all the exterior teak to give it an everlasting gleam. I’ve done this before, but after pondering the techniques of good varnish work I decided to refresh my routine by reviewing the procedures recommended by Rebecca J. Wittman, an artist with scraper and brush. I became a follower some 25 years ago after attending her how-to-do-it seminar in an upstairs room at Doc Freeman’s, the best marine supply store the world has known, on Seattle’s Lake Union.

For Rebecca, refinishing bright work was more a cerebral adventure than a manual task. She and her sister ran a teak refinishing business for 10 or 12 years, long enough for Rebecca to produce two books. I own the 1990 edition of her elegantly written and photographed best known work: Brightwork. The Art of Finishing Wood.

I remember adopting her list of tools, but I needed to check again that she used foam brushes. Yes, foam. Her view is that the technique in using a brush is more important than if it’s foam or bristle.

However, I may run out of enthusiasm before laying down the 10 coats of finish she recommends. And, I would never use the caustic blend of chemicals she recommends for cleaning and brightening teak decking. If I had been following that toxic recipe for the 25 years I’ve owned my GB there would be no teak left on the deck. I have good teak, but it’s slightly gray in color and does not resemble freshly milled lumber.

Generally, patched varnish on rails is darker than the surrounding, older finish. Rebecca’s book reminds me that it will fade over time.

Okay, my memory was in sync with her approach to “scratch and patch” repairs. So I went at it, but wondered what Rebecca was doing now.

I learned she moved on to a career in communications and marketing and music (she worked as a studio singer). Her first work in the mid-1970s was as an assistant designer at Brittania Sportswear in Seattle; today she lives on Vashon Island (a ferry ride from downtown Seattle) where she works in marketing and product development and has created a line of apparel and accessories known as President of Me. (“. . . Founded on the idea that we maintain our personal power by taking ownership of our actions and lives,” she says.)

Finishing this varnish job will take a few weeks, more or less, and that offers more time for thinking.

I’m taking the boat on a couple of long-weekend yacht club cruises in the fall, but beyond that I have no plans. Should I gear up for a 2015 trip along the west coast of British Columbia (any volunteers for crew?) Should I just plan weekend events in the San Juan Islands? (Probably not; the islands are overwhelmed with tourists in the summer.)

Or, should I copy friends of similar age who are taking the draconian step of selling their boats?

I have no answers. All I need is time to think. I think I’ll do that while cleaning the bilge.