Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Barnegat Bay, NJ
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Lots of ventilation
Varnish can be VERY slow drying, especially in humid conditions. If the boat is in a slip crack the forward hatch and rig some plastic or canvas to keep out rain. Rig a box fan in the companionway, also covered with canvas or plastic to keep out rain. Set the fan so it's blowing out the companionway and pulling air through the boat. Now go get a beer, some pizza, watch a movie and come back in 12 to 14 hours. That may be enough air movement through the cabin to dry it out (this assumes the boat is in a location where you're not worried about someone breaking in). .
That's the simple solution. There are lots of different varnish types. Some of the old ones have some nasty chemicals, and some when they get old and outdated won't dry properly - meaning you'll have to strip the varnish off to get rid of the smell, or seal it with a coat of shellac.
Depending on what he used and to what extent it did or didn't dry, stripping could be anything from wiping it with rags soaked in thinner to using chemical strippers.
What brand and type of varnish did he use?
The good news is rigging a fan has a pretty good chance of drying the varnish, but you'll probably have to wash the cushions and carpet to get rid of the residual odor.
Don't even think about moving aboard if there is still a strong odor. Solvent fumes can make you VERY sick or even kill you in high enough concentrations. Long term exposure will definitely cause long term problems.
95 Catalina 30 Island Time
“The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective." - Henry David Thoreau