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Discussion Starter #1
My PS37 has varnish on the cap rail, coachroof grab rails and companionway cover. This doesn't seen like a lot of varnish until it's time to take care of it. Then it's a lot. On other boats, I like the look of lovely varnish. On my boat, I prefer the look of unvarnished teak a little bit and I don't like the work of caring for varnish a great deal.

Has anyone with a similar arrangement removed the varnish completely, never to renew it? Is this even possible to do without a major overhaul (removing everything bolted to the cap rail; a non-starter for me)? If so, what approach did you use -- sanding (what equipment, what about hard-to-reach spots?), chemicals (Westmarine advertises a paint stripper that's safe for fiberglass boats, but is it really?) or heat (and what kind, especially for someone who doesn't have access to shore power -- just the boat's batteries)?

I should note that I must do all work while at a swing mooring exposed to constant swells, and hours from the nearest chandlery (drop a screw overboard, that's the day lost getting a new one!).
 

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Not sure why this is a PS specific question.

I stripped the rub rail and toe rails and aft trim, via sanding, a couple of years back. All went great and I like it. Keeping unblistered varnish on them was both too expensive and time consuming. Blistered varnish looks horrible. I still have a varnished cockpit table and coaming. It's enough for accent in my book.

Btw, unvarnished teak still needs to be cleaned regularly. It likes salt water and a scotch pad.
 

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I sanded all my exterior teak and went the Cetol route back in the spring. It has held up very well and plan on keeping it that way.
As far as sand paper goes, I found flexible sandpaper blocks at my local Lowes. Never used it before and was very pleased as to how easy it was to use.
 

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I would start with a set of scrapers, as they can get a lot of it, especially if it loose without removing wood.
 

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I'm not sure I'd want to attempt all 37' feet of that without some use of shore power. Varnish comes up very easily with minimal use of an electric heat gun & your favorite scraper/razor. I would NOT use heat from live flame like from a blow torch - too easy to partially singe the wood. A heat gun gives just the right amount of heat to buckle old, persistent varnish (or cetol).
Also, if you just do nothing about it for the next 2 years it will probably mostly fall off leaving your decks covered in dark flakes.
 

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I ended up skipping a season of varnish maintenance, as I was planning to strip it down. I never had enough downtime, which is a good thing. The varnish, however, really started looking bad. I would make the excuse every time someone came aboard. The point is, enough falls off and blisters to look really bad, but enough stays firmly attached to look really bad too. The problem doesn't correct itself.

Be careful of flat scrapers on angled pieces of wood. Once you take wood material away, you can't put it back.
 

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I wish someone would develop a varnish or paint that all fell off at once. Instead a quarter of it falls off and the rest adheres tenaciously for years.

When I stripped mine, I didn't like using heat for two reasons. First the varnish came off all dry and flaky and I couldn't keep it from blowing all over the marina. Second, everything was so close to the fiberglass that I didn't trust myself not to do serious damage to it.

I used some form of Ready Strip from Ace Hardware. Also a good carbide tipped paint scrapper, multiple putty knifes and scrapper with multiple curved edges. Then, of course, sand paper.

The Ready Strip worked well for me. It lifts up in a gooey glob that doesn't blow all over and it is water soluble for final cleanup. And it has no noxious odor, I also used it on my cabin floor in the winter. It won't do serious damage to the fiberglass, but don't let it sit on it for long as it will discolor it and be hard to buff out.

Your experience may vary.
 

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s/v Pelagic
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We've had our C37 since 1988 and have gone through several phases of wood finishes. Bottom line is we now have Semco on everything but the rub rail.

In SoCal at first we varnished everything but the rub rail. Looked great for a while. Our cap rail scarfs broke the finish from expansion/contraction; water leaked in then it was time to strip again. After doing this several times, we tried the water based PermaTeak (no longer available thankfully). We then went bare (a la Larry Pardey) for several years. The surface of our bare teak became rough after extended exposure to sun and rain. Then we scraped and sanded for Cetol (natural). Kept the Cetol on in Mexico for 10 years. It's a popular finish in the cruising community but our cap rail scarfs still were a problem and annual Cetol coats started to look like semi-transparent brown paint.

We finally discovered Semco (natural) a teak sealer that leaves the teak looking like bare, new teak. It's used a lot on outdoor teak furniture. It's not a yachty finish but it's certainly easy to apply; is low maintenance and keeps the wood from weathering.

Regarding stripping wood at anchor. It's doable without chemicals (mostly). In our case we had a 1500W inverter and a large house bank to run a heat gun and sander (a Honda 2000 would work too). You'll spend some time in the dinghy doing under the outside edge of the cap rail. The larger flat surfaces go pretty fast. Get some knee pads for crawling around the deck. The grab rails and the grooves in the turtle and sliding hatch were the worst and I seem to recall using a safe stripper on those in desperation. Fiberglass doesn't seem to mind the stripper as long as it doesn't stay on the surface very long. Keep a bucket of water and sponge handy.

For Semco a 120 grit sandpaper is ok for an exterior finish. If you are going to varnish I agree with others that a scraper leaves a very nice surface with little sanding. Keeping a sharp edge on the scraper is important. I think we used 180 grit where we couldn't scrape.

Hope this is of some use.

John Newcomer
s/v Pelagic
C37 Yawl (1980 #22)
Lying Lake Union, Seattle
 

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On Jo Beth, we varnished for a few years, then let it get away from us. We typically used a combination of heat gun and scrapers and did reasonably well. We were always at the dock, plugged in to shore power, and so were able to use a standard shop vac to scrape up the peelings from the heat gun. It worked for us.

We're planning to go back to varnish. (For now.) Both of us enjoy the work. (Again, for now.) We have used the 'sun-scrape' method which is just that - let ol' Sol take it off years at a time. The boat will look horrible, as if it has psoriasis or some similar condition. We're going to avoid that for the future.

One thing we will be using this time around in our prep to varnish is the Boat Brite Teak Cleaner; water soluble, biodegradable, green as it gets. The directions say to soak the teak with fresh water, apply the oddly pleasant smelling paste, and lightly scrub with a brush. Then rinse. Anyone here ever used this stuff?
 

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My PS37 has varnish on the cap rail, coachroof grab rails and companionway cover. This doesn't seen like a lot of varnish until it's time to take care of it. Then it's a lot. On other boats, I like the look of lovely varnish. On my boat, I prefer the look of unvarnished teak a little bit and I don't like the work of caring for varnish a great deal.
We bought our Crealock 34 in 2004. All the teak was bare. We said that the first thing we planned to do was sand and varnish all the beautiful teak.

Well.... It has not happened yet. Instead we have gone sailing; two trips to the Chesapeake Bay, a long cruise on the NC/SC coast, lots of week trips in the NC sounds, and seven trips down the ICW to the Bahamas and back with detours to the west coast of Florida and the Keys.

We do keep varnish on the tiller, the handles of two boathooks, and the hatchboards. All the rest is gray.

Short story, we'd rather go sailing. It is, after all, what we bought the boat for.

Bill Murdoch
1988 PSC 34
Irish Eyes
Irish Eyes to the Bahamas
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Many thanks to everyone for the very helpful comments.

I'm intrigued by the Semco approach -- but of course that first requires the hard slog to remove the varnish. I still have to get my head around how best to do that. My inverter is 'only' 1000w, so not quite enough for my heat gun (1600w, as I recall), and even if it were I assume that the batteries would run out quickly doing that. I wanted (still want) to get a little Honda generator for this (and for aircon, really needed here in summer), but the smallest one, ideal for a 37 I suspect, is too weak for a heat gun (or for any portable a/c I've been able to find), while the next size up is too big to fit into the lockers (and probably too big for me to heft around much). There's always a blow torch, but the chances of me doing that for all 37 feet of caprail and the rest without burning some wood (more than I can sand away) is slim indeed.

The grab rails and sliding hatch aren't very big problems. They don't peel down to the wood like the cap rail does -- at least if I keep up with maintenance of them.

By the way, in case anyone wants to know (and doesn't know already), Pacific Seacraft always uses Epifanes (gloss on the outside). Alas, like most vanishes, the maker recommends about ten coats, each a day apart. Ugh.

My rub rail is painted the same color as the boat trim. Small mercy.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
We bought our Crealock 34 in 2004. All the teak was bare. We said that the first thing we planned to do was sand and varnish all the beautiful teak.

Well.... It has not happened yet. Instead we have gone sailing; two trips to the Chesapeake Bay, a long cruise on the NC/SC coast, lots of week trips in the NC sounds, and seven trips down the ICW to the Bahamas and back with detours to the west coast of Florida and the Keys.

We do keep varnish on the tiller, the handles of two boathooks, and the hatchboards. All the rest is gray.

Short story, we'd rather go sailing. It is, after all, what we bought the boat for.

Bill Murdoch
1988 PSC 34
Irish Eyes
Irish Eyes to the Bahamas

You are lucky, Bill! My hunch is that my PS37 (also a 2004 model) was delivered without varnish. That's something I didn't ask the previous owner about. But your message tells us that the factory is happy to deliver new boats without varnish (and probably prefers that), so trying to get back to virgin wood isn't a bad idea.

If I were a rich man, able to pay for top craftsmen/women, I'd have the cap rail removed and replaced with the best FAKE teak (plastic) I could find. The boat's plastic, after all, and some of the fake stuff looks very nice. But that would be a massive job, requiring removal of all the cap rail fittings, many of them thru-bolted (so requiring removal of boat's innards to reach the nuts), not to mention the pulpit, pushpit and all the rest.

On the bright side, it's all a cosmetic thing, although, as you imply, varnish (for those of us who have to do the work ourselves) does take away time from sailing. On the other hand, working on the boat can be fun (maybe 'enjoyable' is a better word, or 'theraputic'), if for no other reason than concentrating while doing boat work takes one's mind off WORK.
 

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Our boat isn't a 2004 boat. That is when we bought it. It is a 1988 model. I think the exterior teak had been varnished at one time because there is varnish still on the backs of the boards on the port and starboard sides of the companionway. One of the boat's previous owners must have either removed the varnish or let it go.

Bill Murdoch
1988 PSC 34
Irish Eyes
 

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Crazy Fish was delivered in late 1989 without any varnish, interior or exterior.
Bare teak on the outside and maybe oiled on the interior.

Currently have Epifanes with a 10 coat initial application. All the exterior teak has canvas covers, except for the cap rail which is being made/install now. Somewhat reduces the amount of maintenance. Instead of 2 maintenance coats 3 to 4 times/year more like 2 times a year.

In Southern California its too dirty for bare teak to last long. Saltwater washdowns and scrubbings (not with a brush but a 3M white pad) and
the teak still wastes away as the grain is exposed.

Have used Cetol for a couple of years in the past and decided I really did not like it and that varnish was worth the extra work. One consideration if you choose to go with it is that it is much harder to remove then varnish. The melting point of Cetol is much closer to the burning point of teak then varnish so the heat gun/scraping approach which I have always used is hazadorous with Cetol.

One approach I have seen on some boats particularily those heading out to cruise Mexico is the use of paint on top of the varnish. The varnish protects the wood from the paint and the paint protects the varnish from UV. Commonly I have seen a color used such as a light brown or tan which would be close to the color of bare teak. Lighter color would probably be better to limit the heat buildup.

Marc Hall
Crazy Fish - Maintaining, Upgrading and Sailing a Crealock 37 | SV Crazy Fish
 

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"..One consideration if you choose to go with it is that it is much harder to remove then varnish. The melting point of Cetol is much closer to the burning point of teak then varnish so the heat gun/scraping approach which I have always used is hazadorous with Cetol"

That might explain why I had problems using heat and went to a chemical strip.

I have often threatened to paint mine too, but it always looks so good with fresh varnish that I couldn't bring myself to paint over it.
 

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Short story, we'd rather go sailing. It is, after all, what we bought the boat for.
Exakkery!

I have been dping interior re varninshing and taking the old stuff off with stripper. I started with one for antique furniture because I didnt want to damage the expensive Beneteau wood... But that didnt work so I got the strong stuff. Works great!
 

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s/v Pelagic
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Regarding the heat gun on an inverter: Even though it may be a 1600 watt device you won't be using it flat out. I find in stripping Cetol that if you get it just soft enough on a medium heat setting you can run a stripping tool for several feet in one go taking off a large swath. You might give it a try on your 1000 watt inverter to see how it goes. Also, we have friends with a Honda 2000 and I seem to recall them running a small A/C unit down in Panama. Our Honda 1000 would almost run our small LG unit in Mexico. One thing I like about the Honda 1000 is that it will go into the starboard cockpit locker on our C37; the 2000 won't.

The comment about painting reminded me of a friend with a Hans Christian 33 heading to SoPac who put 3 or 4 coats of cheap varnish on his wood then put several coats of light gray Interlux Brightside on over that. The varnish coat was to keep the paint out of the grain and make later removal easier. It looked very nice and was easy to touch up.

John
s/v Pelagic
 
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