Down to Bare Wood: Varnishing, Part 1

There was a moment on Wednesday—in the cockpit, covered in sawdust, steam building in my face mask, sweat pooling in my knee pads, I was cleaning blood from my punctured foot off the deck—when I wondered if I was finding God in the details of this endeavor, or the devil.

I still haven't decided, which is probably to be expected from a project that has catapulted me so entirely out of my comfort zone. I've been working through the preparatory phases of revarnishing the boat. Varnish is a transparent lacquer applied like a paint to the teak detailing on the outside of the boat. Helios doesn't have a lot of brightwork (varnished teak), only the cockpit coaming, two strips of decorative trim, and the caprails. The Brightwork Companion, by Rebecca J. Wittman, has been my bible for this process. She describes varnishing as a sacramental act that has united boat lovers since the beginning of time; I approached it as akin to giving Helios a mani/pedi. A big project, but nothing too bad, right?

Right...sort of. Helios' teak is in excellent condition, so the project has been pretty straightforward. First, I isolated the cockpit coaming as the first section of the boat to tackle. I used a heat gun and scraper (at fault for the bleeding foot...) to strip off the varnish already in place. 

 One of the companion way slats getting stripped.

One of the companion way slats getting stripped.

Then I sanded. And sanded. And sanded like it was my full time job. Sanded from 60 grit, to 80 grit, then through 100, 120, 150 and made it through 220 in the final hours of sunlight on the fourth day.

 Sanding selflies are tough!! And rest assured, I was wearing shorts at the time of this picture. 

Sanding selflies are tough!! And rest assured, I was wearing shorts at the time of this picture. 

It hasn't been technically challenging, just time consuming and monotonous. The weather has been beautiful; I'm definitely building some street cred around the dock as a diva who can work a power tool like any salt encrusted seafarer. But truth be told, it's in my nature to avoid manual labor, and I am not a detail-oriented person. So, some personal growth is headed my way. And heck, I've already learned how to use a heat gun, power sander, and disassemble a winch:

Dominic was so amazed I took apart the winch on my own, without any tools, that I had to tell him over five times before he actually started to believe me (stay tuned…I'm sure there's a whole post coming on some of the more condescending remarks I've gotten as a youngish, female boat worker).

In the meantime, I'm looking for some sort of internal nugget of varnish inspiration as I press onward. I'll admit I experienced a rush of delight running my fingers along the completely sanded teak; it was deliciously smooth. Hopefully that'll carry me through the next steps: trips to the chandlery, voyages to the hardware store, and application of the varnish, which my dad says is the fun part.