PS Advisor February 15, 2002 Issue

PS Advisor: 02/15/02

Exterior vs. Interior Varnish?
As a long-time subscriber I continue to read with interest your varioustests on bottom paints and teak treatments.  Your latest article on varnish exposures points out the problem of identifying a single varnish that answers all the questions.  And I would like to add an additional question. Your testing has been for the exterior use of varnish.  What about interior use?  I would think that more varnish is used on the interior than exterior.  I am in the process of redoing the interior finish on my boat and would like to know if any testing has been done or is any planned for interior varnish.  In particular for varnish used on the sole.  What varnish holds up best underfoot? I would think that the considerations are different than for exterior varnish, and that the best varnish for exterior use may not be the best for interior use.

-Tom Dade
Poquoson, Virginia

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Would appreciate your thoughts on how to finish my replacement wooden sole that I plan to install next spring. Any thoughts or specific recommendations would be appreciated. I prefer a satin finish.

-Jack Adler, MD
Larchmont, New York


Marine varnishes with UV inhibitors (spar varnishes) are "softer" than modified polyurethane varnishes like Interlux Goldspar Satin 60, which is specifically recommended for cabin soles and interior work—but spar varnishes are still incredibly hardy these days, and we're not aware of any traditional (non-polyurethane) varnish whose manufacturer claims it to be more abrasion-resistant than others. So... if you want to use a traditional varnish, you can "run what you brung." If you like a harder, lower-luster sheen, and don't mind "modified polyurethane," you could try the Goldspar. (Sounds like the one for you, Dr. Adler.)

Unless you beat it up, or let people track a lot of sand below, or in some other way subject it to severe wear, any high-quality varnish in the cabin will amaze and impress you. (Consider all the antique furniture with 100-or-so-year-old varnish still intact and shiny.) As with so many things, the key to longevity has more to do with preparation and maintenance than with the product.

Here are some of what we'll call "opinions based on experience":

1. A varnish finish in which you can take pride (meaning you can use it for a flawless mirror) depends 99% on the surface. The surface must be perfect, in color, texture and smoothness.

2. You can put any varnish over any old varnish, but you must sand. In fact, no matter what it says, sand between coats. It catches the imperfections. Quit when you catch a perfect coat or get one that satisfies you.

3. The vacuum cleaner (with soft brush attachment) is varnish's best friend. Most of the imperfection in the finished job is dust pulled out of cracks and corners by the varnish brush. Tack cloths are OK, but for a final wipe, use your bare hand. The oils in the skin provide just enough tack to pick up dust, and the dust is easy to see and wash off (and the oil is self-replenishing).

4. Use two small cans (tuna fish cans are perfect)—one to contain an inch or so of fresh varnish, the other to "wipe" the brush almost every dip. Start over often with new cans and new varnish.

5. Use whatever brush you like. There's no magic in badger hair brushes; they just make the job easier because they hold a good supply of varnish and spread it quickly. Foam brushes are fine for small jobs, but don't last long before getting soaked up and mushy. Having said that, we always use—when trying for that last, perfect coat—a good brush that's been used once or twice and carefully cleaned.

6. Don't pester the varnish. Get it on the surface, spread it fairly well, touch it off quickly, and leave it alone. It'll level itself better without a lot of extra attention. Look at the bit you did 5 or 10 minutes earlier (to check for sags). It'll be like glass.

7. Although a lot of experts might disagree, it's our opinion that there's no magic to 6, 8, or 11 individual coats of varnish. A few thick coats, if they can be applied to a horizontal surface, are as good as multiple coats. It's the final thickness that counts.

8. Ultraviolet inhibitors aren't very important in interior work. Pick a good marine varnish and have at it. The difference you'll pay for the UV inhibitors is insignificant.

There's much more varnish lore, having to do with dust-free air, varnish color, brush selection and cleaning, and so on, but we have the feeling it's already time to duck and cover.

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Rig-Cutting Choices
In your November 15th issue, you indicated "none of the reciprocating blades we tried lasted long." You did say a hacksaw would work with significant manual effort. Friends in the construction industry tell me that an 18-volt reciprocating saw will cut through anything. Since the reciprocating saw acts similar to the hacksaw, would it just be a matter of using the correct blades? I've got a 47' catamaran with rod rigging. The boat has suffered two dismastings already (that's another story) and the I'm not thrilled with either the hydraulic or Shootit solution.

-Dick Costigan
Akron, OH


Your rod rigging is most likely made of Nitronic 50, which is a mighty hard metal to cut, and which your friends in the construction world might not have encountered. Even so, the reciprocating saw would probably work if you used the hardest available metal-cutting blades, and have a lot of them handy, and have enough electrical reserves.

Sorry to hear about your dismastings. As you no doubt know, your multihull offers a much more stable platform to work on than a monohull, so your saw solution makes more sense. The simplest solution (given a relatively stable platform) will always be to knock the pins out of the toggles with a hammer and drift.

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To Fold or Not to Fold?
PS is the only publication I usually read from cover to cover on the day it arrives. I hope you can help me. 

I am negotiating to have built an F-39 (an Ian Farrier tri). It is to be 12 meters long, 27 feet wide. To save money, I plan to have  non-folding outriggers. Will the 27-foot overall beam make life a continual headache beyond not being able to use a normal slip? The 22-inch draft will open up many shoal areas, but will the wide beam create problems in rivers, creeks, tidal estuaries, canals, ICW, etc. I would like to save the money for the folding system. Please give my your opinion.

-Whit Richman
Via e-mail


Without folding akas/amas on a boat that size you'll be relegating yourself to a pretty restricted world. You're right in perceiving the headaches— no slip-living, no trips up tight estuaries, no going in certain parts of the ICW, and on the East Coast you'll be somewhat limited in your harbor choices. Certainly big harbors like Newport have always welcomed offshore multihulls, but smaller harbors can't manage them at anchor. Then there's the problem of hauling and maintenance.

On the plus side, you should end up with really solid structural connections (not that Farrier's folding mechanism isn't trustworthy—it certainly is) for a lot less money. Also, your shallow draft will let you visit a lot of places that lead-keelers can't approach.

You'll have to keep analyzing where you'll be sailing. If you were to stick mostly to the Caribbean and Bahamas, with summer visits to the big harbors, open roadsteads, and beaches of the East Coast, then fixed amas would be OK. But if you want to poke around a lot of little places, it's going to be very tough without the ability to "get smaller." Maybe the key is to have a really capable RIB or hard dinghy for exploring, while the mother ship lies in more open water.

Good luck with the thought process. It must be a nice one to be involved in...

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Sailing Under Jib Alone
Over the years, I have seen published comments by experienced sailors that it is not wise to sail under jib alone. Apparently the reasoning is that sailing with jib and no main places unusual and excessive stress on the rig. Can you explain the logic behind these statements? Does it matter whether you are on or off the wind? I have often seen a storm jib alone under high wind conditions.

I sail a 45-foot cruising boat that balances and sails well under jib alone. There are times when the wind is too strong for both sails and rather than raise and reef the main, it is more convenient to simply unfurl only the jib, especially when traveling short distances.

If I am endangering the mast and standing rigging I do not want to continue the practice.

-Chuck Poel
S/V Andiamo


We covered this matter in detail in the September, 2000 issue—a lesson in the basic push-pull of standing rigging. A quick answer here: Be cautious about sailing under jib alone if you have a bendy, adjustable rig, or if you have a single set of lower shrouds, or if your mast pumps fore and aft in any significant way when under headsail pressure alone—upwind or down. Naval architect Eric Sponberg says that if the mast pumps a quarter to a half of its fore-and-aft dimension, it's cause for concern.

If you have a single-spreader masthead rig with fore-and-aft lower shrouds you should be OK. In any case, beware a situation in which the mast either overbends or bows aft ("inverts"). Keep backstay tension, and see that your gooseneck has a bit (not a ton) of forward pressure on it from a solid vang or from a mainsheet and topping lift combination cinched down to help simulate the support of a hoisted mainsail.

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