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Repair, Tools & Materials

The Best Marine Varnish: Exterior Wood Finish Tests

Testers applied dozens of exterior wood finishes (22 one-part varnishes, six two-part varnishes, 18 synthetics and satins/varnish alternatives, and eight teak oils and sealers) to small panels of bare solid teak and set them out to face the rigors of South Florida's weather. Two years later, our search continues for the ideal wood finish-relatively easy to apply, easy to maintain, lasts multiple seasons, and is affordable. Given that most wood coatings are rarely expected to last longer than two years in the marine environment-particularly in super-sunny locales-its no surprise that weve seen more significant changes in the coatings in the last six months than we had in previous checkups. With the exception of a few two-part products, the test coatings had lost their sparkle at the two-year mark, ratings slipped across the board, and weve come to accept that perhaps theres no Holy Grail of exterior wood finishes.

Mailport: Cold Weather Suits

Regarding your recent Inside Practical Sailor blog post Drysuits vs. Survival Suits, I raft the Colorado river in Grand Canyon where water temps are around 50 F, even in the summer. The whitewater down there is furious and sometimes dangerous. I wear a 3 millimeter neoprene wetsuit under a full drysuit. If the drysuit rips, the wetsuit should slow down thermal loss. The problem is heat buildup in the sun. The solution is to jump in the cold water now and then to keep from over heating. On a sailboat that would be harder to do. There have been a few times sailing solo when I wore both garments, but it was pretty clammy inside. There is no perfect solution, just reasonable compromises by which to stay alive. Something to remember is that once a drysuit rips, it will take on hundreds of pounds of water. A high flotation PFD is mandatory, at least 26 pounds I would think.

Snap Extenders for Old Canvas

Sunbrella does not shrink. That is the mantra, and for covers and dodger that are left in place, it seems to be the true. It stretches a little when wet, and so long as it is maintained under tension while it dries, it retains it shape. So says Sunbrella. While this seems true for tensioned cloth (our dodger still fits) and it hardly matters for a sail cover, our real world experience with removable Sunbrella window covers has been different, shrinking as much as 5 percent over a period of years. The problem, no doubt, is that these are worst case scenario, repeatedly removed while still wet with dew and allowed to dry. The end result was that the covers became difficult to install and some of the snaps were being ripped out by the excessive tension.

Exposure Test Results: Varnishes, Teak Oils, and Other Exterior Wood Coatings

Exterior wood finishes-including one-part varnishes, two-part varnishes, synthetics, sealers and stains, and teak oils-were evaluated one year after application. Testers rated the wood finishes on ease of application, the integrity of the gloss and appearance, and how they fared over the 12-month period during which they were exposed to Florida sun and weather. Testers looked at color retention and gloss retention. After a year, 20 of the original 22 one-part varnishes were still performing well, and all six of the original two-part varnishes remained in the running. Varnish alternatives like teak oils and teak sealers struggled to make the 12-month cut, but the Cetol-coated panels still looked good. Products that were doing well 12 months after application included Interlux Cetol Marine and Cetol Marine Light, both with the clear gloss overcoat; Pettit Clear High Gloss and Pettit Wood Finish; Interlux Perfection; and Nautiking NautiThane.

Where Credit is Due: August 2011

Letters to Practical Sailor, August 2011. This month's letters cover subjects such as: Weems and Plath, and Moorhouse Sailmakers.

The Get-Home Sailboat Tool Kit

The tools and materials required to maintain and repair everything on a boat will barely fit in a room. Just the kit required to maintain vital systems will raise the waterline of a large boat and is impractical in a smaller boat. Fortunately, when day sailing and even cruising locally, all we really need to do is get back to the dock...any dock.

Magic Fix for Hairline Cracks in Gelcoat

Spider cracks can indicate impact damage or serious structural problems that will need to be addressed to prevent spreading, but most often they result from relatively inflexible gelcoat that is too thick. Stress by thermal expansion or when bulkheads and liners were installed can cause minor flexing. Cracks from larger issues-a winch, for example, that was inadequately mounted-will need to be fixed before cosmetic repairs begin.

Testers Take Tacktick and Nexus Wind Instruments for a Spin

Practical Sailor testers compared Tackticks improved Race Master system to the Nexus Start Pack 3, a hybrid wired/wireless system. The Tacktick Micronet wireless wind instrument, a compact system featuring wireless display and a masthead sensor, has a strong following among racers. It has proven to be a good choice for those sailors serious about improving race performance as it has many options for tracking performance on the course in real time. Its ability to work with a 12-volt system makes it a good choice for small boats. The versatile, expandable Nexus hybrid has an impressive and intuitive interface and a graphic analog wind representation. It provides all of the basic functions a cruiser or racer uses most, and testers found the analog wind display appealing.

Two Ways to Build a Teak Cockpit Grating

A snug-fitting teak grating adds safety and a touch of class to the cockpit of any boat. Spray or rain runs under the grating to the cockpit drains, leaving a reasonably dry footing for hopping about the cockpit as you haul in sheets to tack or trim sails. Unfortunately, you cant buy a grating off the shelf to fit your boat, and having a grating custom-built can be a costly and nerve-wracking experience. The solution to both of these problems: build your own grating. Its a fun job that can keep you busy for a few winter evenings, and you can build it for less than one-third the cost of a custom-built job.

Welds on Your Boat Require Special Care

The irregular shape of welds makes them difficult to inspect using ultrasound technology. Visual inspections can also be deceiving-especially with new welds. The prettiest bead can have internal voids and poor fusion. After a while, that pretty bead will begin to bloom with corrosion and cracks.

Hot Water Heater Installation Tips

To keep pipe joints from leaking, use Teflon tape or pipe joint compound, and remember that hose barb-to-hose connections are much easier to make drip-proof with a hose clamp than the same connection made on a threaded pipe stub.