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Log Entry

I Love Varnishing

Let's start at the beginning because it's a very good place to start. While feeling rather musical about that statement, it's true because there are three parts to this I love yachting story and we must begin where it all started.

The first, which is really last, is Holly and I coming into our now simpatico relationship with the joys of brightwork (varnished wood for those uninitiated) and becoming stewards of our own little varnish farm, affectionately named CAYUGA. Holly secretly refers to varnish as vanish, because that's what it does across a summer of boating.

Of course, there would be no story I tell without referencing one of my favorite quotes from The Wind in the Willows, "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." And believe me, I can make a mess in the process of varnishing.

So going correctly to the origins of this varnishing epic is Holly and the story she's told me many a time about her father and his boats, back on Cayuga Lake in Ithaca, NY, at the Johnson Boat Yard. I've never been there but can only imagine. Holly's father, Scott, was a classic wooden boat lover, but before his passion for runabouts and restoration started, he owned a few cabin cruisers along the way, culminating with JULIANNA, a 38' Chris Craft covered in varnish (note the US Power Squadron Ensign).

As most kids are, patience is not usually one of their talents, and for Holly, while watching and helping her dad with his projects to get ready for the boating season, she tells me that while other boats went out, dad kept at his projects - seemingly always varnish and it was a bummer to still be at the yard. This may have been Holly's first I love yachting moment...

The adventures in varnish I learned of shortly after Holly and I met when I made the grievous error of offering to varnish the cap rail of Holly's Beneteau 473, CALIX. To me, that unfinished teak was crying out for a beautiful coat of shiny varnish. However, I was firmly informed that the only thing on her boat I would ever varnish was the flagstaff. Being no room for negotiation, the cap rail remained au-naturel until CALIX was sold; a cap rail that I endeavored to clean to a gorgeous wooden glow each season.

The second part to this story, and what got a varnish brush in Holly's hand, is when she began sailing on the log canoe, FLYING CLOUD. The canoes had become her

sailing focus and passion.

If you've never witnessed a log canoe race, you are definitely missing one of the most beautiful and graceful sailing events, and this is not an exaggeration, held on any body of water anywhere.

One of the things quite evident with the canoes is their demanding upkeep and amount of varnish, as a number of them are well over 100 years old. CLOUD was built in 1932 so she's almost there.

So, with camaraderie in the mix amongst crew (and a beer-infused lunch break), winter and into the spring is prime maintenance and upkeep time. This may range from fiberglassing weak spots and spars to re-bedding sail tracks, but always it involves lots and lots of varnishing. Holly dug right in and had a blast being a part of history and taking care of CLOUD. I dare say it may have changed her mind about what was formerly the bain of her boating existence.

Thus this story is brought back around to where I started, the third part, when Holly forwarded me the listing for CAYUGA in April. My first glance elicited the remark and warning that the boat had a lot of brightwork. Holly said, quite plainly and a bit to my surprise, that was fine.

Now, without faint of heart, I decided it was time for me to practice and improve my varnishing skills, I've dabbled but not the likes of what CAYUGA has for us to work with. I'm not horrible with a varnish brush, but getting it perfect is very challenging. It was more about adequate coverage for the log canoes, and an imperfect varnish job was of little consequence. But on our boat, it has got to be done right – smooth flow and no drips, runs, or sags. Being there is no shortage of opinions or advice on how to varnish like a pro an entire weekend could be spent watching how-to YouTube videos.

My approach, believe it or not, has been to embrace the Zen of varnishing, the entire process – the prep, the application, and clean-up. I'm buoyed by knowing that even when a coat doesn't go quite right, the next day's sanding will provide an opportunity for excellence. So all in all, Holly digs the time loving a classic boat and remembering her father (he's laughing at her she says), and I'm closer to the boat, as maintenance always brings you, finding out I love varnishing.

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1 Comment

Oct 27, 2021

I actually truly do love varnishing. It is the endless hours of prep before you varnish that are terrible. The act of varnishing I find relaxing and satisfying. Varnish on Brother

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