Bright work – Refinishing the Teak

I happen to think Sanitas has the perfect amount of teak woodwork. Just enough that she looks like a traditional sailboat inside and out. But not so much that I need to refinish a teak deck every year. When we bought her, the external teak woodwork was pristine! Absolutely perfectly finished. But, as the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. And I definitely didn’t know how to maintain wood that is constantly exposed to sun and wind and saltwater. I did a pretty good job on the internal teak (hydrogen peroxide or vinegar to kill the mold, and teak oil to restore the finish and protect the wood) but I ignored the external teak and by the end of our first season and storage in the boatyard, she was a mess.

It’s hard to capture the extent of the wear and tear in photos, but here are a few attempts:

Here’s an example where the furling line chafed against the cockpit combing over time and wore a track in the teak finish.

Here’s a basic example of the toe rail, and how the sun and salt wears away at the finish in strange ways.

I finally bit the bullet and committed to refinishing some of the teak while we had Sanitas out of the water in the boatyard. Of course, I had no idea how to do that, and was super afraid of making a mistake and ruining the wood instead of improving it, but ….. that’s what YouTube is for! Our friend Bob from SV Orion was a huge help, lending me a heat gun and providing lots of advise on scraping tools. And investing hours of sweat equity into this project! I did have to call a friend (Celia of SV Eileen) for more advice because her woodwork is absolutely pristine! This started about a six-week process…..

I decided to scrape the old finish off manually, rather than using a chemical stripper, so I spent at least seven hours a day in 90deg weather sitting in the sun, aiming a hair dryer on steroids at the wood, and scraping off layers of Cetol (and a bit of teak). In this picture, you can see the original surface at the bottom, and the scraped surface at the top of the screen.

Here’s another example. The wood on the lefts was protected by a shade cover all year, and the wood on the right was out in the sun. So I scraped it and worked to refinish it. After a lot of scraping, the teak looked so much better already:

Then the real work began…. sanding at least three times (I probably should have done it four times) with 60 grit sand paper, 120 grit sand paper, and finally 220 grit sand paper. Each time, I had to prep the hull with blue painters’ tape so as not to scratch the gel coat, and remove the tape between coats so as not to have the tape adhesive permanently attached.

In theory, this was easier to do in the boat yard, but this also required a ridiculous amount of climbing up and down rickety scaffolding and ladders to access the entire length of the hull. Did I mention the 90 deg temperatures?

After three rounds of sanding the wood work manually, I started the Cetol application. I used the same product that the previous owner, Jock, had used, just to be sure that the color of the finish matched, and I could do some of the woodwork now, and more of it over time. So a trip to West Marine to take them up on their price-matching policy was in order. Pro Hack! I walked in there prepped and ready – with a Chrome tab saved for everything I wanted to buy, and I saved about 40% over labeled prices. Employees at West Marine don’t even make you feel guilty about it. They are super helpful and accommodating when you’ve done your research and can show them a better price available on the internet.

You can see the improvement already….

After three coats of Sikken’s Cetol Natural Teak, we applied two additional coats of Sikkens Marine Gloss to ensure a shiny coating with better UV and saltwater protection. Oh my goodness, Sanitas looks so much better now! And now that I finished the toe rail and the rub rail, and I bought my own heat gun, I can refinish the rest of the external teak gradually over time. Because the toe rail looks SO good. Now, that the rest of the wood looks terrible. The boat projects never end…..

Boat Project #1 – Updating the Salon Cushions

This might sound like a minor project, but we hope it will make a huge difference in comfort and happiness this cruising season!

The settees in our salon are like the couch in your family room – where we spend most of our time on the boat. We sit there to eat our meals, watch movies, read books, and often one of us will sleep there when the small V-berth in the forward cabin feels too cramped for two adult humans or gets too hot. The upholstery of the cushions was in pretty good condition last season, but the foam had definitely reached end of life. Our bums were hitting plywood pretty much all the time, and we definitely sunk into the most over used spots!

I researched getting new cushions made, but (as with anything boat-specific) it was CRAZY expensive. So we decided to clean the upholstery and replace the foam in the seats. Sounds simple, but it turned into a multi-week project….

Step 1 – Clean the Upholstery

These cushions have definitely seen some use! And the ones in the cabin were victims of that pesky salt water leak last season with all the stickiness and funky smells that entails. So I took the covers to a dry cleaner for some serious cleaning. But they turned me away. Said that the material, especially the breathable back panel wouldn’t survive the process. Back to the drawing board and to my good friend Google and I decided to rent one of those upholstery cleaners from Home Depot. Luckily, we were still living in a rental apartment with plenty of floor space to spread out, so after three trips in my little VW convertible with cushions sticking out the windows, we were good to go.

Capt. Mike is trigger happy.

What do you do with this many couch cushions? Build a fort of course!

Wow, the upholstery was dirtier than I thought. Gross!

Step 2 – Order Foam

Where do you go to buy foam? Foamonline.com of course. Who knew there were so many different kinds, thicknesses, quality levels, and styles of foam. Fascinating. (Not really) More Googling, and I settled on 3 pound high resilience foam. It was a little bit tricky figuring out how much we needed because nothing is rectangular on a monohull sailboat. Every cushion is a strange shape with beveled edges that needs to be cut with precision. This stuff is not cheap, so I had to figure out how to buy enough with a little bit of room for errors, but not so much extra that I’m wasting $100 bucks worth of foam. Hence my super scientific calculations.

Step 3 – Wait…for three weeks

I thought ordering from the Foam Fast section meant I would get my foam. Fast. Not so. It took over three weeks to arrive and only after I started calling and emailing and harassing them. It finally arrived, all compressed and wrapped tightly in a 46 pound black plastic garbage bag. The folks at the marina were taking bets on what the heck was in this mysterious package. The reality was less interesting than their guesses for sure.

Step 4 – Cut the foam and stuff the upholstery

The perfect tool for cutting foam is a cheap electric knife from Walmart. However, when you buy the very cheapest one, there’s a good chance it will be broken right out of the box and delay your project further until you can exchange it. Oops. Capt. Mike proved to be just as competent with an electric knife as with an electric drill, and he managed to make it all fit with just the smallest bit of scrap left over. A bit of 3M spray adhesive to connect oddly shaped foam pieces together, and to make the surface tacky. A wrap of polyester Dacron batting to allow for some ventilation and to ensure the foam shapes completely fill the cover. And zip the cover back together, and you’re good to go! Except for the zippers that were too corroded by sea water to function. Those had to be removed using a seam ripper, and will be replaced by Velcro the next time we have access to a sewing machine. No boat project ever goes completely to plan. But we’ve tested them out now for over a week and these cushions now feel good as new!

Why so long in the boat yard?

Several folks have asked me why we needed to spend two months in the boatyard when we returned to St Petersburg after our summer “vacation”. Well, we sure learned a lot in our first cruising season, including a big list of upgrades and improvements that we wanted to make to ensure SV Sanitas was as safe and comfortable a home as possible. And we’re throwing around the idea of not returning to Florida next hurricane season – maybe finding someplace safe for Sanitas to stay in the islands while Capt. Mike and I travel on land. So in that case, we’d like to do as many projects as possible while we are in the land of West Marine and Amazon, and we can get almost anything we want with free 2-day shipping.

So here’s the list of projects we’ve completed so far – all three pages of them – several of which I’ll document in more detail in separate blog posts:

  • Replace foam in settee cushions
  • Make portlight shades
  • Shop for dinghy outboard
  • Order cockpit cushions
  • Polish stainless steel
  • Refinish external teak
  • Install cockpit shower
  • Fix manual bilge pump hose
  • Rebed deck fittings
  • Repair teak deck rail – saltwater leak
  • Fix stove top – weld grates in place
  • Curtain for quarter berth / garage
  • Try to fix water pressure
  • Hook bilge pump up to electronic control
  • Inspect rigging shackles
  • Reinstall sails
  • Replace jib and staysail sheets
  • Wax non-skid deck
  • Replace mouse fur in the head cupboard
  • Clean fruit hammock
  • Clean up wood and mold from summer storage
  • Wash and polish hull – Salt Creek Marina
  • Apply new coat of antifoul paint – Salt Creek Marina
  • Wash mast track cars
  • Fill propane tank
  • Check each switch on electrical panel
  • Replace house battery bank
  • Clean and grease the winches
  • Adjust steering quadrant
  • Check medical and first aid kit
  • Check lights
  • Inspect mainsail for wear or damage
  • Repair anchor bridal chafing spot
  • Buy old fire hose for chafing protection
  • Improve ditch bag
  • Build new soda stream system
  • Rebed steering pedestal
  • Repair aft port locker bulkhead rot
  • Caulk countertop in head
  • Replace propane sensor
  • Install mount for fresh water strainer in fridge
  • Replace anchor locker door latch
  • Clean prop and replace anodes
  • Install new fridge pump
  • Normalize lazy jacks
  • Fix sail cover zipper

I live on a Sailboat…. Again

It’s been a week since SV Sanitas splashed into the water of Tampa Bay after her summer vacation in the boat yard, and I guess I can finally say we’ve moved back aboard. We’ve slept in our tiny V-berth, cooked some simple one-pot meals in the galley, and unpacked box after box after box. At first, I couldn’t figure out why it takes so long to unpack such a small boat, but I think I figured it out – there’s no basement you can stash a pile of boxes in and forget about them for months. Or even years!

The past week has been a reminder that everything takes longer than anticipated when you’re living on a boat. We were scheduled to put Sanitas in the water at 9am last Thursday…. which turned into the last thing before the yard closed at 5:00. So all the things we planned to do in the water (inspect the mainsail, load new and very heavy house batteries, check all the engine systems) moved to Friday morning. Eventually, we got those tasks done and motored the 3 miles from Salt Creek to the St Pete Municipal Marina Friday afternoon and tied up to the transient wall. Since we are staying for a month and because we have a very low freeboard, we’d requested a slip instead of the wall, but no one in the marina office could find the request until sunset. Then we were told come back tomorrow, and we’ll move you into your slip on the West Dock. So instead of having 3 days of overlap between the marina and our apartment to give us plenty of time to move in, we did it all on Saturday: moved everything we’d been living with for the past two months from the apartment to the boat, then moved everything from the storage unit we rented for the summer onto the boat. That’s a lot of stuff! Did it grow and breed over the summer? Suffice it to say, there wasn’t an inch of room to move on little Sanitas.

As Capt. Mike was hiding things away in the storage hold under the bed, I heard him shout, “We have a problem! We have a problem! The hold is filling up with water!” Now I interpreted that as we are sinking, and starting trying to remember where the wooden plugs and the waterproof repair tape got stashed. But luckily (?) it just meant that the hose to the forward water tank was leaking and 45 gallons of water were flooding the place where we had just placed our belongings. I turned on all the taps to take some of the pressure off the hose, unloaded everything back into the cockpit where it had started the day, and we dealt with the mess. Eventually, the tank ran dry, we bailed it out, set up fans, spread out our soggy belongings….. and got a cheap hotel room for the night.

Stuff floating in the “under the bed” storage hold…

Capt. Mike actually fit in the hold while repairing the hose. If you ever wonder where we hide the dead bodies….

Installing protection around the hose fitting, so we don’t do THAT again!


Sunday went much better! We put our bed back together so that sleeping aboard was possible, set up the composting head, and did some more unpacking. Then we rewarded ourselves a day of rest – a visit to Pat and Darby in Siesta Key, and walking over to Vinoy Park to see the Barenaked Ladies in concert at Rib Fest.

Since then we’ve been continuing to unpack and get settled. We’ve given Sanitas a good bath after the boatyard. (Do you think they call it the poop deck because so many birds poop on it?) And we finally put the jib and staysail back up. We took them down so Keith at Advanced Sails could inspect them and do some minor repairs, and to have as little canvass as possible up during hurricane season. While we were at it, we replaced the sheets on those sails with nice shiny, clean, and snag-free ones.

We’ve also done lots of minor projects that don’t sound like much, but will hopefully improve our comfort and happiness in the months to follow. Such as installing lights in the cupboards and head, installing a small shelf in the bilge to keep our stores on canned food above the water, fixing that darn forward water tank hose and installing protection around the fitting, repairing latches on doors, fixing the squeaky companionway stairs, repairing the brass wall clock….You get the idea. In the process, we’ve made many trips to the dumpster, recycling, and Goodwill; made a bit trickier by the fact that our new parking space is about an eight-minute walk away. I hesitate to post pictures yet, because we aren’t yet organized and ready for prime time. Oh, ok. Since you insist. Here’s what living aboard looks like one week later:

But we are floating (not sinking!) and the view from the cockpit can’t be beat! One step closer to a tropical paradise.

Sanitas is back in the water!

After spending hurricane season safely tucked away in Salt Creek Marina in St Petersburg, Florida…. SV Sanitas is back in the water where she belongs!

We left Sanitas stored in St Pete while Capt. Mike and I visited friends and family in New York and Colorado in July and August. Then we returned to hot and humid Florida and spent two months working six days a week in the dirty boat yard to repair and maintain our boat, and to get her ready for another cruising season. She was in pretty good condition when we returned, however we found a few leaks admitting water and slimy mold, and we had a list three pages long of things we identified last year of “Must Dos” before we ventured forth on our 2nd season of cruising.

I admit, I’m a little nervous. I may have gotten soft over the summer – too used to long hot showers, comfy beds, and cooking in a kitchen. In the next 24 hours, we’ll be moving aboard again, somehow trying to fit everything that’s currently in our storage unit, and everything that’s in our rental apartment into a 37-foot monohull sailboat. (Spoiler alert: its not going to fit. We have several trips to Goodwill in our future).

We need to start paying attention to weather and battery charges again, and go back to small, simple living. But … we also get out of the boatyard, and are able to start looking forward to winter in The Bahamas. We’re off the Salt Creek for the last time; to install a new battery bank, inspect our mainsail, and to move to the St Pete Municipal Marina. Wish us luck!