Cheap Boat Tricks: Interior Teak

We are here in Bahia Chamela on the Pacific Coast of Mexico and we are not feeling the love here. One of the dark little secrets of the cruising life is that not all anchorages are worthy of your time and attention. Many times it depends on when you are there and what the weather is like, what the surf is like.  Now Bahia Chamela has a very pretty beach, but the water is too murky for snorkeling and the swell and waves are pretty intense right now due to the wind out there. We took the paddle boards out but it was just too rough to be fun. There’s a restaurant on shore, but frankly this is so common in Mexico that it’s just not tempting enough to take the trouble going to shore. Lots of folks love this anchorage; we just aren’t feeling it. We don’t need to keep eating in restaurants.  We’ll be moving on pretty quickly, always in search of a good snorkel adventure.

Anyhow I was in a mood.  I needed a small, easy to complete project and this one filled the bill and is high on the ‘wow’ satisfaction factor. Galapagos has a lot of interior teak, including the ladder down into the salon that gets used about 50 times a day. I noticed that the finish was looking pretty ratty and the handholds were filthy because they were getting hard to clean, again, because the finish on the wood was worn away.

The guy who remodeled our galley way back before we left the dock is a wooden boat builder from way back and he shared this trick with me for making interior teak on these old 1970’s boats look good again without having to do an entire refinish.

The trick is using real shellac. Not polyurethane, not varnish. Shellac. Shellac is easy to work with, dries quickly (unless it’s old, in which case it needs replacing), and can be cleaned up and thinned with alcohol. We keep a can on board the boat. This brand comes in clear or amber. Our woodwork has the traditional honey colored wood. The amber matches it perfectly. 

The process is dead simple. Lightly sand the areas where the finish has worn away. I used first an 80 grit, then followed behind with a 220 grit. You are just looking to remove the old finish in the worn area so definitely use a light touch. Remember, as Mike says, “We aren’t building the Parthenon here.”. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of ‘good enough’. You are not refinishing fine furniture at this point. Just repairing a worn finish so you can put off refinishing the whole thing, which is more work.

Once you’ve sanded, go over the area with a tack cloth. Get a load of this tack cloth that probably came from our garage. It’s an old one. But unopened, it’s still good.

This store has been gone for decades.

Now just use a cheap tip brush or a sponge brush and brush the shellac on the exposed wood, taking care to tip the new finish into the old. You’re supposed to let shellac dry before sanding with 220 grit and then recoating, but I’m too impatient for that. I let it get tacky and then go over it again. Works just fine. I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking about this project, which took all of 30 minutes to complete. My work for today is done. Time to read a book. Maybe see if there are any animals around that need looking at.

Each step was worn on the edge where our feet hit it many, many times per day.

It was this area that grabbed my attention. These handles had pretty much no finish left. We also need to replace the non-skid, but we don’t have the material on hand. I’ve put it on the list of stuff for our expedition back to the states.

The sun makes this look orange. But it’s not.

Standing back, the steps are looking much better.

Maybe some day Galapagos will have all this interior wood refinished. Probably right before we sell her to the next cruiser. Don’t hold your breath. We’ve got some cruising yet to do.

S/V Galapagos, standing by on channel 22a.