The calls started coming in late January 2021. Many vessels had been affected and the evidence was everywhere in the form of inordinate black greasy blobs ranging in size from pencil tip to pea or even bean. Some boats were more covered than others; some cleaned-up easier than others. No one knew quite when it happened, what had happened or who the perpetrator was, but no one could deny that something had happened and at one of the fanciest marinas in Seattle -- to boot.
I got off the phone with Jordan, the Harbormaster at Elliott Bay Marina yesterday. I had left a message and he called me back lightening quick. I think we were both hoping one of us had some information, some answers. These little grease balls had caused quite a stir. Folks were talking property damage claims and had their boat insurance companies on speed dial. My phone had been ringing off the hook and the old inbox was full. “I kept waiting to hear something about it in the news,” I told Jordan. He had been hoping the same, but nothing had materialized.
Not long after the incident everyone had become a sleuth, positing all sorts of wild theories about what could have happened, who was to blame. Fingers were pointed in lots of directions. Jordan spoke with an airline pilot and even spoke with the mechanics from the fishing fleet that took off from Seattle en masse in January to see if any of them could have had something to do with it. Turns out they don’t even have boilers, so it couldn’t have been them. Dozens of calls were made to the EPA, other local marinas and even the Coast Guard. No one knew anything or even seemed interested in investigating, and the more time passed, the more it became clear that whoever, whatever did this was going to, and presumably had already sailed away scot-free.
The best we could come up with, is that it must have been from container ship traffic in Elliott Bay. Some ship must have been storing up it’s ‘feelings’ in a boiler during the quarantine days of 2020 and quite literally blew it’s stack in January 2021 while cruising by beautiful Elliott Bay Marina. What ship was it? We don’t know. No witnesses have come forward yet and somehow this does feel a bit like a crime. No other marinas in the area were impacted. Jordan and I are still left quite a bit puzzled though. The EPA apparently didn’t care much, and never sent anyone out to check on the residual atmospheric discharge remnants blanketing parts of Elliott Bay. Jordan mentioned the EPA seemed to have a markedly different attitude because the greasy oily blobs were merely settled on the boats and marina infrastructure and not perceptible in the water-- shame.
One shining light in this dumping scandal was that well cared for boats with fresh wax jobs suffered very little; a few minutes with a hose and the job was done. For neglected boats, thirsty for a wax, the clean up was more nightmarish, creating smeared greasy Jackson Pollocks all over open pored dry gelcoat and crusty old canvas. Apparently, even if we can’t save ourselves from literal fall out from atmospheric discharge, at least we can guard ourselves from more serious aesthetic damage by keeping a protective wax barrier on our boats, even through fall and winter. Pro tip: join our wax list as early as possible as we tend to book up sometimes several months in advance.
Buckle up as we take a ride on the teak highway, from Lake Union in Seattle all the way to Myanmar. We'll be doing some time travel as well, so put your helmet on, and get ready to hit a few destinations along the way including the Netherlands, en route to the land of unemployed elephants. At the end of this leg of the journey, you'll understand why the question "where did your teak come from" is the new "where did your diamond come from".
When I talk with boat owners who are interested in 'the how and why' of all things having to do with boats, I usually find myself quite capable of being longwinded. If there is a teak deck involved, sometimes this conversation could go on for hours. There is so much to say about teak, and this is why Google will give you 2,090,000 search results for "how to clean teak on a boat". You're probably all like, yeah, yeah, I came for the blood diamonds part. We'll get into it, I promise. To be truthful, given the breadth of the subject, this may need to become a multi-blog topic, but I'll try to cover some ground here, starting with a disclaimer.
When I say teak, I'm talking about the real deal, Tectona Grandis-- not the fake stuff, which I like to refer to as 'popsicle stick flooring', or the various other iterations of imitations in foam and composite. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate what the alternatives are trying to accomplish, they just happen to be a nightmare for detailing. Teak decking is also a nightmare for detailing. As with the diamond trade, many people have little inkling of the ramifications that go into the acquisition of these raw materials, and the varying shades of associated 'legality' depending on country of origin. Now you may be thinking you were promised a ride on a highway, not a rollercoaster but by now you're strapped in already, helmet on. PPE, check. Keep your hands and arms inside the ride, remove dark soled shoes, here we go.
In 2006 Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly and Leonardo DiCaprio brought the complicated topic of 'conflict diamonds' (mined in war zones and sold to finance conflicts in Sierra Leone) to the American zeitgeist via the silver screen, with the movie Blood Diamond. In part, the growing consideration for where and how ‘items’ or ‘materials’ are 'harvested' was spurred on by this film, and gave rise to the now highly sought after 'conflict free' diamond, along with notions of becoming an educated consumer. Terms like 'fair trade', 'sustainably sourced', 'ethically sourced' started hitting the mainstream around this time and all of the sudden child labor became a consideration when you popped into Sephora to pick up a new eyeshadow pallet and had the thought, "where does mica come from", never mind the diamond you've been after.
Like most diamonds, teak has no real markers on it to say where it came from, or how it was sourced and likewise the usual answer to either question on teak or diamonds origin, is typically answered with a shrug and an 'I don't know' or ' couldn't say'. In 2013 the EU implemented strict rules surrounding 'illicit timber'. What a provocative term! In 2014 Myanmar (the country also known as Burma and current worldwide winner, for longest civil war) banned the export of wild teak logs. This was big, because Myanmar has all the good teak, having the most tropical forest in Southeast Asia. Despite the issues around deforestation (especially in the regions known for teak) and the governments ban on export, Uncle Pennybags demands only the best teak for his yacht building and all logs must be harvested using elephant labor. But for real, apparently, it's like, a big problem in Myanmar-- what to do about all the out of work elephants, especially during the pandemic. I know, it all sounds a bit like theatre, but I swear its true! The below photo is courtesy if the Dutch Police from a multi-pronged teak raid in 2019 of smuggled Burmese teak found in numerous locations in the Netherlands via the Czech Republic.
I kid you not. Apparently the Tectona grandis is, no joke, hotter than drugs and the authorities are looking to crack down. The yacht makers (some names have been named in media reports) must have their Burmese teak fix though, and will not be denied. Sure, there is a myriad of ethical questions one could consider, from the laborers (my god, the poor elephants) to the environmental impacts, but ultimately, those lawsuits are being played out in high courts in other countries and the powers that be are charging the middlemen in the supply chain-- the 'dealers' and the 'shippers'. By the time your new teak deck arrives in the Pacific Northwest, as a mere user-- one can assume those fines have already been paid. But the now, illicit nature of it does make the status symbol of having a deck teak more of a rarity and it will become increasingly more difficult to acquire as raids and unavoidable restrictions increase.
These developments in the teak market and global trade have only added to the mythos of having a teak deck. This also makes it all the more important when a boat owner has to weigh decisions about how to care for and maintain their teak, especially with an understanding of the unicorn-like nature of both a new or old teak deck. Stick around as we peel back the layers and layers of teak care. We're going to talk caulking, sanding, washing, scrubbing, oiling, brightening, products, tips and tricks, things to look out for and then, we'll talk same on all variations of 'fake teak'. For now, the ride is coming to a stop. Keep your dark soled shoes off, summer is nearly here. Leonardo did not win, although he was nominated in 2007, for best actor. You may remove your helmet, we'll pick back up with this deep dive into teak in the next one.
What are the water streaks on your boat (sometimes referred to as black streaks) and why do they keep happening? Where do they come from, how can we remove them, and once they're removed, how can we keep them from coming back? Keep reading for tips and tricks to learn how to keep your boat looking it's best year round in the Seattle area with Deckhand Detailing.
And the winner to the best type of boat enclosure goes to...don't have a boat enclosure! I say that from a detailing perspective, but I realize how nice a boat enclosure can be, especially living here in Seattle where it's wet for what feels like 13 months out of the year. Boat enclosures provide shade in sunny climates and rain-protection in wet climates. They give you a break from the wind and allow you to have more livable space on your boat. In a way, they're a necessary evil. I say that because they get dirty quickly and are a pain to clean (or keep clean).
The two main materials that boat enclosures are made of these days are canvas and Stamoid. For those unfamiliar with Stamoid, it's a vinyl-coated woven polyester material that's supposed to be superior to canvas. We say "supposed to be" because in our line of work, we've seen a lot of Stamoid covers that didn't hold up to their promises.
Pros and Cons of Stamoid
Stamoid vinyl is advertised as waterproof, resistant to mildew and UV damage. It maintains it's flexibility with extreme temperature changes and doesn't shrink. It's coated with a "Nanotop" barrier that helps to prevent dirt from "sticking" to it, making it easy to clean and keep clean. That all sounds good to me, you say. What cons could there possibly be?
How many people actually clean AND treat their enclosure on a regular basis? And by "regular basis", I mean a few times a month, and by "clean and treat", I mean actually washing it down and using the special cleaner that the manufacturer recommends and then treating the Stamoid by applying a cream conditioner to it? The reality is that very few people take the time to clean and condition every inch of their Stamoid enclosure material on a regular basis or ever because they either don't have the time, don't have the ability, can't reach every inch of it once it's installed or simply don't bother.
I completely understand because it can be a lot of work and keeping those Stamoid enclosures clean is part of my job as a detailer. We see brand new enclosures turn brown or grey with water streaks and dirt quickly if they don't get cleaned often from day one. Even when a boat owner has a detailing company washing their boat every other week, those enclosures still get dirty fast and each time, the dirt and streaks are harder to remove.
Also consider the cost. A custom-made Stamoid enclosure is not cheap! If you're going to pay your boat detailer to clean and polish them a couple times a month in order to keep them looking as good as possible, that will cost you a few hundred dollars each time because it takes a few hours to properly clean and polish them.
Even then, they will still age. Sun, wind, rain, heat, cold and humidity will affect them no matter what the brochure says. We often see where the thread comes out or disintegrates over time and where seams comes undone. So even if you've hired someone to clean and treat your enclosure every few weeks, you'll also need to repair the seams at some point.
Pros and Cons of Canvas
Canvas as an enclosure material can be just as annoying to work with, but it's a bit more forgiving when it comes to cleaning it. Dirt and mildew love canvas enclosures because they can work their way into the fabric and retire there. If washed on a regular basis though, even if it's with the same bucket of water and soap you're washing the rest of your boat with, any loose dirt and new mildew should come right out. If it's been there for a longer period of time and isn't coming out with just soap and water or the resident blue heron at your marina always chooses your canvas enclosure to rest on, then you'll need to use a scrub brush with some stronger products to get the dirt and stains out.
However, over time, canvas will shrink from the sun making it harder to work with. Stretching it to reach a snap could cause it to tear and once mildew has been on it for a while, it can be almost impossible to get out. Pressure washing canvas can sometimes be too rough for it and using harsh chemicals on a regular basis to clean it can cause the canvas to degrade over time.
The Verdict: Stamoid looks great, but unless you plan on cleaning and treating it often (and can reach all of it once installed), you may want to consider a different material. We're not slamming it at all, we're simply pointing out the fact that you need to stay on top of cleaning and treating it in order to maintain its great qualities as an enclosure material.
We say this about a lot of boat detailing products. Many of them work great IF you actually use them on a regular basis AND use them properly. A Stamoid cover will look great on your boat and last a long time, but you have to be willing to care for it regularly and properly.
Canvas is a bit more forgiving until it's not. What I mean by this is that you can let it go a bit longer without cleaning it, but if you let it go too long (especially if green mildew is building up), then it can get to a point where you can no longer get the mildew stains out because they're in the fibers. As far as pricing, canvas seems to be just as expensive as Stamoid these days, so I'm not sure how much savings there is with a canvas enclosure.
If I had to choose, I'd choose not having an enclosure. But if I really had to choose, I'd go for a canvas enclosure with elastic loop attachments. Since canvas will shrink, choose connectors that will accommodate tighter canvas, such as elastic loops or suction cups. That's right - suction cups! We saw this on a boat recently and it's a brilliant idea for canvas as long as the area you want it to attach to is a smooth window or gel coat. It's a great idea for canvas covers too.
Thanks for reading! We hope our boat detailing articles help you with your own boat maintenance.
Q: The colored stripe on my boat is really faded. What’s the best way to bring back the deep color and gloss?
A: Colored stripes that run along the topside or on the hull or waterline often fade quickly and need to be polished on a regular basis if you want them to retain their deeper color and gloss. The first thing you need to do is determine if that colored stripe is a vinyl sticker or if it’s a painted stripe. Depending on which it is will determine how you care for it.
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. If your colored stripe is a vinyl sticker, there’s not too much you can do to it if it’s fading or peeling outside of removing it and replacing it. If it’s new or still in good condition, using a soft wax (with no compound in it) or spray wax to protect it will keep the color from fading over time. The darker the color, the more often you should apply wax or spray wax to it.
If your colored stripe is painted, it’s going to take more effort to bring back the color and gloss if it’s looking faded. The paint in the colored stripe can easily run if you use a buffer on it, so the first thing you want to do is apply a wide strip of painters tape on both sides of the stripe. This will prevent the paint from running into the lighter gel coat surrounding it.
The next step is to get your hands on a variable speed buffer or a dual action polisher. Do not bother trying to use an orbital polisher or doing it by hand as the results will be splotchy and not last very long because neither of those methods are able to cut through the oxidation that’s causing the fading.
With a faded colored stripe, you’ll want to do a two-step process. This means first applying and buffing with compound to cut through the oxidation and bring back the gloss and then following up with polish to protect the stripe from further oxidation. You don’t want to use wax on painted areas; instead use a non-wax polish. Cleaner wax typically isn’t strong enough to remove the oxidation in a colored stripe and although it might bring back the color at first, it won’t last very long, so skip the cleaner wax for this project. You can use a polish with compound in it as the second step, but you’ll want to use a true rubbing compound as your first step.
Before you begin, gather the items you’ll need:
Apply the compound by hand and then buff it out using the wool compounding pad. You may need to do this a few times to cut through the oxidation. This is the step that brings back the gloss, so if you’re not seeing gloss, keep buffing.
However, keep in mind that if the painted stripe is on an older boat or was painted a long time ago, the paint may not be that thick anymore and if you buff too long or hard, you may hit primer. So take your time go and go slow.
Once the colored stripe is looking glossier, it’s then time to protect it with polish. Apply it by hand and then use the polishing pad to buff it off. When finished, wipe it all down with a microfiber rag. Remove the tape when you’re done.
Now that your colored stripe is glossy and protected again, you’ll need to keep it that way if you don’t want it to fade soon after. Use the polish at least once a month. This is something you can easily do by hand and it shouldn’t take too long.
Q: We have a ski boat with a red hull that’s slowly turning pink. I’ve applied wax to it several times, both by hand and with an orbital buffer, and it looks great for a few hours and then looks faded again. What am I doing wrong?
A: Boats with colored hulls must be waxed on a regular basis, about every 6 months and if it’s a black hull, you’ll want to apply wax about every 2 months. But that’s only after you have cut through the oxidation and the only way to do that properly is by using rubbing compound with a variable speed buffer. The rubbing compound has grit or clay in it that will help cut through the oxidation, but only when it’s applied at a high speed and applied evenly. An orbital buffer doesn’t spin fast enough or offer even pressure and you won’t be able to press hard enough with even pressure if you apply it by hand. Using an orbital buffer or your hand to apply rubbing compound will give you splotchy results.
If you haven’t used a buffer before, you’ll want to start with a DeWalt 849x. This buffer has a slow start so you can ease it onto the gel coat and then kick up the speed as you go. Use a compounding pad to apply the compound and buff it in with.
Q: There are several deck brushes to choose from at my local boating supply store, but I can’t imagine I need one of each. Which one or two do I absolutely need on my boat?
A: You only need two deck brushes – one that is soft to wash gel coat and most other materials with and one that is lightly scratchy for non-skid. Shurhold offers three types of deck brushes. The blue one is very soft, the yellow one is lightly scratchy and the white one is very scratchy. West Marine offers their own brand of deck brushes, as well, however their yellow brush is soft, their blue brush is medium-course and their white brush is scratchy. Each manufacturer will have different colors for the different grades of their deck brushes, so when choosing the soft one, run it across your face and if it feels at all scratchy, then it’s not the best brush to be used on smooth gel coat.
When washing your boat with the soft deck brush, it’s perfectly fine to use it on glass windows, vinyl seats, canvas, boat graphics and non-skid. However, do not use even the softest of deck brushes on plastic windows, such as Isinglass, Strataglass or Lexan. It is best to use a microfiber rag (not terry cloth) and a spray cleaner meant for those materials such as Plexus Plastic Cleaner or Mer-Maid’s Plexiglass Cleaner and Polish.
Deckhand Detailing, established in 1990, offers affordable and high quality boat cleaning and detailing services including boat washing, buffing and waxing, interior cleaning and more. We're experienced, friendly and easy to work with because we love what we do!