Ahhh, what was once beautiful and inviting, after years of use in a moist environment has become an embarrassing, smelly, ugly mess. In fact, even more importantly, it could be to a point where it is structurally unsafe to actually walk on.
You may be surprised to find out that all is not necessarily lost. We might be able to save it for you, depending on the structural integrity of the boards and the level of rot that has been created by moisture absorption.
In the unfortunate case where the sole is too far gone to repair and restore it cost effectively (like the one above), we’ll build you a new one from scratch, only better than the original. Guaranteed. Ours will have more protection built in so moisture damage won’t easily take hold again. Of course, keeping the bilges dry with good air circulation will also help in the long run. But, that’s something you can control yourself with a little effort. We’ll advise you on that issue (how to protect your newly installed or restored sole) further, when the new floor is complete.
Understanding the Problem
Most production boat manufacturers install cabin soles made of 1/2 to 3/4 inch plywood with a thin “teak & holly” veneer surface. This is done to replicate a traditional solid teak and holly planked sole from days gone by. Cost-wise, it is unrealistic to build most yacht floors that way today, as teak is one of the most expensive woods on the market and the labor to custom-fit and install the planking can be overwhelming. Certainly a few high-end custom yacht builders may use real teak and holly, but you can be sure it is reflected in the much higher purchase price of those yachts.
A 4 x 8 x 3/4 sheet of teak and holly veneered ply can run well over $300 and is virtually ready to be cut and routered to size when it comes off the truck. For comparison purposes, that same area of hand-laid solid teak and holly strips would likely be well over $1000 for materials and the labor costs would be double to triple as that of laying a plywood deck.
In any case, the teak & holly plywood cabin soles found on about 95% of production yachts are normally quite attractive and inviting as they leave the factory and maybe for the first few years. However, due to the moist environment in which they are situated (usually over a bilge), their life of beauty can be greatly shortened. Damage due to moisture intrusion doesn’t typically happen overnight. With a bit of forethought and some attention to detail along the way, cabin soles should never become so moisture-laden and/or rotted that the only choice is to start over. However, that is often the only option.
Teak plywood, or teak & holly plywood (or cherry & holly or mahogany & holly are two other options we can fabricate with) is made up of thin sheets, or layers of real wood which are glued together to create a specified thickness. Glues, in general, do not hold up well to moisture. Though teak is okay in a moist environment, the only teak on this plywood is a very thin veneer layer on the surface. The other layers used to make up this plywood, from the bottom layer up to the thin veneer teak layer on the surface are made from more vunerable, softer type woods, all adhered together with glue, which breaks down under extended periods of moisture.
So, Here's How We'll Fix It
Well, first we’ll come take a close look at things if the boat is in our local area. If not, you can take lots of pictures and even send us a sample of the worst section if it can easily be removed. If we determine that the sole can be saved (see Saving Your Sole article in our blog section, which originally appearing in WindCheck Magazine and was written by DAKOTA MARINE owner, Doug Ely.) we’ll give you a quote to do so which will specify all the steps that must be taken and any option that you may have. If you want to proceed and are in our area, we’ll take it from there.
We’ll remove the floor panels, if feasible. This would be the best case scenario, but many boat soles are installed in a manner that doesn’t allow removal. In those instances, the work must be done on board, not in our shop, which is a bit more of a logistical issue, but certainly doable. Assuming we can remove the panels, we will have access to the underside of each board, which will allow us to actually repair any damage already done (after drying them out first) and put on an epoxy barrier coating to limit damage going forward. This is an important step in the moisture battle and we recommend this process on any floor that can be removed and, of course, for any new floor that we may build.
If you will be removing the floor yourself and shipping it to us from out of the area, we’ll work closely with you throughout the whole process. This can save you money, but will require you to be a part of the restoration team with us.
We’ll carefully remove the old finish with heat gun and scraper, the safest way to protect the vulnerable thin top cosmetic layer. This is a time consuming, but necessary process when working with plywood. We do not recommend chemical strippers which can be quite messy, caustic to breath, but worse, can hurt the new finish if not properly cleaned from every pore.
Next we detail the wood surfaces to make them look as good as possible. Major dents are filled, stains are lightened, color is made more uniform, and all top surfaces are progressively hand-sanded started with 80-grit where necessary and working up to 220-grit finish sanding. In addition, depending on condition and the thickness of the veneer, some machine sanding may also be necessary. On plywood, this is a very tricky process, but one we have fully mastered over hundreds of cabin sole and belowdecks restorations.
Prepping the bottoms and edges is also something we’ll need to do if an epoxy encapsulation is part of the project. (It’s highly recommended). Then, depending on which encapsulation method is chosen, we will apply 2-3 coats of clear epoxy. Any applied to the top surface will need to be faired smooth to allow for a perfect varnish top coat finish.
After the epoxy work is complete, usually a few days or so, then it is time to actually start the varnish finishing process. If you have chosen to go with a satin finish, it could take a week or so to get all the coats properly applied. Gloss finishes will require a longer time period to build up to a requisite thickness. For the best results, after an overnight of drying, every coat of applied varnish must be sanded and re-prepped for the next one.
Finally, after sufficient drying time, which could be another week or more, we will fit and install the cabin sole back into the boat.
Whether fabricating a new cabin sole from scratch or restoring and refinishing one, it’s a large project that will encompass weeks, or more, of time. We can handle all of it, or parts of it, whatever works best for you. This is one of our core specialties. Give us a call to discuss the logistics, realities and potential costs (including some ways to save) at (203) 878-4193. Hope to hear from you.
Teak & Holly Cabin Sole Refinishing, Restorations, Full Replacements and Everything in Between. We Specialize in This Type of Work!
Serving Long Island Sound to the Caribbean and Beyond, since 2001
Quality Care for the Finest Yacht. Yours.
Not in Our Local Service Area?
We've done many repairs, restorations and replacements from all over the country. Give a call to discuss the feasibility and logistics.
Copyright 2015 DAKOTA MARINE YACHT SERVICES
Options in teak, cherry, mahogany
Here's another example of our work replacing a teak & holly cabin sole on a Tartan 4600
ALL DONE AND BACK TOGETHER
If you'd like to speak with this owner, or any other of our sole restoration or replacement customers over the years, just let us know.
MAST STEP JOINERY
Look closely at the details. And the way it matches the new sole.
DISASSEMBLING CABIN BUILT-IN SETTEES
Port settee needed major repairs. Both settees had to be removed
New floor, rebuilt settee, new custom mast step cover-all varnished
SETTEE PANEL IN NEED OF REPLACEMENT
Both settees removed and brought to shop for major repairs
Ripping out rotted area of the cabin sole, sub floor and furniture
Notice the damage on the settee panel to the left of the mast as well
New sole installed and varnished
Newly fabricated cabin sole, built in shop
Unsalvagable sole removed from cabin
Restored from sole in above photo
This one we saved. See Below.