Spring, Varnish & Brightwork



We have been so lucky last week here in Fowey, Cornwall, spring has really begun with cloudless days, warm sunshine and the woodlands bursting into life beside the ship.  Bessie Ellen is lying alongside a pontoon in the river with an old building which was once a pilchard cellar for salting barrels of the silver darlings before shipping to the Mediterranean. Fish cellars were built, away from the town and other settlements, to process and store the fish. The sites were chosen for their ease of accessibility by water. The fish were stacked in the cellars and either pressed into barrels using huge oak beams, smoked or pickled in brine. Another of these cellars was at Brazen Island, and parts of the pits used to collect the fish oil still remain. Its sad the fish are not here in their vast shoals any more, but they are returning slowly and are now fished in a more sustainable method using smaller boats and cotton filament nets.

As we work on setting up the new bowsprit rigging of new whisker booms and guys, tarring rigging and varnishing, the air is full of bird noises.  Mallard and swans visit for any morsel of bread, the ever present gull and the rather prehistoric cormorants entertain us with their diving and popping up all over the place with beaks full of wriggling eels or small fish. Early afternoon brings the herons as they return back to their nests. Mobbed by gulls, their barks and squawks ring out over the river  and just epitomises life on an English river.

This weather brings out the varnish brushes, scrapers and sandpapers.  There is much discussion over brightwork, but we seem to have reached a good and fairly maintenance free solution.  All our spars and pin rails and what we call heavy use woodwork is treated with Tonkinois, a french manufactured mix of natural oils with added hardeners.  We use this because of it is easy to repair and apply, plus it has a good fire rating. (Does not burn easily)

This varnish does not give a huge glossy finish, but is good for our native timbers and lasts well. I must add that it is not so good for tropical oily woods such as teak or mahogany.

The aft cabin roof, planked in Douglas fir has a harder, more glossy finish.  The choice here is Hempel Classic as all our paint products are Hempel and it keeps things more simple.   Hard enough to take the traffic but not great against sun, this area needs to be redone about every four years and takes a good week to strip, sand down and add enough layers to build a shine.  This photo shows five coats and we should do at least two more for a good high build.

Application of both these varnishes is relatively easy, you need a good quality brush and some natural gum turpentine  to make the products flow off the brush and blend a little more easily.  A trick I have learned from Denmark is adding a little liquid driers.  This really helps in cold or damp conditions which we get in the early evenings at this time of year but does not affect the final finish in any way.

If you would like to ask any questions regarding your own varnish projects, then please do get in touch and we can try our best to assist you to reach a perfect finish for your brightwork.

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