If someone were to ask us what was the hardest thing to do during the refit on Redemption, I think Michelle and I would both agree that re-caulking the teak decks would be the top. Don’t get me wrong, when I designed and built our lithium battery system it was tough, mostly research, paper drawings, and such that took a very long time but wasn’t that “hard”. For Michelle, sanding and repainting every cubby, storage access, and cranny would be her next top, as it was hot, itchy, and dusty/stinky, but I would venture she would agree it wasn’t exactly “hard”.
Re-vamping teak decks on a boat the size of Redemption is without a the most time-consuming, physically demanding, and mentally intensive project we have completed to date. Our sailing friends, who we have exchanged our “feelings” on teak deck caulking, on s/v Agape and s/v Prism know all well what it’s like and we are glad we had their encouragement to lean on to keep going. We pushed through to the end, completing every deck on Redemption, in an exhausting effort that took the span of many months. Below is the chronicle of it all with some time-lapse of some of the caulking, which is the shortest of the tasks.
We want to firstly thank our family and friends who have helped us during this venture, without you guys I believe we may still be plugging away(literally) on the decks or working without a cold case of beer.
We started this lengthy process in November 2015 and though we work offshore half of the time, I think six months or more would be an accurate assessment. Back in November, I started by tackling the deck locker hatches just to see what we may be getting ourselves involved in.
That went fairly smoothly, though those teak boards were starting to wear thin along the forward edges. This worried me a bit as I wasn’t sure if that would be the status quo. Other than that, it was fairly easy. Remove old caulk, clean up seams, pull old screws, make new plugs, fasten new screws, plug, sand plugs fair, scrub/clean teak, tape, caulk, sand. That was the process, and those aren’t even the sub-details that each one entails. These hatches were done in a controlled environment at my parent’s shop at their house. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Next part, the actual deck. We started on the coach roof in the cold, rainy months of February and March. This was when we realized this was going to be one of those jobs we knew we needed to get done but would ultimately hate, nay, we would loathe. Thankfully though we had a few tricks up our sleeves that would help make things easier. For starters, we had a Fien Multimaster oscillating tool with a special teak deck caulk remover blade. This made removing the old, crusty, and hard caulk out of the seams with relative ease. Care must be taken with it because it will cut right into the bottom or side of the seams if you aren’t careful. Michelle was a better driver than I with this as I tried to rush it and she took her time. (ain’t nobody got time fo’ that!) Those blades are a God-send, you can see in the video just how easy it removes the old stuff. Much more efficient than a manual reefing hook!
After, we ran the seams with either a router with a 3/16″ straight bit or a rotary saw with two blades. The two blades were offset 180* so the blades sat flush with each other. This make the cut width somewhere between 3/16″ and 1/4″. (if you do this, bring a pair of calipers with you to the hardware to measure the blade thickness, not all packaging says cut width). Before you start with either tool, be sure to have a piece of wood and calipers with you so you can cut and test cut depth on each. I made our seams roughly square, so they were somewhere around 1/4″. Where the saw really shines is when the seams are so badly worn away there isn’t anything to guide the router and would be too much to cut in one pass with the router. If you aren’t handy with a rotary saw, practice on some cheap plywood first. You have to stay straight because any twist or turn and the front and back of the blades will cut into the teak on either side of the seam. You can also make a jig of some sort to help guide, but if you have shallow seams like we did this wouldn’t have worked well. Fortunately, 90% of Redemption’s decks were still very thick so we didn’t have the worry like I had with the hatches. I believe they were originally laid with either 12mm or 1/2″ teak boards in Taiwan when she was built. Places where the saw can’t reach due to its size we got with the router and if that didn’t work we used a combination of shaving wood with the reefing hook or very carefully shaving with the Fein tool. Running the seam sander along the sides of the seams was a monotonous task that every time reminded me of something Mr. Miyagi would make Daniel do for training in the Karate Kid. But it was necessary so as to remove whatever caulk was left on the sides and to straighten up the sides if there were any nicks or mess ups from the saw or router. Pull old screws, make new plugs, fasten new screws, plug, sand plugs fair, scrub/clean teak, tape, caulk, sand.
It wasn’t until August that we started up again with the decks due to our festivity filled summer.. wedding fun can blow some time! We decided to conquer the starboard side deck first as this was going to be a more invasive job: we had a leaky jib track that needed removal. We had to remove 54 nuts and bolts from the sixteen feet of track not to forget about the two lag screws holding the stoppers on the ends.
With that removed, we started the process again. Remove old caulk, clean up seams.. Getting the deck ready for new screws and plugs was probably the most grueling of the tasks as it required hours upon hours of kneeling or sitting and always bending over. Not to mention this part of the deck was done in August in south Louisiana with temps in the high 90s hitting triple digits at times and a humidity level that makes a rainforest sweat. First, the old plugs or the remnants of them had to be removed. This was done with a couple of drill bits and an ice pick. One bit was smaller than the 3/8″ plug, around 5/16″ and the other was just under the 3/8″ plug size, so say 23/64″. The smaller was more of a pilot bit, and the larger bit was cut with a flat tip so it would clean the plug hole without drilling into the screw head below. From here, the ice pick cleans out the remaining epoxy/glue from the hole and screw top so a screwdriver can get a bite. Once removed, new 316 stainless steel flathead screws needed to be had for their replacement. All total, there is probably at least a 1,000 screws in Redemption’s deck, which also means at least a 1000 plugs that needed to be cut. I say “probably” because honestly I lost count when I bought the third batch of 200 screws.
Plugs are easy enough to make, but standing in front of a drill press early in the morning or late at night isn’t exactly what I call fun. It’s what I think a shop teacher would use to make a student suffer for some sort of punishment. Alas, they needed to be cut because there was a job for them. We put the plugs and screws in at the same time because we used West epoxy to seal both the screw and the plugs and didn’t want a hard epoxy gap between the two. Dip the screw, screw it in, dip the plug, orient the grain, push in, tap in with small hammer. Repeat 1000 times. When that cures* you come back with a sharp wood chisel and said small hammer and knock the tops off the plugs. Then sand the plugs smooth with a sander and 80-grit paper. Scrub/clean teak, tape, caulk, sand.
*We gave it a day for the epoxy to cure because, well, sometimes you need to shake off the scoliosis and let your brain re-congeal from melting from the sky furnace the world calls the Sun
October rolled around and we made it a point to finish thing once and for all! It started again; remove old caulk, clean up seams, pull old screws, make new plugs, fasten new screws, plug, sand plugs fair… Scrubbing the decks was definitely a morale booster for us. We scrubbed the decks with a combination of TSP(trisodium phosphate) and bleach to both clean the teak decks but also to kill any mold or mildew that may be lingering around in the grain. Follow the directions on the TSP box for mixing and application. I say this part was a morale booster because when we got to scrub the decks with this solution and rinsed it off, the decks looked so dark and rich when they were wet. We could see the dirt and dust and grim wash off down the hull and over the side, but it wasn’t until the next day when it was dry that it looked almost as good as new. The wood was no longer a dingy grey. It was made anew, light browns and golden tans were now shinning through. Not only was the wood fresh, but now the seams were ready. Taping.
Let me tell you about this type of taping. Taping is about as fulfilling as reading about tax code. Taping will bring out the worst weather an average month can give. Taping is only fun if you have to redo it, twice. Taping lets you know that your method of taping sucks only AFTER its covered in fresh caulk. Taping was probably an Old Testament activity to avoid. In all honesty we taped FIVE decks, and Redemption only has 3. You tape, it rains. In two different months we did just about everything else with great weather, but come time to tape and it pours. So twice we had to redo the tape. And this isn’t trivial, it probably took at least 25 rolls of tape to cover all of the decks, not including the re-do’s.
But we prevailed in the end, God willing, and got everything taped so we could apply the new caulking. I wish we could give you the best method of how to apply tape so it comes up in the best way as you’re caulking, but we did the entire boat and have come out still scratching our heads. The only thing that helped to grab the tape was to make tabs in the tape. Other than that, it’s just a crap shoot on how you pull it off orderly and cleanly.
The caulking part of this ordeal was pretty straight forward. Put caulk in seam, smooth it out with putty knife, remove tape immediately after, try not to step in it for 48 hours. Follow the directions that come with the Teak Deck Systems caulking for application.
A couple of tips: come to the boat before this job with well relaxed and energetic forearms for the caulk gun(lots of squeezing there, Popeye), have a brand new box of disposable gloves(you’re going to go through them like a newborn goes through diapers), a bunch of rags (old or new, you will need them for clean up, wiping hands/arms/legs, and wiping the boat when you inevitably let the tape touch something), and a jug of paint thinner (use with rags), and lastly, take a couple of classes of yoga, because once the deck is covered in caulk you will need to be able to stretch and straddle to continue working (anyone play Twister as a kid?). I didn’t have access to an electric caulking gun but I am sure this would help things a lot as I believe you can set the rate on them. But really the tape removal is what takes a little more time.
Sand. In order to finish it all you must hit the deck and new caulk with a sander with some 80-grit sandpaper to smooth off the caulk with the surrounding teak. Vacuum, clean and voila. Freshly caulked teak decks.
While we don’t have any good recent photos of the whole deck at the moment, it’s “winter” here in southeast Louisiana which means rain every few days and cold temps, we will as soon as we get better weather. We do have Semco teak cleaner and sealer that we plan to use as soon as our deck is finished sanded to really make the deck look nice and to help preserve the teak as long as we can. So you’re just going to have to stay tuned until we get those final steps completed and write-up a separate post on the Semco products.
If you have any questions or any tips please comment below and let us know!