After a long bout of spring cleaning, you might set a vase of fresh blooms on your table. Or, after detailing your car, you might spend a minute putting Armor All on your tires. These are the cherries on top – the extra bit of elbow grease you apply just when you could be taking the gloves off. And you do it just for the pleasure. You do it to show pride in your work, and to celebrate your good fortune. On a boat, brightwork might be the equivalent.
“Brightwork” is an old sailor’s word for all the parts on the exterior of a boat that are brightly polished or finely varnished. These days, new boats contain no brightwork at all – and that’s a selling feature. Afterall, who wants to spend their days scraping, sanding and varnishing? But 35 years ago, when Spartan was being built, a bit of brightwork was considered necessary. It helped give the boat a salty, old-timey look, and it was a tip of the hat, a gesture of respect towards the hundreds of years of ships and sailors that came before you, and the hours in toil that they spent during the long hours at sea.
The best way to keep your brightwork looking good is to keep it out of the sun. We always intended to make handrail covers to do just that, but we never got a round tuit. Those tuits are rare – particularly the round ones. (Total Dad joke!) We also never got around to touching up the varnish. It’s amazing how you don’t notice any change and then one day, you wake up and realize that you’re gonna need to strip it all and start again.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been chipping away at the work. We scraped our brightwork down to bare wood, sanded and began varnishing. Ten coats is the recommended minimum, with at least 24 hours of drying and then sanding between each coat.
We picked a good time of year to do this work. It’s not too hot, but it’s warm enough for the varnish to set properly. And there’ve been few bugs to contend with, which can quickly make varnishing futile.
I’m up to coat #6 on most of the boat and coat #3 on the port side. I plan to keep a jar of varnish aboard, with a little brush screwed right into the jar’s lid. That way, touch ups can be quick and frequent. We don’t plan to take a sewing machine with us, so it looks like we won’t be getting covers made until after this varnish has lived through a full year of bright sun and salt.