Clearing the deck: A critical take on teak
Is there anything nicer on a boat than that silky-smooth finish of a teak deck? Surely, not! Teak is a godsend! It doesn’t splinter, swell or shrink. It fights off termites, water and UV radiation. You can use it for decks and interiors. Do nothing and it gets a pleasing silver-gray sheen. A swipe of linseed oil brings a rich finish. Want anything else? A better price, you ask? Unlikely!
Annual global demand for tropical hardwood is now is 90 million cubic meters. It will reach 136 cubic meters in 2050. The International Tropical Timber Organization says China’s economic miracle means Beijing now absorbs 60% of global tropical log imports in 2011.
The Dutch sailing magazine Zeilen has long questioned the wisdom of teak on yachts. In its December 2012 issue, it said plantation teak may be durable, it’s not problem-free. “Often a natural forest is taken down to make room for one species, teak, resulting in biodiversity loss,” said Zeilen. Plantation teak represents only 3% of total supply.
In the face of synthetic and natural deck alternatives, some yachting insiders see teak’s popularity waning. “I’m surprised this has not come up before,” Reinier van der Wolf of De Valk Yacht Brokers tells Yacht and Coast. “I still have clients who want teak. They like how it looks. But they are not going to pay extra for it. Not when the market is already under pressure. Teak decks last, say, 15 years with good upkeep. But older decks that are screwed into place are vulnerable to leakage at the screws. Teak can be a curse, really.”
A new teak deck for a 30-something ft sailing yacht can cost €15,000 and up. Zeilen estimates teak at €1,000/sq. m. depending on winches and other deck hurdles. Synthetic alternatives start at €200/sq. m, cork at €360/sq. m. Wood alternatives include Iroko. There are also chemically-modified woods (Visor, for instance). PVC-based alternatives are marketed as Flexiteek, Permateek, Duradeck, Tek-Dek, NuTeak and other fancy names.
Esthec, a Dutch company, shuns PVC. It makes decks of synthetic composites and fillers for sailing, motor and super-yachts. You’ll find Esthec on Van Dutch and Zeelander motor yachts and Saffier and Contest sailing yachts. It comes in 10 colors and is about 20% cheaper than teak. “Esthec is similar in cost to a mid-level 6-mm teak. That’s not a huge saving,” says Esthec spokeswoman Gabrielle Clark. “But there’s a huge saving in installation and maintenance. Esthec requires no sanding, no special cleanser.”
Kicking the teak habit, says Zeilen, requires a ‘’cultural revolution.’’ It likens the rise of alternatives to that of polyester in yacht building 50-odd years ago. That opened up boating to more people. So today, what’s another “tiny cut in comfort and yacht status worth to you?” asks Zeilen.
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