Low Maintenance Wooden Mast

Written By: 
Colin Stroud
Posted on: 
01 Feb 2010

As you will all know, maintaining a varnished wooden mast can be a very time consuming chore. The ravages of the weather, a salty environment, the sun’s UV and abrasion from running rigging, topsail spars and gaff saddles are all working against you to expose the bare timber below the thin skin of varnish. There are many ways of maintaining a wooden mast and I thought I would share my mast maintenance experience to help ensure our fleet of boats outlasts us and we get the maximum sailing time in them. Therefore I would like to pass on to you my experience of maintaining Plum’s mast over the last 11 years as I have been pleasantly surprised by the result, having now got to a position where I only need to varnish it every five years!

The story starts 13 years ago, two years before I bought Plum, when the keel-stepped mast was taken back to bare wood, as part of a repair job to a failed glue joint, and given two coats of Blakes epoxy resin by the boatyard at Waldringfield in 1996. The yard applied varnish over the epoxy, which is essential as epoxy resin has very poor UV resistance, although I do not know which varnish they used.

In April 1999 the varnish was still in excellent condition so I de-greased with acetone and wet-and-dried the varnish (250 or 300 grit) and after consulting Blakes Paints I used their one-pack "poly-varnish" applying two coats without rubbing down between. In Feb 2002 I lightly wet-and-dried and applied another two coats of the same varnish. In April 2005, as the varnish was still in excellent condition I was going to repeat but I discovered that Blakes had discontinued their one-pack "poly-varnish" and after consultation with them I applied three coats of their two-pack "Diamond" varnish on top. Normal advice is not to apply a two-pack paint or varnish over a one-pot type but Blakes assured me that in this instance they were compatible. Blakes said their “Diamond” varnish should last at least four years. In March 2009, after four years, the mast varnish still looked like new but after a light rub down with 250 grit wet & dry abrasive I applied another two coats of Blakes “Diamond” two-pack varnish. All the evidence so far indicates that this last application will last five years. This all saves me time and money, particularly as I leave the mast standing for four or five years, just regularly inspecting the rigging and fittings from the boson’s chair. Throughout the last 13 years the epoxy/varnish skin has always stayed intact with no discolouration, cracking or wear-through, so, as you would expect, I am very happy with the result and hope this experience is of use to you.

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