Brightwork is a term that sends some sailors running for cover; it makes others jump up and down and leap for joy. Well, it makes me leap for joy, anyway. And no matter if you love the work or hate it, it’s hard to deny that the end result is beautiful.
So what exactly is “brightwork” on a boat? It doesn’t usually refer to the brass, although (if it’s polished regularly) that’s pretty bright and shiny too. Nope, it’s the wonderfully varnished woodwork that gleams like a jewel in the sun.
Let me tell you a little story to give you some background on my obsession with brightwork.
My first two or three months on the sailing vessel Hawaiian Chieftain were spent doing brightwork. She had sat boarded up for several months on Lake Michigan, getting absolutely no TLC, before she was brought to Westport, WA in 2006 for “100 Days of Summer.” This was code for “100 Days of Maintenance,” something many sailors are not very excited about.
Since at first I was only able to work on the boat in the mornings before slaving away at my day job, I did a whole lot of maintenance and not a lot of sailing. Those early morning hours spent scraping off the old, cracked varnish and then sanding the wood to a nice smooth condition, bleaching out the black spots and then sanding it again, were such meditative hours. Nobody on the crew could figure out why I loved it so much; but then, none of them were forced to spend the rest of the day standing in a stuffy, artificially-lit building in a button-down shirt, keeping track of several thousand dollars and trying not to get robbed. (Did I mention I used to be a bank teller?) Out there in the fresh air, with the boat gently swaying in the current, I felt as free as a bird, even though we were tied up at the dock. For most of the crew, maintenance was a necessary evil so that they could keep on sailing. For me, it was respite from the “real world.”
So there you have it. Some people do yoga. I did brightwork.
Now that I have a baby on the way, I try to avoid painting and varnishing. But I did marry the Bos’un after all, so when our family gifted us a brand new red wagon as a baby gift, he decided to varnish the wood before putting it all together. With a gale warning all along the central coast and plenty of sunshine to work in, it was almost like a day of boat maintenance… almost.
Instead of using varnish, we used Cetol Marine, which is a little more flexible and a little easier to apply. It has this deep golden color, as you can see in the photos, and it’s pretty durable too. Most of all, it reminds us of our days on the Chieftain!