Posted: January 1, 2014
Keep vinyl letters looking good under varnish.Back when sailboats were the only boats, there was no requirement to show lights at night. The advent of power necessitated navigation lights. In conjunction with masthead and stern lights, sidelights showed the approximate course and direction of another vessel’s travel. To make this work, the red and green sidelights had to be visible from only the port and starboard sides respectively. To block the view of the sidelights, light screens that limited the view were used. Somewhere along the line, someone painted the vessel’s name on the board ahead of the light, and name boards came into existence.
In this era of low-maintenance yachting, if you see any teak on the exterior of a trawler-style yacht, it will probably be a name board/navigation light combination. Check the next Kadey-Krogen, Grand Banks or Fleming you see. Right there on a brightly varnished piece of honey-colored teak will be the yacht’s name and a red or green light. Sometimes the letters will be carved in and coated with gold leaf. More common these days — with gold at $1,300 per ounce — are vinyl letters and a drop-shadow background. While many of today’s new yachts come with name boards installed, we had to have some made for our Krogen 42 back in the last century. When the shipwright finished cutting and joining the teak boards, I put five or six coats of varnish on them. Then we bought vinyl letters from Prism Graphics in Seattle and applied them. It was relatively easy to do. If you invest in Sunbrella covers for the boards, you may go three or four years before recoating them, depending on how much sun you get in your neighborhood. Wherever you live, you’ll eventually have to refinish the boards. The varnish project is easier than with most other external teak, because you can take the name boards home and work on them in the garage. If you change a vessel’s name, you go through the same steps: varnish the blank boards and apply the new name. Removing the boards from your trawler can be tricky. Before you drill out plugs or bungs on the boards to locate screws, check on the back side of the installation. You may find through-bolts with a nut on the inside of the vessel. If this is the case, the bolts can stay with the boards when they come off the vessel. With the first recoating, you will be putting varnish on the vinyl, which seems to work fine. We did this for the first time 10 years ago. Three years later, I put two more coats on the boards, covering the vinyl letters in the process. The letters look more golden as the varnish builds up. I repeated the process every three or four years. A few seasons back, I noticed the edges of some letters peeling up slightly. New varnish tamped them back down that time, but the next time I started the refinish project, they looked a little ragged. I had visions of taking the finish off until the letters came off and starting over. Maybe there was another way. I trimmed the ragged black edges of the letters with an X-Acto knife and touched up some of the rough spots with a black Sharpie (they come in all colors). Once I sanded and varnished the name boards with two more coats, the “corrections” didn’t show much at all. If the varnish is bright and shiny enough, the little anomalies don’t show up. I have put several more seasons on the boat and at least two more coats of varnish on the name. It still looks great. I have kept the same vinyl letters looking good for almost 15 years, but there may come a time when this trick won’t work. As with any brightwork on the outside of a boat, name boards will have to be taken down to bare wood and brought back to life with eight to 10 coats of varnish. Someday.