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Friend or Faux?

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One of the most eye-catching boats at the Newport boat show last fall, the Scandinavian Cruiser 20, is a fast daysailer with a narrow hull and a traditional teak deck. At least it looked like teak. As I was checking out the SC20, something about those decks struck me as being a little off. Then it hit me: they looked too good, too clean to be real. The fact that I had to ask to make sure they were synthetic speaks volumes about how far this technology has come in recent years.

Since the advent of fiberglass boat production, sailors have had a love-hate relationship with teak decks. On the one hand, they provide a good nonskid surface and add a feeling of warmth to a boat’s appearance. On the other, teak is expensive and time-consuming to maintain.

By contrast, synthetic teak decking can be installed at a fraction of the cost—30 to 50 percent less, depending on the job—and requires almost no maintenance to keep it from splitting or going gray. It is also much “greener,” in that it doesn’t involve harvesting tropical hardwood.

Today’s synthetic teak decks are made of textured PVC plastic, so there’s no way for things like red wine or fish guts to soak in and cause problems. The same goes for Marinedeck 2000, from the Dutch manufacturer Stazo Marine Equipment, which is made from cork and is equally impervious to water. In the event your decking does get stained, simply sand it off with some coarse-grit sandpaper, and you’re good as new.

Synthetic teak also has excellent nonskid properties, reportedly providing an even better grip when wet than actual teak. Although we didn’t have a chance to test the gripping qualities of all the samples featured in this article, the Flexiteek on the SC 20 provided excellent footing during a boisterous sail on Narragansett Bay.

On the down side, there have been reports of bubbling in synthetic teak decks as a result of adhesive gassing or trapped air bubbles. So be sure your installer knows his business, particularly when undertaking a large retrofitting job.

Then there is the matter of temperature. Teak can get pretty warm when sitting out in the sun, but a PVC deck gets even warmer—around 150 degrees F on a hot sunny day, according to Bill Gribble, president of Ohio-based PlasDECK Inc. With this in mind, Gribble’s company recently unveiled a new lighter-colored synthetic teak decking called CoolTEAK, which is purportedly much easier on the soles of your feet.

Finally, there is the question of appearance. Although it looks good, even the best cork or synthetic teak deck won’t fool anybody for long. At the same time, though, how many sailors can truly say they are proud of their genuine teak?

I was recently doing a delivery with the owner of a beautiful teak-decked 46-footer. When I complimented him on the state of his side decks—a little on the gray side, but not too bad—he just rolled his eyes and said he would probably go with a molded nonskid deck if he had the chance to do it again.

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