Rejuvenating Taku [41]

By Robyn Graham

“Aw, she aint so pretty as she used to be!”

The Old Sea Dog’s voice was husky with disapppointment at the sight of Taku’s scratched hull and faded fibreglass on the deck. It was understandable: he had designed this sea kayak as the first prototype of the Inuit Classic, spent many hours constructing her, and he had reluctantly sold her to me.

“Steady on, Norm,” I apologised, “it’s been nearly two years since I bought her, and in that time she’s seen a lot of action. She sat on the roof of the car for lotsa long journeys in the sun.”

I hadn’t actually been out to sea much, but I had explored the Murray, Clarence and Noosa Rivers, Chowilla Creek, and fossicked around estuaries along the coast such as Mallacoota Inlet, Sydney Harbour, and places like Tallowa Dam. Funny how the peeling varnish, the discoloration, the knocks and scratches creep up on you. You don’t notice them until someone with the perfectionist eye of the OSD, with his fierce possessiveness over his own creations, appraises the situation.

“Bring her down to Tuross and we’ll sand her off and repaint her,” he offered.

I gladly agreed, little knowing how much effort would be involved. I was commencing a spot of long service leave, and one of the goals I had set was to recoat the boat.

The first time I phoned the OSD about it, I had only allowed a weekend for the job. Norm was impatient with my ignorance; didn’t I realise that four or five coats would be needed, and maybe a day or more between each coat? No, I didn’t know actually. So I backed off and we agreed to tackle the job later.

By the time I phoned again, months later, I’d already started the sanding and was beginning to remove some of the deck fittings.

“Don’t remove the deck fittings! DON’T DO THAT!” he shrieked down the phone. “You’d better get down here straight away.”

It was clear I hadn’t a clue of the intricacies of setting fittings in epoxy. There was doubt, besides, about whether I would be able to apply it neatly enough. At every point of the job I needed guidance, so I thought I would just mosey on down to Tuross Head and get some professional supervision.

It was glorious early spring weather: misty mornings clearing to sunny clear days. The jasmine was just beginning to bloom, with its heavenly scent filling the air. Firetails, rosellas and satin bower birds flitted through the garden. Mona as always was gracious and unflappable about me and the dog setting up camp in the downstairs flat.

We set to work on Taku in the new shed, and I must say what a fine working space this is. Plenty of room to move around the kayak, even though Norm was working on another canoe at the same time.

My sanding was more or less adequate, but there was the problem of how to mask the milky patches in the fibreglass, which we solved by adding stain to the varnish. The top deck took four coats; nothing special or expensive, just ultra violet resistant exterior house varnish. Norm is of the view that you just pay for the fancy marketing when you buy marine varnish. And thus far the ‘Feast and Watson’ brand is performing well.

The hull just needed a spot here and there of undercoat and then one coat of full gloss paint. Yep, ordinary exterior house paint. Bright yellow. The deck also features a striking yellow Inuit design against the deep golden wood grain, and this had to be carefully masked and repainted.

There were lots of little tricks I needed to learn to make it a perfect paint job. “L-a-a-and the brush. No, don’t jab it: l-a-a-and the brush,” he’d say, demonstrating with a delicate flourish of the hand. I never did learn to land on the enamel without the brush mark showing to some extent. But I’ll know how to do better next time.

Unfortunately the day the yellow enamel went on was rainy, and it developed an irregular bloom all over it. A pity. But still, it won’t show below the water line. And anyway, the paint is smoother as a result of the sanding, and there’s a good basis for another coat of enamel down the track a little. The deck at least is like a mirror. Water runs off it “like off a duck’s back”, we noted with satisfaction on Lake Burley Griffin the other day.

As a finishing touch we replaced the old deck lines with the new system finished off with bowlines. Out of this learning process I developed a lot of new skills and new confidence to manage and maintain the kayak on my own. Taku came out of it as practically a new boat. Even the Old Sea Dog had to admit she’s better than she’s ever been.

There’s a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure in owning, handling and caring for a wooden boat, especially one so crafted with care and skill and an eye for detail. She always draws an admiring audience when I launch at the coast. I’m always proud to show her off.

Having done the entire recoating process under Norm’s expert and painstaking eye, I am pretty confident now that I can care of Taku into the future. Thanks for the learning, and your help and guidance, Norm.

Norm promises to honour all OSD praise articles with a free feel of his new Greenland kayak (when he actually finishes it).