Realizing Color

James’s artistry has taught me (Dena, of course) so much about apprehending the beauty around me. He shows me the world through his photos, which also trains my eye to linger on line and shadow, contrast and texture.

He’s also one hell of a color schemer, and our very own S/V S.N. Cetacea needed a color reboot.

I pay for Flickr to lose my pictures

We did the green and beige thing on Nomad, plus this hull just begs for something more…intense.

In addition, the wood on the toerail and under the green strip had thirty-six years of weathering and rough cleaning. It didn’t just need spiffing up; it had to be repaired.

Spreading gFlex on the scarf joint

If you look at the top right of the picture above, you’ll see that there are fastener heads poking up above the level of the wood. Those began life snuggled under bungs. They haven’t worked their way up. The wood has been worn down by at least…oh…four to six millimeters? The scarf (where the two pieces of wood are mated together with a jagged joint) was structurally unsound.

My challenge was to salvage a terribly thinned rail and stop the degradation. My desire was to make it beautiful in the end.

Scarf joint with gFlex

After I removed the bolts reinforcing the scarfs, I worked West System’s awkwardly named G/flex 650 epoxy into the holes and between the two pieces of wood. A pleasingly ample amount squeezed out when I applied the clamp. I slathered the rest of the damaged wood with more epoxy than it needed on the first round with the plan of sanding it down even.

Scarf joint after repair

That worked!

At work...

And then I thickened batch after batch of G/flex with colloidal silica and applied it with every tool at my disposal: mixing stick, spreader, and hands.

I used my hands because the rough cleaning I mentioned above had left a washboard of wood. Teak has beautiful grain, but the variation is due to some of the wood being softer than other parts. Chemical baths and stiff brushes dig the soft stuff out and leave the harder parts as ridges. On Cetacea, some of those were as high as three millimeters above the crevice.

With my fingers, I massaged the G/flex into all of these crevices. This is more than 30′ of wood on each side of the boat for the top of the toe rail and another 30′ under the green stripe, so it took a lot of time, a lot of epoxy, and one hell of a lot of tape.

So much tape

The first sanding revealed that I had a lot of work left to do.

Epoxy, sand, epoxy, sand...
Saving our wood

I filled up and sanded down…filled up and sanded down…tried to make up for missing material. The lower wooden part in the picture above has a thick line of epoxy from where the wood had simply disintegrated.

Where fasteners were showing, I filled their holes with epoxy if they were low enough. If not, I ramped the epoxy up around them to smooth the bump.

Caprails underway

I got a lot of compliments while doing this work. We were on the main walkway for the northern side of the marina and a dozen people (minimum) passed me each day. Lots of kind words, mostly from people who would never take on a project like this. She just smoothed out so nicely!

And, what was I (James) doing while this brilliance was taking place?! I was punching a clock doing another man’s work for him trying to change an industry that is trying to destroy the world one fastener at a time. Once again people, I am well within my comfort zone here!

I (Dena) worked from the dinghy on the side that wasn’t against the dock. It was less stable but also less stressful as far as making a mess.

Dena at work

Finally it was time to do the very last sanding before the neat coat of epoxy that would finally and completely seal the wood away from the ravages of salt and sun.

Well into Fall

That neat coat of epoxy showed me that yes, it was time to start the real job. Painting.

Gflex epoxy rocks!

Well, to be clear…priming to paint.

Taped and ready

It was rather a shock to the system to see that wood suddenly disappear. The more work I put into it, the more beautiful it had looked overall. There was just too much damage, though, for a decent-looking varnishing. This would be better, I reminded myself sternly.

Lovebot baby...

When the black went on, it was a revelation.

One coat after the rain

I truly loved it. Sleek and solid, beautiful and the farthest thing possible from mistreated.

James caught me taping for the final stage and one which made me vibrate with excitement. If painting the rail felt like a big change and black felt daring, our plan for the green stripe was nothing less than breathtaking.

Dena at work

In 2015, our first Downeast Maine run was highlighted by a trip to The WoodenBoat School in Brookline at the very end of the Eggamogin Reach. We put Nomad’s hook down and rowed in and, just as we were getting out of the little boat, we spied a beautiful old wooden schooner pulling up to the WoodenBoat School’s visitors dock.

It was the first time either one of us had seen the color known only as Epifanes #23. We were blown away. I (James) found it impossible to put my finger on exactly what the color, deep and almost disturbing, exactly was. I (Dena) think it evokes bodily viscera in a way that could be creepy but ends up being so richly alive.

The owner of the vessel saw us ohhing-and-ahhing over his totally nontraditional choice in color. I (James) of course had to ask him what that incredible color was actually called and he simply said Epifanes #23.

We’ve both been big fans of Epifanes marine varnish for years but, until Dena worked for Hamilton Marine Supply in Portland, we’d never actually seen a color palate of their line of marine enamels. Shit, I thought all they did was make the best varnish in the world. The black rail clearly showed us how cool their enamels and primer were to work with.

It’s funny, I didn’t even try to explain the color to anyone around the marina…mainly because #23 isn’t that expressive of a name and…well…it is still very hard to put my finger on exactly what color it is. It’s definitely not what I would call red. It’s soooo not purple and be damned if it looks like any color I’ve seen on any vessel besides that one beautiful schooner we saw five years ago.

Well, my co-worker on the docks, Owen, named it as soon as he saw what Dena had done. He called it Pinot Noir, and he nailed it.

The final result (with only one coat of each color to get us through the winter) is so beautiful that you just have to see it for yourself.

New colors
Starboard quarter, aft

Now we have to (get to!) get rid of all the rest of the green on the boat, so I started by stripping the UV cover from the roller furling headsails.

American Author Dena Hankins

All the sail covers will be black, as will the two hatch covers eventually. Next spring, we’ll tear off the entire cockpit cover and start a whole new system of getting just enough weather…but not too much.

And finally, finally, I (Dena) will be able to see perfectly what James could conceptualize in his head. I doubt I’ll ever have the grasp he does of color and shape, but he makes sure I have a head-turningly gorgeous boat.

Lucky me!



  1. I had a car once that was a very similar color and I swear it was called Maroon Five (yes, I know but the group didn’t exist then).
    It is an awesome look.

  2. Hey you probably don’t remember me but my name is Eli I started my apprenticeship On Mystic Whaler when y’all were working there I have since bought my own Catalina 30 and I’m cruising down the icw near Charleston at the moment I’d love to catch up sometime as I’ve enjoyed following your blog also I was wondering if you knew of any good haul out Marina and or live aboard marinas south of here that aren’t too expensive.

    1. Well, hello! Those of us with salt blood find all the ways of staying on the water, eh? I remember you some and I’m glad to hear you’re adventuring. We’ve only cruised as far south as South Carolina ourselves, but you might want to try Beaufort, SC. It’s a tidy town with everything you need and wasn’t expensive as far as I can remember.

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