Cutty Sark Sadolin Ultra Varnish Failure

9th February 2013 Greenwich

I was shocked at the poor condition of the varnish on the newly restored Cutty Sark. These pictures are now about a month old (January 2013) but I have noticed the varnish has got even worse since. The ship only opened in the summer and there is varnish failure on almost every surface. Even some vertical surfaces are failing and they generally last a long time. It does seem such a shame that there was an opportunity to do a really thorough job on bare timber and that somehow this simple task has been messed up. Now the whole lot will need stripping off and re-doing at great cost. It will need doing pretty quickly too before more staining and water gets in. It was an apparent lack of maintenance which seemed to cause the Gipsy Moth to rot away in her Greenwich berth. I never saw anyone painting or varnishing the yacht. I can’t understand how every yachtsman knows that boats need annual maintenance and yet these “National Treasures” are left to suffer until they need radical and unneccessarily expensive work. Already water is getting under the varnish and causing black staining around some stanchion posts. Varnishing is not rocket science, it just needs doing in a tried and tested way. Why play around with new varnishes on an old ship when they clearly don’t work.

Cutty Sark Strake Varnish Failure and Water Ingress Under Stanchion Base

I found this on the Sadolin website and would be interested hear any comments:

“Craftsmen involved in the meticulous conservation of one the world’s most famous ships, Cutty Sark, are using the Sadolin Ultra Highly Translucent Woodstain system to decorate and protect her teak deckhouses, spectacular wheel, ornate pin rails, decorative panelling and many other wooden fixtures and fittings on deck.

Cutty Sark is an iconic reminder of a bygone age of sail and a symbol of Britain’s long and successful maritime heritage. Built in 1869, she is a shining example of Victorian ingenuity, engineering and craftsmanship, and one of London’s most popular attractions. In November 2006, however, the visitor signs were taken down and The Cutty Sark Conservation Project began: a massive undertaking by The Cutty Sark Trust to give the ship its biggest overhaul in fifty years and to ensure she has a secure and sustainable future.

Heery International Ltd, a division of Balfour Beatty Management and the principle contractor responsible for delivering the conservation project for The Cutty Sark Trust, specified Sadolin Ultra for the decoration and protection of woodwork above deck. Construction Manager Kevin Elson explains how the decision was made: “Ultra offered the very high degree of translucency that we were looking for,” said Kevin, “and the system has been formulated to provide exterior joinery with up to seven years decoration and protection before maintenance is required. Unlike yacht varnish it offers flexibility and a high degree of UV protection. And when the time eventually comes to maintain the finish, there’s no need to strip back to bare timber, you can simply clean the surface and apply a maintenance coat to revive the appearance and protective benefits.”

Maldon Painting Company Ltd is responsible for coating the exterior timber fittings. Director Geoff Smith had not used Sadolin Ultra before but is now a firm fan. He explains how it was applied to the deckhouses: “We stripped all the old varnish right back and sanded all the teak back to a perfectly smooth surface, before applying a coat of Ultra Basecoat. We then filled in any pinholes and cracks with Sadolin Exterior Woodfiller and went on to apply two coats of the lightest shade of Ultra. Once the deckhouse is refitted on the ship we’ll apply one last coat of Ultra to offer the maximum level of protection.”

Geoff’s decorating work is just one of a huge list of projects which have to be completed by an army of craftspeople, engineers and conservation experts before Cutty Sark is ready to welcome visitors once more in 2010, by which time the ship will be a much improved visitor attraction. Geoff said; “It’s a once in a life time opportunity to work on Cutty Sark and it’s a job I am really enjoying. It’s always good to be given the opportunity to carry out a project to a full specification using the best products and being able to take the time you need to deliver a really high quality finish.”

I wonder if they will use Sadolin Ultra again? It hardly seems to live up to the statement “up to seven years before maintenance is needed” promise. It didn’t survive seven months since the opening. Maybe there is a reason why it didn’t work. Perhaps it was applied a long time prior to the opening?  It would be good to know what went so wrong. I’m sure the painting company would have done their best, was the product faulty or poorly specified? Is there a decent maintenance regime in place? Whatever the reason, it is a real shame that a National Treasure which has had £50 million pounds lavished on it is in such a disgraceful state so soon after opening.

Cutty Sark Deck Trim Varnish Failure
Cutty Sark Deckhouse Door Varnish Failure

December 2022 – Hull maintenance, latest methodology

Cutty Sark starboard side showing some nice work with silver-grey gaffer tape

Maintaining a wooden ship in the open air must be a bit of a maintenance nightmare. The rain, frost and even the sun all play their part to play havoc on the finishes. My boat is varnished every year but costs would preclude revarnishing and painting the Cutty Sark so often. To help protect some areas the Cutty Sark team have adopted the latest in “Gaffer Tape Technology” to help maintain the ship’s hull in tip-top condition. I haven’t personally ever tried using gaffer tape as a hull maintenance product yet but it probably serves a useful purpose while they wait for the painters to come along.

Cutty Sark port side showing an ingenious combo of gaffer tape and bin liners.
Cutty Sark port side again but this time showing some neat work using matching black gaffer tape and old bin liner forming a near invisible repair to the left of the picture just above the glass. I had to point it out because it can hardly be seen.

One response to “Cutty Sark Sadolin Ultra Varnish Failure”

  1. Well it certainly didn’t work on the Cutty Sark despite being professionally applied under supervision of surveyors.

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