Laying the Deck

Sometimes I think that life must have been much simpler in days of yore—Life, of course, meaning Boatbuilding, which includes deck-laying, which was (and still is) the most important problem we have to face. Everything you needed was at hand, with no searching of soul or advertising pages. You would have saved out, for extra under-cover drying, enough of your best planking stock to do the whole deck. You'd decide, on the basis of size, form, function, and cost, which of two inevitable, classic patterns you'd use—and proceed to lay that deck. You fitted and fastened wood to beams in time-honored pattern, caulked the hell out of the seams, filled them with home-grown sticky stuff, and soaked the deck with salt water once a day. No miracle fillers, no costly coverings— and you could chop wood on it, shovel snow off it, run around barefoot on it. I've done this type of deck in redwood, cypress, cedar, pine, fir, and teak, with bits of mahogany a' times for covering boards and margin planks. Some of them needed re-caulking after one year, or 12, and some didn't leak at all.

I think it's safe to say that this classic laid deck is the right one to use on a big workboat, the best-looking on a yacht big enough to stand the weight, and possibly the least expensive in materials (and most expensive in labor) of all the manv choices now available. I'll state here s the rash, biased, and probably foolish generalization that this classic deck should not be attempted in less than Vs-inch thickness, which means that it's not for small, light boats. I'll make the further observation that if you've got enough sense to come in out of the wet (a very-good comparison in the present instance, and purely coincidental, I assure you), you'll leave this deck construction to us old relics from a bygone age, and you'll sell your soul for a mess of pottage that looks suspiciously like thin wood layers buttered with chewing gum.

We'll get to that later. At the moment, I'll share a secret with you: I hope to build the Perfect Singlehander this winter (I've already reduced the choices to only seven hull forms and four rigs), and the one item I'm sure of is the deck, which will be laid, and caulked, and cursed, and patched, and oh, so beautiful that my heart will leap up at the sight of it. And it'll be only 3A inch thick.

Once upon a time I built a big boat for a professor, a solemn and learned man, and we sat in the main cabin beneath a splined-teak housetop discussing the next payment, always a fascinating subject. The boat was yet in the shop, under a splendid one-year-old tar-paper roof, and an April shower trickled through the shop roof, found a gap in the splined teak, and dribbled upon the professor's magnificent and

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twitching nose, all to my considerable embarrassment. But he had assured me that Teak Can't Leak (see Claud Worth, pp. such-and-such, et sequitur), leaving me in a stronger position than I deserved. You can be sure that I made the most of it. Anyway, we decided that a canvas-covered housetop wasn't too bad an idea after all. I have steadfastly adhered to that belief ever since. As for the main deck, likewise in 1 Vfc-inch teak, laid straight fore-and-aft, nibbed into the covering board—thai, too, leaked like a...sieve until werecaulkedand refilled the whole business, devil seam and all. We (or I, anyway) decided that that teak must have been towed across from Burma; it couldn't have gotten so wet any other way.

So now, leaning heavily on Sam Manning's drawings, I'll try to describe some of the variations on the theme of the laid deck, with special emphasis on my final (to the moment, that is) conclusions as to how it should be done.

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