Composite Teak Decking for Superyachts

Teak a long hard look

Durable, low maintenance and visually pleasing, the new synthetic alternatives to traditional teak superyacht decking are beginning to show their advantage over the natural product they seek to emulate

There are many good reasons why teak has, for so long, been the owner’s choice of decking material on board superyachts. They like the look and the feel of it underfoot.

It is extremely durable, visually pleasing, reasonably low maintenance to say nothing about being hugely traditional. It is easy to clean providing you do not want that orange look of new decks because all it needs is the dousing of fresh clean seawater to do the job.

In recent times, green, eco warriors have cast their voodoo over the use of the real deal and, together with some unscrupulous misdeeds regarding the importation of illegally sourced product, the shine of pride associated with owning a teak deck is beginning to lose its lustre. What was seen scornfully and referred to as fake teak some years back, has now lost some of its counterfeit cred and manufacturers of synthetic teak are beginning to find that business is coming to them now rather than being the hard sell of a decade ago. Companies who supply and fit talk of great strides forward in technology aimed at making their products look attractive to the yacht owners and the crews that swab the decks.

But for the past few years there has been no real argument to suggest that real teak is in any way superior in quality or lifespan. Today modern synthetic decks look every bit as good and have similar anti-skid qualities to teak. Add in the cost savings in installation and ongoing maintenance and teak loses out to the modern synthetic deck.

Even the way the superyacht industry refers to synthetic decking has changed. No longer regularly called fake teak even the terminology of ‘teak replacement’ is beginning to disappear. This fact alone is music to the ears of Marcel van der Spek the Commercial Director, of Esthec part of the Bolidt Group, specialising in the flooring solution since 1964 and active in a wide range of industries such as the Cruise Ship Industry. Marcel says, “I don’t even really like talking about a substitute because that suggests having to choose an alternative because the first choice is not available. I prefer to refer to Esthec as being the future. It is sustainable, extremely durable, full of design options, easy to maintain and was never designed to be a ‘fake teak’. He adds Esthec is much more than a teak imitation product. One of his many satisfied clients suggested that Esthec is not really an alternative, but is in fact, the solution. He added, “It is just necessary to use a little more creativity to use it to make up a deck that becomes a really special part of the yacht.”

Because Esthec does not contain either PVC or wood and is a liquid product made of natural ingredients, colour pigment and a filler and it is sustainable. This, besides making the product environmentally friendly, makes it extremely resistant and durable and can be made into any shape, colour or design giving designers the huge advantage of being free and unconstrained by the boundaries imposed when using teak. Besides the freedom of shape and design the possibility to integrate new technologies such as the sensor and fibre optics technologies are enhanced. Extremely useful for safety and security on board while offering a hi-tech and modern sophisticated look, the idea has been put to good use by Waterdream, a Dutch boatbuilder famed for its superyacht tenders.

In days of old when every vessel that went to sea was made of wood, teak was chosen as the most suitable of decking materials because it contained natural oils that were algae and mould resistant. The natural silver grey colour it became in use, was maintained by the regular dousing the deck got from the sea she sailed in. Save for the need to re-caulk the planks or the desire to smooth them out by sanding, the sailors of olden times spent little time maintaining or cleaning a deck. It is the yacht owner’s love of the new deck look, fuelled by the ignorance of sales and charter brokers, who have foisted

superyacht crews with the onerous task of keeping a deck its new orange colour. Manufacturers of synthetic teak have seized upon that fashion and can now truthfully boast that their products are by manufacture always going to look new and therefore require less cleaning.

Cleaners containing oxalic acid are far too widely used and no matter how hard one tries not to allow it, they do end up polluting the water in which the yacht is floating. They also destroy both the wood and the caulking material. Badly maintained caulking can cause problems and are the main reason why teak decks are found to be needing repair during refit. Tikal Marine Systems of Germany produce caulking for the joints of teak decks as well as bonding and levelling of teak decks. Currently the J Class classic racing yacht Svea is refitting in Mallorca de Palma and using the company’s Teakcaulking TSC in grey to refinish her large expanse of teak deck. Stefan Paust the Managing Director at Tikal canalso help maintain synthetic decks and recommends the use of his TLB Flex or Tikalflex Contact 12 to stick down PVC deckings.

He can supply teak decks and always uses sustainably grown teak. He says, “Where we are situated in Hamburg, we use Alfred Neumann as our trusted distributor for high quality teakwood that are labelled; sustainable.” He adds, “Like all bio-products they may not be the cheapest choice but you must agree that teak substitutes can be cheaper and because they are less sensitive to oil spills can be easier to clean and maintain.”

Founded in 2008 by the Danish company HF Industri & Marine, the Zeta Marine Group represents Teakdecking Systems in Florida, in Europe, from a 1200 m² warehouse in Denmark. Managing Director Hans Fokdal and his team has supplied all kinds of products used for cleaning and maintaining teak decks. Hans believes that crews who work on yachts prefer teak. He says, “Synthetic teak gets dirty very easily,” but concedes that “synthetic teak has very good resistance to heavy loads and blows.” Badly maintained caulking can cause problems, many of which are created by the cleaners used to keep teak looking new. Hans says, “I advise crew on yachts to stop using oxalic acid cleaners, it kills, destroys the wood and the caulking material.”

Luca Zaccagno who works in the Technical Department of Helidecks, a subsidiary of the Italian based Teknoconsulting Group, believes real teak is harder to clean properly. He tells us, “Our product, HELI-TEAK, is highly repellent to the absorption liquid oils, chemicals, and kerosene.” He believes, “Real teak needs maintenance every 3 or 4 years depending on use of the yacht, while our product, requires absolutely no maintenance whatsoever save from a freshwater wash down after each voyage to sea. Yet this is the same advice given by the suppliers of traditional teak decking.

Clearly synthetic decking is easier to clean since crew can use a high-pressure cleaner without damaging it. Synthetic decking seldom needs any maintenance or the application of special care products. When large areas of soiling or scratches do appear, they can be sanded down in very much the same way that real teak can. Another major advantage synthetic decking has over traditional teak is its repairability. When fixed deck furniture is removed or repositioned during a refit, holes in synthetic decking can be filled and sanded to make it appear as good as when it was first laid.THE REAL DEAL
Born on the Mediterranean coast in Barcelona, Deck Project is the creation of Nikita Achkasov. He heads up a team of experienced yacht carpenters who specialise in the fabrication and installation of both real and synthetic teak decks. Nikita believes that the choice of decking used on yachts depends on usage. He says, “You need to consider the practicalities. There is no sense in laying a natural teak flooring on helicopter landing pads or in the tender garage. I think synthetics are a suitable option there.”He adds, “You need to think how the deck will be used. Real teak decks are praised for their general non-slip quality even when wet, although synthetic teak is often regarded as having even more grip and can provide a very solid footing, also when wet.” Teakdecking Systems, the Florida based company represented in Europe by the Zeta Marine Group, is an employee-owned company that has been in business for 38 years. They are pre- manufacturers of teak, composite, and alternative wood decks, which they install, refit and maintain on yachts of all sizes. Michelle Meerman the company’s Sales and Marketing Coordinator, tells us that, “Despite the company being very diverged in both teak and composite decks, all who work there still believe that teak is still the best!”

She concedes that, “While there are many possible substitutes, the firm has not found anything with the same qualities as teak but have built decks with Douglas Fir and White Pine.” She explains, “We have experimented with other woods that have been modified to look and act like teak, such as Lignia and Accoya, but there is still much testing to be done.” She adds, “We are currently looking into teak that is grown in India, Sudan and Central America as an alternative to that grown in Myanmar.” “There is,” says Michelle, “a lot of promise for a product being produced in Thailand, where they cut and laminate FSC certified Thai teak into planks. In composites, we see the PVC and PVA as an alternative, but we still feel that the polyurethane, such as Esthec or Herculan is the best option.”

While some companies have been busy securing legitimate supplies of sustainable teak others have been developing high tec, teak alternatives. There is also a developing trend towards using real teak in a more high tec fashion. One company at the forefront of this new technology is the EuroDesign Group, a specialist teak manufacturer for the marine industry based in Indonesia. They produce decking and other wood material for interiors and exteriors. Peter Jonsson is the Global Sales and Marketing Manager, but he is also involved in the development of the teak composite. He says our genuine teak composite is made from real recycled teak mixed with recycled plastic. This material is a real substitute that looks and feels like real teak. Much of its popularity stems from the fact that it is immune from the weathering process that turns natural teak that silver grey colour beloved by many yet hated by an equal number.

Because the company is based in Indonesia it has a constant and fully traceable supply of teak and, says Peter, “There are many major differences between one product and the other. Teak is a finite source and very few people want to invest in the planting of new teak given that it takes between 30 and 50 years for each tree to mature enough for harvesting.”

Teak is only grown successfully on a large scale in Indonesia or Myanmar (Burma). Peter affirms that, “Teak said to have been grown in China, Malaysia, or Thailand is more often than not in fact smuggled from Myanmar and illegally transhipped across borders because there is no large scale, industrial teak growing in those countries.” He adds, “In Indonesia all teak comes from plantations. There are no and never have been areas of wild growing teak in that country and that most of the plantations were established more than 200 years ago.”

Yet another natural alternative to teak is cork, a product gaining a strong foothold in the superyacht deck market. Dominique Radier is the CEO of Aegir Cork Group SAS a company headquartered in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France. His company produces SeaCork. The company has been making cork decking for 20 years now and is developing a product called Cork Spray to insulate hulls and stop condensation forming inside boats and yachts. “There are many advantages to be gained by using cork as a teak substitute,” he says. “First among these is the fact that no trees are felled during the harvesting of his raw product. In today’s eco friendly world that is a big plus!”

“It is also,” he maintains, “infinitely less slippery than teak when wet.” He adds another is weight saving. “Teak can be heavy and using it on the uppermost decks can have adverse effects on stability. Cork is light weight by comparison.” Dominique believes owners are demanding green, eco friendly yet durable products when it comes to decking material. He understands why the use of teak is considered to be, somewhat anti-social but is confused by the trend towards plastic decking as an alternative. He says, “Surely if we use plastic we know that fine particles of plastic are harmful to the sea and fish but we used more and more plastic decking actually”. He asks the question. “What happens when we walk on those decks?” He answers himself saying, “Small plastic particles must go directly into the sea, and for me that is a good enough reason not to use it?

Many complain that synthetic decks are unsuitable for use in the Mediterranean as they get too hot in the sun. While some manufacturers have pale colours to help overcome this, many owners and their guests complain that they still get unacceptably hot. The feeling among purists is that a genuine teak maintains an acceptable temperature on the surface while suggesting that some synthetic decks can become so hot that in some cases, depending on the colour, it is impossible to walk on them without shoes.

Simon Clarke of Yacht Tek in Spain disagrees. He says, “When comparing the same colours like for like there is very little difference. He believes that because Flexiteek 2G is less dense than quality teak it cools underfoot slightly faster than the real deal. Simon adds, “Older style synthetic teak decking made from a mixture of PVC and other materials, was certainly warmer than real wood often by as much as 3 or 4 degrees Celsius. “But,” he says, “Over the years significant improvements have been made to reduce the problem so much so that the heat transmitting the Flexiteek is almost similar in heat transmission as is true teak.

There are many different measurements to be taken into account when making this argument. “And,” he points out, “When decks get hot they can be cooled down using water. When you do this synthetic teak cools faster than does real teak.

Because synthetic decking is manufactured, it comes with a level of creative freedom. It can appear to flow seamlessly around obstacles, and because caulking lines are effectively ‘drawn on’ the look can be more uniform. That same sense of uniformity can however immediately differentiate to the viewer the differences between teak and fake. Synthetic teaks have in the past been the subject of manufacturing errors which have cause decks to bubble swell and disfigure.

Modern manufacturing processes are making such scare stories a thing of the past. Flexiteek 2G is a synthetic teak/wood product produced using sanded PVC. It is being increasingly specified as the decking on many superyacht new builds and is in use aboard on board many others worldwide. Flexiteek decks offer less maintenance than a teak deck and do not need to be oiled. They do not fade or crack and have better non slip qualities that allows for easier maintenance. They can be pressure washed, are lighter in weight and can be easily bent and curved in ways that teak cannot. Compared to teak decks the installation of synthetic decking takes just a few days and has virtually no impact on the planning of the yacht build. No painting, sanding or cleaning afterwards: it is ready for use, instantly. Maintenance is very low: just flush the deck or use a power-wash.

It is quite hard to pinpoint how many superyachts now have synthetic decks. It used to be that the grander shipyards would never stoop so low as to install what they saw was an inferior product. For many years the top end shipyards frowned on what they called fake teak and snorted contemptuously when its use was suggested. Over time that has changed and we are now seeing the greatest growth in the tender market for more practical hard wearing reasons.

What began as being a good idea for use in tender garages and for heli-decks if only because of its oil spill stain resistance has now gown to the point that few shipyards have not installed composite decking. The use of synthetic teak is gaining ground with Lurssen, Royal Huisman and Feadship all admitting to having used it on board significant new builds.

Those more appreciative of naturally occurring materials will enjoy the natural qualities of teak, along with the sound knowledge that the real stuff is always going to be more impressive.

Synthetic teak offers benefits from a cost and maintenance point of view, and can be more easily sculpted to the ever-changing, dynamic world of yacht design. One word can summarise the synthetic stuff: easier. They offer real cost benefits over real teak. They are durable, low maintenance and visually pleasing. There can be no doubt now that these new synthetic alternatives to traditional teak superyacht decking are beginning to show their advantage over the natural product they seek to emulate and there will become a time when teak is considered as specialist as copper rivets.