Decked Out

Adam Fiander takes a look at decking options and various ideas of how decks can be laid, based around alternative materials and options that have recently come to light.

Within my previous report on natural and substitutes teak decks, I spent a fair amount of time balancing arguments from the die-hard ‘natural is best’ contingent, with the ‘alternative teak’ camp.

The result made for an interesting and lively debate, but rather than repeat the same exercise, I have also decided to look at alternatives for how teak can be laid, such as by using Resin Infusion, and one or two other ideas based around different materials and options that have recently come to light.

We’ve already established that natural teak laid decks, with their beautifully caulked seams, are a wonderful technical and sensory asset for any yacht, so it makes sense that this investment in time and raw materials are laid to the ‘as built’ deck / cockpit surface in the best way possible.

Older methods have relied upon screwing individual planks or battens to a sub-deck. Screw heads would then be covered with teak bungs, not only for visual and safety reasons, but to prevent the ingress of water getting underneath the planks at the position of each screw.

As individual planks got thinner to save weight and cost, bungs would get correspondingly shallower and some would pop out after time, thus exposing unsightly looking screw heads with various problems that would ensue.

Steady progress with better quality bonding adhesives lead to a combination of adhesive and mechanical fixings being used together.

More recently, further advancement has resulted in these high-tech adhesives being used almost entirely in place of mechanical fixings, such as screws, bolts or studs.
Low-viscous, exceptionally strong and flexible one-component adhesives and primers have a long and generally reliable life, but manufacturer’s steps required to use them correctly must be followed closely. Pre-cleaning surfaces to be fixed together, use of accelerators, activators and applying adequate pressure and observing manufacturer’s drying times and ‘open’ times are important factors.
Rather than laying individually cut battens, the other major advancement to mention, (although it’s actually been around since the early 1980s), is the wide use of teak deck panels, pre-manufactured off-site using bespoke templates, but made to the required finish and exact dimension for the sub-deck they are intended for.

ZEAT Marine Group in Denmark is the European representative of Teakdecking Systems who first introduced their pre¬fabricated decks as far back as 1979. Today they are certainly one the major players in the industry producing over 10,000m2 of decking per year. But, to meet global demands and a shift in ever changing markets, Teakdecking Systems also decided to work with synthetic decks in order to offer design versatility. They now supply Estech and Herculan synthetic decks to those clients where the application fits best.

Using CAD and laser measuring equipment, high quality installers use fairing compounds to achieve a perfectly smooth surface with the right camber and sheer, to ensure appropriate water run-off and drainage of the finished deck. In many cases, plywood is then attached to the faired deck to provide a suitably prepared sub-deck on which to attach the final teak battens and edge trim pieces.

Based in Barcelona, Teak Solutions, have taken the skill and integrity of a properly laid teak deck to an extremely high level with use of Vacuum Resin Infusion to construct high-quality panels set against a sub-deck, again using Vacuum.

With its rather ‘surgical’ looking paraphernalia of plastic bagging, capillary tubes and vacuum pumps scattered everywhere, Resin Infusion looks like the equivalent of major heart bypass surgery for boats, yet the result is well worth the trouble, leaving hulls (and in this case teak decks) flexible, ultra-strong epoxy resin bonds, with the risk of voids (small air pockets or gaps) being removed almost completely.

Teak Solutions claims the lack of a water¬tight bond between deck and sub-deck is the major cause of teak deck failure and remedial repairs becoming necessary. A pity when to replace a teak deck before the teak has worn out appears sacrilege.

In theory, with Vacuum taking away the risk of voids or gaps in the bond between deck and sub-deck, water seeping into a defective caulked seam, or through a crack in a teak batten, has no place to go once it reaches a water tight joint and even if water is in the seams or cracks in the wood, the rest of the deck stands a good chance of remaining structurally sound.

As we know, water is not readily compressible, so if trapped beneath a deck can act like hydraulic fluid when the deck is stepped upon water is forced outward creating an even larger failed gap between the two levels. Teak Solutions advise that this, and other structural integrity and lack of longevity problems, can all be avoided with their Proprietary Patent ‘Resin Infusion’ for teak decks.

Originally conceived in New Zealand and officially launched at the METS trade show in 2018, the British ‘LIGNIA® Wood Company’ has been creating quite a stir recently over its wood deck product they claim is not only fully sustainable but has a density very close to that of teak, with greater performance in terms of durability in service. Professional crews, for example, will be pleased to know that tests have shown maintenance periods (by way of machine sanding) are twice as long for LIGNIA Yacht as that required for teak.

LIGNIA Yacht wood is sourced from cleargrade radiata pine from managed plantations approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). LIGNIA has set up a 50,000 Sq.ft manufacturing plant in Barry, South Wales, where the company sources its own grade of quarter sawn material from large diameter logs; this material then undergoes a process of modification (so called ‘ligniafication’) where the wood is impregnated with a resin in a patent-pending process to make it stronger, harder, more stable and closer to the properties we associate with teak. The wood changes appearance from a lighter to a darker shade and takes on an appearance very similar to natural teak.

While volume agreements with boat builders are still being negotiated, the early signs are extremely positive and I asked LIGNIA Yacht’s Senior Marketing Manager, Nigel Pompeus, how has the reaction been since launch, and Nigel said, “We are still in the early days of producing material for yacht deck companies, but we now have distribution agreements with several well-known timber companies that supply yacht decks to the trade.
There is a brand-new production boat in the UK that has just been fitted with an entire LIGNIA Yacht deck (still under NDA so we can’t reveal which well-known yacht builder has made it, but it has been sold). We are also supplying LIGNIA Yacht for a classic boat builder in the UK right now. We have an agreement with Teakdecking Systems, Inc (TDS) in the USA, the world’s largest builder of yacht decks and they are about to start producing LIGNIA Yacht decks Stateside. We have also signed an agreement with Global Timber from Denmark, who cover all of Europe, to supply yacht deck manufacturers.”

A recent and more practical development in synthetic decks comes from Wolfshock with their Impact Control and Comfort Decking. High-speed RIBS, sports-boats and weekenders are great fun for most uses, but anything over about 20 knots boat speed, where people on the helm tend to prefer to stand up, can lead to repetitive shocks and vibration injury caused to the spine, the knee joints and ankles. But, for crew driving these fast tenders, in the long term this can become a real issue.

Such was the problem for Wolfshock inventor and keen boater, Mike Smith, that he broke his ankle on one extreme occasion and his frustration lead to the creation of an innovative, impact reducing system, called Wolfshock, that is no more complicated than cleverly designed and well-made impact-absorbing deck boards that can be placed underneath where the helmsperson stands, or tucked neatly underneath a typical ‘fore-and-aft’ jockey seat, as fitted to many production RIBS.

“Using a genuine Flexiteek®top-layer and a patented combination of neoprene and lycra impact absorption materials, the concept is a remarkably simple, but one of those real light bulb moments,” says Mark Baker the distributor from Celsus.

Mark continues to explain, “The decking can be retro fitted or obviously spec’ed at the time of the crafts design, but as we’re seeing faster and faster yacht tenders delivered, we believe this is a very necessary piece of protection for the wellbeing of crew and guests.”

As a finishing note, we should talk about taking care of these teak decks. Hans Fokdal from ZETA Marine supplies products developed by Teakdecking Systems in the United States. Hans explains, “There is an obvious need for effective cleaning products that are not only safe for crew to use but are also not going to damage the marine environment. In the past, some eco products have not been as effective and as such, yacht crews were slow to adopt, however, through careful R&D, Teakdecking Systems have now developed a line of ECO products that are just as effective and the older chemical based cleaning products.”

In an effort to spread the news and promote the eco cleaning products, Hans tells us that his team visit marinas and ports on a constant basis and also hold seminars on how to use these products correctly.

The rising demand for natural grown teak over the last 20 to 30 years has caused a disturbing depletion of teak forests within Myanmar, through lack of control and unscrupulous growers and traders exporting logs before they were fully mature.

Despite the Myanmar government being seen to step in, the issue of illegal harvesting and price-fixing has not only under even deeper suspicion, the result of a recent and damning report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), claiming that teak exports from Myanmar to Europe are not complying with EU Timber Regulation rules that make it illegal for teak suppliers and traders to place illegally harvested timber and timber products on the EU market.

The EIA report is centred upon a claim of corruption and fraudulent trade, run in tandem with the official legal trade administered by the state-owned Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE). While us here at the magazine are not experts in this area, anyone interested in exploring the allegations further will find more information on the EIA’s website.