The Top Floor


Shiver me timbers this one’s about wood. No it’s not, it’s about decking, which despite the general assumption that all decking is teak, we learn here from the master tradesmen that that is very much not necessarily the case.. and some fine alternatives are elbowing their way onto the market.

African teak is listed as an endangered species in Appendix ii of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and is on the Red List of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). So now is a good time to seriously consider the alternatives. CABBS (Carpentry and Boat Building Services) was founded by Brendon Jost in 2007. In recent times he has been getting word of alternatives to teak from his suppliers: “Just recently a number of suppliers have been starting to put out the word about other timber alternatives for teak decks. One company is impregnating timber with an epoxy solution that makes the timber far more durable and therefore a more cost effective timber can be used.”

Another company is supplying maple timber that has been thermally modified and actually changes the timber on a cellular level to create a timber that has extremely good durability, a very similar colour to freshly sanded teak and as good if not better adhesion than teak for the sealant and adhesive compounds that are used in the making of the decks. He explains, “The advantage of these methods is that the timber is supplied from properly managed forestry, the timber can also be graded before treatment so that a higher grade of timber can be treated and used, i.e. properly quarter sawn stable timber with a nice straight grain can be used rather than sometimes having to compromise on these things as the teak is now becoming so expensive.”

Karen Ross works for Teakdecking Systems, a company that started up 35 years ago in Sweden. She has noticed that nowadays many customers are evaluating composite materials as an option to replace teak. Why? Because she explains, composite materials offer design versatility and less maintenance than teak. “But high-end composites decks have a price tag that is only slightly less than teak,” she adds.

Anyone properly planning to circumvent the thorny ethics of using teak (or any other endangered wood) needs to pay a visit to Dominique Radier CEO and founder of Aegir Cork Group or ‘Seacork’. He’s been going for 19 years with no plans to change his product because… “If it ain’t broke.. why etc..” Radier works with cork to make decking.

He says, “Cork has become more popular now that people are starting to think more ecologically. Teak these days is either very expensive or very poor quality so we are a bit fashionable right now.” His cork decking is granulated from the leftover scraps of cork bottle stoppers, so that’s another tick in the ‘eco’ box. What’s more, recent reports found that corks are carbon negative so they actually capture carbon rather than create emissions. If you are looking for a bit of relatively useless information; the cork in a still bottle of wine captures 309g of C02 and the bigger corks in sparking wine catch 562g C02. The most obvious development in Radier’s long tradition of working with cork is the digital re-coating machine.

Jost notes a fashion that favours grey or white caulking instead of the traditional black: “These other colours are far less contrasting to the teak, especially if the teak is left to go silver and so the deck can get a nice subtle look to it without the harsh black lines of traditional black caulking.”

Ross reckons classic teak with black caulking remains the most popular decking choice. Customers often get more creative with interior décor, with special requests for rare woods such as birds eye maple. Unique compass rose designs are popular too. She agrees with Jost that softer (grey and white) caulking is popular right now but she warns that, “While modern-looking, its installation and maintenance protocols vary from traditional black caulk and must be considered to ensure a successful installation. We just posted a blog article on this topic: www.¬for-gray-white-marine-caulking/.” A choice of joint colours is also possible with cork points out Radier. Nikita Achkasov of Deck Project confirms there’s a growth in the market of cleaning and sealing products. Inlay mosaics using LED lights or a different tropical wood are also currently à la mode according to Achkasov.

With more modern materials now available, the building of the deck can be done almost separately to the teak: “This has allowed the teak decks to be made a bit more for looks and style and far less for practical reasons, so the traditional layout and design of teak decks is not necessarily needed or wanted in some cases,” explains Jost. He adds, “The planking can be swept in following with the shear or run parallel to the centerline. Margin Boards can be used or not depending on taste. Even now with CNC routering different designs and logos can be relatively easily set into the deck as well. As a general rule of thumb though the planking width will increase with the size of the boat. So a fifty metre superyacht will have planking around the 55-60mm wide mark whereas the 10m small sailboats teak decking width might be as narrow as 38mm.”

Achkasov adds that the type of decking used on varying sizes of yachts depends of course on owner choice or boat design but it has to look good and be practical. “In my opinion, 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.”

Composite decking is more popular for production boats and sportfish boats in the 30 to 70 feet range. Explains Ross,”We have installed it on motor yachts, but teak remains the material of choice.” Her experience echoes Achkasov in that the composite decking options are now being viewed as a better option for areas of hard and heavy traffic such as the tender garages, bow areas surrounding ground tackle apparatus as well as helicopter pads and even around pool areas.”

“I am very interested to see how this new thermally modified timber develops,” says Jost. “I personally think this could be the best overall solution to finding a viable teak replacement. Teak is getting far too expensive and every year more and more forest is lost and these trees take so long to grow the managed forestry for teak has yet to properly get the cycle going to be able to sustain a good renewable source of high grade teak.”
He admits that there are plastic alternatives that are pretty good but they get hotter than teak in the sun. “And at the end of the day they are plastic and the last thing the world needs is more plastic, so I am very interested to see how this product lasts and would be very keen to start installing this on boats if it proves to be as good as it is made out to be.”

For Ross the reforestation of teak and DNA-testing to ensure teak is legally harvested is the most exciting development on the horizon. She says, “Forests need to be protected and illegal use of teak must be stopped. There are several modified wood alternatives in development that once proven may be an alternative to teak. Additionally, we are putting a lot of focus on innovation and are in the process of developing things to inspire and meet the new demands of our future customers.”

Achkasov loves the challenge of becoming more eco-conscious: finding ways to safely limit and dispose of chemical materials and waste without losing practicality or the aesthetics. ‘We are always thinking about the environment, there is pressure on the superyacht industry to clean up its act and we’re right on top of things here,” she says.

At Deck Project Achkasov spent a good deal of time last year working on custom made deck furniture, designed in-house.

It was a busy year for re-caulking decks too: “After much research, we’ve found the best and most durable deck caulking solutions which makes our clients happy.”

“Not only is teak the bestselling decking material, but the decking products used to install and maintain it are too,” reckons Ross at Teakdecking.. “The caulking, epoxies, eco cleaners and tools of Teakdecking Systems are innovative and proprietary. We developed our own when we could not find acceptable commercially available products and they are now leaders in the industry.”

As with the rest of the superyacht industry and materials used on board in construction, the decking industry and its client-base are moving at the same pace: We are asking for more thoughtful, conscious and informed decisions about what is laid beneath our feet onboard.