Pay­ing it Out Steve Zim­mer­man

Passage Maker - - Contents - BY STEVE ZIM­MER­MAN

As a teenager, I worked summers on a lovely wooden sail­boat named Rosa II. She had a tra­di­tional teak deck of solid, 1 1/ 8inch thick planks, with cot­ton pounded into the seams and thick black caulk­ing payed over the cot­ton into the seam to keep out wa­ter. Ev­ery spring be­gan with the painful process of chas­ing leaks un­til the decks fi­nally swelled tight. On sail­ing ships, the crew payed the seams with hot pitch. They called the seam clos­est to the out­board edge, where one might most eas­ily fall over­board while pay­ing, the devil seam. That led to a pop­u­lar play on words among sailors: “You’ll have the devil to pay and no hot pitch.”

Mod­ern teak decks keep out the wa­ter far more ef­fec­tively. Nonethe­less, seams still must be payed. This photo shows the ac­tual shape of the caulk­ing seams— a notch, or rab­bet, cut into one edge of each plank. The seam com­pound even­tu­ally dries and cracks and loses ad­he­sion to the wood, al­low­ing wa­ter in. Once that hap­pens, it all has to be re­moved and the wood sanded and cleaned. Next comes the tricky part. The wood will ex­pand and con­tract with changes in tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity, chal­leng­ing the abil­ity of the seam com­pound to main­tain its ad­he­sion. If held on three sides, the seam com­pound will likely come loose. The small strip of tape hang­ing out the end forms a bond break, pre­vent­ing the com­pound from bind­ing to the bot­tom of the seam. By al­low­ing ad­he­sion only to the two sides, the seam com­pound will move freely with the wood and will main­tain its bond for many years. A small de­tail to be sure, but a great ex­am­ple of the Right Stuff. n

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