Aistear's bowsprit

Greetings fellow BCCers,

I recently purchased my BCC and named her Aistear, her former owner
neglected her badly so now I’m trying to restore her to her former
glory. One item on my task list is the bow sprit, the varnish on the top
half has long since worn away and the wood turned gray. The bottom half
still has some varnish left on it and the wood still retains its color.

Could someone please tell me the best way to go about restoring the bow
sprit or if its better to just replace it?

Rick Snider
Aistear #7


This is what I would do.

  1. If the boat is on the hard, remove the bowsprit,

  2. Sand the sprit by hand with 80 grit paper. If you use a mechanical sander, do not over use it. Sand the wood until the wood color begins to show. You will not be able to remove all of the gray - that’s OK.

  3. After sanding bleach the wood with an oxalic acid solution. The Flood Company makes a product named Deks Rinse?for bleaching wood. Although the West Marine Empire sells it (marine product priced), Home Depot sells a Flood Company product for cleaning/washing decks which appears to be the same product. Dekswood also contains oxalic acid. Follow the directions for dilution, and apply the diluted solution with a foam brush. Do not use a stiff bristle brush. This will dig out the grain. After about 30 minutes, rinse the wood with water to remove the oxalic acid. Let the wood dry. You may need to do two treatments. After bleaching the wood, allow it to dry and hand sand the sprit with 120 grit paper.

  4. After the final sanding, inspect the glue lines for delamination/separation.

  5. If the glue lines appear to be separating, it may be time for a new bowsprit. Although repairs are possible, it probably is better to just build a new sprit. With a little care, this is not difficult.



If it were mine, I take it off, remove the hardware and paint it,
Varnish is difficult enough to maintain on areas of the boat easy to
reach on work on; to have to maintain a varnished sprit from a dinghy
in the water and working off the deck is really hard, particularly if
you’re cruising.

But to answer your question in restoring it: I’d remove it from the
boat(not difficult)and strip the hardware from it; strip whatever
varnish that’s left with a heat gun and sand it with 80 grit on an
orbital sander; the grey is the natual deterioration of the surface
wood fibers and a hard sanding will remove them and expose the
natural raw color of the wood underneath. (I would not bleach it…
different strokes)Regardless of whether you hand or power sand, you
have to be careful to maintain the existing shape of the sprits
radius edges and bevels to keep the clean looks.

Whichever of the various methods you use to restore the sprit, keep
in mind while you’re applying the coats of varnish that you will be
having to repeat the varnish operation several times a year(or more,
depending on where you sail). It is this repetative operation why I
personally prefer a painted sprit. I’ll note here that my sprit was
originally partly varnished, as were the boomkin, rudder head and
cheeks and a few other small items that have since been painted a
pleasing white.

One last thing. IF you do keep the sprit varnished, AND you fail to
keep up with it, you WILL find yourself having to repeat the ENTIRE
removal,stripping, re-finishing process, again.

Just so you don’t get the idea I painted everthing out and just sit
around polishing the brass, I still have the handrails, winch bases,
three hatches AND the full walestrakes of the hull.

Stan on Waxwing, hull#22

Hello Rick,
My sprit was originally painted white. I stripped the paint from the body
of the sprit with the exception of the top and the very end which I left
painted. A case can be made for keeping the entire sprit painted as the
wood was like new when I stripped the paint. Personally, I like the bright
finished look contrasted with the white on the top and tip. The varnish has
held up very well as it is generally does not see the full direct sun as
does the top and tip.

I do not need to put a maintenance coat on during the season(May Thru Nov.)
as I give it a good sanding and coat in the spring. Any dings of course
require an immediate touch up whether painted or varnished. I have had good
succes with Petit’s Captain varnish. I sail in the NY area so consideration
must be given to the amount and intensity of sunlight your boat will be
exposed to. If I were in the Carribean, I would paint the entire sprit.

Good luck with whatever you decide.
SV Itchen # 73

Oxalic acid does not bleach the wood, rather it facilitates removal
of “dead” wood fibers. An inexpensive source of oxalic acid is your
pharmacy. They can special order oxalic acid crystals for a lot less
than a hardware store sell a product that simply contain oxalic acid.

True, oxalic acid is not a chemical?oxidizer and perhaps the term “bleach/bleaching” was too general but it is common to boatyards and woodshops and usually refers to removing discoloration?from the wood. "Oxalic acid is referred to as a “reducing bleach. There are three general classifications of chemical bleaches used on wood: oxygen bleaches, chlorine bleaches and oxalic acid.” WoodenBoat,?Nov/Dec 2002, pp. 28 & 29. An example of oxygen bleach?is a solution?made from?sodium hydroxide and 30% hydrogen peroxide. Sodium percarbonate solution is?another?oxygen bleach. An example of a chlorine bleach is a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite (Clorox). Strong chlorine bleaches may be made from calcium hypochlorite. This is the bleached used in swimming pools.?

Oxygen based bleaches will remove stains caused by mildew and grayish residue caused by the action of sunlight on wood but will leave the natural color of wood intact. The best use of chlorine bleach is to kill and remove fungal and microbial stains.

“Oxalic acid is also used to lighten the graying effects of outdoor exposure. it is the ingredient in most deck ‘brighteners,’ but phosphoric acid can be used for this purposed as well. Used on wood that has been stripped for refinishing, it will lighten the color and reestablish an even tone, particularly for cedar, teak, spruce, and mahogany. Spars often have dark discolorations, and oxalic acid can help to eliminate them after stripping and before revarnishing. If properly neutralized and thoroughly rinsed with distilled water after use, oxalic acid does no damage to the wood.” Woodenboat, Nov/Dec 2002, p. 28 - Using Wood Bleach by Jeff Jewitt.

The cost of 1 gallon of Dekswood is about $11.00 without tax?and?includes the water, container, directions and warning.

The article from the Nov/Dec issue of Woodenboat is an excellent reference on the use of bleaches and oxalic acid.?

I use Klean-Strip two-part wood bleach to even out the
color of my mahagony after sanding. The sanded spots are
much darker then the original sun bleached wood, so I
end up sanding the entire section of wood and applying
the bleach to make it the same color are the rest of
the wood on the boat. The product works very well for me.

Their web site is at I ordered
online from one of the many supply houses that stock it.
Home depot was out of stock, and I try to avoid buying
expensive “marine” stuff whenever possible.

Mark Gearhart
s/v Godspeed

My thanks to everyone for your help & input on restoring my bowsprit, it’s
very much appreciated!

Aistear, BCC #7