All of us who have been involved in boating are familiar with that moment when you kick off your shoes and step onto a pristine teak deck; it’s the first thing your eyes make contact with, and very often leads you to form an instant opinion about the build characteristics of the yacht.
However, with today’s focus on all things environmental, mankind’s negative influences on mother nature, and the vital need for preserving carbon capturing forests, it has to be said, that the use of teak and other tropical hardwoods in all forms of construction, are suffering something of a public relations backlash. Writing in the April edition of the UK’s Practical Boat Owner magazine, Sam Llewellyn, a lifelong performance sailor and nautical adventure novelist said, "Some people including me, dislike teak decks because whatever anyone tells you, they get filthy, plus the sustainability of teak is open to debate."
In the April issue of Dockwalk, the magazine targeted specifically at superyacht crews, there is an article titled ‘Searching for Sustainability’ by Sara Ventiera that goes even further, explaining that natural top-quality teak from trees, has become a threatened species. She points out that the dense hardwood forests in tropical Asian regions, which can take as long as 80-100 years to reach maturity, are now so depleted that the source is literally drying up.
Teak alternatives, a growing market
Not surprisingly, this evolving scarcity, together with the environmental concerns, has fostered the development of quite a few very creditable and attractive alternatives to teak decking, many of which are displayed and discussed at METSTRADE.
In fact, one of the Category winners at the METSTRADE 2019 DAME Design Awards was nominated for just such a product. UK based LIGNIA Wood Company have produced an FSC certified softwood, harvested from sustainably managed forests which mature in 22 years, as opposed to many decades more for teak hardwood to grow. The cuts of quarter sawn softwood are then engineered for enhanced durability using what they term as a ‘ligniafication’ process. In independent testing, the material has been proven to equal or exceed the properties of Burmese teak, and can withstand fungal decay and rot for at least 60 years in service.
LIGNIA Wood can be machine finished with minimal sanding required, has comparable weight and bonding characteristics to teak, and can have surface coatings applied to it if required. Also, its longer lasting properties can enable boat builders to reduce the thickness of decking, thus saving weight and reducing fuel consumption, according to the manufacturers.
Update: Unfortunately, LIGNIA Wood filed for administration in April 2021.
Cork, emerging as a sustainable solution
More than one speaker mentioned cork as a serious contender for a growing share of the future boat decking market, during the I-nnovationLab stage presentations at last year’s METSTRADE. The R4 catamaran from Netherlands based Vaan yachts was presented as a sustainably built yacht utilising recycled and bio-based materials, and featuring FSC certified cork decks. Another presentation was about the Flax 27 Daysailer from Greenboats in Germany, also built from 80% sustainable materials, and fitted with cork decks, citing them as a lighter, better insulating and hard-wearing option with good anti-slip properties.
Els Zijlstra the founder of Material District, an organisation that researches and sources sustainable materials from all over the world, mentioned the unique and highly replaceable properties of cork during her ‘Circular Beauties’ talk. Pointing out that the outer bark layer of the tree can be removed every 7 years, without hindering the continued growth underneath, and producing a material that is fire resistant, anti-bacterial and highly insulative to sound and temperature.
One of the proprietary brands of cork decking which exhibits at METSTRADE is ‘Seacork’, made from 90 - 95% natural cork, and reinforced with 5 - 10% polyurethane binder. The sheet material is formed under compression, whereby the PU saturation closes the micro-pores, and produces a sea water resistant composite which does not attract the ingress of dirt. The Seacork panels are available in a variety of sizes and can be ordered with grooves simulating the appearance of a caulked teak deck, or in plain sheets without the grooves. The most common thicknesses supplied are 6 and 8mm, with up to 12mm being available for applications requiring extra insulation. Amongst other established brands that use cork as a base component in boat decking composites, are ‘Oceancork’ from Germany’s Multicork Solutions, and Marinedeck 2000 from Netherlands based Stazo BV.
Synthetic decking, another teak alternative choice
A regular exhibitor at METSTRADE is ‘Flexiteek’, who will be celebrating 20 years in business when they attend this year’s show. Started in Sweden back in the year 2000, the company brought in unemployed youngsters, and trained them in the skills of producing flexible UV resistant PVC decking. Since then, they have steadily grown their market share, as more boat builders and owners began to accept the idea of a ‘teak look’ deck without the use of wood.
Back in 2014 Flexiteek launched their ‘2G’ (2nd generation) synthetic teak decking after two years of development. Their objective was to improve on the thermal and heat reflecting properties of the material (so that you can walk bare foot on it), to make it lighter for use on performance yachts, and for it to be fully recyclable at the end-of-life. The product is available in a wide choice of colours, simulated wood grain effects, and caulking line combinations.
Another producer of synthetic decking who has been well represented at METSTRADE is ‘Permateek.’ Their product is based on tough virgin PVC, and thermally welded into pre-made panels, meaning that no glues are used in the manufacturing process. The panels can be purchased in 15 colours with three caulking line choices, and with three fitting options;
1. ’DIY’ Self cut from large panels / fit & glue.
2. ‘Premium Self Fit.’ Using patterning instructions and templates, the panels will be delivered cut to shape and ready to glue down.
3. ‘First Class - Full Service.’ Everything handled from measuring, through manufacture and fitting on the boat.
Plenty more to choose from
Such is the growing choice and continuing development of these synthetic decking alternatives that there are far too many to list here, although ‘Nuteak’ and ‘Atlanteak’ are also worthy of mention. Some of the others are based on UV stabilised foam materials in a variety of textures and colours. These include trade names such as, ‘Seadek’, ‘Raptor Deck’, ‘GatorStep’ and ‘MarineMat’, all of which offer a kind of cool, cushioned, foot friendly deck surface.
So, whatever boat builders and designers are looking for in the way of alternative decking materials, METSTRADE 2020 is sure to be the place where a good selection of them can be checked out this year.
This article was in no way meant to disparage the use of teak, which is a well proven, extremely arduous, and high quality decking material. The article was written to highlight that there is a debate about the sustainability of teak, on which there are differing viewpoints, and to reflect on some of the alternatives that were discussed and presented at METSTRADE 2019.