View Full Version : Vaseline, the perfect.....finish?

Dave Hadfield
07-27-2001, 07:49 AM
I just had a tour of Highlander Sea, a 1924 Boston Pilot Schooner which is on tour and docked in Penetanguishene, on Georgian Bay. What a tremendous vessel! She has the longest, leanest lines you could imagine. She reeks of speed.

I spoke to the Captain for a while (my first question, "Is that Cetol on the decks?" marked me out. Answer: yes, and he doesn't like it -- too slippery when wet), and found him to be a very pleasant and polite fellow, not at all unwilling to have a conversation with someone other than his teen-age crew.

Her masts are very stout douglas fir poles. They had a very matte though bright finish, so I asked what was on them. Vaseline, was the answer. He says the wood resists rot just fine. All you need to do is keep the water out. Common, drugstore vaseline, about 6 jars per mast, once a year. I made a comment about how it must lubricate the hoops and jaws, but he said that wasn't it. Simply the finish of his choice.

It looked great. It positively glowed in the evening sun.

Anybody else ever use this?

Dave Hadfield
07-27-2001, 07:53 AM
Here's a website with a photo, but it unfortunately doesn't show her masts very clearly.


07-27-2001, 10:35 AM
Thanks Dave.
What a beaut.

Scott Rosen
07-27-2001, 10:36 AM
I'm trying to think through how you would apply vaseline to a mast. I guess you'd have to start at the top and work your way down. LOL

Lima Bean
07-27-2001, 11:01 AM
I remember a song from camp days that went, "As one slippery seal slide up the slide, the other slippery seal slide down,...and as one pink porpoise popped up the pole, the other,..." What about,..."as one slimey sailor slid up the spar, the other slimey sailor slid down the spar,..."?

Makes me think that a coin on top of the mast would be better protected than under the foot of the mast. http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/wink.gif

07-27-2001, 11:37 AM
I remember talking to a friend who was a mate on an old wooden schooner years ago, after a long passage they arrived in Key West.. Of course as good sailors they needed to renew some of the leather on the gaff & boom jaws and vaseline the spars.. Pretty funny when I heard the reactions as they traveled around Key West looking for large quantities of leather and vaseline by the 5 gallon drum. Rgds, John Where's that smiley face when ya need one ??

Ed Harrow
07-27-2001, 08:57 PM
To read more about this vessel, once known as Pilot (yes Boston Harbor Pilot boat) Click here: http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/Forum5/HTML/000569.html

A bit slow to load, but worth it!

Dave Hadfield
07-28-2001, 08:43 AM
Ed, I tried those pages and they didn't work.

Church of the Holey Wooden Boat
07-28-2001, 08:19 PM
Vasilene has lots of uses on a boat-lubricating things like hatch slides that might get messy with some other lube- or wiped on bronze fittings that won't polish -it's a nice harbor finish. http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/smile.gif A 5lb tub almost always raises an eyebrow if left out....

Lima Bean
07-31-2001, 12:57 PM
I am prepping to start the finish on my spars, and in seeing this thread, initially was kind of amazed. I began to think about it and although I picked up some boiled linseed oil to use, I am more intrigued with the idea of the vaseline. Easier to come by; cheap; and safer in the clean up knowing I won't spontaneously combust.
But help me out in understanding how it would be applied, beyond the obvious. My spars are 9'7" (main) and 10' (sprit) and out of Douglas Fir.

Would I want to heat up the vaseline, kind of like when slathering snow seal on boots to waterproof?

Do I want to have the spars in the sun for a couple hours to let them heat up with the sun, to let it soak in more?

My third option is the spar varnish, with scotchbrite pads between coats (10 plus). As you can see I'm leaning toward the slippery slope already, since varnishing in the 85+ temps and 90%humidity is not favoring me.

Finally, if I go with vaseline now, stands to reason that I won't ever be able to go with varnish down the line, unless I wait a substantial period for it to dissipate, right? At the same time any and all surfaces that aren't completely exposed fresh wood, won't permit penetration, so minor flaws with possible epoxy filling will be exposed. Any suggestions on how to deal with this?

I'm a man; I can be wrong; If I have to, I guess. Let me have it.


07-31-2001, 01:30 PM
Whatsamatta you? No scatalogical, no sexual - not even obliquely Freudian - refrences? This forum is losing its bite http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/frown.gif

Lima Bean
07-31-2001, 02:04 PM
OK, TomRobb, I'll admit to my undergraduate degree in psych, and many wonderful notions of comments that waiver on the line of decency came to mind, not to exclude the size of my spars. But just as quickly, I realize, that size doesn't matter, when trying to make a boat a boat. It's how it sits on the water and handles the motion, right?

All that aside I really want to get some idea on the use of vaseline and the previous thread I entered. Thanks.

Ed Harrow
07-31-2001, 02:46 PM
Well what the heck did our man Brian Cunningham do... Well if anybody wants to read the article, let me know and I'll repost it.

Lima Bean
07-31-2001, 03:29 PM
Ed, I may be stepping into something here, but inquiring minds need to know. I'd appreciate anything you can post on this. I did a search on Brian, but came up with nothing with threads related to this topic in building. Thanks a heap.

07-31-2001, 04:22 PM
Originally posted by Ed Harrow:
Well what the heck did our man Brian Cunningham do... Well if anybody wants to read the article, let me know and I'll repost it.

Sorry Ed, I thought you read the post
go.com killed all thier WebPages! http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/mad.gif
I still have it on disk if you need a copy.

Greg H
07-31-2001, 06:11 PM
Just what the heck is petroleum jelly anyway?

Mike Field
07-31-2001, 07:27 PM
Okay, you guys have got me intrigued now, and Sanderling's mast is (sshhh) only aluminium.

Brian, or Ed, is "the article," whatever it is, still repostable? I'd dearly like to read it.

Bob Cleek
07-31-2001, 07:30 PM
Wasn't it H.L. Menken that said something about nobody ever going broke underestimating the American public? It seems in here everytime somebody even mentions some harebrained way to do something, fifteen guys start thinking it's a better mousetrap. Anything that looks like it might avoid varnishing or other honest boat work seems particularly seductive. God, if you want to get out of a little wooden boat work that bad maybe you ought to think about fibreglass! LOL Actually, petroleum jelly (basically refined axle grease) is as good a "slippin's" as any for a mast or whatever, but it has NO UV protection and makes a major mess. If you have a big old cargo schooner (read: Maine tourist barge) and you want it to look salty, slather it in Vaseline... what the heck. Otherwise, consider that hundreds of thousands of other guys probably have a better way of doing it.

Some years back, the Vaseline Company held a contest to discover the most novel way that people used their product. Of course, there were many creative suggestions reported, not least of all slapping it on sailboat masts. The winner, however, was, as might be expected, a use with a sexual connotation. The winning couple used it to ensure privacy from their kids while engaged in lovemaking. Turns out they smeared it on their bedroom doorknob!

John B
07-31-2001, 07:40 PM
Never used it for finishing the wood but have the stuff for greasing up the gaff saddle and hoops. A bit of heat sounds like a good idea to run it into the timber for a finish. I ran the stuff into the leather on the gaff saddle first time with a heat gun .Amazing just how much went in.
problem with linseed oil is the way it goes black. I wonder what would happen to the vaseline over time.
Still, ( Mike), shouldn't make much difference on an ALUMINIUM mast. ( how can this be?, I ask myself and any one else in the world who is listening)

Mike Field
07-31-2001, 08:41 PM
Okay, Bob, point taken about the American public. I'm an Aussie, though....

But why would you need to worry about U/V protection, anyway? Unless of course you were proposing to slather CPES or something all over the mast first -- but that apparently wasn't the case with Highlander Sea.

Ah, well, JohnB, I've been thinking about giving Sanderling an oregon mast for her birthday. And Aileen Louisa's is oregon already, albeit varnished, so you never know.

One of the nicest-finished small boats I ever saw was a dinghy from the Enterprize replica (below.) It was built by Tom Whitfield, like Aileen Louisa, but instead of being all varnished as she is, it's all oiled -- satin-smooth, and with a dull sheen all over.


Lima Bean
08-01-2001, 07:32 AM
At this rate, I know getting on the water this year to sail isn't likely. Sail is set to come together this winter, so I'll re-think, and then think again the notion of cutting corners on what I protect my spars with Bob. Although, what if I mix in some spf 50 sunscreen with the vaseline? That would buy some UV protection. http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/biggrin.gif

I will probably come up with a way to varnish either in the basement, that should thrill the SWMBO, or shoot for the cooler fall temps to varnish in the AM hours.

Have a string of days in August and September that I will be taking off from work to tinker and play while the SWMBO is away at work http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/rolleyes.gif

Ed Harrow
08-01-2001, 12:20 PM
Re the Pilot article. There is a conspiracy at work here. I don't know if it is a "righting" or a "lefting" conspiracy, but my two attempts thus far to get it pried out of my computer have failed.

I'll work on it again tonight. If I am successful I'll post in in MISC as Pilot (She'll always be Pilot to me, Highlander, hmmmmm, bankrolled by Forbes?)

[This message has been edited by Ed Harrow (edited 08-01-2001).]

08-01-2001, 03:46 PM
Best use I've heard for Vaseline comes from New Orleans, Mas De Gras(sp), no not that! They grease the light poles there every year to keep the drunks from climbing up and killing themselves!! http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/biggrin.gif

08-01-2001, 09:47 PM
Highlander Sea (ex-Pilot) is owned by Secunda Marine, which is a shipping company involved in providing offshore supply boats and deep-ocean towing services to the oil industry on the East coast of Canada, as well as fibre-optic cable laying ships to telecommunications firms in the Far East. They operate out of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

The Highlander Sea (all Secunda ships are named "something-Sea")was acquired to provide a training ground for cadets who would then provide a supply of capable seamen and deck officer candidates for the parent company. She underwent a significant refit at two years ago (new deck, some planks, engines overhauled, new booms)in Lunenburg at the Lunenburg Foundry's docks and marine railway, and had a large portion of her topsides planking replaced near my home at Snyder's Shipyard in Dayspring this past winter. I provided technical services for the refit including docking plans, SOLAS fire & safety plans, and I also designed her new aft pilothouse, which was ably built by Kevin Wambach of Lahave Marine Woodworking.

As for vaseline on the masts, it is an old trick of the schooner fishing fleets out of Nova Scotia in the early part of the last century. Varnish would never hold up to the rigors of the North Atlantic and was much too expensive for a working boat. Masts were commonly tarred to protect them, but deterioration of the wood underneath was undetectable until too late. Vaseline, which was a by-product of the new-fangled oil industry, provided cheap, easily touched-up protection for the sticks that was clear so the condition of the wood could easily be seen. It had the added benefit of lubricating the gaff jaws, mast hoops, and parrel beads. The fact that it was messy didn't mean squat to a bunch of cold, wet guys dressed in oilskins and covered in fish guts. It wasn't (and isn't) a miracle replacement for varnish, just a cheap, easy mast coating that worked in the cold, harsh Grand Banks fishery.

Highlander's skipper, Captain Thomas, now lives in Lunenburg and has obviously done his homework and talked to the old guys on the dock at the Fisheries Museum. He has learned the lore and techniques of large schooner husbandry very well and is doing a fine job of passing this arcane knowledge on to a new generation of shellbacks.