View Full Version : The unique smell of a wooden boat

Todd Schliemann
12-19-2001, 11:31 PM
First thing, this isn't about the fragrance of fresh wood shavings.

My aging below decks smell like a wooden boat. You probably know the smell. It is a potent combination of whatever it is. Everything that comes off the boat carries it. Always has. I can take a book off my shelf at home and know that it was on the boat five years ago. I have old charts from boats long gone that have it. I go onto other older wooden boats (the ones that haven't been restored within an inch of their lives) and it is there, maybe with a twist or two.

Now I go over my interior with a bleach solution once a year, overhead to bilge, with a determination to "freshen it up", and that works well for a little while, but by the end of the season even my kids hair has that magnificent (certainly an aquired taste) wooden boat smell.

A little mold, a little turpentine, a little oil, a little linseed oil, a little salt ? ... well whatever. At this time of the year it's like a drug.

What is it about that smell?

John R Smith
12-20-2001, 03:39 AM

I know just what you mean. Close your eyes and that smell will take you there, even if it is the middle of winter and you are snug beside your fire, miles from the sea.

Closed wooden boxes, perhaps, just have that ability to conjure an olefactory experience. Guitars certainly do - my old L5 always smelt like a musty church. And my little 0-28 smells sweetly of cedar even now, after 112 years.


Nora Lee
12-20-2001, 07:22 AM
Must be we are addicted to those mold spores, it gets into your blood and you are hooked, I know I am,


Nora Lee

12-20-2001, 07:57 AM
Ah, that mystical elusive wonderful smell! Nothing better than the bilge of an old wooden boat. I believe someone here once referred to it as "boat gas". Amazing stuff the way the smallest amount can bring memories & good feelings rushing back.

Thaddeus J. Van Gilder
12-20-2001, 08:22 AM
Not only am I right there with you, mut I just brought a can of stockholm tar into my classroom, to let the kids experience that "Yarr" smell.

Scott Rosen
12-20-2001, 08:32 AM
I'm glad I'm not the only one who loves that smell. I figure that's what heaven is going to smell like if I ever get there. Hell's smells . . . ever been below deck in a glass boat?

To me, it's a combination of salt water, ever so slowly decaying wood, tung oil, linseed oil, diesel fuel and some magical mold that doesn't grow anywhere else. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

The smell is the biggest reason I will never own a fiberglass cruising boat. That outgassing never seems to end.

Ed Harrow
12-20-2001, 10:00 AM
Hi Nora!

"The essance of a wooden boat can be summed up in one word - bouquet. It's a smell that knocks me for a loop every time I get a wiff. Can you imagine a perfume - Eau de bateau de wood? Bob Cleek would loose all perspective in 2 seconds, LOL."

Thaddeus J. Van Gilder
12-20-2001, 10:03 AM
My girlfriend (bless her) sailed on such ships as the Gazela, spirit of mass. and the Rose when she was younger. Recently she borrowed her fathers old diesel mercedes, which apparently was leaking copious amounts of diesel fumes into the car. When her father got the car back, he asked her if she noticed the fumes, and all she said was that It reminded her of wooden ships, and that she liked the smell.

It is good to know that there are a few Yarr sailor chicks out there.

charles carini
12-20-2001, 11:15 AM
just a ? - what does CPES/West/a-freeze do to the bouque, seriously. I've opted out of the antifreeze solution because of this but have seen suggestions here for the others for repair or when wooded. Seems to me these never gas out either.

Bob Cleek
12-20-2001, 02:01 PM
It's been done. Tony Correa, that clever jeweler who makes the hugely expensive little gold yacht fittings your wife thinks are cute offers a men's cologne (are all cologne's "men's"? What do I know?) that smells like pine tar. He calls it "Marline" or something like that. You can make your own by mixing a little pine tar and diesel oil and dabbing it behind your ears. It's a good thing.

12-22-2001, 05:14 PM
Speaking of sailor chicks (we don't call them boat broads any more), some years ago a lady friend endeared herself to me by saying, "Oh, my, this smells gooood!" as she went down the companionway of my more-than-half-a-century-old boat for the first time.

12-23-2001, 10:06 PM
Sounds like a keeper Thaddeus.

Mike Field
01-03-2002, 10:42 PM
Ah, yes, the sense of smell.

This seems at least somewhat appropriate --


01-05-2002, 12:15 PM
I brought home my gortex jacket that had been on my boat for several months. My mom's cat spent quite a long time smelling it with apparent pleasure.

We used to live on a steel moterboat with cedar and honduran mahogany interior with my parents.

Here is my boat:

Alan D. Hyde
01-07-2002, 10:52 AM
She looks good, Karl.

I like the "Chocolate," too.