Holystoning the decks


Good morning everyone. OK…so we have to talk. Both readers have written in to ask if we are “holystoning” the decks. We are delighted that you care so much about your schooner and how we are caretaking her. For any other readers out there that happen to stumble across this blog a) I apologize and hope you have had your first cup of coffee and 2) I will explain what a holystone is.

Holystones were fairly soft flat rocks that were used once upon a time to scour, and thus whiten, the wooden decks of ships. The US Navy used them right up until the early 1930s until they were banned. They were called holystones because they were traditionally used on Sundays and on ones hands and knees, like good prayer ought to be. Now Jen was smart enough to use a pair of knee pads these last few days. I on the other hand am way to masculine to fall prey to these creature comforts. Being a good New England puritan I toughed it out without too much whining just to have the bragging rights later on. There is nothing that can save the back though and 2, 6-8 hour, days later we can both have something to brag about. We do some scraping to get the initial layer of oil off the wood but we chased that with an 8” sander with 120 grit. You would be surprised how little wood gets removed but how smooth and bright things do get. The sanders we use have dust extractors attached that are so effective that we also varnished the spars and hatches yesterday with no ill affect. The oil we use helps fill the pores of the wood to make it more resistant to the wear and tear of the seasons.

Traditional white pine decks are very soft and were we to use traditional holystones once a week we would have the chance to replace our traditional deck in the traditional fashion in a very short amount of time. And that is why the Navy banned holystones a long time ago. Holystoning is nothing more than a fancy way of saying sanding and makes decks bright by removing the top oxidized and dirt encrusted layer of wood. My point is this, while we are sailing traditional schooners the human condition seems geared towards efficiency and economy. Were Nelson sailing today he would take a pretty close look at some of the new fangled stuff we have. There are some “tried and trues” out there and we use them but we also try to use technology appropriately to get more bang for your buck and our efforts.

Enjoy Jen’s completely retouched photo where you can see the difference between oiled and not. We are having fun with this blog so keep your comments coming.

Have a great day. Be well. Do good.

One comment

  1. I had always heard is was called a Holystone, because the stone was about the same size as a Bible. However I found the following excerpts from Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast”

    “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thou art able,
    And on the seventh-holystone the decks and scrape the cable.”

    The holystone is a large, soft stone, smooth on the bottom, with long ropes attached to each end, by which the crew keep it sliding fore and aft, over the wet, sanded decks. Smaller hand-stones, which the sailors call “prayer-books,” are used to scrub in among the crevices and narrow places, where the large holystone will not go. An hour or two, we were kept at this work, when the head-pump was manned, and all the sand washed off the decks and sides.

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