Skipper, her father Cap’n Jack, and I have tried a lot of varnishes over the years, looking for one that hits the sweet spot at the convergence of ease of application, nice finish, durability, and maintenance. After Jamestown Distributors introduced TotalBoat Halcyon Rugged Gloss in 2017, we began using it in 2018 and it has lived up to our expectations.

Halcyon is a one-part water-based polyurethane varnish that comes in pint- and quart-size flexible plastic pouches. We like saving money, and the pouches keep varnish from going to waste as it does in cans when the air space increases after each job. We have found Halcyon varnish was ready to go several months after we first opened it, with no skinning over. For information on this type of container, see “StopLossBags.” We also like saving time, and we’ve applied up to five coats in one day without sanding in between coats. At 72 degrees, it takes just a one-hour interval between coats. For applying additional coats after 12 hours, a light scuff with 320-grit sandpaper is recommended to ensure proper flow and adhesion.

Photographs by the authors

The soft-sided bag allows storing the unused varnish without the airspace that causes skinning over and waste of varnish sold in cans.

Halcyon pours well out of its pouch without the dribble that comes when pouring canned varnish, and does not require mixing or thinning. It can also be applied with a roller or sprayer. If thinning is required, water can be added up to a 20-percent mix. It has an application range of 50 to 90 degrees F, and from 0 to 90 percent relative humidity. There is little to no odor with water-based varnish, so working indoors with it is a possibility. Using a medium-quality sash brush designed for oil paints, we can brush out the varnish without leaving any bristle ridges. Halcyon is self-leveling and doesn’t puddle on flat surfaces, and isn’t prone to sagging or dripping down vertical surfaces. This varnish can be applied over epoxy—cured, deblushed, and sanded—and provides UV protection. It is also compatible with one- and two-part varnishes for refinishing. Cleanup is easy with soap and water.

We decided to use Halcyon to refinish our daggerboards and paddles: we sanded them back to wood, and Halcyon leveled nicely over the grain without needing filler to provide a smooth surface. It flowed on smooth with the brush, dipped directly out of a work cup. Halcyon dried quickly into a gloss finish, even with just three coats, and we were able to use the paddles the following day. We prefer the subtle finish, so we have not experimented yet with more coats than three to see how deep a luster can be achieved.

Brushed on mahogany, the Halcyon Rugged varnish filled the pores and leveled itself to a smooth surface.

The Amber Gloss Varnish has a nice hue that accentuates the beauty of wood. Its finish is harder than a traditional spar varnish, so it will hold up well in high traffic areas. Halcyon is designed for interior and exterior use above the waterline, and is available in clear gloss, amber gloss, and clear satin. The satin finish, which was added to the Halcyon Rugged line in 2019, should be applied over a base layer of gloss. Our applications of it have held up well so far in our Florida Panhandle tropical marine environment, with no signs of chipping, cracking or peeling. We will continue to use Halcyon on new and old projects, and are very pleased with the performance on our fleet bits. It hits the sweet spot.

Audrey (Skipper) and Kent (Clark) Lewis row, sail, paddle and motor the coastal waters of Northwest Florida in their fleet of small boats. They blog their mess-about adventures at Small Boat Restoration. They are unpaid ambassadors for Jamestown Distributors.

The Halcyon Rugged finishes in stop-loss bags are available in clear and amber, gloss and satin, in pints and quarts with pints at $17.99 and quarts at $31.99.

Is there a product that might be useful for boatbuilding, cruising, or shore-side camping that you’d like us to review? Please email your suggestions.