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Estech: the evolution of teak

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The emergence of new materials and the application of new processes has served to multiply the creative options available to yacht designers. Carbon fibre, lightweight alloys and vacuum infusion have changed the way boats are designed and built. But one area of both sail and motoryacht design has remained unchanged for generations: teak decking.

This is partly because teak happens to be good at its job. But another reason has been that there was, until now, no high-quality alternative. Increasing concern over the depleted stocks of natural teak in the world has helped to fuel research into man-made substitutes, but it was only a couple of years ago that a convincing product emerged on the market. At the 2007 METS event in Amsterdam Rientz Bol, the owner and president of Esthec (a Dutch company, a division of Bolidt group, which has produced composites for the marine sector since 1964) and co-founder and director Marcel van der Spek, presented a pre-fabricated product, called Esthec®, that in appearance and texture was like the real thing. But they were not out to produce a synthetic teak, preferring to call it “composite decking”. “Other products are based on PVC or rubber compounds, but ours is a thermoset product, made of 24 high-quality components”, explains van der Spek.

Boat building is traditionally a conservative industry but the shipyards are aware of teak’s drawbacks. Despite the natural properties of teak and its undoubted “charm”, it wears, it’s heavy and requires a great deal of maintenance. Moreover, the application is time-consuming. “Esthec is like teak without the teak”, quips Rientz Bol. “It’s user friendly, indestructible and low-maintenance. It’s easy to clean, resistant to the most aggressive cleaning agents and much lighter and faster to install than a teak deck.” It can also be up to 40% more economic.

Despite these advantages, the task now facing Bol and van der Spek is how to convince architects and designers of the creative scope of Esthec. “We are manufacturers so our task is to challenge the designers to come up with the creative part of the process”, confirms van der Spek. Indeed, Esthec’s biggest breakthrough from the design point of view is the creative freedom it provides. “It allows the designer to create forms and patterns in virtually any colour, including gold or silver”, says Rientz Bol. “There are literally no limits”.

Designers can interpret owners’ tastes to develop individual designs by using combinations of line patterns and joint colour to create complex shapes or mosaics. The novelty has not been lost on a few leading designers, such as Andrew Winch and Dickie Bannenberg. Naval architects German Frers and Jaron Ginton are also keen to incorporate composite decking into their yacht designs. And Luca Bassani has confirmed that Esthec will be a design feature of an upcoming WallyPower – in a Wally-branded colour. Icon, Feadship, Ferretti and Benetti have expressed interest and some have conducted their own research tests. Ferretti discovered that Esthec heats up less than natural teak decking when exposed to the summer sun. Feadship discovered that if 6mm Esthec were used throughout for the exterior decking on a 60-metre yacht, up to 30 tonnes of ballast weight could be saved.

So what does the future hold? Though the yachting industry grows more sensitive to environmental issues, it won’t be easy to overcome the bias many owners have towards composite alternatives. In the meantime, Esthec is experimenting with applying its composite decking to fibreglass hull structures while in the mould to provide further savings in labour costs and time. Another area of research is incorporating LEDs into the material. And in its mission to change our thinking about traditional decking, Esthec has opened an office in Pisa close to the beating heart of Italian yachtbuilding.

Justin Ratcliffe

(Yacht Design, n. 4/2009)



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