Restoring the wood on a Riva Iseo


Sun and moisture have severely damaged the wood veneer of the foredeck.


One fine June day, a 2013 Riva Iseo showed up at the shop after the owner asked if I could do varnish work on a wooden deck.  He had purchased the boat used from someone in Miami, FL.

There were areas where the finish had released from the deck due to water intrusion.

When it got here, the finish was a bit dull and yellowed, and there were patches where it had released from the underlying deck.  I could tell the veneer was pretty thin, but I didn’t know how thick the underlying substrate was, or even what it was.  I wouldn’t learn that until I began removing it.





The sweep of the sheer line on the Riva Iseo is truly beautiful


Riva boats are legendary for their design and attention to detail.  The company was founded in 1842 by Pietro Riva after he began repairing fishing boats damaged in a sudden storm on Lake Iseo in northern Italy.  But it was his great grandson, Carlo, who made Riva a worldwide brand.


This picture shows the finish and the mahogany veneer were each about 1/32″ thick. The holly strips were 1/16″.

I had learned in my research that Riva applies 24 coats of finish to these boats before they leave the factory.  It’s a thick, durable finish of two part urethane, but it won’t last forever.  Without maintenance coats every year, the harsh sun here in the southeastern US degraded the finish and bleached the mahogany.

The swim platform aft was in better shape.  There were no obvious perforations in the finish, but there was sun-bleaching of the wood, and some dark spots that indicated moisture intrusion.  If the shaped pieces making up the spray rails and the edge of the swim platform were solid, I was pretty sure I could restore them.  If they were veneer like the foredeck, well…

Beginning sanding on the swim platform and rub rails.

I thought I would proceed with the swim platform by sanding, trying to preserve the finish where I could.  It seemed a shame to remove all of that 24 coat finish if I didn’t have to.  But preserving the finish would do nothing about the sun bleaching.  I didn’t know how deep the bleaching went, or how much of the surface I would have to remove to restore the original red of the mahogany or the white luster of the holly.

Here’s a detail of the hatch cover before the old finish was removed.

It soon became apparent that the sun bleaching wasn’t deep at all.  If I were careful, I could sand through the finish, then just touch the wood enough to rejuvenate it.  The first piece I got to this stage on was the cockpit hatch cover.  In the picture at left, you can see how the yellowing of the finish has obscured some of the holly strips and there’s a little water damage around the latch.  After a lot of sanding, I got down to bare wood and watched as the old, bleached wood seemed to clear away as I continued sanding.  It was one of those moments you love to see after all that effort.

The hatch cover sanded to bare wood.
Wiping with a solvent gives a hint of what the piece will look like after refinishing.










That’s about all I have time for now.  But the real fun is about to begin.  Next time we’ll talk about options for restoring the foredeck.

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