The teak dilemma: scarcer, pricier, less available

By | July 13, 2018

In a 2-part series, Jachtbouwactueel look at teak on yachts. Its appeal endures. But tougher logging rules hike prices. If superyacht owners weren’t so picky, “we can sell teak at half the price,” says veteran teak merchant, Cees Boogaerdt. And builders would not face delivery problems.

Royal Boogaerdt Group has been supplying exotic wood species to yacht builders across Europe for 40 years. They account for up to 20% of its turnover. Its Royal Deck unit has, since it was founded in 2004, laid the equivalent of 7 or 8 football fields in teak decks. CEO Cees Boogaerdt knows the market inside out.

He says: “Superyacht owners want high-quality teak because it looks good and it retains a yacht’s value. But proving teak’s legality has become tricky. I agree you can only import legal wood,” says Boogaerdt. “But how can you be 100% sure? Dutch authorities checked us out once and found 1 document missing. Importing teak involves much red tape to show a tree’s provenance. But that’s not always water-tight.”

He opposes illegal imports (“bad for business”) and uses a ‘chain of custody’ to show his teak comes from sustainably managed forests. “We have gone into woods ourselves, repeatedly, to locate numbered stumps of cultivated trunks that lie in storage, replete with all documents,” says Boogaerdt. “Everything was OK. Illegal harvest? How illegal? In the Netherlands they just say Myanmar authorities are corrupt.”

Boogaerdt acknowledges teak’s troubled history, but adds much is done to erase that slate. He works with the Geneva-based Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, an international NGO that promotes sustainable forest management through independent 3rd party certification. PEFC’s 35 national forest certification systems monitor more than 741 million acres of certified forests.

“Governments check a trunk’s provenance,” says Boogaerdt. “What has been cut from it? What will be exported? An export license is applied for. More checks during loading. In 2016, two-thirds of Myanmar teak was exported this way. The rest evaporated across Myanmar’s porous border with China. Pleas to stop that go unanswered in Beijing.” Which is how teak sold on the international market is listed as having been cut in Shanghai.

Between 2010 and 2015 Myanmar experienced the world’s third-worst deforestation, losing at least 1.34 million acres. This has led Myanmar to enact deep output cuts. The state-owned Myanmar Timber Enterprise has banned, until 2027, all logging in the Bago Mountain Range, a prime source of teak.

Boogaerdt says: “For the global superyacht market, soon only a few thousand cubic meters of teak will be available from trees that are at least 70 years old.” Two years ago, 50,000 tons was harvested in Myanmar. In the following year, 15,000 tons or 25,000 cubic meters. “But this drops to 12,500 cubic meters as you can only use 50% of a trunk,” he adds. “Teak must have a perfectly straight grain and a good uniform color. In the end, only 10% of available teak can be used as deck material,” says Boogaerdt.

He says: “Soon yards won’t be able to delay teak orders until 3 months before a deck is laid. It’ll take at least 9 months to find the right wood.”

For superyacht decks, a trunk is cut into 4 quarts from which planks are made. The grain must be perfectly straight as builders want long, even pieces. The lower section of an 80-year-old tree can look good. But at 5 or 6 meters, you’ll see where branches used to be. There’s a dark line and a slightly curved grain. “Buyers don’t want that, although it is good wood,” says Boogaerdt. “And they demand good colour, without variations. But after 2 months at sea, a teak deck has evenly weathered into gray,” says Boogaerdt. “We can sell teak at half the price if buyers adjust their aesthetic demands.”

Quality teak today fetches up to €20,000 per cubic meter. “That is bound to go up,” says Boogaerdt. “A 500 sq. m. deck takes 10 cubic meters of teak. That is a significant expenditure, though still only a fraction of a yacht’s overall cost.”

Boogaerdt has long looked for a teak alternative.

The best he’s found is laminated Fineline teak from Thailand. It costs €13,000 to €14.000 per cubic meter. He says “It is real teak. Flawless and with a straight grain. We tested it out on a boat in Italy, 6 years ago. It still looks good, is environmentally sustainable and is not much more expensive than normal teak.”

This story is from Jachtbouwactueel.

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