Equatoria Teak - A plantation option?

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Equatoria Teak - A plantation option?

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There’s now a sustainable plantation teak alternative to the Burmese variety that’s worth a look. Equatoria teak is currently being trialled for decking by a few of Europe’s major boatbuilders. May 2008

MAY 2008

Deck-grade teak is a big issue just now. We all know supplies of high-grade Burmese teak are getting harder and harder to source and more and more expensive. And even those canny boatbuilders that planned ahead, pre-bought and hold large stocks know that it’s only a question of time before they run out.
Indeed supply issues of Burmese teak have probably prompted most of us to examine some of the synthetic alternatives on the market. And yes some of them are pretty impressive, although the idea of petrochemical-based products being ‘sustainable’ is a bit of a joke considering the oil supplies, never mind the present sky-high price of a barrel of crude. But regardless of how practical and durable the plastic alternatives, for some there will never be anything quite like the ‘real thing’.
And when it comes to the real thing, naturally grown Burmese teak has been the quality hardwood timber of choice for decking applications for centuries and for good reason. Burmese teak has got so much going for it. Because the suitable trees grow naturally in Burma’s rain forests, they are so much older than plantation reared specimens. Consequently they have tighter, denser, oilier grain structures, which mean hardness, high durability and stability whatever the temperature. Colours are consistent golden-brown too. Plus these trees tend to deliver longer, clearer lengths, which mean they tend to have less cracks and splits. It is these traits that make Burmese teak ideal for decking.

'Equatoria teak seems to tick most of the required boxes...' 

But there’s a lot of baggage that comes with Burmese teak too. For a start supplies of suitably high quality logs are not sustainable and consequently unethical. They’re simply fast running out. In fact the problem is close to critical. What’s more, there are all sorts of issues with Burma itself. Burma is politically difficult, meaning it’s not a democracy, but controlled by a military junta.
Alternative teaks from different parts of the world have been tried and tested before, but thus far none have really matched up, or at least until now. As at last there seems to be a plantation grown alternative and supplies are said to be plentiful. In fact Equatoria teak seems to tick most of the required boxes.
Equatoria teak – officially tectona grandis - comes from Equatoria, a climatically stable area to the far south of the Sudan and deep in the heart of Africa. Of course, Sudan has issues of its own. But bear in mind it is Africa’s largest country, which means it is absolutely massive and that the north and south of the country are very different. The north and principal state with its capital Khartoum is dry and arid, predominantly Arab and Islamic; while the latter is what is known as semi-autonomous region – lush and tropical, predominantly black African and Christian. It has its own parliament, president and capital city Juba – it’s known as GOSS (Government of South Sudan). There’s even a suggestion that this more stable region may soon win independence - a referendum timetable for 2011 will apparently decide.
Most importantly, Equatoria teak is plantation grown, although ironically it is actually bad management that has lead to these particular forest trees being so suitable for marine needs. Past civil conflicts in the country got in the way of the normal silviculture (forestry practice). Efficient practice would have seen the forests like these periodically thinned out, which makes for the highest volume growth rates. In is all about available light penetrating the canopy. Had the forests been managed properly the trees would have grown much faster - felled say within 20-30 years – which would have meant wider annual rings and a less dense grain structure. However, for decades these particular plantations were left to do their own thing, meaning tree densities became much greater than would have been the case and the growth rates much slower. The result is a grain structure that mimics closely that of naturally grown trees in Burma - tight growth rings, a similar density and oil content - a lot less defects than other plantation teaks. The logs tend to be smaller than those from Burma, but otherwise there’s not much difference. The average tectona grandis log is 55-60 years old. Burmese logs can be over 100 years old.
Equatoria teak is finalising its FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certification. To earn that recognition it must be sustainable, well-managed, legal and exceed minimal social standards. “We’re really pleased about the expected FSC certification, as its normally very difficult for tropical timbers to get, says C Leary director Simon Kloos. “For us that really is a passport into even the strictest environmentally sensitive markets… We were well impressed too when we asked some very experienced Asian saw-mill operators used to dealing with Burmese teak what they thought of Equaoria teak and they couldn’t tell the difference… British decking specialist DA Watts & Sons has already delivered a trial Equatoria teak deck to Fairline and similar requests have been made by competitors Princess and Sunseeker.

For more, www.c-leary.com and www.teakdecking.co.uk.

© Phil Draper