Category Archives: sewing

Bosun’s chair

Falling off my mast isn’t my preferred way to “go”. Having said that, enjoying my hobby probably isn’t the worst way to check out; I’m more concerned it might be a bit premature and somewhat unplanned.
I’ve been to the top of my mast many times, and a few other boats too. I currently need to replace my anchoring light and windex so I need a safe way to get up there in the spring.
My boat came with a MastMate loop-strap ladder and I’ve tried using, it was a most unsatisfying experience. There are two issues that make it a less than ideal solution on my boat. Firstly, my in-mast furler makes it impossible to use track slides. (The solution offered by MastMate necessitates taking down the main….) this leaves the ladder swaying loosely from the mast making it difficult and dangerous to climb. Continue reading Bosun’s chair

wheel wrap

Last summer on the return trip from Ottawa/Kingston, the weather was particularly cold in early August.  Malcolm and I got seriously cold, numb feet and stiff hands. I noticed that the stainless wheel gets really cold in cool weather,  I never had this problem with a wooden tiller, but a cold wheel makes life that much more miserable.

I decided to wrap my wheel in the leftover marine grade vinyl I used for the cushions on my previous sailboat, the Tanzer.  I used just a small amount of contact cement to hold it in place.The thread is UV nylon I used for the cover, not that I am worried about the elements as the cockpit is covered by the bimini (and solar panels).  It took me about three hours to stitch. I cut the vinyl a little too narrow and the seam varies from closed to about a 2mm gap. The perfectionist in me says it can wait until it needs to be replaced, or I’m retired, whichever comes first!

Winter Cover – DIY

Sailors seem to be divided into two camps,  winter cover or no winter cover. I’ve played on both teams but I’ve finally become a card carrying member in the cover camp. In the past I  used tarps from Canadian Tire, silver on one side and black on the other.  Some years I didn’t bother, I didn’t see much of a difference, the old boat was leaky covered or not, and being over thirty years old, the UV had done it’s damage to the gel-coat.

20140203_143234_snowI think it was the day I visited Tortuga last winter when I decided to cover it. There was a couple of inches of snow and ice on the boat. Snow,  like rain isn’t my main concern, it was the ice I was worried about, specifically water creeping under deck fittings, into cracks and crevices and then freezing. The freeze thaw cycle has the potential to tear a boat apart, keeping water and snow off a boat is the best defense, short of indoor storage. Continue reading Winter Cover – DIY

Custom Lifesling Bag

This is before the snow fell.

The north eastern sailor is confronted with winter downtime, the boat is on the hard and it’s too cold to work on, under, or in the boat. Given it’s is -14° c and a foot of snow fell last night, I decided to do some sewing.

I had some leftover Sunbrella from my (half-finished) Bimini project that would be perfect for a new Lifesling bag. The original bag has been exposed to the elements for 13 seasons and although physically sound, it was dirty, faded and the instructions printed on the exterior of the bag looked like heiroglyphics, a combination of partial words and obscured images.

I tore the original yellow bag apart to make a template and spent a couple of evenings stitching a new one using my walking foot sewing machine. I used white outdoor furniture mesh for the bottom panel to allow for drainage and ventilation (I sourced this from  a dumpster while scavenging an air compressor). The Velcro straps are ice-axe straps from MEC, a buck a piece.

I can’t say I’d make these for money, but it was a satisfying project and cost almost nothing as I had most of the materials..

My kids kept asking what I was making. I tried to explain the whole toss-it-overboard-when-someone-falls-into the-water-thing, but they think it’s a backpack and think we should keep food in it. I explained that it will be mounted on the boat and it really wouldn’t be a good idea to keep food in the sun for a whole season… “no daddy, we can keep food in it.”

Sewing starts – cockpit cushions

I finally got a chance to put my walking-foot sewing machine to productive use. I placed an order from JT’s Top Shop for some marine grade vinyl, UV thread and some Sunbrella fabric. The Sunbrella is just a test swatch to check colour and practice before I do a new sail cover and bimini later in the spring (after launch and the mast is up).
First off I was absolutely amazed at how stinky the vinyl was – it reeked like a jar of contact cement. I left it unrolled on the deck for a couple of days to off gas. I always thought the granola crowd was a bit alarmist when talking about off-gassing plastics, but now I understand what they are talking about (and this comes from a guy that has no problem being elbows deep in acetone/mek/gas etc…)

I deconstructed the existing cushions to make a pattern and reused the foam and zippers – ok at this point I’ve only done one, three to go. Must say I am very pleased with the sewing machine. I was looking about for a cord/welt foot but saw on the Sailrite site that the machine has a built in groove, when I checked mine it was there too – guess it really is only the paint colour that is different from Sailrite!

old cushion for pattern

Sewing, walking-foot machine

In my quest to boat at a reasonable cost (go ahead, call me frugal, thrifty or just plain cheap – I can take it).  I present my latest effort at circumventing the outrageous prices charged for all things with the word boat on the label. I used to think motorcycle parts were exorbitant! I guess what really kills me is most of what I see is either re-purposed from other normal uses, or isn’t any better then regular, non-boat stuff, despite the manufacturers claims. Perhaps this is because boats are expensive and your life is on the line if equipment fails, if you are offshore I suppose. So there is definitely a fear involved in DIY or home based solutions, the undercurrent is “You don’t want to ruin your boat/cruise/investment with the wrong widget/paint/wax/rope!”

Last year I priced out a professional Bimini, as a blond I fry under the sun, my fair children won’t do any better in the sun, coverage we need. I was shocked to get quotes that were almost two thirds the price of what I paid for the boat. What?  This brought me to Sailrite and their yummy looking kits and machines, alas, they still seemed to be expensive to my cheap eye. The key to choosing a machine for sail repair and heavy work is a walking foot. A walking foot is an additional foot on the top that moves the material from the top and bottom simultaneously, thereby avoiding material slippage. You also need a machine that can go through heavy material, and mulitple layers of that material. Sailcloth is one of the toughest materials around, this machine uses industrial #20 needles and heavy weight thread.

Walking foot, detail
Blue arrow indicates the walking foot.

I decided that there must be a cheaper alternative to the $899 walking foot sewing machine. A little digging with the help of Mr.Google revealed that the same machine is out there marketed under different names. I went for the “Rex” from Sewman for $375, had it shipped to my father-in-law in the US who brought it up to Toronto, duty free. ahh, now that’s more like it. It is just sewing machine in a cardboard box, no case. I could buy the Sailrite Deluxe Carrying Case for $125+ shipping+ taxes & duty, or just make one; so I made one as pictured below.


walking-foot sewing machineI am not knocking the Sailrite products, they have taken the time to research, assemble and importantly, support their products, if money were no option I would just order theirs, but then again, if money were no option, I wouldn’t be sewing my own Bimini on my 30 year old boat.

The quality of the machine seems fine for what it is, a semi industrial heavy weight machine; this isn’t my mothers Pfaff. The casting is a bit rough and the cheapo plastic rheostat foot pedal was a pice of junk. I replaced it with a standard plug so I can use any standard foot pedal. (I bought one at my local surplus shop for $12, or can use my nice Foredom pedal). I also found a spool of black nylon thread there too!

My first project is a tether for my two year old. She likes to move around the boat and this summer with a second baby, we will have our hands full so a tether, or lifeline is a must. I looked at the Sailrite kit for $87, seems pretty straight forward, but the price!!!! To be fair they are using some magical carbiners that are very expensive. I sourced my clips from MEC the Canadian version or REI. If a carbiner is good enough to fall off a mountain side, I think it is good enough to keep me on my boat, the most expensive clip there is $22. I looked around on the net and it seems Whichard carbiners are expensive – but do you really need a stainless clip capable of lifting your whole boat for a haul out? I await the blogisphere to enlighten me.

Here is the breakdown:

  • 1/8″ Shockcord, 1 meter  $0.80
  • 1″ tublar webbing, 1 meter $1.30
  • two 1″ D-rings $0.50
  • 2 carbiner clips, $6.40
  • Total   $10.17

Finished product…..

Finished tether

The observant might not that the clips say “not load bearing” this clip is for my 21lb daughter, if I need a better clip as she gets heavier I can upgrade to a fancy $20 clip! My sewing may not be as clean as the professional ones, but for a saving of $70 I think I can live with it.

Stay tuned for more sewing projects.