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.

My second worry was Ultraviolet radiation, the Hunter 340 has something like 17 windows and hatches, as brown as Indian tea. Gel coat chalking is a direct result of prolonged exposure and running rigging will last much longer if protected.  So really I can’t think of a reason not to cover your boat during off season, well besides money.

cutting diagram
cutting diagram

Convinced I need a cover, and already in possession of a walking foot sewing machine, I decided to make one myself, I mean, how hard can it be?! Well it isn’t that difficult from a sewing perspective, the biggest challenge was in handling the volume of material. I used 45 yards of 60″wide WeatherMax 80 to make a cover that was 35’x24′ at widest, seven panels stitched together.

I made some mistakes, like put on a few zippers upside down, because of the sheer volume of material it was hard to tell top from bottom. Would I advise doing it yourself, sure, but I would say it took about  24 hours of sewing time, plus time for research, sourcing fabric, getting the materials, building the frame, a couple of test fittings… so not a small undertaking.

The boat yard was a great source of design inspiration as the boats next to me in the storage yard were of varying designs. Some with frames, no frames, hanging down to the water line or ending at the rub rail. One guy even draped flannel sheets to protect the beautiful glossy black paint finish on the hull from the abrasive cover material.

I decided to end my cover just at the rub rail, and initially was going to use the boom as the main support but as I needed the nose section and I wanted the cover to go over the arch and solar panels, I needed some additional framing. I used an old frame from a smaller boat and extended it and bent some new ribs. It was good to use my homemade tubing bender again.

A Weller gun-style soldering iron was indispensable as it cut and welded the seams in one operation, thereby avoiding the need for double folded seams.

I initially used a ruler as pictured, but after some practice I just free-handed along my pencil lines with great results.

Feeding the machine was a challenge,  you have to pull it up to the machine, feed it through, and then have somewhere for it to spill-off after. Sounds easier than you think.
Another challenge is you can’t stuff all that material under the arm of the machine, so you have to handle the fabric so that the bulk is on the outside of the machine, and what has to pass through needs to be neat and tidy (see rolled canvas pic). It also helps to have helpers with small fingers pulling pins for you.

Overall I am quite pleased with the results, making the cuts for the shrouds and mast were a bit nerve wracking as the cover didn’t fit properly and it was a cold windy day. I did two fittings, the second to make sure the the holes were in the right spot(!) and the second to add darts to take up any sags particularly in the aft section around the solar panels and arch.

It’s the third week of January and I just got it on and snugged down. Luckily there is no snow and only -5°C . I started this project just before Christmas, I was in a rush to get it done for before the winter snow and ice so I could have sewn my seams straighter and hummed and hawed over the design a bit longer if the weather was nice, but it’s done and doing its thing. In the spring I I will see how it has worn and what needs to be improved/tweaked.

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