The difference a dink makes

The wind was a steady 25 knots, gusting over 30, blowing straight off the shore of the small island behind which we were anchored. Both of our dogs, whom refuse to to soil our boat (at least while we’re there) hadn’t relieved themselves in more than 24 hours and looked absolutely miserable.

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I held tight to the standing rigging as I stood on the cabin top and looked over my small kayak trying to decide if I could even make any headway towards the island or if I’d be blown back past the boat and out into the middle of the bay if I attempted the trip to shore.

It wasn’t so much that I was worried about what would happen to me and two dogs in life jackets on a kayak — we’d just be carried ashore somewhere in San Leon. The problem was that if I couldn’t get back to the sailboat, Mary would be stranded there, unable to lift the anchor and leave.

That was the weekend we really began dinghy shopping.

But what type and size of a dinghy did we need and how would we power it?

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Luckily we had many boating friends also looking for dinghies, so we waited and learned from their experiences.

Our friends on the Tina Marie Too had a big double floor West Marine inflatable with a 20hp 4-stroke engine. It was comfortable. It planed up. It held a lot of people. It was way too big for our boat. We ruled out a fiberglass floor inflatable.

Our friends on Escondida had an 8′ slat floor inflatable with a 5 hp. It was small, light and could easily be lifted on and off the foredeck. It could also be rolled up and stowed in the cabin. It didn’t hold much, and it was very slow.

Our friends on Folie a Deux bought a Port-a-bote. It wasn’t too heavy, and it folded flat to tie against the lifelines. However, it was only rated for a 2.5 hp motor, and they got caught with a strong headwind in Matagorda Bay and couldn’t make any forward progress.

What we really thought we wanted was a Takacat. However, actual Takacat inflatables are quite expensive, so we started looking at the generic Saturn inflatable catamarans available. Our friends on Hippokampos got curious about them as well and bought one.

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Not tapering together at the bow makes for a very wide dinghy. In fact, we referred to it as the barge. It was sort of a strange ride because you could feel the flex in the middle when a wave raised one pontoon and then the other. They’ve been cruising with it for over a year now, and you can actually read their entire review of it here. While they had no major complaints, we realized there was no way we could put a boat that wide on our foredeck, and we weren’t sure we’d even have the space to inflate and deflate it anywhere on Gimme Shelter.

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We went back to thinking we would go with an 8′ slat floor roll-up with a 5hp Lehr propane engine. While small and slow, that seemed to be the best option for our 34′ sailboat. We also wouldn’t have to carry gasoline along with the diesel and propane we were already carrying. We started saving and kept waiting for the big sale at West Marine.

However, sometimes the right dinghy finds you.

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Our friends over at SVMimzy.com asked if we were interested in a 10′ AB rigid floor inflatable with a Mercury 9.9 hp 2-stroke. While it was about ten years old, it was in really nice shape. I just didn’t think we could lift it or that we’d have space for it on the boat. I was incredibly surprised when the boat only weighed around 100 pounds, and I could pick it up and move it around myself — and it just barely fit on our foredeck. I have to lift it up and bit to open and close the anchor locker, but it works.

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We’ve anchored out more times this year than in almost all of our past years of sailing combined thanks to being able to easily get the dogs back and forth to shore.

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Of course, it’s been useful for more than just carting dogs around. Mary and I have made runs up and down the ICW from Bolivar to Stingarees.

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We can finally explore islands and anchorages together instead of taking turns on the kayak.

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It’s also been great for carrying my photography equipment to shore. I’d never risk it on the kayak, but now I can get the camera, lenses and tripod all safely to shore to set up for great shots like this.

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While we’re getting by with raising and lowering the dinghy and motor using our halyards, the next question is to davit or not to davit.

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Group Projects aka the Weekend of Hell

Last weekend many of our boat neighbors were able to make it down to the marina. We had exciting dreams of anchoring out at Redfish Island or chilling at the pool all day. Unfortunately nobody’s boat was really in sailing condition. Our boat needed to have the new dodger fitted and installed, and the new sunbrella on the jib needed to be unstitched, flattened, and then restitched. Folie a Deux was still sans rudder after an unfortunate trip back from Offats Bayou and needed their bimini altered and restitched.Meanwhile Celtic Cross aka “Big Nasty” was in the middle of a windlass replacement and needed to remove and replace several hundred pounds of chain. We gave up our dreams of having fun and decided to tackle these projects as a team.

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First we set my sewing machine up on the dock and proceeded to fit the dodger onto the boat. It has some handles that go into both bars of the frame that are a bit difficult to get on, but with one person pulling on each bow I was able to poke a couple holes in the canvas and stick the handles on. Maybe there is one extra hole in the side of the brand new dodger from a miscommunication, but it’s barely noticeable …

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The biggest setback came when we tried to cinch the dodger into place with the decades old straps, which immediately snapped in half. Fred went and bought new strap material, and I re-used the buckles to make new ones —  not too bad.

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So then the guys took the jib down for me and Jen to work on while they headed over to Folie a Deux to assess the rudder situation. The screws holding the lower gudgeon had sheared off during TJ’s last voyage, which left him with no steering in the middle of Galveston Bay.

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The replacement gudgeon had to be special ordered from DRMarine. Fred distinctly said, “Do you want to tie a string to that?” as they started the project. Another neighbor, the captain of Ketchup, confidently said, “Nah, I’m not going to drop it.”

Three minutes later everyone was changing into their swimsuits. Thankfully Fred is trained, and well practiced in rescuing things from disgusting marina mud. He tried to explain to everyone how to perform a “lost bathers drill.”

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Then he dove in and found it first try.

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Unfortunately that was just the first of a chain of destructive events. Once the screws and holes were properly sized for the gudgeon, TJ climbed down into the lazarette to secure the nuts from inside the boat. However, he somehow managed to stand on exposed battery connection terminals for quite a lengthy time without noticing until smoke was coming up out of the boat. The cables ended up welded to each other, and the battery terminal completely melted off the battery!

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With the project nearing completion, the guys only needed to set the rudder pintles back into the gudgeons. Unfortunately, as TJ was leaning over the back of the boat while holding the rudder, he put his knee on the gas tank. Suddenly there was a loud crack, and the smell of gasoline filled the air.

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The cracks were in the top of the extremely full tank, so it wasn’t leaking unless anyone tried to move it. However, the rudder was in place and with that project more or less stable, the guys decided to call it a day.  We cooled off in the pool, then decided to head across the lake via dinghy for dinner.

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Kelly and Jen were smart enough to do all the projects on Celtic Cross without any help from the rest of us — they went off without a hitch.

Sunday morning we reinstalled the jib on Gimme Shelter, which is now flat with no bunching in the sunbrella stitching. However, the wind was so strong I thought it was going to flap me to death as we raised it.

Then Fred helped TJ put the adjusted bimini back up on Folie a Deaux, replace the battery, and move all the gasoline into a new tank without creating an environmental disaster — although Fred did destroy a handheld pump during the process.

By Sunday night, everyone was exhausted and completely fed up with boat projects. However, they were completed, and we’re all ready to set sail!

A Sacrifice to the Sun god – replacing the Sunbrella on our jib

Since I have been exiled to life indoors while my face heals up, I’ve decided to put the time to good use and work on finishing our Sunbrella transformation.  So far we’ve replaced the sail cover, the bimini, and all of the small canvas items on the boat with new marine blue Sunbrella.   Only the jib Sunbrella and the dodger remain a moldy pacific blue.

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Sailrite has an excellent video describing the step-by-step process of adding sunbrella to your jib, but I wanted to add some little tricks I found along the way as well.

The first thing we did was spend several DAYS, not hours, removing the old sunbrella.   After breaking my seam ripper I got frustrated and googled “best seam ripper ever.”  This is when I learned that for ripping seams on heavy canvas an X-Acto knife works wonders.  This really sped up the process for us.

Once I had removed all the old Sunbrella, I started to cut the new panels of Sunbrella with a hot knife to prevent fraying.  I didn’t want to spend the extra money on the Sailrite hot knife, but I found this one at Hobby Lobby that worked very well. It also doubles as a wood and leather burner, and it has all kinds of stamp type attachments.  Pretty cool.  After using my coupon, it was only $13.

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If you’re installing panels onto a new sail, see the Sailrite video for exact measurements of panels, but if you’re re-covering a sail, it’s easier to use the old panels as a pattern.

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We set my sewing machine on the floor to keep the sail flat. This is really important when it comes to connecting the panels together.  There were a couple areas along the foot, where towards the end of the project I got tired and sloppy.  Just a small mistake can make for some very obvious bunching when the sail is up.  Next weekend I will be taking it all back down, seem ripping those seems and flattening it out.

If I was to do it again I would have done a lot more pinning.

All in all the finished product is not too bad.  It needs a bit of adjusting, like all of my projects so far, but at least it matches the rest of the canvas.

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Just for reference, the estimated cost for this project from one of our local sail lofts was $650. Although we did have to spend every evening for a week ripping stitches, our total out-of-pocket cost for the project was under $200.

Life’s Short, Wear Sunscreen

It all started about a two years ago.  I had a weird bump on my face.  It looked sort of like a pimple, but a very persistent one.  It lasted a couple months, and then went away into what looked like a raised, slightly-discolored scar.  Fred had been nagging me to go get it checked since he first saw it, but I sort of shrugged it off.

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This one just last year

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This one is from our honeymoon in 2014

Well three weeks ago I finally made a visit to the dermatologist.  Despite me not saying anything about that spot, the doctor saw it right away and wanted to do a biopsy.  He took a razor to my face right then and there and shaved a big chunk off.  Then he sent me home with a bandaid on my cheek.

A week later I got a call that the sample had tested positive as a Basal Cell Carcinoma, and they would have to do Mohs surgery on my face.  Basically they remove one layer of skin, about 2mm thick all around the spot, and then put it under a microscope.  They keep doing layer after layer until there is no more sign of cancer cells.

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I was super lucky that they only had to remove one layer.  It is bad enough as is!  I can’t imagine doing more.  After I was all clear they had a plastic surgeon come in and stitch me up.  They had to stitch quite a ways on either side of the circle in order to keep the skin from puckering.

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I’m currently on the mend.  Just like when I had a broken foot, dealing with the repetitive questions is the worst part.  I like that a lot of people have looked worried though, and asked me, “What did it look like?” or, “How do I know?”.  My answer is, if you’re worried, get it checked out.  I had no idea anything looked funny.

Currently in search of the perfect hat if anyone has suggestions.

And most of all, my message to you is ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN!

Involuntary boat repairs are the worst

I really enjoy boat projects — when it’s a nice update or upgrade that I chose to undertake. I just don’t have the same enthusiasm for the inconvenient, unplanned projects that seem to be popping up on a weekly basis.

Batteries

Last Saturday we arrived to find a flooded bilge thanks to a dead float switch. We also discovered that there is an air leak in the manual bilge pump line, so we had to resort to the old cup-to-bucket-to-overboard method of emptying the bilge. I spliced in a new switch. Not especially fun, but an easy fix.The manual bilge pump is still on the to-do list.

This weekend we arrived and kicked on the air-conditioning to get nothing but a small trickle of water coming out of the through-hull. It was running, but just barely.

I went to work checking the strainer and cleaning the raw water system. As I checked each connection I noticed a drip of water coming from the connector on the bottom of the pump. The plastic hose barb that screws onto the pump had split. I removed it and sent Mary to the store to match it while I continued to clean the system. Unfortunately, no place open late Saturday evening had a match. Mary returned with a Frankenstein of adapters from Home Depot. Thankfully there was just enough clearance to get the longer adapter on, and it held pressure. However, I could not get the system to prime.

I made one last ditch attempt to get it running by sticking the shop vac on the through-hull to suck the water up through the system. It actually worked! After sweating completely through our clothes for two hours, we were back in business with a nice, strong water flow and the vents blowing cold air.

Sunday I finally tackled our house battery situation. I’m not sure if we have a bad cell or if our batteries have just gotten old and unhealthy, but while they will power everything for a 4 – 6 hour day sail around the bay, they can’t keep the refrigerator and anchor light on overnight. A while back our friend Rene donated two NAPA Commercial Heavy Duty batteries to us, but I just haven’t been in any hurry to pull 60 pounds batteries in and out of the engine bay.

With the Harvest Moon Regatta approaching, I finally decided to make the battery swap. If the free batteries get us up to 24-hours of sailing time on the house bank, we’ll attempt it this year. If not, we’re going to have to pass for budget reasons.

I was dreading the actual physical battery swap which would require lying on my back and lifting out the old batteries, then lowering in the new batteries. While it wasn’t pleasant, that ended up being the easiest part of the project.

The new batteries were larger, so the old #2 cables to connect them to each other were not long enough. Then I had three cables made for batteries with posts instead of screw terminals. Then none of my old wires with screw terminal connection rings were large enough to fit over the new, beefier screw terminal posts. I spent quite a long time re-sorting cables and replacing the ends of them.

We made a run to West Marine for some #2 cable and terminal rings. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask anyone how I was supposed to crimp on the new terminals. All the tools on the boat proved woefully inadequate.

Mary made a trip to Home Depot while I worked on other things and came back with the heaviest duty crimpers they had, which were still far too small. We then made another trip to return them and tried O’Reillys. They had pre-made #4 battery cables in various lengths, but no crimper. We called our diesel mechanic friend, who showed up with clamp on post terminals. He just shook his head when he saw what we really needed crimped. He referred us to Blackburns, which unfortunately was closed.

In a last ditch effort, Mary called West Marine again, where we’d already been twice that day, to see if they had crimpers. They said they didn’t have one for sale, but they had one we could use, so we packed all the cables and connections into a bag, and made our third stop there.

The guy at the customer service desk led us to aisle 1 where there was a huge crimper bolted to a table. He said the staff was not allowed to crimp cables for us due to liability reasons, but we were welcome to crimp away.

Five minutes later we were headed back to the boat, and 15 minutes later I finally had everything reconnected and running.

I won’t know until next weekend whether or not our battery situation is really resolved, but I’m crossing my fingers we won’t have any more surprise projects this year.

 

Sunday on the Bay

We tried something new last weekend. For the first time we loaded up all of Mary’s sewing stuff, and we set up a tent at the monthly Galveston Market near the strand.

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Unfortunately, weather wasn’t too great, and we didn’t have much traffic. We did manage to break even on the purchase of the tent and tables and even made a few dollars to put towards our annual WordPress renewal fees, but if we were having to pay ourselves, it would be far less than minimum wage. Now there are a few more bags and business cards out there in wild, so hopefully that will spur more online business for Mary. However, I think we both decided that sitting in a tent for seven hours isn’t our thing.

Thankfully the weather cleared up Sunday, so we had a few friends join us and got off the dock for a few hours.

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I have no idea what race/practice was going on, but there was a line of J boats going back and forth. It was quite interesting to see. I wish we’d been in the right place when they all turned around and popped their spinnakers. It would have made an amazing photo.

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There weren’t many boats out at Redfish Island. Our buddy Tony brought his inflatable SUP and impressively paddled his way to the island against 17 knot winds.

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None of the rest of us were brave enough to try it as we were all pretty sure we’d be swimming our way back to the boat.

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Eventually we had to weigh anchor and head back to civilization. I envy those who can cruise with no schedule, but for now it’s back to the office for me and back to sewing bags for Mary.

Installing new acrylic fixed ports

I finally tackled the leaking fixed ports this weekend. Removing the old leaking windows took much more effort than I had anticipated, but other than that, the entire project went well, and I managed not to stain the deck with too much black Dow Corning sealant.

Step 1: Remove old fixed ports.

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The screws came out easy, but the sealant did not want to let go. As you can see, I didn’t manage to get either window off in one piece. Note that the factory method for mounting these windows required painting the edges and the center black, so that you couldn’t see the sealant through the window. However, that means you’re now bonding to the paint instead of the acrylic, so we decided not to do the painting. We also decided not to use screws.

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The center sections were completely coated in sealant. While this made the old windows ridiculously hard to get off, it did nothing to actually keep them from leaking.

Step 2: Scrape and clean the mounting surface.

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Step 3: Apply 3M mounting tape

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Step 4: Level the new plexiglass window and pop it on the mounting tape.

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Step 5: Mask around the freshly mounted fixed port.

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Step 6: Goop it up with Dow Corning 795.

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Step 7: Smooth the sealant into all the cracks, wipe up the excess, and then pull the tape and peel the paper off the plexiglass.

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Step 8: Admire your new fixed ports that no longer leak when it rains.

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Gimme Shelter’s first “gig”

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When the idea of cruising comes around, you start analyzing all of your skills and talents in hopes of identifying something that might be profitable enough to indefinitely sustain your cruising kitty or at least “slow the burn rate” as Patrick Schulte says in his most recent book, Living on the Margin.

Things like sewing and mechanic work instantly come to mind, but Mary and I are also musicians. (Well, at least one of us is a musician … the other is a drummer. #InsertYourOwnDrummerJokeHere #DrummerJokesNeverGetOld)

The idea crossed our mind that perhaps we could supplement our income, or at least lessen our expenses, by playing music at marinas and bars throughout the ICW and the Caribbean.

Recently we met a couple from New York through Facebook who were already cruising and playing music as they went. Their band, Stell and Snuggs, does some interesting stuff. Reading their blog also brought up some important issues. Considering that most bars in the US pay musicians in cash, we hadn’t even thought about needing work permits just to play music outside the US, but apparently you do.

While we were having nice marina jam sessions every weekend, the question still remained, could we get paid? Therefore, we finally booked a show to test both our equipment and ourselves.

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However, most of the bars really wanted something more than just a duo, especially on weekends. Now, in Houston we have quite a few musician friends, so fielding a full band for St. Patrick’s Day was no problem, but I think Mary and I are going to have to step up our game when playing by ourselves.

We prepped about 50 songs, and we ended up rolling through a four hour show with music to spare. My voice was raw and Mary’s hands were swollen, but we did it.

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And yes, we did get paid. For our first show we got $300 cash and a $50 credit on our bar tab. (We also found a whopping $1 tip in our tiny tip can.) Would that help supplement our cruising if we could play one or two shows per week? Absolutely! Is that anything comparable to what a bar might pay in Fort Myers, Florida or Dewey, Culebra? I have no idea.

A few lessons learned:

  • People enjoy top 40, but they get up and dance to oldies
  • We’ve got to further minimize our equipment or we’re going to have to buy a HUGE dinghy
  • Tip jars should be very large, well-labeled and right out front in the middle of the stage
  • We need to record some of our original songs and get them on the blog or on iTunes, so we have somewhere to send people when they ask about it.
  • Don’t forget the important harmonica!

A big thank you to all of our friends, blog readers and Facebook friends that came out to the first show. We haven’t scheduled any more shows at the moment, but if we do, I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. Feel free to post your favorite drummer jokes in the comments!

 

When did you last inspect your rigging?

We had several blocks and lines meet the end of their useful lives during this year’s Icicle Series, but it wasn’t until we finished race four that someone on my crew said, “Hey your forestay pin is really bent.

Sure enough, the furler and the forestay had loaded up the pin that held it all together and put a nice curve in it. There was no pulling it out.

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Since I know very little about rigging, I consulted our friend Alex over at Bahama Rigging as to why the pin bent and the best course of action to take, so that it doesn’t happen again.

He suggested adding a toggle and re-tensioning the forestay. Then if there was still a little bit of slack, he could adjust the backstay. It might rake the mast back an inch or so, but it was the most inexpensive option.

Normally I do all the boat work, but we had a huge crew of people coming to sail with us the next weekend, so I let Bahama Rigging have at it.

Apparently cutting out the forestay pin and adding the toggle wasn’t too bad. However, the backstay adjuster was completely frozen. It also had to be cut out. Then the backstay had to be re-swaged with all new hardware.

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Lesson learned: Always check and lubricate your standing rigging!

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But we now have a beefier pin in the bow as well as the correct toggle below the furler.

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And the backstay is once again adjustable.

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I made sure to clean and adjust all the shrouds before we went home. I prefer to keep the mast in an upright position.

Redoing Our Boat Canvas for Spring

When I bought our boat I thought it was very odd that the owner had done very bright blue canvas, and then a dark blue stripe that did not match at all.  Although I know now that the strip color is just how it was made, and the canvas color, Pacific Blue, is the most common on boats, it’s still always bothered me. redfish_island_09

Last year I went about making new lifeline covers, mast boot etc and chose to match our dodger color.  Well now this year thanks to a new sail our sail cover no longer fits, and our dodger is wearing thin.  The canvas on our jib is also coming off.  And as you can see in this picture our bimini is just some weird material we hang from the back stay. So since it looks like I will have to replace all the expensive pieces, I figured I might as well replace it all, and change the color while I’m at it. We had looked at sailrite kits, but I wasn’t convinced of the quality.  When we went to talk to the local sail loft, Banks Sails who did our mainsail, they offered to make us up a superior kit and match the Sailrite price!  They have also provided a lot of extra help along the way.  So then all we needed was the machine. I’ve really resisted purchasing a new sewing machine hoping that my Brother and old Singer could do the job, but they just weren’t heavy duty enough.

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My first impressions of the Sailrite is that it it very powerful and fast.  I’ve had a lot of trouble getting the tension just right, but I’ve read that is common.  When I was adjusting the bobbin tension I also busted the top off the screw.  Sailrite had one in the mail to me before I could even fully explain the problem to them.  Amazing customer service.  I’m hoping that after the machine and I get more used to each other we can be better friends.

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Our stackpack is the first step and it’s currently in progress, so I will keep you updated on the large canvas.  But in the mean time I have completed all of my small canvas projects.  Light blue is old, dark blue is new. I also changed the material from surlast to sunbrella.

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I need a little more practice on that hatch cover if anyone wants to volunteer.

Still on the list for our boat (besides the big things) winch covers, inside window covers, redoing the buttons on the cushions, and curtains.  Oh jeez it never ends.

Also available in my canvas shop if you’re looking to do a full set: Grill and winch covers

Buy a full new set for your own boat!