Etsy as a second income: Cruising and beyond

I’m coming up on two years now of having my etsy store up and running and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the numbers.  The idea was to have a small business that I could do while cruising to help slow the burn of savings.  I’ve been selling recycled sailcloth goods and small canvas pieces online and shipping them out all over the world.  I’m going to try to evaluate whether this could work while cruising based on a few basic criteria.

The Work:  When deciding whether the work could be done on a sailboat or not I need to divide the recycled sail work from the canvas work.  I think that if I had a choice I would not want to make recycled sailcloth bags on a boat.  The biggest obstacle with it is space.  The sail takes a lot of room to store before it is made into bags, and afterwards even more space.  The bags don’t sell quickly and the amount of inventory you would end up storing would make your life miserable.  The sail also takes a lot of space to clean and spread out for cutting up.  Sailbags also need hardware to make which takes additional storage.  The canvas work however would be very feasible on a boat.  If you chose a few limited colors and bought large rolls of sunbrella storage would be relatively easy.  Products would be made to order and would not need to be stored afterward.

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The Platform:  My experience with Etsy has been great and it’s only getting better.  They do a lot to advertise your products at no additional cost.  You can of course pay for more advertising, but I never have.  They make it extremely easy to manage your listings and to put your shop on vacation if you need more time.  They also have a built in shipping forms that make it extremely easy to print and ship things.  All of their stats are downloadable in excel and they really try to make them useful and easy to read.  Minimal fees.

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The $$:  So here is the real question.  In almost two years I have made a grand total of $4,486.01 profit on 98 orders.  That’s not counting the cash sales I have made locally. I haven’t spent any money on advertising either locally or online.  I also shut the site down for a bit this spring because of my regular job picking up.  Of all of my products listed most of the revenue came from my small canvas items.

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I think that doing canvas work both online and through etsy would be a viable option while cruising.  It’s definitely working out better than our music career did. While I wouldn’t suggest it as your only source of income I do think that the space and time that it takes in your life would be worth it for the money it brings in.  Having a sewing machine on the boat could also come in handy in a tight spot.

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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.

What does it cost to replace the mainsail?

Gimme Shelter is a 1982 O’day, and she still has her original mainsail. Yes, our main is 33 years old and so baggy that you could probably cut a storm jib out of it, re-stitch, and never even notice the material was gone.

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Unfortunately there is no cheap way to replace a sail. Sure, you can scour eBay and resale shops for used sails approximately the same size that might be in slightly better condition, but you’re still going to spend several hundred dollars and wind up in the same boat as you were before (both literally and metaphorically).

Therefore, I’ve begun the quest for Mary’s Christmas present by contacting several sail lofts in the area and overseas. Locally I contacted North Sails, Quest Sails, and Banks Sails. We know at least one person who has had sails made by each of those shops. Nobody gave any of them absolutely glowing reviews, but nobody gave them poor reviews. It was generally something like, “Well, I wanted local support and service, so I went with X, but they measured the Y wrong the first time, but they fixed it, and it turned out really nice in the end. I’d use them again.”

Yes, we heard tales of both a strong track being mis-measured by one company and a sail cover being mis-measured by another company. Both companies fixed the issues, but on the sail cover you can definitely see where it originally ended, then they stitched on another 18″ of fabric to make it reach the end of the boom.

To give you perspective of the sail size versus cost, our current sail has a 37’4″ luff, 11’6″ foot and a 39′ leech. A quote request was made to six different sail lofts with the following specs:

  • A new cruising mainsail for an O’day 34
  • P (height of mast from boom) = 38′
  • E (length of boom) = 11.75′
  • 2 reef points
  • Bolt rope foot
  • Logo
  • Sail numbers

Here are the results we got from the local lofts:

Quantum Sails (10% seasonal discount) $2,037.09

Construction: Designed using Quantum’s, iQ suite of computational tools, constructed from Charter 7.0 CC woven polyester. Cross Cut panels are laser cut, and assembled with oversized, tear drop shaped corner and reef patches, wide seams with triple throw stitching, extra layering and extensive reinforcement of high load areas throughout, with multiple webbing straps, stainless steel rings or Rutgerson press rings at head, tack, clew and reefs.

Includes: Hand sewn luff and foot hardware, spreader patches, pre-stretch or high modulus leech and foot cords with cleats and purchase systems as necessary, telltales, draft stripes, cunningham, sail ties, drawstring sailbag, 1 Full, 3 Mid Batten Pockets, RBS Epoxy 15mm Battens, Reefs (2), 2 insignias, 4 sail numbers

North Sails (unspecified seasonal discount) $2,170

2 standard reefs, 1 full batten, 3 leech battens, cunningham, integral foot skirt, insiginia

Banks Sails $2,230 – $2,685

We’d like to thank you for the opportunity to build a new mainsail for your O’Day 34. Our Cruisemate Plus would be great performing sail for your boat. Your sail would be constructed from Dimension Polyant’s OC, CB or AP cloth. This is a superior woven Dacron material that surpasses the longevity and performance of other cloth manufactures. The biggest difference between them is that the AP has more of a UV inhibitor (like sunscreen) to help it last longer, a slightly tighter weave and the highest quality yarns available on the Market. Dimension’s QA procedures grade their yarns in 3 categories (A, B & C). ‘A’ yarns are used in the warp and fill of the AP cloth. Our prices also include custom measurement and design to provide a guaranteed fit to your boat. Additionally, unlike other lofts, you would be welcome to stop by during construction and see your sails being put together. Also, if you have any specific thoughts about the design of your sails you can talk/visit with Trent, our designer, to have input on the sail design to get the exact performance that you desire. Also removal/disposal of your old sails and installation of your new ones are included as well. We are the only loft in the area doing 100% of the work right here in Kemah!

  • Cruisemate Plus Main Sail: Crosscut Cost
  • Mainsail @ 257 sq/ft, 4 Full Battens, and 2 Reef Points
  • 308 OC Cloth @ 7.0 oz (Standard) $2,230.00
  • 301 CB Cloth @ 7.0 oz (Upgrade) $2,415.00
  • 280 AP Cloth @ 6.5 oz (Superior) $2,685.00

Here are the responses from the overseas sailmakers:

Rolly Tasker  $1,570

Standard Mainsail Coastal Cruising                                                   US$

  • 7 oz US Dacron Crosscut                                           1,168.00
  • Luff 38:  Foot 11.75:  Area 250 sq ft 
  • 2 reefs                                                                            180.00
  • Logo (both sides)                                                             60.00
  • 4 numbers both sides                                                       48.00
  • 1 sail UPS door to door USA                                          114.00

Hyde Sails Direct $1,313 – $2,915

Note: The Hyde website has a huge database of vessels, and you can just choose your boat model and then spend hours selecting fabrics and adding all the bells and whistles to your sail. The breakout below was the the Cruising Mainsail (Challenge Hi Modulus Dacron) option with full battens.
Sail Cloth: Challenge Hi Modulus HA 7.3 Dacron
Design: Crosscut
Wind Range: Usually under 20 knots, occasionally to 25
Reefs: 2
Batten Type: Tapered Fiberglass
Battens: 4 full battens
Trim Stripes: Yes
Free Shipping
$1,628.00

Then there was the Do-It-Yourself option. We also got a quote from SailRite for a mainsail kit.

SailRite (10% custom discount) $1,126.48

Obviously the big catch to this option is that Mary would have to sew it together, which means purchasing a much heavier duty sewing machine. I’m not going to make her assemble her own Christmas present, but it is worth noting that if you wanted to make your own sails, the cost of the mainsail kit and a SailRite sewing machine is about the same as having your sails made by a local loft — but when you’re finished you still have a SailRite machine for the rest of your projects.

O’Day 34 Main Kit, 8.4oz SC Dacron, crosscut, two rows of reef points, 2+2 full battens, RBS tapered E-glass batten set, leechline, boltrope on luff and foot, slugs on luff, outhaul slug at clew, P 38’, E 11.75’
Subtotal $1,225, Custom Discount -$122.50, Shipping (UPS Ground) $23.98

As you can see, the difference in price between our local lofts is negligible, $2037 – $2,230. Yes, Banks came in highest, but they bid 4 full battens while the others bid 1 full, 3 leech battens. All of them offer a 1 year warranty on their sails.

However, the mail-order sails do create significant savings — they’re almost as cheap as a SailRite kit. The scary part with the overseas sail lofts is that if it doesn’t fit correctly, I could be looking at hundreds of dollars spent and weeks of waiting to ship it back to them for alterations. On the other hand, if the mail-order sails do fit, we’d have enough money left over for solar panels or a nice chunk of change to put towards upgrading the autopilot. Is it worth the gamble?

I’m continuing my research. I have to decide by Friday if I want 4 full battens, 2 full battens and 2 leech battens, or 1 full batten and 3 leech battens. Then I have to pick a sail loft and pull the trigger.

What would you do?

Padded lifelines for a fraction of the corporate price

A few months ago Fred had it in his mind that we needed padded lifelines to spruce up the cockpit and lean back against while sailing.

Well we headed out to West Marine and found a package of lifeline pads for 62.99.

We got these “premium” lifeline cushions home to discover that the construction was so very basic we should have just made them ourselves. They were literally a piece of PVC wrapped in plumbing insulation — the stuff you put on your pipes, so they don’t freeze — with a sleeve of sunbrella.

We paid $65 for that?!!!

This month I got a bee in my bonnet to do some sewing, so I decided to make my own lifeline covers and see just how easy it was.

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After sewing the sleeves we just needed to get some PVC pipe, and some padding, and it all slid right together.

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Here’s a shot of the pads on Gimme Shelter. The top line has the West Marine pad, and the bottom line is showcasing the one I sewed myself.  The West Marine version comes only in the 57″ length and only in blue.

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For those of you without any sewing skills, you’re in luck. This week I’ve decided to launch the Gimme Shelter Etsy Store at https://www.etsy.com/shop/SVgimmeshelter.

I would be happy to sew and assemble a custom pair of lifeline pads for you in whatever length you order and in your choice of sunbrella colors for half the price of what West Marine charges.

So if anyone would like to get some lifeline covers made for their boat, feel free to order!

I’ll slowly be adding more useful and interesting nautical products to the store as I conduct this Etsy experiment in entrepreneurship, so bookmark my new site and stop by often!

Catching up on projects

It rained all weekend here, but just because we couldn’t be out on the boat didn’t mean we couldn’t catch up on some long-running projects we’d been putting off.

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About a year ago a friend snagged us a free sail for some unknown boat off craigslist because we had seen bags made from sail material at the boat show, and Mary was going to try to make us one. She got it started, but you know how it goes, things get busy, you forget what you were doing, etc. After some weekend work, prototype bag #1 is finally coming together. Hopefully it won’t be another year until it’s finished, but don’t hold your breath waiting on a line of hand-made Gimme Shelter boat bags to be available any time soon.

But Mary isn’t the only one with long-running projects. I started laminating together oak and poplar for a new table many months ago. Then about halfway through the job, I got distracted.

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I’m catching up. Just one more plank to glue on before I start planing it down. Then there’s the sanding. Then there’s the routing. Then there’s the staining and varnish — yeah, it may be another month or two before I finish this one.

Meanwhile the garden is growing like crazy. We have so many greens we can hardly eat them all, the cauliflower is ready to eat, and we will have squash very soon.

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Mary is doing her best to come up with new ideas for all this garden food. She also just purchased The Boat Galley Cookbook, so hopefully we’ll learn some new recipes for when we’re afloat.

And then there’s the new projects we’re starting together even though we haven’t actually finished these old projects.

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After our trip to Laguna Harbor we decided we wanted to know wind speed and direction, so I’ve got to get our NMEA2000 backbone installed and mount the new Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument at the top of the mast.

When I look at the list of projects, sometimes I wonder when we ever have time to go sailing.