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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Raincoat for our Boat

Some of my sail bags for sale, on the dock beside our boat.

During my lengthy bag-making sojourn in the Bahamas, I chatted with a passerby who told me that she had made a waterproof covering to fit over their existing bimini. I immediately nabbed Carl and propelled him along to visit the woman and her husband on their sailboat. 
The dodger in front of me; the bimini behind and above me.

This creative woman had made their bimini, dodger, bridge, cockpit upholstery, cabin upholstery, throw pillows, curtains, fitted bedcovers, table covering, and more—everything was beautifully done. And the coup de grace, as far as I was concerned— a waterproof cover for the bimini, a virtual "raincoat." “I wanted to get another few years out of our old bimini, so I made this to protect it,” she explained.

The canvas piece that connects the dodger with the bimini is the bridge.
Brilliant idea! Why?  Because when it rains, the water no longer rolls off our bimini.  Rather, the water runs through it as if through a sieve. I have treated it twice in the last two years, to improve its’ water resilience, but saw little improvement.  Clearly, our bimini is beyond redemption. 

The underside of the bimini.  It's hard to see but there are lots of zippers in it.
In the back of my mind, (way in the back) I had been thinking about the need for a new bimini and dreading the task of making one.  A bimini requires LOTS of zippers (ours has13 to be exact) and lots of careful measurements.  I really didn’t want to make a new one. But a raincoat for the bimini?  That I could do. Like the seamstress I met in the Bahamas, a raincoat for the bimini meant that I could put off making a new bimini for a year or two.  Lovely!
I found a more comfortable pair of knee pads.  These attach above the knee and below.  No tight pinching where the knee bends.

It was not too difficult to convince my husband that the bimini raincoat was a good idea. The cost would be significantly less than making a whole new bimini. We, like most cruisers, have experienced the occasional rainy day on the water. There will always be times when a “20% chance of rain” in the morning, becomes 100% chance of rain at our specific lat and longitude.  It's not fun to stand in the rain for hours at the helm
Installing the one piece of "glass" was one of the first tasks

I calculated the supplies needed for a bimini raincoat.  I would be using Stamoid, a waterproof vinyl that I order from Sailrite.  I’ve used Stamoid previously and know that it’s very durable.  I also ordered lifetime thread called Profilen.  It’s expensive—$69 for 825 yards.  It is nearly impossible to break, and it does not burn even with my hot knife, so the UV resistance is not in doubt. 

I ordered 25 Twist and Lock fasteners to attach the raincoat to the bimini beneath it. I’d never used that type of fastener before, but I had the right tools from Sailrite already so I figured it was time to learn.

Stamoid lies beneath the old bimini.  4" added to each side of the piece.
I spread out the old bimini on the floor of the covered patio where I’ve been sewing this summer. The bimini became my pattern for the 2-piece raincoat.  One zipper would connect the two pieces between the two split backstays and 2” velcro would connect the two pieces on the outside of the split backstays.  
This protruding piece encircles the split backstay

I cut each piece 4” bigger along each outer edge to allow for a hem, and for a small overlap over the old bimini.
Binding folded and sewn

Stamoid binding is applied around the perimeter of the "glass"
There was nothing particularly difficult about sewing up the raincoat. Then came the Twist Lock fasteners. I’ve used the Snaprite system to apply all kinds of snaps over the past two years. With a new and different die specifically for the Twist Lock fasteners, I should be able to apply these as well. I watched the Sailrite video a couple of times.  Somehow it did not look right to me, or rather, what I saw didn’t make sense to me. Humph.
Down East had the right tools to make this job easier.

Nevertheless, I began. I needed a hard surface (concrete) under me to cut the hole for each twist and lock.  That ruled out staying under the covered patio in the shade, where the floor was made of wood slats.  The nearest concrete was surrounding the swimming pool so that's where I headed. It's worth noting that it was 95 F that day. The weather service in North Carolina likes to report the heat index too. 102F!  Oh great.  So, there I was, on my knees on concrete. My shoes had to come off because I couldn’t get down on my knees (wearing knee pads) with the shoe buckles digging into my feet. 
The backside of the fastener.  The twist mechanism fits through.

It didn’t take long to discover that I indeed did NOT understand how the Twist Lock fasteners were to be applied. I tried the lower half of the first two sets.  So far so good. Then I broke the die.  How was that even possible, I wanna know.  Twenty two more sets of TwistLock fasteners to go after I had ruined the die. My knees were complaining loudly. The concrete was burning and digging into my legs.  Salty sweat running into my eyes. I was miserable and more importantly, I could not see any way I was going to be able to finish this raincoat. 
Down East owner and craftsman beyond.  He set me up with the right tools.

As I was dissolving into a frenzied spiral of failure (not unlike the melting of the Wicked Witch of the East) a woman came through the patio area walking her dog.  She mentioned that the people at the canvas shop in downtown Oriental, Down East Canvas, were known to help people with applying snaps and other closures for them. Having no other options, I gave them a call.  “Sure, come on over.  You can put your fasteners on over here.  No problem!”  
Along with her husband they own this canvas shop.

Unbelievable!  Carl and I went over together. These folks, the husband, wife and young adult son were all working at different sites in their large workroom.  I drooled over their workspace; room-size tables, sewing machines built into the tables or into a hole in the floor where they could tackle enormous projects like sails.  All three were so welcoming and helpful.  They pulled out a box of tools designed to apply my TwistLock fasteners and showed us how to use them.   
I actually had a smile on my face by this time!

The Down East folks encouraged me to come back any time I had questions about anything I was working on.  This was akin to giving a child the keys to the candy store.  Never having had anyone to ask questions of before, this was too great an opportunity to let pass by. I have been back to Down East several times since then.  I have learned so many things from them.  What an awesome place and awesome family!  These nice folks handily rescued me from an emotional meltdown and a failed project.

Our new bimini "raincoat" works great!
The raincoat is great, by the way.  It’s raining hard right now.  We are expecting 2-3” in the next 24 hours. The cockpit directly beneath the raincoat remains dry. Success! 
Down East Canvas.  I cannot thank these nice folks enough for
helping me with the evil Twist and Lock fasteners. 


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

What great folks at Down East Canvas! We're lucky that our bimini and dodger (which came with our boat) is made out of Sunbrella Supreme (I think that's what it's called) which has a vinyl under coating. So far, no leaks and hopefully we don't get any anytime soon because I dread the thought of having to make a new one.

George said...

I'm very much looking forward to the next installment: "With Water Above" :)

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