Shock & Awning: Re-Covering After a Hurricane

How many yards of fabric does it take to sew an awning for a commercial building? It depends on the size of the building, of course. But for Sailrite® customer Rick Smith, the answer is nearly 90 yards. Put another way, that’s over 1,000 square feet of fabric!

How did he get the opportunity to sew such a massive project? Ironically, by taking his couch to an upholstery shop.

Rick and his wife live in a coastal Alabama town that is often hit by hurricanes. It can take years to remedy all the damage in the town after a serious storm. When Rick visited the town’s most popular upholstery shop in early 2022, he got a firsthand look at some of the lingering damage from a 2020 hurricane.

“Their awning had been destroyed by Hurricane Sally,” Rick said of the shop. “I asked them about replacing it, and they hired me on the spot.”

This popular upholstery shop had been so busy with orders for customers that no one who worked there had the time to repair the 136-foot by 8-foot awning. The project promised to be a huge undertaking, but it wasn’t the first awning Rick had ever sewn. It wasn’t even his first time sewing professionally.

Rick already had a strategy for sewing awnings before he started working on the upholstery shop's project.
One of Rick’s prior awning projects.

Now retired from a career in marketing and communications — including running his own advertising agency for 18 years — Rick does projects for his small sewing business.

He learned how to sew growing up, and was fortunate to have not just one, but five teachers. “I grew up in a big family of sewers. I’m the youngest of nine kids, and my mom and four sisters sewed professionally,” he told us. “[They sewed] everything from wedding dresses to industrial upholstery and factory garment jobs.”

Despite his early start in the hobby, Rick didn’t do much sewing for nearly 40 years. Instead, he sailed competitively in his spare time — a pastime that began during his college days. Rick has owned more than 11 sailboats in his life, including a Beneteau 423 sailboat he and his wife purchased in 2012.

Unlike the other sailboats, the Beneteau was not for racing. Instead, the couple dreamed of becoming liveaboards. This sailboat would be their new home.

Preparing for Life on the Water

For a successful liveaboard life, however, Rick would need to dust off his sewing skills and get a sewing machine that could handle marine environments. Enter the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 Sewing Machine.

Rick often admired the marine-friendly machine in the pages of boating magazines. “I liked that the LSZ was ruggedized for such an environment, was a serious heavy industrial machine, had a walking foot, was portable and capable of using without power,” he said.

It was the perfect machine for the nautical life that the couple envisioned. But looking at something in a magazine isn’t the same as seeing it in person, and Rick was hesitant to make a purchase without seeing the LSZ firsthand.

Luckily, two of his friends decided to go to the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland. Sailrite sets up a booth at the show every year to meet fellow boating enthusiasts, answer questions and demonstrate Sailrite products.

Rick’s friends brought him sewing machine brochures from the show and told him their impressions of the LSZ. Convinced that the machine was quality, Rick bought an LSZ of his own in 2014.

With his new machine, Rick made a few updates to the Beneteau sailboat. “The bimini was the first replacement, and I added the dodger and side curtains.” After those projects were done, Rick and his wife planned to get their life on the water underway.

Rick made a custom bimini and dodger for his Beneteau 423 sailboat.
The Beneteau 423 sporting its custom canvaswork.

“At the time I first purchased the LSZ, I fully expected to pack the machine in the lazarette of my 43-foot sailboat and live a life in the Caribbean, doing needed repairs and projects for myself plus picking up occasional repair jobs along the way,” Rick told us.

But the best-laid plans don’t always pan out. Unfortunately, health issues forced the couple to rethink their arrangements. They sold the Beneteau in 2018 and instead decided to make a favorite vacation spot in coastal Alabama their home.

Although they sold their sailboat, the couple kept their Ultrafeed. That turned out to be the right call. They quickly discovered that there was no shortage of paid sewing work up for grabs in their new hometown.

“I live on the Gulf Coast near the Florida panhandle. Storms and extreme sun cause lots of damage, so there’s lots of demand for repairs and overstitching. Many fabricators don’t want to do repairs, so I seem to stay fairly busy,” Rick said.

In addition to these small repair jobs, Rick has also made biminis, dodgers and covers for others’ boats, as well as repairing sails. And he’s no stranger to creating custom cushions and enclosures for outdoor spaces.

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Thanks to the easy availability of sewing work in his area, Rick can create a totally custom schedule. In fact, that’s what he likes most about his small DIY business. “I get to pick the jobs. … If the job isn’t a good fit for me, I can turn it down. Without having a storefront or a formal business, I can do jobs at a price that leaves [me and my customers] both happy.”

Tackling the Awning Project

It was this freedom and flexibility that led Rick to the awning project at the upholstery shop in early 2022. Although it was a huge project that required dozens of yards of Sunbrella® awning fabric, he was prepared. The couple’s garage pulls double duty as a spacious sewing studio, which Rick has optimized for large projects.

“I have 12 30-inch by 72-inch poly folding tables, plus my machine and two smaller tables, that allow me to set up a sewing surface that runs 32 feet from one end of my garage to the other. I can move out my truck and assemble the tables in 10 to 15 minutes. My sewing table is on wheels, so I can roll it to the tables at whatever point I need it.

“When finished, I can remove and fold [the tables] and repark my truck in the garage in less than another half hour. I have 12 4-foot LED shop lights in that section of my garage, so it gets lit like a science lab when I sew.”

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Having a great workshop like Rick’s certainly helps. But every sewing project has its challenges — and this awning was no different. Rick had to fit multiple yards of heavy awning fabric through the throat of his LSZ every time he needed to sew a seam. “I was very careful and methodical on how I staged the assembly,” he said. “I had the smaller panels of every seam to the inside of the machine.”

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Before starting work, Rick estimated that the whole project would take about 48 hours. “Actual hours were more like 50 hours to complete through assembly and took four people a total of six hours to install,” Rick said. “The total time in days and weeks was one week in prep, two weeks in cutting and assembly, and a day for installation.”

Although Rick did all the patterning, cutting and sewing by himself, installation wasn’t a one-person job. He had to call in some help. “Luckily, my helpers to install were all friends who were happy to work for lunch and beer,” he laughed.

The blue-and-white striped awning matches the shop's sign perfectly.
The awning temporarily installed on the upholstery shop.

Once the awning was installed, though, the friends discovered a problem with the E-Z Lace that held the awning to its frame.

Rick gave us some background on the issue. “This is the fourth awning I’ve done using E-Z Lace. Each one was one I could pattern myself and had no issues using just the lace without adding fabric for a lace pocket. This one was different. … The [frame] tubing was 1-1/2-inch square aluminum. With just 2-1/2 inches of fabric on the E-Z Lace, measurement proved to be too critical for a good fit.”

Unfortunately, that meant the awning needed to come down for repairs. But Rick was more than up to the challenge of adding a fabric pocket and moving the lace up by 2 inches. And since he had the awning back in his garage studio, he decided to make it even better by adding topstitching.

Upgrading the Sewing Studio

But topstitching would call for a sewing machine size upgrade. “I simply did not have room in the LSZ throat to do topstitches on that many rolled panels,” Rick explained. That conundrum turned out to be the reason he’d been looking for to splurge on a Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine.

Rick also put his Fabricator sewing table on wheels.
Topstitching is a breeze with the Fabricator!

Rick ordered his Fabricator only a few days before we reached out to interview him for this blog. Since then, he’s been hard at work with his new machine. “Now that I have the freedom and room in the machine, I’m adding topstitching over all 38 panels to sleep well at night when the eventual hurricane blows through,” he told us. “My customer didn’t ask me to do this, but they have been so good to me, and I feel blessed to give them a project they are proud to brag about.”

From what Rick has told us about his hard work on the project, we’re not surprised that the folks at the upholstery shop love the new awning! And they’re paying their gratitude forward: “The upholstery shop is weekly sending me business for jobs in canvas they choose not to do,” Rick said.

Between these paid projects and his personal to-do list — which he said includes “two smaller awnings, a long list of re-covering jobs my wife has been patiently waiting for me to start, then some patio enclosures to be finished by year-end” — Rick will never be without a job for long. Now that his workshop is outfitted with an Ultrafeed and a Fabricator, he’s prepared for every project that comes his way.

Thanks for sharing your story, Rick! We’re excited to see what you make next, and we wish you all the best for your future projects.

A DIY a Day Keeps Boredom at Bay

What happens when an avid sailor tears his Achilles tendon and is looking at six months of recovery time? If you’re James Craig — you learn how to sew! Not letting his injury set him back, he devoted his downtime to sewing a new dodger for his 1983 Catalina 30 sailboat. With a new-to-him Ultrafeed® LSZ-1, plus Sailrite® materials and how-to videos, he embarked on his latest adventure. Let’s learn more about this enterprising DIYer and how Sailrite helped him successfully complete his boat projects.

James’s father was an avid sailor, and he taught his young son to sail when he was four years old. Fifty years later, he’s just as excited about the sport as he was back then. “I learned to sail in Manitoba. We then moved to Nova Scotia where we were surrounded by water. I loved it, and I kept up sailing. I got my family into sailing (sneakily) by saying it was like camping on the water.” It must have worked because James’s son has the same passion for sailing as his father and grandfather before him.

James was an engineering officer in the Canadian Navy, and his engineering skills have come in handy in his sailing life. “As an engineer, I like to figure things out. Sailing is about figuring out the wind, how to sail, when to sail, how to keep people safe, and maintaining and adding to the boat. I have learned every system on the boat with the exception of sewing, until now.”

James on boat
Here James enjoys time on his sailboat.

Since James had never sewn before — and he needed to get to know his Ultrafeed — he eased into his dodger project. “My first actual sewing project was a cover for my binnacle. I wanted to test my Sailrite machine (learn how to tension, how to thread the machine, etc.) and learn how to pattern and actually sew my first project with Sunbrella® Marine Grade material.” 

James also watched a variety of Sailrite project and tutorial videos to get to know his machine and practice the basics of sewing. “I went through all the ‘Learning to Sew’ videos and tried each of the things in each video: threading a machine, types of thread, zippers, piping. And yes, I made a pillow. I’m proud of that pillow, too. I then went on to the ‘Build a Dodger’ video series followed by the ‘Make Your Own Dodger’ playlist. It was so rewarding to see it come together — leather, zippers, snaps, windows, piping, seams — so many things to learn. Again, the videos were indispensable in learning each thing I was doing.”

Q. What was the motivation behind wanting to sew your own dodger?

A. As an engineer, it bugged me that I couldn’t sew. I had just lost my dad and thought it would also bring me closer to my mom, who has sewn for over 60 years but never thought to teach me. I tore my Achilles tendon and had to stay off of my feet so it seemed like a great thing to do. After learning and practicing with the binnacle cover, I then did my dodger. Wow, that was such a daunting project, but the engineer in me watched the Sailrite dodger video many, many, many times. I then patterned the dodger (it was coming to winter so was windy) on my frame. I focused on the easier panels first and then figured out how to bring it all together. Again, so many Sailrite videos were so helpful in how to do everything. I would watch a video for a few hours and sew for one hour. I have a tablet and I would play the video as a reference while I sewed. And thinking back, I actually practiced on other fabric prior to using the Sunbrella, so I almost built two dodgers. I figured that I better practice and learn using less expensive material than Sunbrella Marine Grade. 

dodger blueprint pattern
James sketched out a design for his dodger, then relied on Sailrite how-to videos to help him tackle the project.

Q. Did you run into any roadblocks or issues while working on the dodger? If so, what were they and how did you work through them?

A. Where to start. The biggest issue was assembling the panels together, especially as I was using my own design and it was different enough from the dodger design in the Sailrite video. I just put my engineering hat on and figured it out. But the video helped, too. I started sewing the easier panels and then finished with the harder ones. The entire dodger took me over 100 hours to complete (and about 200 hours of videos) but it was worth it! In hindsight, I probably should have started with my second sewing project, my sail cover, as it was easier. But I now know how to sew! Bring on more boat and home projects! 

Kudos to the guidance in the videos as the hints and tips were indispensable in learning to sew and also gave great perspectives on understanding how things would go together, allowances to make (such as seams) and the tools that would make life much easier for sewing. I feel I could sit down with Eric and Matt and have a great conversation! They explained things so well and were saviors for doing something so complex, along with many other Sailrite stars in the videos.

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Q. What did you love most about the DIY and sewing experience?

A. The biggest joy I had was having something that my mom and I could share a passion for, seeing as we didn’t have my dad around anymore — he passed away two years ago. He and I loved sailboats, woodworking and dogs. It has filled a gap between my mom and me. Additionally, I love the fact that I can sew! I think more about how something is put together, and the DIYer in me looks to see if it’s something that I could make. And DIY sewing makes one proud to show off what they put the time and effort into completing.

james woodworking table
Here’s James sitting at a wooden table he built for his boat.

Q. What advice would you give to someone tackling their first major sewing project?

A. Break the project down into small pieces and learn how everything comes together. Don’t worry about not knowing everything; it is a learning process. Plus, you have Sailrite videos to teach you, online forums and many other resources. The outcome is SO satisfying! You will feel like you climbed your own mountain. And tackling the first project successfully will give you the confidence for doing other projects in the future.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your DIY experiences?

A. I think it is so nice to have skills that are ageless. We live in a disposable world right now where we will spend hours buying that perfect thing. It’s so much more rewarding to create that perfect thing, with some little flaws, that only you will know about. Take a leap of faith, regardless of your age, and try something new — I never knew sewing could be so rewarding.

sailboat dodger

Thank you for sharing your story with us, James! We’re thrilled that Sailrite materials and videos were able to help you learn how to sew and conquer your first successful and impressive marine project. We can’t wait to see what you make next.

DIY Days: The Boating & Sewing Lifestyle

The couple who DIYs together, well … does everything together! Kim and Steve Holmes have been happily married for 29 years. They own a 57-foot houseboat that is their home away from home as often as possible. In addition to the houseboat, they also have a 21-foot runabout powerboat and a Sea-Doo. The couple loves the boating lifestyle, but the Utah sun is punishing and relentless, and they were replacing their canvaswork regularly. In the beginning, they were paying a canvas shop to sew pieces for their houseboat. But Steve knew that if they invested in the Ultrafeed®, they would save considerable money by sewing their own covers, umbrellas, bimini and more. Once he convinced Kim that the machine would quickly pay for itself in canvas repair and new projects, they began tackling sewing projects for their boats. Keep reading to learn more about this industrious DIY couple.

houseboat in water
The couple’s houseboat and runabout anchored in a scenic cove in Utah.

Kim learned to sew as a young teen participating in her local 4-H organization. She hadn’t sat down at a sewing machine since that time, so the Ultrafeed was her reentry into the world of sewing. Luckily, Sailrite was there to help. “Sailrite’s excellent videos are a huge help in planning and executing projects. We’ve also referred to Sailrite’s troubleshooting videos when working through adjustments to the machine. I’ve used the online chat for advice from Sailrite staff when I have a question.”

Their first project with the Ultrafeed was sewing new canvas wraps for the houseboat’s many deck railings. Kim and Steve reworked the existing design to make the wraps removable. “We changed the canvas from lacing onto the railings to snaps for attachment to the railings. This gave a custom look and enabled efficient removal of the canvas during the off-season, substantially extending the life of the Sunbrella® fabric. We learned as we sewed and were able to get professional-looking results.”

Here are some of the projects Kim has sewn for the couple’s boats since purchasing their Ultrafeed:

  • canvas railing wraps
  • curtains with padded valances
  • placemats and pillow covers (using leftover curtain fabric)
  • fender covers
  • propane tank cover
  • window shade screens
  • sling chair fabric replacements
  • flybridge cover
  • cockpit cover, aft sunshade and trailer tire covers (for the runabout)

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Their most ambitious and largest project to date was a new bimini top. In 2020, with plenty of time on her hands, Kim set out to tackle this sewing project. The bimini top — 15 feet by 18 feet — was for their houseboat’s upper deck. Kim finished the bimini in the fall of 2020 and was thrilled with how it turned out. “Now it has a beautiful snap-on installation and fits better than any previous shade tops that we paid for in the past. It’s quick to put up and take down for the off-season.” 

Though she hit a couple of snags along the way, she didn’t let that deter her from finishing: “While sewing our bimini, we got low on pacific blue thread, so we did some inside seams with green thread. We changed back to blue for the topstitching that would be visible. We came up short on the Royal Blue Tweed SeaMark® fabric, so had to patch in some leftover material from other projects. We were motivated to finish the project!”

Kim sewing bimini
Here’s Kim diligently sewing the bimini top. Look at all that canvas!

Here’s a bit more about the couple and their love of sewing and DIY, in their own words:

Q. What do you love about sewing and DIY?

A. We are dedicated DIYers because of the cost savings and the care and customization we can put into projects. Our current bimini shade top on the upper deck of the houseboat, which we worked on in 2020, fits better than any previous commercial version (for which we paid lots of money). With our DIY sewing skills, we create functional and good-looking fabric projects. We find that a vessel’s fabrics greatly contribute to its comfort and character. We love the quality materials available from Sailrite. We’ve worked with many fabrics — Sunbrella Marine Grade (including SeaMark with waterproof backing), Sunbrella® upholstery fabric, Phifertex®, Top Gun® and boat blanket material. 

Q. How do you tackle projects as a couple? Do you do the sewing and does Steve help in other ways?

A. My husband and I work as a team on big projects. He helps plan the project and assists in feeding fabric through the Ultrafeed, an important contribution for long fabric runs. Our bimini shade top project was our largest to date. Steve handles all the snap installation with the Pres-N-Snap tool and snap fasteners. Over the years we have created many useful and attractive projects. The Ultrafeed has paid for itself over and over. We are developing skills that we hope to transfer to a sailing life in the future.

bimini top
Here’s a closeup of the snap fasteners on the bimini. Using snaps makes for quick installation and removal.

We feel best around the water and enjoy waterskiing, swimming and using the water slide on the aft of our houseboat. The boating lifestyle offers the opportunity for self-reliance and the application of do-it-yourself skills. In addition to sewing projects, Steve takes on the maintenance of all our marine engines and systems. We are a nautical couple who are happiest barefoot.

Q. What advice would you offer someone who wants to try sewing and DIY for the first time?

A. For someone trying a first-time marine sewing project, if you have a “pattern” — meaning an old version of the fabric — go ahead and give it a try. We were impressed with our results. Be patient with yourself and take breaks. We often joke that there is swearing involved; it’s just part of the process. We’ve pulled out plenty of stitching along the way.

Q. Are there any valuable lessons you’ve learned making projects for your boat over the years?

A. A lesson we’ve learned is to make sure you have enough basting tape for your project. Add some to your cart as you order materials for your project. We like both the thin 1/4-inch and wider 3/8-inch tapes. Check your supplies to confirm you have enough thread, needles and fabric so you don’t come up short. Each time we put together an order, we add a couple of replacement parts for the Ultrafeed, just in case a piece rolls into the water by mistake. We travel about five hours to our houseboat, so it’s essential to have spares.

What’s next for Kim and Steve? Now that they have a new and improved bimini for their houseboat, the bulk of their boat projects are complete. They’re focusing on sprucing things up closer to home. “We’re looking at Chilewich flooring material. We’re planning on binding it and replacing some area rugs in our house. I’ve already watched the Sailrite tips video on how to bind curves on flooring material.” No matter what comes next for this intrepid couple, Sailrite will always be part of their DIY journey. 

Steve and Kim Holmes
The happy couple!

Creative Quarantine DIYs With the Ultrafeed®

David Thiesmeyer isn’t new to the DIY world. He tackled his first big sewing project — a mainsail cover for his sailboat — well over 10 years ago. He considers himself a “DIY type of person” and takes pride in sewing great projects. His most unique creation was not sailing-related and happened during the first year of the pandemic. 

With Sailrite® fabric, supplies and his Ultrafeed® LSZ-1, David designed, sewed and installed a patio enclosure that connected to the underside of his daughter’s elevated deck. With a well-made enclosure, she was able to use her patio into the fall and winter and have friends over for ventilated, socially distanced hangouts. Let’s learn more about David’s DIY background and how he transformed his daughter’s patio into a year-round entertaining hot spot.

Sewing, Sailing & Sailrite

In 2008, David bought his first sailboat. The MacGregor Venture 21 was over 30 years old and in major need of sail repair and new sail covers. David has always been the DIY type, so he decided to tackle the sail cover repairs himself. “I bought a mainsail cover kit from Sailrite. I reviewed the very well-done video instructions and sewed it on my wife’s home machine.”

David's sailboat with mainsail kit from Sailrite
Here’s David’s sailboat featuring the Sailrite mainsail cover he sewed himself.

It’s after that mainsail cover project that David realized he needed a heavy-duty machine. “I had overloaded my wife’s sewing machine and thought I’d ruined it. Luckily, I had just knocked it out of adjustment and was able to fix it. That is when I decided to get a real sewing machine and bought the Ultrafeed LSZ-1.”

Over the years, David has sewn many projects for his sailboat. He’s made a new mainsail from a Sailrite Sail Kit, a genoa sail bag, cushion covers, lifeline covers, winch covers, sail bags and more. He credits his Ultrafeed with his productivity and quality results: “I like the Ultrafeed because I have never found a job that it could not complete. I added the Workhorse® Servo Motor and Ultrafeed Industrial Table and have never been happier. This upgrade really added to my sewing enjoyment and quality of my finished projects.”

The COVID “Quaran-Tiki” Project

At the height of social distancing, when year-round outdoor entertaining spiked in 2020, David’s daughter asked him to make an enclosure with ventilation that would attach to the underside of her elevated deck. She had built a tiki bar from pallet wood and wanted to extend the use of her patio during the fall and winter seasons. David eagerly accepted the project request. “I was excited to do a new sewing project as sailing season had just ended. I decided that it should be removable and made use of the Sailrite awning track around the bottom of the upper deck and along the walls of the house.”

The enclosure project David made for his daughter's deck using Sailrite supplies.
A job well done!

To sew the enclosure, he ordered Sunbrella® Marine Grade fabric, 30 gauge Plastipane window material, aluminum awning track and awning rope, YKK zippers and Shelter-Rite fabric — all from Sailrite. The Quaran-Tiki was David’s second enclosure project. He used the skills he learned while designing and sewing his first enclosure — an attachment for a travel trailer to keep mosquitoes at bay while enjoying the attached deck — to help make the enclosure.

And what did David’s daughter think of the Quaran-Tiki? “Sara was elated with how the project turned out, as were all her friends and neighbors who are always coming over to enjoy Quaran-Tiki. I am very satisfied with how it turned out.” The side panels roll up to let a breeze through in the summer, and Sara equipped the patio with two propane heaters for the colder months. 

 

David's daughter and friends enjoying the enclosure he made form Sailrite supplies.
Sara’s friends are all smiles enjoying the Quaran-Tiki!

After well over a year, the enclosure is still in great shape and getting plenty of use. As for David, he’s still enjoying his Ultrafeed as much as the first day he purchased it. “Most of my sewing projects have been boat-related, although I have been known to repair anything made of canvas or in need of a heavy-duty sewing machine.” 

We’re thrilled David has enjoyed his Ultrafeed for over 10 years now and that Sailrite could be part of his creative journey. Good luck with all of your future projects, David. Here’s to more sewing, sailing and DIY adventures.

Jim Norman: Building a Houseboat of His Dreams

We’ve all heard the expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, that sentiment couldn’t be truer for New Jersey native and retired newspaperman Jim Norman. In 2009, Jim was unfortunately part of a round of layoffs at The New York Times, where he worked as an editor. He and his wife made the tough decision to sell their vacation home, and future retirement home, in Maine.

Jim vowed that he would somehow get a toehold in Maine again. Years later, his prediction would come true, just not in the way he originally thought. While researching the “tiny home” phenomenon in 2014, he stumbled upon the story of a man who, instead of building his dream tiny home, built a houseboat instead. Jim knew this was the path for him and a clever and inventive way to get back to Maine — or wherever he wanted to go. He knew wherever he and his wife vacationed it would be on the water. So why not live on the water? “The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Wherever I decided to vacation with it, we would be on waterfront property. And no real estate taxes! What could be better than that?”

jim with boat
Jim and his wife, Ginger, are all smiles taking Jersey Girl out on the Hackensack River in New Jersey.

To Build a Boat

Jim contacted the designer of the “tiny houseboat” and bought a set of digital plans. In May 2015, he started building his future vacation home on the water. At first, Jim worked on the boat in his spare time, as he was still working in the newspaper industry. By the spring of 2016, he found himself looking for another editing or writing job. He came to the conclusion the next year that, at the age of 74, he was past due for a happy and well-deserved retirement. From 2017 on, Jim was able to focus on the boat with his full attention and made it his retirement project.

Jim built the houseboat without any assistance from professionals. But that didn’t worry him. Jersey Girl is actually the ninth boat Jim has built! “The obsession started in 1995 when I built an 11-foot sailing/rowing dinghy. … Next came two cedar-strip kayaks, followed by kid-sized plywood kayaks for three grandsons and a full-sized plywood touring kayak for me.” And just as with the dinghy, Jim modified the plans of the houseboat and made it partially his own design, adding 3 extra feet of length to the boat’s original schematics and a hinged hatch opening to make it easier to climb aboard, among other modifications.

roof hatch
Jim shows how the hinged roof hatch allows for easy exit and entry.

Occasionally, friends and neighborhood kids asked to help out with Jersey Girl, and Jim was always willing to let others get involved in the fun. “Several times, just for the fun of it, I held ‘work parties,’ opportunities for friends and neighbors to come and help out. On one occasion, I invited folks over for the experience of gluing and screwing a bottom panel onto the upside-down frame structure. When it was done, they all signed their names with a Sharpie pen, and those names are still there, although covered with layers of fiberglass, epoxy and paint. A couple of times, neighbors asked me if I would let their kids do something. So I outfitted them with disposable gloves and old work shirts and let them do a few swipes of paint with a roller.”

What exactly does it take to build a wooden houseboat from the hull up? Here’s a brief rundown with photos of the boat’s construction and assembly from start to finish.

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In May of 2021, Jim launched Jersey Girl for the first time in the Hackensack River, near his home. He followed this up with outings in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey’s largest lake, and in Maine’s Eggemoggin Reach and New Hampshire’s Squam Lake. In the six years it took to complete her, he learned a lot about building your own boat, perseverance and, most importantly, himself. We asked Jim some questions about his experience building a wooden houseboat, and all the ups and downs that come with such a daunting DIY project. He was happy to share more details about the build with us and offer his advice to anyone thinking of tackling a similar project.

Q. Is Jersey Girl for day trips or is she fit for liveaboard?

A. She’s not quite ready for overnighting, but I hope she will be by summer 2022. Plywood inserts fasten between the two settees on the port and starboard sides, and the seatback cushions are sized to exactly fill the gap to make a queen-sized bed. … Three projects planned for the spring are a slide-out shelf for a small refrigerator under the galley counter, a shower arrangement on the aft deck, and two solar panels on the roof to keep the batteries charged up when we’re not connected to shore power. So my hope is to make JG self-sufficient off-grid for a week or more at a time.

Q. How did you feel the first time you launched Jersey Girl?

A. I felt great! Because I had made so many modifications to the plan, and she wound up being almost three times her as-designed weight, I really did not know what to expect. Would I have a boat, or an interesting camper trailer? As it turned out, she not only floated, but she floated right side up, a major triumph right there. More than that, she floated exactly to where I estimated her waterline to be, with a draft of only about eight inches – meaning I can poke around in really shallow water without worry. Also, she’s incredibly well balanced, level in the water no matter where or how passengers like to sit or stand. She easily takes as many as 10 people at a time for day trips (only two for overnighters), and she’s beautifully behaved over the wakes of passing boats. I could not be more pleased.

Q. What was the inspiration behind the name?

A. Well, I’m a Jersey Boy! I grew up in New Jersey and, although I have lived and worked in many different places, I really appreciate all that New Jersey has to offer. So, the name is in honor of all the Jersey Girls, who seem to share a sassy, bossy, somewhat lovingly entitled attitude. … And by coincidence, I keep running into Jersey Girl references: There’s a diner near Lake Hopatcong called the Jersey Girl Café, and a popular local craft brewery that sells cans of Jersey Girl beer.

Two of Jim’s grandchildren visit during the winter of 2018 and give their approval.

Q. What was the hardest part of building her? Did you run into any unforeseen complications or problems? If so, how did you solve them?

A. That’s a good question! Boatbuilding is nothing BUT a serial exercise in problem-solving. And because I made so many modifications in the existing plan, and developed so many methods for doing what I wanted to do, I turned out to be an expert in creating more problems for myself. In fact, I seem to have derived what I call Jim’s First Law of boatbuilding: Every solution begets a new problem. And so on.

One of the most persistent problems during construction was how to keep rainwater from filling the unsheltered hull before fully enclosing it with the decks and cabin. No matter how tightly tarped and covered the hull was, it seemed that rain always managed to find a way in. Ultimately the answer was that water accumulation was simply unavoidable, and I just had to budget time for bailing and mopping in my construction schedule.

Because I was doing so many of the things that I did for the first time in my life, I encountered problems that I just had to sit for a while and think about – and consider the future consequences – before going on.

Q. What do you like most about the do-it-yourself lifestyle?

A. Not only is it very satisfying to do things oneself, but it makes it possible to get things just the way you like them, without having to settle for some manufacturer’s or retailer’s idea of what you need. I’ve never been frightened of DIY, no matter what the field. I’ve learned to do carpentry, boatbuilding, mechanical work, electrical work, plumbing, brazing, welding… People often ask me, “Is there anything you can’t do?” I tell them I’ve never tried my hand at brain surgery, and that’s probably a good thing.

diy fabric projects
Top: Jim made protective deck covers using Softouch® fabric. Bottom: Roll-up window shades using Top Gun® and Protect-It™ fabric.

Q. What advice would you offer to someone interested in building a boat or tackling a big project like this?

A. I guess I’d say if you have a dream for something big, don’t put it off for as long as I did. Get started on it when you’re young. And if you do put it off as long as I did, don’t listen to the naysayers, even if they are the people you love and respect. Just find a way to get started; you’ll quickly pass the point of no return and then you won’t have any choice but to finish it.

Sewing for Jersey Girl

One of the final steps of the boat’s creation was the interior finishing. This is where Sailrite came in. Jim had never sewn prior to the projects he made for Jersey Girl. But as we’ve learned so far, that wasn’t going to stop him. “I bought the least expensive consumer-grade heavy-duty sewing machine I could find, watched a couple of online videos on how to use it, bought a remnant of heavy fabric from a nearby fabric store, practiced sewing in a straight line for a half hour, and that was it! The rest, as they say, is history. It turns out I like sewing, and one of these days I’ll probably find a way to justify one of Sailrite’s machines!”

Jim purchased Sunbrella® Canvas upholstery fabric, high density foam and the Sailrite® Blade Foam Saw and made cushions for the seats and seat backs (15 in total) that will double up as the mattress for sleeping. He turned to Sailrite’s popular 30-Minute Box Corner Cushion tutorial to help him make the cushions.

foam cutting
Measuring, plotting and cutting foam for the cushions.

He also sewed interior roll-up window shades that also attach to the outside to protect the windows when trailering the boat. He used Top Gun for the window shades with an inner layer of a soft protective lining fabric to protect the windows during transportation on the highway. Finally, he patterned and created exterior deck covers to help prevent rainwater and spray from seeping in through the hinged hatch covers.

Watching the 30-Minute Box Corner Cushion video is what convinced Jim that he could tackle these sewing projects, even though he’d never sewn before. While using Sailrite’s Fabric Calculator to help lay out the fabric for patterning and cutting, he contacted Sailrite customer service wanting to know if Sailrite also offered a Foam Calculator. We didn’t at the time, but Sailrite has always listened to customer suggestions and ideas. We now offer a Foam Calculator that shows DIYers how to nest foam pieces to get the most usage out of their foam sheet and to help save money.

cabin interior
The finished cabin interior. We think Jim did a fantastic job on the box corner cushions!

What’s Next for Jim & Jersey Girl?

Now that Jersey Girl is finished (mostly!), Jim is ready to get her on the water and enjoy his six years of hard work and determination. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to slow down. Even though the bulk of his work on Jersey Girl is done, he’s not planning on slipping into a life of inactivity in front of the TV. “Now that I am retired, with all of my other interests, I often wonder where I ever found the time to work for a living. If you ever see Jersey Girl on a waterway near you, be sure to stop me to say hello!”

Jim will turn 80 in May 2022, and he says he’s probably through with big building projects. Instead, he’s putting his hands to work on a new venture — writing a book. The book will chronicle his adventure building Jersey Girl and all that came with the experience. “Now that most of the work is done, the chronicle will also be about the places we travel together, the things we see, and the people we meet along the way.” Jim plans on taking Jersey Girl up the Hudson River and possibly to Canada for a rendezvous with other boatbuilders, painting and photographing what he sees along the way, two other passions of his.

And even though Jersey Girl’s sewing projects are complete, Jim isn’t putting his sewing machine away anytime soon. He has plans to redo his patio furniture cushions that have seen better days. He also has an idea for a line of educational plush toys for children.

If you’d like to learn more about Jersey Girl and follow Jim’s adventures on the water, you can follow his Facebook page: Jersey Girl the Houseboat.

jersey girl on the water

Ultrafeed® Adventures: Sewing a Winter Boat Cover

Dianne Smock learned to sew at a young age but never considered herself an experienced sewist. That is, until she tackled the project of a lifetime — a winter sailboat cover for her Bayfield 32, named Tilgata. For such a large-scale and heavy-duty project, she needed something tougher than her home sewing machine. There was no question about which machine to choose. Dianne purchased the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1, and the boat cover was the first project she made with it. In addition to the Ultrafeed, she also utilized Sailrite how-to content and the guidance and advice of our customer support staff to design and craft her massive, three-section winter cover.

The original cover that came with the boat was in rough shape and poorly designed. The massive cover was one piece and weighed about 60 pounds. The cover was assembled on a frame consisting of metal poles that snapped together across the hull. “It took half a day just to assemble the frame. Hauling the cover up and over the frame was a two-person job (or more). The hook-and-loop fasteners had long ago lost their ‘stickiness.’ In addition, it had been modified to fit the boat without the mast; we had to cut it to fit around the mast and then fill the gap with tarps.” Not only was the cover difficult to manage, it did not adequately protect the boat’s interior during harsh winter weather.

Even though Dianne bought the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 specifically for sewing the boat cover, she wasn’t going to let a machine like that go to waste! After she tackled the massive sailboat cover, she stitched up a grill cover, replaced her dodger windows with new Strataglass™ window material, and made slipcovers for her living room chairs.

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Keep reading to learn more about Dianne’s story and how she conquered the DIY of a lifetime with her new Ultrafeed, Sailrite how-to videos and help from the Sailrite customer support team.

Q. Can you tell me about the design process of creating your winter sailboat cover?

A. My main objective was to create something that my husband, Randy Anderson, and I could put on and take off by ourselves, so weight was a big deal. I started out with a five-piece design that evolved to the current three pieces, each of which weighs around 10 pounds. I worked it out on paper and sent the design to Sailrite for confirmation that it would work and that I had measured the fabric correctly. We turned our living/dining room into a factory and my husband made a production line to help with the long seams. The pieces zip together; the zippers are hidden under flaps that ensure weatherproof closure. All told there are 41 yards of fabric, eight zippers ranging from 16-96 inches, and the 20+ collars and boots are fastened with hook-and-loop closures. We finished it in October 2020 and Tilgata made it through the harsh northern Michigan winter clean and dry.

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Q. Why did you choose the Ultrafeed for your boat cover project?

A. Randy has known about Sailrite for years and subscribed to your catalog many years ago. We even still have a 1992 catalog! He had envisioned making his own sails at one time long ago. He bought what he thought was a “heavy duty” machine (not from Sailrite) but, as often happens, other priorities came about and the machine was stored in our basement unopened for nearly 20 years. When I decided to make a new cover, we got the machine out, and I saw immediately that it was not truly heavy duty, so we decided to do it right this time and get a Sailrite machine. I chose the Ultrafeed LSZ PLUS because I knew enough about sewing to know that I would someday need the zigzag feature, and I liked the PLUS package of accessories. I like that it can be used for regular sewing jobs as well as big jobs. I don’t think Randy will tackle sailmaking in the future, but he will likely try out the Ultrafeed on some leather projects.

sailrite catalog
Blast from the past! Randy’s copy of the 1992 Sailrite Catalog.

Q. You watched our Winter Sailboat Cover video as well as contacted Sailrite customer service with questions. Can you tell me a bit about what your experience was like working back and forth with our customer service team?

A. I must have watched portions of that video a dozen times! Whenever I got stuck on how to do something, I went back and watched the relevant section until I could replicate it. I developed several versions of the cover design before sending it to your customer service folks for confirmation that the cover would work with the fabric I had selected. I asked dozens of questions and got prompt responses from Bill Becker in Customer Support. Probably the most difficult part of the project for me was figuring out where to cut the slits for the stanchions, stays and shrouds. I was afraid I would ruin the whole thing if I made a mistake. Bill was very reassuring that it didn’t have to be perfect, and he was right — the collar and boot configuration was actually quite forgiving and left some “wiggle room” for an imperfect slit.

Q. How did you feel after you finally completed the cover and you put it on the boat the first time?

A. Relief! It fit! We made a couple of trips last winter to the boat just to make sure everything was intact. When we opened it up this spring, we found a clean and dry deck, which made me very happy. And putting it on this fall was a pleasure — it went on very quickly and easily.

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Q. What do you love about being on the water and the sailing lifestyle?

A. First and foremost, we love the majesty of the water and its endless challenges. Nothing beats the moment when the engine is turned off, and the wind fills the sails and propels us — often without care of where we are going — just the enjoyment of the movement. Second, we love the people we have met. Marinas are filled with interesting people and fascinating stories, and we have made friends with wonderful folks from all over.

Q. Where do you launch your boat? Do you do day sails or weekends?

A. Although we live in the Detroit area, we keep our boat in Cheboygan, Michigan, which is 15 miles east of the Straits of Mackinac on Lake Huron. There are many interesting ports and sailing options in the northern Great Lakes. I consider the boat my “up north” cottage; we spend as much time on the boat in the summers as our schedules allow. We do mostly day sails; our trips are usually just two to five days, although we would like to do longer trips … maybe next year.

Q. What do you love or relate to about the DIY lifestyle?

A. I have always been a “doer,” needing to be busy. For many years while I was working and raising kids, I didn’t have much time to devote to projects, although my husband and I have remodeled three houses, doing much of the work ourselves. Since retiring I have looked for new things to do. I have started refinishing old furniture, crocheting, baking and sewing. I’m currently working on restoring a century-old treadle sewing machine that belonged to Randy’s great-grandmother. I like the satisfaction of completing a task — although that feeling doesn’t last long, so I’m off to the next thing!

Dianne and Randy are all smiles after installing the new cover system. What an accomplishment!

What sewing projects are on the horizon for Dianne? This upcoming winter season she’ll be sewing new cockpit cushions for Tilgata. With the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 by her side and her newfound confidence in her sewing skills, we know she’ll tackle the job like a pro.

Dresses & Bags & … Boat Dodgers?! Oh My!

When the time came to replace the dodger on Ellen Bell-Irving’s 18-foot Maritime Skiff, she turned to her good friend of 30 years and fellow sewer, Pat Kane. Both women have a long history of sewing, but neither had tackled such a large marine project before. They put their heads together and put their trust in Sailrite® to provide them with the products, techniques and confidence to take on the boat dodger with an Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 and Sunbrella® Marine Grade fabric. Read on to learn how their first foray into marine sewing went!

Ellen and her family use their boat for sailing around Casco Bay in Maine.
Ellen and her family use their boat for sailing around Casco Bay in Maine.

Ellen’s center console boat, the “Alibelle,” is used for general transportation to and from the island where she and Pat met in the spring of 1988. The 30-acre island in Casco Bay, Maine was newly subdivided and they were building their summer homes at the same time. Their first homeowners’ association meeting was the beginning of a new friendship. When they learned that their permanent residences were just a few towns apart in Massachusetts, summer parties turned into skiing trips and winter get-togethers. Thirty years on, Pat and Ellen still enjoy spending time together for dinners and family occasions. And, of course, for sharing their love of sewing.

No stranger to sewing, Ellen felt comfortable repairing her old dodger. She learned to sew by taking a course in the 1970s. After learning the basics, she bought her first sewing machine: a Viking® she named Betty after her sewing teacher. “I made a few clothing items and made pinch pleat drapes for my house,” Ellen said of her sewing background. Over the years, Ellen also used her skills to sew costumes and clothing for her family. And when it had finally gotten to the point that a new dodger was needed, it was an easy choice to make it herself, noting, “it’s only seven pieces of material.” How hard could it be, right? 

Ellen is no stranger to sewing! Here she is looking at a zipper.
Ellen is no stranger to sewing! Here she is looking at a zipper.

Well, turns out it was more complicated than anticipated. Realizing she couldn’t do it alone, Ellen called on Pat for help. Pat, a professional seamstress, learned how to sew from her mother on a treadle sewing machine (“eons ago,” she said!). Her earliest sewing projects were clothes for her Barbie® doll. From there, Pat was hooked. “I have sewn ever since — costumes for high school plays, uniforms, clothing for others, clothing for myself and family.” Pat loves sewing so much, she made it her business. “I took classes in couture work…and started my business, Costumes and Custom Clothing, around 2000.” Pat’s business keeps her busy with custom theater costumes and bridal alterations; she even altered Ellen’s daughter’s wedding dress. 

A professional seamstress, Pat is comfortable behind a sewing machine.
A professional seamstress, Pat is comfortable behind a sewing machine.

Given their backgrounds, Pat and Ellen certainly had the skills required to sew a dodger. What they needed now was supplies. Ellen’s research on Sunbrella fabrics led her to the Sailrite website, and another friend recommended the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 to Pat: “I heard about Sailrite from a friend who sails a 42-foot sloop. She bought an LSZ-1 to make everything for the boat, and recommended it highly.” Together, Pat and Ellen decided to place an order for a new Ultrafeed, which they named Maxine, plus Sunbrella Marine Grade fabric, the Sailrite Edge Hotknife and all the notions they needed to make their dodger. The Ultrafeed came so highly recommended that once it was delivered, Pat immediately set it up and started sewing tote bags out of old sailcloth. She definitely understood the hype: “My home machine would not sew this material, but Maxine sewed through it like butter. So fun!” 

Over the course of the winter, Pat and Ellen set up folding tables and turned Ellen’s living room into a canvas workshop. Then they got to work.

The pair watched Sailrite videos to figure out where to start. “Your videos show how to create a pattern on the boat, but this was February 2021 and the boat was in storage in Maine,” Ellen said. So they fell back on Pat’s seamstress training. They took apart the existing dodger and used it to create a pattern. From there, they made a muslin mock-up and proceeded through a series of fittings. “We made a day trip to Maine to fit the mock-up. We marked it up, noting the positions of the snaps and other details,” Ellen explained. 

Pat and Ellen with the boat dodger
Pat and Ellen are all smiles in front of their completed boat dodger!

Using the muslin as a guide, they altered the pattern, cut out the dodger pieces using the hotknife and sewed them together. They relied heavily on Sailrite’s instructional videos for every step. Pat described their process: “We carefully watched the videos of dodger-making, especially the one about inserting a window into canvas. We paused the video, sewed, then restarted, watched the next step, paused and sewed. It worked!” 

Pat and Ellen took the finished dodger to the boatyard in Maine for a final fitting and borrowed a tool from the boatyard to install the snaps. It was a perfect fit! They weren’t the only ones impressed with their handiwork; “The boatyard owners wanted to know then and there if we wanted more work!” 

finished dodger
Here it is! The finished boat dodger.

They may not be ready for more dodgers, but these two friends aren’t done creating together. They’ve got more “couture canvas” projects they can’t wait to start. Up next is a console cover for the “Alibelle” and new cushions for the 25-foot Mako Ellen’s daughter and son-in-law have recently purchased. They’re also making bags out of Sunbrella fabric to give as Christmas gifts, which Pat will embroider. 

With so many projects on the docket, we’re so glad Pat and Ellen have an Ultrafeed on their side. We can’t wait to see what Pat, Ellen and Maxine the Ultrafeed make next! 

Marina Sewing Adventures With Lynn Ringseis

What do you do when a global pandemic halts your international travel plans and you’re forced to remain stateside? You tackle the sewing project of your DIY career, of course! That’s exactly what Lynn Ringseis did. She spent summer 2020 on a friend’s Westsail 42-foot sailboat in Poulsbo, Washington, riding out the COVID-19 quarantine. Not one to let a change of plans damper her spirit, Lynn offered to tackle several sewing projects for her friend, one of which was designing and sewing a full enclosure for the cockpit attached to the hardtop bimini. Learn how she conquered this difficult project using a borrowed Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 Sewing Machine and Sailrite supplies and free video content.

2020 was supposed to be a fresh start for Lynn. When her captain and husband, John, passed away, she decided that she needed a change of scenery and a new adventure. She found renters for her house and planned a global expedition, visiting the vast network of worldwide nautical friends she and John had made over the years. Lynn has spent most of her adult life traveling the world, working on sailboats, and discovering a passion for ocean conservancy and wildlife protection.

It was March 12, 2020, and Lynn was just hours away from boarding her flight from San Francisco to Fiji. “As the pandemic news grew more alarming, I pulled the plug on my trip as I didn’t want to take any chances of unwittingly spreading a virus to my dear Fijian friends. Time for a pandemic pivot.” Having already rented her house, Lynn needed a place to stay. Luckily, a fellow sailing friend asked her to “boat sit” for him for the summer and she happily accepted.

Lynn Ringseis on boat
Lynn is all smiles at the helm of her friend’s boat!

On the water is Lynn’s favorite place to be, so she didn’t see the temporary delay in her travel plans as too much of an inconvenience. The marina had every amenity she could need — laundry, showers, a grocery store and carry out dining. “It wasn’t exactly the tropical waters I had planned, but I became enamored with the wildlife and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.”

She arrived in Washington eager to help out her friend, Christian — who was away most of the summer working as an aerial firefighter — and tackle some needed boat projects, the first of which was the daunting cockpit enclosure. The wet, temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest meant Lynn was in desperate need of a dry cockpit to ride out her stay. Lynn had never attempted such a complicated project, so she first checked local canvas shops to commission a cockpit enclosure. All of the shops were booked for months out.

Luckily, Christian is a Sailrite customer and had an Ultrafeed LSZ-1 on board. With time on her hands and an Ultrafeed at her disposal, Lynn set out to tackle the project herself. “This was by far my largest and most complicated sewing project, with unusual angles, curves and geometry to figure out. But, to me, that was more fun than straight lines! I pushed myself to accomplish something beyond what I perceived as my ability. I sourced materials through Sailrite and began receiving shipments at the marina.”

Keep reading to learn more about Lynn, her sailing career and how she conquered her list of quarantine projects.

cockpit enclosure
A look at the daunting full cockpit enclosure Lynn tacked on her friend’s sailboat.

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Q. Do you have a sailboat currently?

A. Currently, I do not own a sailboat, but I am a fortunate member of the OPB (Other People’s Boats) Yacht Club! I do enjoy puttering with friends on my Duffy electric boat. She is named “Bootlegger” and she acts as our speakeasy with her quiet, electric engine.

Captain John and I owned a Catalina 30 that we cruised in Mexico in the early 1990s. She was a sweet and relatively simple boat and didn’t require major projects. We cruised from the Sea of Cortez as far south as Acapulco and gunkholed everywhere in between. We then got a job working on crewed sailing yachts in the Eastern Caribbean.

Over many years, we hosted guests on Beneteau sailboats, Jeanneau yachts and a brand-new Leopard 45 catamaran. We loved working on and sailing the catamaran so much that we decided to buy a Lagoon 41. We commissioned her in the fall of 2003, named her “Moonshine,” and sailed across the Atlantic to the French West Indies and eventually to the British Virgin Islands to start our own charter operation.

Q. When did you learn how to sail and who taught you?

A. I was living and working in Africa with my then boyfriend, Tom, in 1984, and our French friends offered us a crewing position to cross the Atlantic to Martinique. We met our French Captain Daniel in Marseille, France, that fall. My only prior sailing experience was on Mission Bay, San Diego, on little Sabots. Neither of us spoke French, but that didn’t stop us from jumping on this adventure!

We met our ride, a 33-foot Gibsea and our assortment of crewmates: a fellow hitchhiker from the U.S. and three French crew who spoke little English. Our language barrier helped us all get along tremendously. At the dinner table, we would all talk about each other and laugh as no one understood anything! I tried very hard to learn about sailing from Captain Daniel, as he was a superb skipper.

This was long before GPS, and Daniel would shoot the sun and stars with a sextant. I was fascinated, especially when we pulled into Fort-de-France, Martinique, after 24 days, spot on from the Cape Verde islands, situated at the westernmost point of the African continent. I was hooked on sailing!

forward view of sailboat

Q. What do you love about sailing?

A. I have a lifelong passion for being on the ocean. Being a San Diego native, I would visit the beach at every opportunity. Sailboats bring you closer and quieter to the environment that I love. I enjoy the challenge of sailing and there is no sweeter place to be than on a beam reach with soft, tropical trade winds kissing your sails as you scour the sea for whales and wildlife. One of the most invigorating things for me is to arrive at a new port after being at sea on a long journey as all your senses come alive at navigating toward land and an unfamiliar harbor or anchorage.

Q. Can you describe the various canvas projects you completed when quarantined on your friend’s boat in summer 2020?

A. The full enclosure started with installing two parallel Flex-A-Rail awning tracks on the ceiling of the hardtop, as I wanted sliding doors for ease of entry. I used a heat gun to shape the track to fit the vertical curves on the outside as an anchor for the first panels. I used Dura-Skrim® Patterning Material and cut and taped each panel. My measuring tape became my constant companion.

This was the first time I had worked with awning track and Keder awning rope products. I integrated Phifertex® into the top of the aft panels for ventilation. Working with O’Sea 40 gauge window material was easier than I expected. I marked the outline with a yellow grease marking pencil. Cutting and sewing to Sunbrella® was a breeze, especially with the help of Seamstick basting tape. I chose Cadet Grey V-92 Bonded Polyester 4 oz. Thread, and my color choice of Sunbrella Marine Grade fabric is officially named Basil, but I called it “Margarita,” as it just sounded more fun!

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I referenced several of Sailrite’s how-to videos to help me with the boat projects. I watched videos on how to make winch covers, how to bend and install Flex-A-Rail and how to make an aft curtain. Many thanks for the great videos and support from the Sailrite team!

I continued to craft unusual projects for the boat, such as fender holders I fashioned from Sunbrella and Phifertex, which I designed to go over the aft railing like saddlebags. The bags held the fenders on the outside with an inner bag for lines and other equipment.

Q. Was sewing these projects for your friend’s boat the first time you used the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Sewing Machine? What are your impressions of the machine after using it for a handful of projects?

A. Yes, it was my first time getting acquainted with the LSZ-1. I think of her as the Jeep of sewing machines and super tough. I got to know her most intimately. With the detailed instructions Sailrite provides, I was able to make all necessary adjustments and the ease of accessing the machine for applying oil was remarkable. She is a well-built, sturdy tool.

The Ultrafeed LSZ-1 sure kept me company while I was on the boat for months. I named her Tiburón, for my love of sharks. She and I spent a lot of time together.

Q. Since the full boat enclosure for your friend, have you sewed any other big projects that challenged your sewing skills?

A. The next project I tackled was side panels and windows for my little Duffy electric 18-foot boat in California. I was there for a quick trip and took lots of photos and measurements and proceeded to tackle that project back onboard in Poulsbo. Mind you, I had the machine set up on the Sailrite Ultrafeed Collapsible Table in the lower salon area, which measures 5 feet by 8 feet. Working in a relatively small space was all part of the fun challenge! I chose Sunbrella Marine Grade in Aruba. When I got back to California, I installed the windows and they fit like a charm, but they make the surrey top look a little sad. I just may be learning how to make a surrey top next!

Lynn's electric Duffy boat
Here’s Lynn’s Duffy boat with the new side panels and windows.

Q. Can you tell us what’s next for your DIY sewing adventures?

A. During quarantine, I became acquainted with some of the livaboards at the marina, which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “A tourist remains an outsider throughout his visit; but a sailor is part of the local scene from the moment he arrives.” (Anne Davison) The sailing community has always felt like my “tribe.”

After seeing the enclosure, one of my sailboat neighbors at the marina asked me to create some mesh shade screens for his side windows. I used Phifertex Plus vinyl mesh, Sunbrella frames and Stamoid™ bias binding tape to finish the edges. I still feel new enough not to charge money, so we are making a swap for some of his expert woodworking skills in the galley. The pandemic may have been the catalyst for my newfound “Covid Career.”

Q. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you, your love of sailing or your DIY lifestyle?

A. The cockpit has been transformed into a protected sunroom or, as I like to call it, the lanai — almost as warm as Fiji.

I also have been through a transformation of life, blessed to find seafaring mates to continue living a nautical journey. You may be wondering, how did my client, Christian, like my custom cockpit enclosure? Well, the enclosure received an enthusiastic two thumbs up. I am still onboard, and we are planning voyages, adventures and ocean environmental projects. Perhaps I’ll get my trip to Fiji after all, this time on a gorgeous sailboat! A happy ending to my sewing story.

My deep devotion to the sea prompted me to volunteer for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a nonprofit marine conservation organization, aboard one of their vessels. I spent three months crewing on their former Coast Guard Cutter named “MV John Paul Dejoria,” engaging in several campaigns in the Sea of Cortez to Peru, with a brief stop in the Galapagos Islands. Christian shares the same passion and he has also served aboard Sea Shepherd vessels.

Sea Shepherd’s mission is to partner with governments around the world to assist them with the detection and capture of criminal enterprises that are engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing operations.

sunset at marina
Lynn captured a stunning sunset during her stay at the marina.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Lynn. We’re thrilled that Sailrite could be part of your DIY journey. Good luck with your future travels, and we hope you make it to Fiji soon!

If you’d like to tag along with Lynn on her oceanic adventures and other travels, you can follow her personal blog: www.bootleggerbay.com.

Rowing the Chesapeake Bay

The world is full of dreamers and doers. Those who think big and shoot for the moon. Go-getters who make a plan, put in the time, sweat and dedication, and create something truly spectacular. Shawn Moyer has a dream. He wants to row the length of the Chesapeake Bay. But not just that. He wanted to row the Chesapeake in a boat he built himself.

With limited woodworking skills, some help and a lot of hard work, he built his own rowboat using the Angus RowCruiser kit and instructions. But one thing was missing. He needed a well-made, durable cover to protect his beautiful creation. That’s where Sailrite® came in. With Sailrite materials, how-to videos and the incomparable Ultrafeed® Sewing Machine, Shawn crafted a cover worthy of his wooden masterpiece. Get ready to reach for the DIY stars with this inspiring story!

Shawn chose Sunbrella® Marine Grade for his boat cover. He looks eager to get sewing!

Building a Rowboat

Several years ago, Shawn had the idea of rowing the length of the Chesapeake Bay. He lives in south-central Pennsylvania — less than an hour from the northern end of the Chesapeake. The bay is the largest estuary (a body of water where fresh and saltwater mix) in the United States. It is approximately 200 miles long, stretches from Maryland to Virginia, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Shawn worked for months building the rowboat whenever he had time in his schedule. He had very little building experience, and limited woodworking skills, prior to constructing the rowboat, but he didn’t let that stop him! And not only that, he had absolutely zero rowing experience!

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He was looking for a specific model rowboat, and that’s when he learned about Angus Rowboats. He chose the RowCruiser design because it met his functional and aesthetic needs. The 19-foot boat features a one-person sleeping cabin, which Shawn will use for sleeping and to get out of the rain when he attempts to row the Chesapeake.

To build the rowboat, Shawn had to learn some new skills. “I learned how to lay fiberglass, how to apply epoxy, and how to do some woodworking. The RowCruiser kit is well put together, but there were several hurdles to overcome. I thought the process of building the boat would be fun. My buddy Tom is an experienced woodworker, and he kept me out of trouble. I wouldn’t have finished the boat without him.”

Taking the boat for a test-drive before the final paint and polish.

Sewing a Boat Cover

After building his rowboat, Shawn decided that he needed a cover to keep the boat protected when not in use. A sailing friend introduced him to Sailrite, and he knew Sailrite was the right place to find the materials for his boat cover. “I bought the Ultrafeed in order to sew the cover for the rowboat. The cost of buying the machine and materials was close to the cost of buying a custom-made cover.” And with the investment of such a versatile, heavy-duty machine, Shawn will be able to sew a variety of projects for years to come.

Before sewing the boat cover, Shawn practiced his sewing skills by making a grill cover. “I thought it would be a smaller but similar project to the boat cover. I was pleased with how the grill cover turned out using a similar Sunbrella fabric, and I used all of the techniques I learned to sew the boat cover.” To prepare for the cover, Shawn educated himself by watching several of Sailrite’s free tutorial and project videos. “I have watched hours and hours of Sailrite videos. They are fantastic! Frequently there is a trick to finishing a sewing project, and your videos give you the confidence to try it.”

Shawn works on his boat cover with his new Ultrafeed.

And how did it go navigating his new sewing machine? “The Ultrafeed is an easy machine to learn. I was up and sewing the first day. I learned new techniques and ripped a lot of seams until I got it down.”

More Stitching on the Horizon

Now that Shawn successfully completed the boat cover, what other projects has he tackled? “I have made tool rolls and I’ve repaired some jackets and done some leather horse tack repair. And I made a dog blanket — all with my Ultrafeed. I have had a lot of fun with it. I can always count on Sailrite to answer my questions.”

In addition to his new rowboat, Shawn also owns a Bayfield 29 sailboat. “Sailing is a new hobby. I’ve been sailing for two years and I keep the boat in the Chesapeake.” He has taken full advantage of his Ultrafeed and new sewing skills to stitch projects for his sailboat. “I have sewn winch covers, a tiller cover, and I’m working on a mainsail cover right now. I’m also working on reupholstering my salon cushions.”

The finished cover! Water-resistant Sunbrella Marine Grade keeps the interior protected from the elements.

To get ready for his big rowing excursion, Shawn has taken the boat out several times to practice rowing on local lakes. “My goal is to row the Chesapeake in the fall of 2021 to raise money for the Children’s Organ Transplant Association.” Shawn is a physician specializing in Family Medicine and the organization is very close to his heart. COTA is a premier nonprofit organization providing fundraising assistance to transplant families across the United States.

If you have a dream and you make a plan, you can truly achieve anything! Look how far Shawn has come in his dream to row the Chesapeake Bay. If Shawn’s success in building his rowboat and teaching himself how to sew is any indication, his rowboat expedition this fall will be nothing short of a triumph. Good luck, Shawn. We’re rooting for you!

Shawn looks ready to conquer the Chesapeake!

A Total Powerboat Transformation

Sometimes the perfect project comes along that lets you put all your DIY skills to use. That’s what happened to Ronnie Miller. This talented DIYer found a powerboat for sale online that needed A LOT of work — a complete overhaul. He bought the boat in February 2019, for only $1,000 and worked hard to get it water-ready by June. Keep reading to learn more about this powerboat transformation and how Sailrite® supplies and project videos helped Ronnie tackle this massive DIY endeavor.

Like a lot of DIYers, Ronnie learned the ropes as a young boy. “My grandmother taught me to hand sew when I was 5 years old. My uncle was a tailor and he gave me swatches to work with.” From those humble beginnings, his talent grew and grew.

boat collage
Keep scrolling to see the “before” photos!

In addition to sewing, Ronnie enjoys a variety of other hands-on hobbies. “Projects are my hobby. I have always been good with my hands, fixing and rebuilding things.” Ronnie recently moved into a condominium, and he has been enjoying remodeling it himself and turning it into a proper home. “I’ve been working on carpentry and woodworking projects. I laid the vinyl floor, painted and fixed sheetrock. I have installed a mosquito mister at the house, a new metal fence to see the lake, a new wood fence, and I installed an entire sprinkler system for the front yard and back.”

Let’s learn more about the big powerboat project! “I always wanted a boat. This was the first one I ever owned, towed, worked on and completed in just three months.” What an accomplishment! So, exactly how much work went into the powerboat transformation? We’ll let Ronnie explain in his own words.

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“I found the boat on a for-sale website and thought if I failed, I couldn’t lose too much considering I only paid $1,000 for it. I later put in an additional $6,000 including the engine, materials and tools, which I am always using now. I didn’t realize I had to replace the engine, floor or dashboard with all-new electronics until I started tearing it apart.”

After all the hard gutting and rebuilding work, Ronnie was ready to tackle the upholstery. That’s where Sailrite came in. “I needed vinyl to cover the seats and I found Sailrite online.” He chose a striking combination of white, silver and black Morbern® vinyl fabrics. He also ordered Medium Density Polyurethane Antimicrobial Foam from Sailrite — a great choice for powerboat upholstery.

boat in progress
In-progress photos.

The project went fairly smoothly, and Ronnie only hit a few minor snags along the way. “Once I got started, I wanted everything to look new. I had the trailer sandblasted and had to replace parts there. I needed a new gas tank float and a new dashboard with new Bluetooth® radio. I replaced the old carpet with gray-and-black striped flooring, and I installed lights on the front for boating at night.”

Before his recent move, he lived just five short minutes from Lake Houston, a reservoir on the San Jacinto River northeast of Houston, Texas. Ronnie took the boat out almost every week. After enjoying the water and the boat for a while, he decided to sell it and made a whopping $5,000 profit! He credits the eye-catching upholstery work for garnering such a big profit. True to his DIY nature and need to keep busy, Ronnie bought and restored a second boat and made $6,000 on that sale!

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So, what’s he working on now? “Since completing the boat I have now started a wall covering of large fabric-covered squares behind my bed. It’s still a work in progress, but I should be finished soon.” Ronnie is using the Sailrite how-to video “How to Make Upholstered Wall Panels” to help complete the project.

“I find that working on a project is great for the mind; it gives you time to think alone. I also get great satisfaction by looking at it and saying, ‘Hey, I did that!’” Way to go, Ronnie! We love your positive attitude and can-do spirit. Good luck on all of your future DIYs. We’re sure they’re going to be huge successes.