I think I can figure this thing out…

I don’t know which of the following was more difficult: buying a sewing machine, using a sewing machine, or admitting that I have/use a sewing machine.  Just wait til the guys at work hear about this.

Don’t worry, I was able to justify it.  It’s a semi-industrial sailmaking sewing machine (a Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1), weighs nearly 50 pounds, and is blue.  Blue is a man’s color.  And a recent article in Good Old Boat magazine was titled “Real sailors sew”.

It should, in theory, save me thousands of dollars over a few years.  Assuming I can get past figuring out how to thread it.

Reasons for Buying a Sewing Machine

This Old Boat
Why did I buy a sewing machine?  All because of the dodger.  The dodger is a manufactured piece of canvas with vinyl windows that stretches over a steel frame over the companionway (entrance) of a boat.  It keeps the rain out while entering/exiting and can provide some protection from the elements & spray while sailing.  The one that came with my boat had deteriorated to the point of crumbling in my hands, and I needed a new one.  I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars to have someone make a new one for me, and I did want to get some skills to be able to make/repair things like that on my own.  So I decided to try sewing a dodger.  After all, this is all about self-sufficiency for me and skills like this are priceless when I’m in a remote part of the world and in need of maintenance.

In full disclosure, a lot of my inspiration for these projects (and guidance) came from one of my favorite books in my sailboat library, Don Casey’s This Old Boat.

Assembling winch covers.

I bought myself a sailmaking machine (how I will refer to the “sewing machine” from here on out) to make myself a dodger.  As far as sewing machines for beginners go, the Sailrite LSZ-1 is probably a little more advanced.

Well, that was my intention, but when I realized that I didn’t know how to sew I saved the dodger for last, after getting some practice on some other projects.

It took me a good six hours to figure out how to thread it, and then I realized I didn’t know how to start or stop a stitch…I had knots everywhere.  Fortunately, some women live on the dock and were able to enlighten me on why a sailmaking machine has a “reverse”.  How useful.

Update: Got some more sewing done in Man-Sewing, Revisited.

So here are the other projects, in order of construction, which somehow correlates to the quality of the finished product:

Companionway screen

The companionway (entrance) is a big source of ventilation, but also provides a big entrance for all the mosquitos and other insects I’d rather not share my home with.  I wanted a screen to allow for some ventilation but would also serve to keep the bugs out.  I purchased some mosquito netting from Sailrite, cut it to the shape & size of my companionway, and sewed a border with fishing weights in it to keep it weighted down.  I screwed some button snaps into the wood of the companionway hatch cover, and installed some snaps on the top of the screen.  The screen can be securely fastened by the snaps at the top, but easily tossed out of the way for entry & exit.  Estimated cost: $20.

The portlight covers. The near portlight cover is open, with the grommet over the opposite hook. The next portlight is covered with the grommets over their respective hooks.

Portlight covers

I don’t consider myself an exhibitionist but I don’t mind people watching me while I’m changing.  Does that make me an exhibitionist?  I’m just saying that it doesn’t bother me.  But it probably bothers everyone else, so I needed some window coverings for life at the dock.  I used some interior fabric with a cool coral pattern and cut them to squares slightly larger than the portlights.  I hemmed the edges, put grommets in the upper corners, and installed brass hooks above the upper corners of the portlights.  When I want them open, I put both grommets over one side, and then pull the top grommet over to the other hook when I want them closed.  Estimated cost: $19 total for ten.


The staysail bag before Christmas, which should explain the lights and the frost.

Staysail bag

The staysail (the sail in the middle, in layman’s terms) was on a metal boom and was covered in an old brown canvas bag.  I got rid of the boom because it only introduced more stuff for me to trip over and the sail performs just fine, and in my opinion is easier to handle, without it.  So I was left with the old brown bag.  The bag that I made fits over the folded sail, still attached to the stay, and closes with a zipper over the stay.  A loop at the back of the bag allows me to hang it off of the deck with the staysail halyard.  Estimated cost: $26.


The newly assembled & frosted mainsail cover.

Mainsail cover

Like the staysail cover, the mainsail cover was an old, worn-out brown canvas cover.  I traced the pattern of the old cover onto the new burgundy fabric and made a clone of the old bag.  Estimated cost: $69.


One of four winch covers, with the velcro strap that secures them in place.

Winch covers

I have four winches, and somehow only had three covers.  The covers were, again, brown fabric kept in place by a piece of string tied around them in a square knot.  To match the rest of the boat, I made some simple covers out of the burgundy canvas.  To keep them in place, I stitched some velcro onto the cover, and made a velcro strap to tighten around the middle of the winch.  Estimated cost: $2/ea.




The companionway cover, with the window cover open and rolled up. You can see the velcro on the lower corners of the window to secure the cover when it’s rolled down. In the up position it’s secured by velcro stitched onto the cover.

Companionway cover & window

This is what I affectionately refer to as the “doggie door”, since it reminds me of those flaps installed in doors when I exit through it.  The companionway is normally secured & covered by four pieces of wood that slide down into place and act as the door.  When it’s cold or raining, I have to keep the companionway covered.  Pulling all four boards out, stowing them, and then putting them back in place a dozen times a day was starting to get to me.  I thought about manufacturing new dropboards made of just two pieces of wood (half the work to deal with them?), but this canvas idea seemed a little better.

I used the snaps that were already in place on my companionway hatch and manufactured this cover made out of burgundy canvas, also installing snaps along the sides.  On the upper half I installed a vinyl window (30-mil Strataglass).  On the inside, I made a window cover that can easily be rolled up or down.  Up it provides for a great view, lets light in, and heats up the boat in the winter.  Down it provides some good privacy.  And it still allows me to easily enter & exit the boat.  It’s also waterproof and was tested in a big storm this weekend, not letting in a single drop of water.  Estimated cost: $32, half of which was the clear vinyl.

The companionway cover from the outside, with the window cover down. The top and sides are secured by snaps.

Future Projects

I suppose I’ll get to that dodger next.

I just received a lot more canvas in the mail (since I used the supply for my dodger on the above projects) and I’m fairly comfortable tackling this project now.

I’ll also be making a new cover for my wheel (the existing one is that same old brown fabric).

Oh and the cushions…the cushions that I sit on and sleep on are old – I’m fairly certain as old as the boat built in 1982.  They just look like it and smell like it.  So I’ll be getting some closed-cell foam and some fabric to match the rest of Saoirse’s colors.

If I can predict the future, the dodger and the cushions will be featured in a later post.

Winch covers, mainsail cover, companionway cover, and staysail cover at the front. The frame for the doger is folded up forward against the mainsheet and will hopefully be covered by a dodger soon.

As a reference, the old mainsail & staysail covers.


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