Sewing a Winter Cover for Vitae

Vitae originally came with an Aluminium structure for a winter cover, when we bought her in November 2016. The cover itself was apparently in shreds and we never saw it. Instead huge tarps were used. So for the first few years that’s what we did. It was a rather frustrating experience as the tarps would inevitably break, slip or even slap against the hull leaving marks. Every winter we’d have to go up to the yard where she was stored and try and adjust tarps with frozen fingers. I hate cold hands! In the last 2 years we broke down and had her shrink wrapped just to save the boat from all the snow and ice. Not feeling very good about the environmental impact of all the useless plastic we vowed to get a proper fitting cover we could use for many years to come.

Initially, we got a quote from a local canvas company for $3000.00 but they eventually said they would not be able to squeeze us in until November. I had done some smaller marine sewing projects like replacing all boat cushions on our 1973 27’ C & C “Wynsum”, v-berth sheets, sail fixes, dodger patches. A few years ago I had stumbled onto the Sailrite website with awesome how-to videos on many projects, not just relevant for boats. So I made dinghy chaps for our 11’ tired looking Titan RIP and a Sailpack for Vitae’s main. I had also practiced by making covers for everything in sight, like kayak cockpits, snowblowers and a laser sailboat. I swear, the cat would have been next if my old Kenmore sewing machine hadn’t finally said “enough of this” and quit.

Sailrite also makes very reputable portable, industrial sewing machines, but they are not cheap and literally impossible to find used. I was hesitant to pull the plug, but since we could use it to make our own winter cover, and encouraged by good sailing friends of ours, Dave ordered me the Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ Walking Foot sewing machine. Now I really had to do this.

My Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ – using it at home – but I can also use it on the boat in the v-berth which becomes my sewing table

I started looking at other people’s winter covers, researched materials and different patterns. Here are some of the criteria in our considerations for the cover design:

  • cover had to be for mast down first year but then be adaptable for mast up the next
  • cover had to last, so we settled for Top Gun as friends of ours have had there Top Gun cover for almost 20 years and it looks great
  • Top Gun is not the lightest material but we needed the cover to be manageable – so we decided to make the cover in 3 parts to make pieces manageable, easier to fold and store, and also be able to sew openings for mast and stays next fall
  • good air circulation, since Top Gun is fully waterproof and does not breath: our aluminum structure holds the cover over the lifelines and leaves good height under the cover for winter work or airflow but I still wanted to install extra vents
  • had to have back door to enter cockpit
  • wanted to try using sandbags to hold cover down: used horizontal bags and E-Z Lace to tie them to the cover bottom – they are adjustable and pull from many points instead of just one. (Sailrite suggested this in an earlier video of how to make a sailboat cover).

Again, I can only recommend looking at the Sailrite website with its plethora of DIY-projects. As mentioned above I watched first the older and then the later video of how to make a cover. In this video Sailrite also links to their fabric calculator which is an invaluable tool. To order my fabric I used a Canadian distributor though, to save on shipping and duty — JT Outdoor Fabrics, located in Barrie, Ontario, had decent prices, delivered promptly and online ordering was easy.

The biggest challenge turned out to be space to man-handle the huge amount of material. For our 40’ sailboat with the relatively high aluminum structure and having the cover come over the life-lines, I ended up order 70 yards of material. That is an immense amount, but I wanted to make sure to have some extra for those alterations/additions with mast up next year. Here are some pictures of my downstairs rec room which became a sewing room. I would have given my right arm for a foxhole, but I had to make due with 3 different tables and at times running long roles of material over the couch and other furniture as well.

Because the material is so large, the trick is to role the different sections, which makes it much easier. No space in the house was large enough to lay out entire sections at once to pattern the material. Don’t forget I was doing this in fall and every time I thought I could do some of that work outside it was raining. Basting tape became my bests friend. It helped to be able to stick seams together before sewing and for larger and curved seams temporary stapling also proofed beneficial. I was glad I had decided to do the cover in 3 sections because it made it more manageable.

Seams were done as semi-flat felled which gave it a clean, water tight finish, although it’s a more time consuming process. Here are two videos showing the process.

At this point it was still easy to handle the material. Later, once the sides (or skirt) was sewn onto the top (or tent) for the cover it became a lot harder. But slowly it was coming together. Here is a picture of the bow part of the cover being sewn.

The pieces are growing and getting harder to manage

It was impossible to role the material as the seams were not straight, but to my surprise the material was easy to keep together with the basting tape or seam stick and the Sailrite machine did wonders on the stitching. I did groan and swear at times as the material mountain wanted to slide off the tables.

Almost done: “Man”-handling the material near the end – I am definitely groaning…

The most difficult part was probably the stern part of the cover as I had to fit it around our arch and dinghy davits. I had not ordered enough zippers and making the fit around the holes needed was tricky. At this point I needed the cover done as the weather was turning cold and wet. I managed to get the cover on the boat for one more fitting and marked where the holes had to be. This probably would have been easier done with a patterning material, but I didn’t want to spend more money and time. So I kind of eyeballed it and when it was done it mostly fit. I will do some adjustments to this part of the cover next winter, but for now we were happy with the result.

It will be interesting how it fared over the first winter. So there will be a follow-up post on this.

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