Who would have thought that sewing would be a valuable skill on a sailboat? But the truth is that boats need lots of covers to protect things from the harsh marine environment of wind, salt and water. And these same elements cause this protective gear to need constant replacement.
Most of these items cannot be bought in a store, so you are left to your own devices. So when my husband suggested that I make a cover for our Mercury 3.3 hp outboard, I did what any resourceful sailor would do and searched Google and YouTube for inspiration. Sailrite provided this handy video, but it seemed too fussy for my liking and I didn’t have the benefit of being in the same room as the motor, so I decided to create my own design.
My design technique is very primitive. I take exact measurements and put them on a drawing. I am not an artist, so please do not judge. I then think about what I am about to make and add in seam allowances, wiggle room (I am such a technical sew-ista) and extra length for a hem. I also consider how the item will be used. Can it be fastened easily and removed when required? I am of the vintage that I learned how to sew in inches and feet, so although I am Canadian through and through, I sew in inches.
Now that we no longer live on the boat, I couldn’t simply step out into the cockpit and take my measurements, so it was a bit disappointing when I took out my hastily sketched diagram for the outboard motor cover. I searched Mercury’s website but could not find specifications for the motor beyond performance specifications. I was looking for measurements. Sigh.
I bought a roll of Sunbrella knowing that I am constantly sewing things for the boat. Sunbrella is a great fabric for boats but it is very stiff to work with, so I gave up trying to pin things after my first project. In a pinch, I have used large paper clips to keep two pieces of fabric together and remove them one by one as I approach the needle. Typically though, I do not pin things together. Very adventurous, I know.
I transfer my measurements onto the Sunbrella with a pen. I also indicate the name of the piece such as top, bow, stern since I don’t have any pattern pieces to tell me what it is. During my Google search for outboard motor covers, I discovered that there is no right or wrong side to Sunbrella. I never knew this. I have spent 10+ years writing little “W”s on the fabric to help me remember.
I usually have to cut the fabric on our dinette or for larger projects would remove the bedding and foam cushion off our bunk and use the flat, wooden surface below to cut out the fabric. When I made the mainsail cover, I cut out the fabric on the dock moving all my gear aside whenever someone had to get by. “Car!”. Such luxury now to be able to cut the fabric on a kitchen table indoors.
Cut the fabric and begin sewing. I use a rot-resistent thread and heavy duty needle to sew. My 25-year old Janome sewing machine has served me well on the boat. I have sewn sail covers, bimini, winch covers, duvet covers, curtains and settee covers on this machine. Often times cursing along the way, but this little machine is a trooper.
For the outboard motor cover, I basically made a box allowing enough room to cover the handle and extraneous nobs. I sewed in a shock cord along the bottom so that it could be cinched tight to prevent it blowing off in the wind.
Put a little black thing on the end of the shock cord – tie a knot and zap it with the barbecue lighter to prevent the edge from fraying and voila! Cinch up the shock cord – this takes time because the Sunbrella is stiff and repeat the same for the other end of the shock cord. For extra security, you can leave enough length to tie the ends of the shock cord to the boat so that in the event that the cover comes loose it won’t blow away.
The finished product looks good. When I finally put the new cover on the motor,Â I realized that I should also make a cover for the handle of the motor. My sewing gear was back in the condo, so all I had to take measurements with was the leftover piece of shock cord. Sailors are resourceful ( I think I already covered this earlier in this post), so I measured the length of the handle with the shock cord and then calculated that this length equalled two lengths of my spiral notebook. The width equalled the circumference of my thumb to my forefinger plus – you got it – some wiggle room. Hey, you are catching on quickly to this sewing thing. Are you sure you’re not a sailor?