We really wanted to make a sail pack to protect our beautiful new (used) mainsail we just got in the mail from Bacon Sails in Annapolis, Maryland. The old sail cover was extremely thread barren, and the hardware on it was mostly broken or corroded.
|Our new Bacon mainsail|
Sewing big things on a boat is not an easy task. We had no idea just how extremely challenging it would be until we grabbed our gigantic 46" wide roll of forest green Sunbrella fabric from the forward cabin and began to attempt to unroll it to take measurements for our sail pack project. How do you even unroll something so big in such a small space? And measure and cut it!?
We started by taking the measurements of our sail, following the generously free online Sailrite video.
Our main boom is about 16 feet long, and the tallest part of the sail when dropped is still almost 5 feet higher than the boom. So that meant that our roll of fabric was not quite wide enough to simply use one piece of fabric for each side. We'd have to sew two pieces together before we could even begin cutting our starting pieces.
Skeeter and I attempted to unroll the 46" Sunbrella fabric in our boat's tiny interior. A mixture of comedy and aggravation ensued. I was holding the huge and heavy roll of fabric in the forward cabin, while Skeeter unrolled it through the salon and into the hallway by the workbench. Keep in mind, the passageways inside our boat zig and zag, measuring an average of 1.5 - 2 feet in width. Laying the fabric down flat on the floor to measure and cut was NOT an option. So we held the fabric up perpendicular to the floor, and measured the best we could. Then we attempted to draw a straight line on the fabric with a soapstone pencil and cut it to length with a hot knife we bought at Home Depot. We did this twice, once for each side.
Then we had to add an additional strip of fabric to it, so the sail pack would be tall enough to cover the highest point of our sail when dropped, the head. We measured the amount we'd have to attach to the main piece, made little marks along the length of the fabric at that distance. We used the fold-down salon table to lay the fabric on to connect the marks by drawing our line. Then we cut the fabric, a foot and a half at a time, with the hot knife. We placed a piece of scrap metal underneath it so we didn’t burn the table.
|Buried in fabric, making the first stitches|
|Sewing the fabric pieces together|
Then it was time to join the two pieces of fabric so the sail pack would be tall enough. We straight pinned it together and then I sat down at the sewing machine with fabric piled up on top of me (and it was over 90 degrees and stuffy in the boat) and sewed the two long pieces together. I only stabbed myself with pins a few times, but it was enough to motivate me to find a less painful method. I used staples for part of the project, and eventually worked up the confidence to just crease a fold with a putty knife and hold it in place while sending it through the machine.
Next was the hilariously impossible part: trying to draw a straight angled line from the tallest part of the sail pack (the head of the sail) down to the skinniest part of the sail bag (near the clew). Drawing a straight line seemed impossible in our allotted space, so we decided to try to crease the fabric and draw a line along the crease. We then attempted to strike a straight line down the length of the fabric by closing one corner of the fabric in the head (bathroom) door to hold it in place while one of us stood on the opposite end holding it as tight as possible without pulling it out of the door. Trying to draw a straight line along a not so straight crease on fabric that was floating in mid-air was a daunting task. But somehow we managed. Then we cut along our supposedly straight line with our hot knife. Of course, everything I mentioned had to be done twice, since the sail pack has to have two sides.
|Measuring and marking using a square|
|Connecting the marks with a "straight" line|
Just the measuring, marking and cutting of our starting pieces took an entire day. The entire process took us 4 days from start to finish. We couldn’t have done it without the Sailrite instructional video. I am so grateful for their help, but I will admit to being jealous of Angela from Sailrite, who had a huge work space, a gigantic table, proper tools, and an endless supply of basting tape. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get angry and swear at her through the video a few times because she had it so easy with the logistics at the Sailrite sail loft.
|Refilling the bobbin was my favorite|
|Hemming the edges|
|Using a putty knife to crease the fabric before each hem|
|The webbing goes over the boom but under the sail.|
|I attached each piece of webbing with a box stitch to both sides|
|Skeeter cutting the bolt rope to size with the hot knife|
My sewing skills improved greatly through this project, and by the end I was extremely happy how it turned out. I mastered the back stitch, sewing a straight line without any pins or basting tape, and the box stitch. The finished edges were perfectly straight, by some miracle, and you would never know how insane a process we went through to make it by just looking at the finished product. The sail bag fit over our sail absolutely perfectly, and I even hand stitched bolt rope onto the webbing that connects both sides to hold the bag to the boom, since we have a loose footed sail.
We made lazy jacks, and I got to ascend the mast (my first time!) and install a pulley block on each side to attach the lazy jacks to the mast. Just so you know, Skeeter didn’t make me go up there, I volunteered. I had never been up the mast before and I was eager to try it out. We bought an ATN mast climber, which is a system consisting of a harness, foot loops, and two ascenders. One ascender is attached to the feet loops and the other to the harness. You just shimmy your way up the halyard bit by bit. First you stand in the foot loops and slide the harness ascender up, then lay back on the harness ascender and slide the foot loop ascender up, and so on. Skeeter also had a safety line attached to my harness; just in case anything went wrong he would still have me.
|The view of Secret Harbour from up the mast|
It was a little bit wavy in Secret Harbour, so every little wave was greatly amplified at my altitude. I was like a pendulum on a clock. If I didn’t cling to the mast like a koala bear, I would find myself swinging and spinning, bouncing off the shrouds, the mast, and the spreaders. That only happened a couple of times! I tied a line around the mast and my waist to have better control and prevent myself from swinging around.
|Tool bag being sent up to me|
|Drilling holes with the corded power drill|
Skeeter sent the tools up to me on the other halyard. Our cordless drill wasn’t quite strong enough to drill into the mast, so he had to get a long extension cord and send me the corded drill, which he hooked up to our generator. I marked 4 holes on each side of the mast for the pulley blocks and drilled the holes. Trying to drill straight and precise holes into a thick metal mast while being swung around at altitude is not easy. Especially when you need both hands on the drill and you don’t have any hands left to stabilize yourself! But I managed. Then I put the drill into the suspended tool bag and switched it out for the rivet gun.
|Pulley blocks riveted to mast|
I’d never used a rivet gun before (let alone aloft), but Skeeter called out directions to me from below and I figured it out. All in all, I was up there for almost two hours.
I thought I would be scared up there, but I wasn’t. I really liked it! The view was incredible, and I felt very safe. It was only scary when I was getting swung around out of control.
|Panaramic view of Secret Harbour from aloft|
|Selfie from way up high|
|It's a long way down!|
|Looking down onto the forward deck|
|Skeeter working on the lazy jack lines|
|Amy & Momo resting|
Skeeter completed the lazy jacks while Momo and I rested. Going up and down that mast was kind of exhausting, and I know I will be sore for days.
|Skeeter finished the lazy jack lines!|
|Sail pack project complete!|
Our sail bag and lazy jacks are complete, and they look great! A lot of work and at times a lot of frustration, but it was well worth it. Now we can protect our new (used) mainsail properly, and we can put up our mainsail without hesitation because dropping it will be a cinch! It should just fall into the bag with the guidance of the lazy jacks. Without lazy jacks, the sail can be a real pain in the butt, especially in high winds. Trying to flake a big sail in rough seas and high winds is not fun, but now we won’t need to worry about that!