Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Marathon Project

Motorcycle Chaps
     Last week I alluded to my goals and objectives for the upcoming week. I began the enormous project of building "chaps" for the dinghy. In the event that you as most people have no idea what I'm talking about, I thought a photo would clarify the issue. To quote Albert Einstein, "One picture is worth a thousand words."

          The dinghy is an inflatable model fabricated from hypalon which is a synthetic rubber known for its resistance to ultraviolet light, chemicals and temperature extremes. It's ruggedly built but, by no means indestructible. When Simple Life is lying at anchor or on a mooring the dinghy is our mode of transportation to and from shore and it gets a workout. Even though hypalon is UV resistant constant time in the tropics eventually take its toll on the "skin." Dinghy chaps are similar to slipcovers for furniture and they provide protection for what lies underneath.

     One of the many perks of spending time in Boot Key Harbor is the accessibility to the huge industrial inspired work room at the Marathon City Marina. With this in mind I monitored one of our cruising friends Katie from Mezzaluna while she took on the challenge of chap building prior to leaving for the Bahamas and beyond. At that time I had absolutely no aspirations of building my own. I actually hoped to have chaps built by a canvas maker. I started making the rounds of some of the numerous canvas shops in Marathon. It seemed the consensus on a price for custom chaps was in the range of $1500.00 or more!
      Recently, Joe and I attended a marine canvas workshop that was offered by Bob Moberg at the City Marina. Bob is a sail and canvas maker who lives aboard his Pearson 35 in Boot Key Harbor. The most important tip that I filed away from the workshop was to use a stapler instead of basting when building canvas projects! What a great idea! Armed with my new piece of information, I considered building my own chaps. I've done my share of canvas work and actually owned a vintage Singer 107 workhorse before moving aboard. However, building them from scratch was not a project that I relished. I knew exactly what was involved. Sunbrella is the fabric of choice for this type of project and it's comparable to sewing cardboard!
Constructing the template from vinyl

      Since there were no commercial templates available, I had to construct my own using a clear vinyl shower curtain. The template also had to be drawn and cut at the dinghy dock in the water. The conditions were less than ideal. It was hot with little or no breeze.

Building the template at the dinghy dock
      The docks were crowded and whenever another dinghy motored in to tie up at the dock it usually bumped into mine, causing me to draw squiggly lines on the template instead of straight ones as well as challenging my balance. Once the template was finished Joe calculated the yardage needed and I ordered it from Winfield at Carnival Canvas on the Overseas Highway who gave me a good discount on the fabric. He also offered some tips and advice and said, "Better you building this thing than me." He also wished me luck.


   Within a few days I'd cut the fabric from the template, stapled it inside out on the dinghy while trying my best not to fall overboard and began the task of sewing it together in stages. I no longer own a sewing machine, but I was given the name of Duane Cobb who lives on anchor in the harbor aboard his boat Trilogy who often sews projects for $20.00 per hour.
Cutting the Sunbrella from the template


      After contacting Duane, he and I worked on the project together for a couple of days then he offered to rent his machine to me to for $25.00 per day to complete the finish work. In between days of sewing Joe and I would head out to Sombrero Beach to pull the dinghy onto the sand for a fitting and to facilitate the job of stapling the hem. A leach line will be fed through the pocket of the hem to secure the cover under the rub rail.

Duane Cobb and me beginning construction of the chaps
First fitting at Sombrero Beach (hem still in progress)
     Although the project is a behemoth, it has been progressing along on schedule. I've enjoyed the learning experience of designing the template and watching it come to fruition. There remains a substantial amount of finish work applying chafe guards and top stitching, but so far the chaps are taking shape. I can finally see the "light at the end of the tunnel" and it looks like another bright sunny day in the Florida Keys.

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