Baby on Board: Sailing, Sewing & Raising a Family

Jon and Leah Kruger have been enjoying the liveaboard lifestyle since 2011. They both grew up in sailing families — Jon sailed on traditional wooden sailboats in Maine, and Leah spent seven years of her childhood aboard her parents’ Frasier 41 named “Synchronicity.” She spent four of those years circumnavigating and sailed the South Pacific, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, Caribbean and the West Coast of the United States.

Jon and Leah met in 2009. They spent their early dating years borrowing Synchronicity from Leah’s parents and sailing in the Pacific Northwest. They both knew they wanted to live on a boat, and so they eventually scraped together enough money to buy a 1981 Nor’West 33 dubbed “Brio” in 2011. Ever since, they’ve been living aboard and sailing the open waters, including transiting the Panama Canal in 2014, wintering for three seasons in Portland, Maine, and cruising up and down the East Coast.

jon and leah kruger
Jon and Leah during the early years of their sailing adventure.

In April 2018, the couple welcomed their first child, Zephyr, to their crew. Now, this adventurous sailing family lives year-round on their sailboat with their 1-year-old son in tow. In addition to her captain duties, Leah is also in charge of all sewing projects and sail repair onboard using her Ultrafeed® Sewing Machine. With the addition of their smallest crew member, some of her recent DIYs have included safety and baby-proofing projects, including weather cloths and an enclosed v-berth sleeping area for little Zephyr.

She shared her one-of-a-kind story with us…

Q. What made you want to become liveaboards? How long do you plan on being full-time cruisers?

I think we both independently knew we wanted to live on boats, even before we’d met each other. So when we realized that this was a shared dream, it really cemented our relationship and our future paths. We had the advantage of living with our parents and keeping our initial living costs super low, so we were 100% focused on funneling all of our energy and savings into finding a boat and outfitting her for cruising.

When people ask if we’ll live on Brio forever, I always say definitely not – we want a bigger boat at some point! Not to say we’ll never want to live on land – forever is a really long time, after all – but we have no immediate intention to become land-based.

I work remotely and Jon runs his own business, so living on a sailboat has enabled us to be climatic nomads, heading south in the winter and north in the summer, and enjoying the most of the East Coast that we can! Having a baby has really reinforced how much we value our time together and the freedom to dictate our own schedules, and I don’t think any of that will change any time soon.

family on beach
The happy family enjoying some fun and sun at the beach.

Q. What do you like most about the liveaboard lifestyle? What do you like least? What’s a typical day like now with Zephyr onboard?

I heard someone describe cruising as “a series of Saturdays,” and I think that’s pretty perfect. It’s not that there aren’t chores to be done or groceries to be bought (or water to be lugged, or decks to be scrubbed), but it’s all in a sort of fluid, schedule-less manner. One of the things I like best about cruising is how flexible it is. When we started cruising, I was 24 and Jon was 25 and we had $6,000 saved to make it through the year. We had no refrigeration, no electronics, literally lived on tacos and beans, and somehow still spent $10,000 – giving us our first lessons in boat maintenance and debt!

Now that we have a steady paycheck income, we can afford to stay in marinas and upgrade Brio with new electronics and refrigeration. We still try to live carefully and within our means, but I appreciate how elastic your spending can be with this lifestyle.

I also have to say that the people you meet cruising are hands-down the best part of the whole deal. Regardless of your boat or your budget, cruisers are a welcoming crew – and adding a baby to the mix has just made it easier to strike up conversations with strangers!

zephyr on brio
Zephyr “helping” at the helm of Brio.

Q. Can you tell me how you came up with your weather cloths design using window material so you can still enjoy the view?

I’ve spent so many hours staring at solid weather cloths, wishing I could see the horizon! Actually, the other factor was we bought a roll of Strataglass™ for our dodger project, and later decided to use Makrolon® instead (a stiff, glass-like polycarbonate window material). So we had a leftover roll of Strataglass just begging to be used! It felt a little frivolous to use such an expensive product on weather cloths, but we absolutely LOVE them. We haven’t even bothered taking them down since they no longer block the view. Another bonus? They act as toy-containment devices since little Zephyr has quite the arm on him.

strataglass weather cloths
A beautiful, uninterrupted view thanks to Leah’s clever Strataglass weather cloths.

Q. Besides the weather cloths, what other sewing projects have you made for your boat?

Oh gosh, there are so many projects! I got super lucky with a secondhand Ultrafeed LS-1 that another cruiser was selling in Mexico, and I put that baby through the paces. On the LS-1, I made two biminis (the first from hand-me-down Sunbrella®, the second from new!), replaced the windows in our old dodger, made jerry can covers, replaced the v-berth and quarter berth cushions, updated the main settee cushions, cockpit cushions, etc. – all the little stuff! We never had any real money to work with, so I was always collecting other people’s handoffs and repurposing them. For example, someone’s discarded boat cover became our new bimini, the leftover foam from someone’s v-berth project became our cockpit cushions, and an old mainsail cover made great new jerry can covers!

The first really big project I tackled was dinghy chaps. I probably watched the Sailrite video 15 times, pausing and rewinding to understand each step as I attempted patterning for the very first time! This was also one of the first projects I ever attempted with all-new materials – Sunbrella and double-sided basting tape included – and it felt absolutely incredible to realize that I could actually make something really nice!

dinghy chaps
Leah’s first big sewing project was making dinghy chaps.

The dinghy chaps gave me the confidence to tackle a project my husband had been nagging me to try for years – a new dodger. We modified our existing frame to be a couple inches lower, so the top could be wide enough for two 100-watt solar panels, and then we set about building a brand-new Stamoid™ and Makrolon dodger. Since we were saving the labor costs on the dodger, we went all out on the materials. Stamoid, a vinyl-coated polyester fabric, is such a nice product to work with. I bought a leather hide to add reinforcement along the bottom edges and on the handrails, and Makrolon windows are the absolute clearest and most rigid windows you’ll find in a soft dodger. I will admit that sewing through Makrolon sounds a bit like gunfire – I don’t think the LS-1 appreciated it – but it was a workhorse right to the end!

After the dodger, we decided it was worth it to invest in a brand-new Ultrafeed machine. I wanted to replace the luff tape on an old genoa so that it could work with our new furler. So for the first time in 7 years of Ultrafeed ownership, I needed a zigzag machine. I bought a new Ultrafeed LSZ-1 and it was like Christmas in September – what an incredible machine!

dodger project
Leah proudly completed this dodger project with her secondhand Ultrafeed LS-1. Shortly after this project, she upgraded to a new LSZ-1.

Since then, most of my sewing has been focused on baby-containment devices! I started with a Phifertex® and Stamoid lee cloth that went across the whole v-berth, and then quickly moved on to a full baby-berth zip-in enclosure when we realized Zephyr was not going to be slowed down by a mere suggestion of a wall! The zip-in enclosure has been a lifesaver, giving us a completely safe space to tuck him away when it’s rough or he’s asleep and ensuring we don’t have to worry about an accidental fall or escape while underway. Peace of mind is our new priority!

Q. What made you decide on an Ultrafeed? How do you enjoy sewing with it?

The Ultrafeed Sewing Machines are amazing. My experience sewing on an older LS-1 really sold me on the quality of these machines, and the support is unparalleled. I remember having an issue with the thread balling up, and when I contacted support from Mexico, they emailed me step-by-step troubleshooting directions and answered all of my questions, despite the machine being secondhand and probably 10+ years old!

The new LSZ-1 is even more impressive – my impression is that you can really sew anything on this, including lighter-duty “household” projects. Additionally, I tell anyone who will listen to fork over the extra money for a Sailrite Swing-Away Binder. After going through 400 feet of binding on the dodger and bimini projects, I am 100% a binding attachment convert!

People often raise their eyebrows when they realize I own a full-size Ultrafeed on our 33-foot sailboat. “Where do you keep it!?” is a common question. I always tell them that the Ultrafeed is like another crew member, and it fits in exactly one spot on the boat (under the v-berth) – so that’s its home! It’s not even just our projects – the dockside sail repairs and last-minute patches we’ve been able to help other cruisers with help me feel like we’re able to repay some of the cruising kindness and favors we’ve been shown! There is no way I would ever sail without a Sailrite.

Q. What do you love about sewing? When did you learn to sew and from whom?

I love that you can take something someone else might consider broken or useless and repurpose it into something completely new. I love that sewing enables you to feel self-sufficient and to make dramatic changes to the way the boat looks and feels. Initially, I learned to sew from my mom and grandma, so I think I also love the feeling of family and a shared passion that it instills. I hope my son will grow up to love sewing as much as I do!

sunset on brio
With views like this, it’s no wonder Leah and Jon plan on continuing their life on the water.

It sounds like this happy little family is loving life on the open sea. Baby Zephyr seems born to thrive in this nomadic lifestyle, and Leah and Jon have no immediate plans to stop cruising. As the saying goes, when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.

Finally, are you wondering how they came up with the name “Brio”? Leah was looking for a short word that expressed the couple’s passion and excitement for sailing and the cruising lifestyle. Brio means “enthusiastic vigor and vivacity.” Looks like they found the perfect word to sum up their life philosophy.

If you’d like to tag along on their aquatic adventures, you can follow their blog at www.withbrio.com.

A Stitch in Time: Sewing for the USS Slater

Out with the old and in with the new is a phrase we’ve all heard. In fact, the DIY spirit is often centered around transforming something old into something new. But what happens when that old thing isn’t just a secondhand knickknack, but rather a part of American history? Fred Antico, a volunteer aboard the USS Slater, had to consider this carefully. Along with his trusty sewing companion, the Sailrite® Ultrafeed®, Fred has been revamping numerous upholstery projects for this national treasure with great results.

Looking Back

As one of 563 similar ships built between 1943 and 1945, the USS Slater DE766 is a CANNON class destroyer escort that served in the United States Navy during World War II. The ship was named after Frank O. Slater, an Alabama-born sailor who lost his life during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. Destroyer escorts, like the USS Slater, were built to remedy a serious shortage in anti-submarine vessels in the Atlantic Ocean during the war. These ships combined heavy anti-submarine and anti-aircraft weapons alongside cutting edge technology to help them secure a victory for the Allied forces in the Atlantic.

The USS Slater had an illustrious history during World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific, where it escorted 176 merchant ships across the Atlantic without any losses. Following the end of the war, Slater was deactivated and transferred to the Hellenic Navy in Greece and renamed AETOS, where it remained until 1951. Forty years later, under the care of the Destroyer Historical Foundation, the ship was transferred back to the United States.

USS SLATER Pre Restoration 1993
Upon its return to the United States, the USS Slater was found to be in rough shape.

After arriving in New York City in 1993, Slater has since undergone tremendous restorations and is one of less than a dozen surviving destroyer escorts. Entire crews worked tirelessly to restore her back to her prime 1945 condition. The painstaking process included removing Greek modifications, chipping and repainting the hull, decks and bulkhead, and reinstalling tons of authentic WWII naval equipment. Two decades of renovations later, the USS Slater is now a floating memorial to both destroyer escorts of the time and those who served aboard them.

Today, civilians have the unique opportunity to visit and tour the USS Slater in Albany, the capital of New York. It seems fitting, as more destroyer escorts were named for New York naval heroes than any other state, numbering 44 in total. The Destroyer Escort Historical Museum is open to guests of all ages, offering an up-close and personal look at the USS Slater as well as other ships. The USS Slater is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places; in fact, it’s the only ship of its type to have maintained its original WWII configuration.

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The freshly renovated USS Slater, ready for tours.

Preserving a Legacy

It was a during his time as a professor teaching television and radio production that Fred Antico became connected with the USS Slater. When the ship was first brought to Albany, it was undergoing extensive refurbishing projects — a perfect subject for students practicing video production. Fred asked those in charge of Slater if his students could come aboard and document the ship’s rehabilitation for a more hands-on teaching experience. The ship’s superintendent, Tim Rizzuto, welcomed Fred and his budding videographers and photographers. As a great supporter of Fred’s educational efforts, Tim even set up interviews with volunteers working on the ship and those who had previously served on ships like the USS Slater.

Fred explained that he and Tim are currently editing a video of the ship’s recent hull restoration with hopes to turn the multitude of photos and video footage into a documentary about the project. “When Tim and I were discussing the video project, I noticed the condition of some of the upholstered seats and mentioned that I would be willing to volunteer my upholstery skills. That lead to what I expect will be many upholstery projects. Our first was to create new cushions for the sofa and an armchair in the officer’s wardroom.”

Something Old, Something New

Fred decided to take up upholstery as a hobby following his retirement. He was no stranger to the DIY world, as his father and two uncles ran an upholstery shop in Albany, New York between the 1950s and 1970s — a place where Fred spent a lot of time as a child. But how did the Ultrafeed become part of the mix? Most of Fred’s sewing experience came from books, articles and the internet. During one of those sewing-related internet searches, he managed to stumble upon the Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Sewing Machine.

Fred Antico Sailrite LZ-1 1
Fred and his trusty Ultrafeed LSZ-1.

“This being my first serious go at upholstery, I was cautious about investing in an expensive machine. I found the Ultrafeed to be affordable and certainly capable of what I needed. But just as important were the support materials — the guides and supporting videos.”

For the USS Slater projects, the goal was to make the updated pieces look as close to the original as possible to match the rest of the historically-accurate renovations. Fred explained that in order to accomplish this, he researched manufacturer pictures of what the item originally looked like in order to perfectly replicate them. There aren’t any deadlines, so Fred takes great care to experiment until the desired result is achieved. He then creates templates to expedite the reupholstery process for future items with the same design.

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Ultrafeed in tow, Fred successfully revamped a 1940s era Art Deco sofa and multiple chairs aboard the ship, ensuring they look as close to the original as possible. For the couch, the Naugahyde Universal fabric, zippers, upholstery foam, Dacron batting and spray adhesive used to complete the project were all acquired from Sailrite. Fred was thankful to have gleaned techniques from the Sailrite videos to baste parts before sewing by using staples and hiding the zipper under the underlining fabric on the back panel of the cushion.

USS Slater
The 1940s era sofa (top) revamped with Naugahyde vinyl (bottom).

The Ultrafeed machine has been a huge help in this endeavor as well, with Fred explaining, “The Ultrafeed is an excellent machine to use right out of the box, which is how I used mine for about a year. Later, I upgraded by adding the Industrial Sewing Table and Workhorse™ Servo Motor. When producing multiple items like the seat cushions, I needed to make them as uniform as possible…I’ve seen highly experienced upholsterers sew seams at high speeds without a problem, but for a novice like me, being able to sew slowly enables me to stay on the stitch line whether it’s on a straight line or going around a corner. The Workhorse Servo Motor does that.”

Fred also explained that the most rewarding aspect of the work he does for the USS Slater is the company between Tim Rizzuto and the many volunteers that work on the ship and for the Naval Historical Museum. “They are dedicated to educating future generations about WWII vessels and the people who worked aboard them. And I’m happy to be able to make a small contribution towards that effort.”

Modern Day Slater

Today, the USS Slater serves as a constant reminder of those who served in WWII, and its extensive renovations have helped maintain its status as a historical landmark to educate young and old alike. Walking aboard the ship is like taking a step back in time, and Fred’s authentic upholstery projects have helped guarantee this. And here at Sailrite, we’re proud to have assisted in this noble venture. If you’d like to learn more about the USS Slater or plan your own visit, follow this link: https://www.ussslater.org/.

USS SLATER Group Tour 4 Port
Great dedication and teamwork allow the USS Slater to be an education beacon for guests.

Seeking the Blue: Tales of a Lifelong Sailor

Sailing, sand and sun have been a part of Sailrite® customer Marina Batham’s life from the very beginning. Born on Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, Marina grew up “in the life” — the sailing life, that is. Learn how Marina’s two favorite hobbies, sailing and sewing, are the perfect ingredients for a self-sufficient and rewarding life.

Marina learned to sail at a young age by everyone around her. “My parents and both sets of grandparents all had sailboats in the British Virgin Islands,” she recounted. “One of my earliest memories is when I was 3 years old, sailing down to the island of Martinique on my Grandfather Jack’s Brixham trawler named ‘Maverick.’”

Now living in Maui, Hawaii, she’s continued her sailing lifestyle as an adult. The sea has been her playground all her life, and she’s taken advantage of its endless possibilities. Marina has earned her United States Coast Guard captain’s license, and when asked what she loved most about sailing, she couldn’t pick just one thing. “I love the adventure, the self-sufficiency, the creativity, the problem solving and the peacefulness that comes with sailing.”

biminis on boat
Marina’s sailboat with the new bimini and dodger installed.

A weekend sailor, she and her partner, Haydn, take their Beneteau 461 dubbed “Seeking The Blue” out every Sunday where they sail off the coast of Lahaina. Marina has owned a few sailboats over the years, but this is her largest boat to date. She purchased the Beneteau in May of 2016 and couldn’t wait to not only take her new boat out on the water but to start sewing projects to spruce it up.

Marina has been sewing almost as long as she’s been sailing. “My mother taught me to sew clothes when I was 13. I love really getting into a project. It seems to get all the endorphins going.” She doesn’t limit her sewing to only marine projects. She’s reupholstered chairs for her home, sewn lots of curtains — she’s even made a hula dress!

When Haydn gifted her with an Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 Sewing Machine last year, it took her sewing hobby to the next level. As Marina put it, “There’s been no turning back!” Using her new Ultrafeed, she tackled a variety of sewing projects for the Beneteau. First up were new cockpit cushions with piping she made herself. Other projects included a mast ladder made entirely out of webbing and a bosun’s chair.

cockpit cushion
(Top Left) Marina patterned the cockpit cushions using art paper. (Top Right) Sewing piping for the cushions with her Ultrafeed LSZ-1. (Bottom) Haydn enjoying the new cushions.

“The bosun’s chair I made up myself just from looking at pictures online,” Marina said. “I used ripstop nylon, Dacron® sailcloth, seatbelt webbing and welded D-rings. I used a piece of wood in the seat, which I padded with foam before covering it in Dacron.” Not slowing down, she remade an aging companionway dodger. She was able to salvage the eisenglass from the original piece and added new Sunbrella® marine fabric.

Next, she replaced the main cockpit bimini. Marina sewed the new bimini from scratch using her Ultrafeed and materials from Sailrite. The original bimini was over 10 years old and the fabric was yellowed and ripped in places, but she was able to use it as a template to pattern the new one. After the new bimini, she completed a cockpit awning. “It’s 12 feet wide by 8 feet long with many zips, backstay funnels and flaps. My precise measurements created a super professional finish! I even used fabric weld tape (Seamstick) to join the large widths of fabric together.”

Marina also sewed new awnings, throw pillows and more cushions. She used Sailrite’s inventory of free how-to videos to get her through the projects she needed help with. In fact, she learned how to sew projects for her sailboat by watching Sailrite videos.

new bimini
A better look at the bimini Marina sewed with her Ultrafeed LSZ-1.

Her biggest and toughest project was retrofitting a standard storm sail to go over the roller furling sail. She successfully completed the project, but the retrofit took a toll on her machine and threw off the timing. Luckily, the Ultrafeed tuning and sewing machine maintenance videos were there to help. With the videos as a great resource, Marina was able to troubleshoot and solve the issue herself — the mark of a truly self-reliant sailor. Her machine is now back up and running and ready for more projects.

Now that the majority of her sewing projects for her Beneteau are done, Marina is enjoying taking her boat out on the weekends and basking in the beauty of the open water, as well as appreciating the effects of all the hard work she put into updating her boat.

Always looking for the next adventure, Marina recently purchased a second boat — an Allied Mistress. She’s looking forward to a whole new set of sewing projects to complete for her new boat. Among the list of projects includes cockpit cushions, side curtains, salon cushion covers and more. “I might even tackle the forward and aft bunks!”

Marina is breaking in her new sailboat with a big trip planned for summer 2019. “I’m planning to move aboard on July 1 and will be traveling the Gulf of Mexico and up the East Coast, then back down to the Bahamas after hurricane season.”

With new sailing adventures on the horizon and smooth seas ahead, the future looks bright for this intrepid sailor.

Marina on the boat
Marina enjoying the view of Waimea Bay, Oahu, during a sailing trip in summer 2018.

Sewing Our Way Around the World: Voyage of the S/V YOLO

You only live once. That was the motto and motivation for Jason and Karen Trautz when they embarked on a 10-year circumnavigation sailing adventure. Through it all they learned that the key to the liveaboard lifestyle is endurance, patience, kindness and having the right person by your side.

The Beginning of a Dream

“We never intended to circumnavigate; we just kept going,” Karen recounted. “I was happy to be in the Caribbean, and then we kept going west. Once we went through the canal we just kept going downwind. Pretty soon, you’re in another ocean, so you just keep going.”

Jason and Karen began their journey 12 years ago when they purchased a 42-foot PDQ Antares and christened her the S/V YOLO. “We launched from Charleston, North Carolina. That’s where we bought the boat,” said Jason. “‘YOLO’ — You Only Live Once. Go for it. People around us started dying, and we thought, ‘we gotta get out of here and enjoy life.’ Some of our fellow employees were passing away at young ages. You kind of get that vision of mortality.”

“People wait too long to do the things they want to do,” said Karen. “And then they can’t do them. So we decided we needed to get out there while we were still capable of doing the sailing routine. The cruising lifestyle was fabulous. He wanted to sail around the world and see all these old cultural places. I just wanted to live a Jimmy Buffet song.”

K J in freshwater spring Tonga
Karen and Jason enjoying a freshwater spring in Tonga.

And so began a decade of life on the open sea. After selling their house, cars, condo and all the possessions they didn’t want to take on the boat, they set sail in 2007 and finished in late 2017. In that time they visited 88 countries, and, believe it or not, they insist it wasn’t enough time! “We went through three sets of passports with the maximum number of pages you can have,” Karen reminisced. “It’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot we missed. We saw so little of it.”

Sewing at Sea: The Good, the Bad & the Salty

Before Jason and Karen began their sailing adventure, they knew they would need a sewing machine strong and dependable enough to handle life at sea. They first learned about the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 at the annual Annapolis Sailboat Show. “Some of our friends were talking about the machine,” Jason recounted, “and I bought our machine over the phone from Matt Grant [Sailrite Owner and Vice President]. We knew sails needed a zigzag stitch, and we knew the LSZ-1 was what we wanted. Before we began our trip, I talked to Eric [Grant] because we wouldn’t have access to any spare parts along the way. So he loaded me up with all the spare parts we’d likely need during our voyage. And it was obviously true. We ended up using all the parts Eric recommended. They obviously know their equipment.”

Once they had their Ultrafeed and all the accessories they’d need for their trip, all that was left to do was to learn how to sew. Both Jason’s and Karen’s mothers sewed, but neither one of them had ever practiced the skill. After getting the runaround from local places unwilling to teach him, Jason again turned to Sailrite. “Back then Sailrite had DVDs and books on sewing. And that’s how I learned. It was a lot of trial and error and ripping out stitches.”

After Jason finally learned to sew and practiced on his new Ultrafeed, they were one step closer to setting sail. They soon learned that sewing at sea is very different from sewing in your home. There are environmental factors you don’t have to consider on land. Not only that, but they quickly learned that procrastination is the enemy when it comes to sail repair.

galapagos wildlife
Some of the local wildlife the couple encountered in the Galapagos Islands.

“All that salt air is like living in a battery,” Jason remarked. “It’s a harsh environment living on the ocean. You either spend a huge amount of time and money on backup sails and canvases or you prepare to take care of them yourself. And proactively! You have to take care of issues when they’re small before a little thing becomes a big ordeal. Before your sail rips out in a gale. You just made a three-day project from what could have been four hours if you’d fixed it right away.”

The couple quickly learned that the sailing part was, surprisingly, not the hard part. Handling 80 lb. sails in such a small space is no small feat. Jason remarked that living on a boat is a giant logistics puzzle, and it helped having a portable machine like the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 that could fit in a small space yet still had power enough to breeze through sailcloth.

Sailing the Globe

Jason had learned to sail as a child in small sailboats and Hobie Cats, but Karen had never really sailed before the trip. A few years before they started their voyage, they took sailing classes to prepare themselves for their upcoming liveaboard lifestyle. “You don’t ever want to have your husband teach you to sail,” Karen warned, while Jason nodded along. “We went through the entire ASA [American Sailing Association] Sailing Courses in Florida. You have to learn to identify boats by their lights, learn how to use a sextant, learn offshore passage making, radios, communication … how to use single sideband radio, become ham radio operators … Email over the radio was our only form of communication during most of the trip.”

From the Caribbean to French Polynesia and Australia to Fiji, Jason and Karen sailed by the wind. They were constantly on the move, yet they were also never in a hurry to get anywhere. They simply enjoyed sailing from place to place and staying as long as they wanted. Weather dictated where they could go and how long they could stay in one place before moving on. “Who’s going to hang out in the Caribbean during hurricane season? We stuck to safety and comfort. Speed was our last concern,” Jason said.

niue collage
Exploring the small island of Niue in the South Pacific.

The Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia were one of Karen’s favorite places they visited. The Tuamotus form the largest chain of atolls in the world, and Karen said it was like living in a calendar picture. Not only was it a beautiful place to spend a few weeks, but the people there were generous and welcoming.

“The people were so friendly,” Karen reminisced. “We helped a guy hold a roof up while he was leveling and repairing it. The chainsaw he was using had no oil for it. The instructions were in English and they didn’t know how to use the chainsaw correctly. A few days earlier, we had found an old oil can floating in the waters of the Marquesas. So we went back to our boat and retrieved it. When we got back he wasn’t at his house anymore, so we left the oil can nearby hoping he would find it. We went walking around, exploring the area, and when we came back this little boy came running up to us motioning for us to wait. He went inside and came running back out with his fists full. In one fist was a matchbook stuffed full of pearls of all different shapes, sizes and colors. In his other fist was a handful of pearls as well. That was their way of saying thank you for the oil can.”

snorkeling collage
Some of Jason and Karen’s favorite snorkeling pictures, including a sunken ship.

The generosity and kindness of the locals was something that Jason and Karen found truly remarkable “In another island we invited the kids to swim out and jump off the front of our boat for fun. They brought me this handmade mother-of-pearl fan that had been made with the fine weaving of the Cook Islands. They also left a handful of pearls as a thank you for letting the kids play on the boat.” Karen added, “We’ve been invited to weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations, even into people’s homes to stay. If we happened to be there, they invited us in.”

“We try to immerse ourselves in the local culture of wherever we’re visiting,” Jason explained. “The goal is to understand their culture and how they do things. Sometimes we’d go into their schools and help with their English classes. The books they’re using are 30 years old. They can’t practice English because they only have a book. In many places the equipment that’s been donated has become useless. It worked for a month in the beginning but no one there understands the instructions because they’re in English. So it’s easy for me to help with their construction projects.”

Jason with kids Gambia
Jason poses with some local children in Gambia, Africa.

Needing a Tune-Up

After 10 years at sea and thousands of miles traveled, their beloved Ultrafeed was in need of a tune-up. They’d reached a point of frustration where they could no longer use the machine. Luckily, Jason and Karen happened to be near our Sailrite facility in northeast Indiana and asked to stop in and have their machine looked at. Their Ultrafeed LSZ-1 is over 12 years old, and even though their circumnavigation has ended and they’ve sold the S/V YOLO, they still plan on using the machine to sew projects for their home and other smaller boats they own.

After a couple hours of maintenance, their machine was good as new and ready to tackle another sewing project. It turns out it wasn’t just the tension that was off, which is what they suspected, there was a burr on the hook that was shredding thread every time they tried to sew something. “Matt Borden [Chief Technical Advisor] is a miracle worker,” said Jason. “He got our machine fixed and running like new again. It sounds better; it’s moving better. It takes the frustration out of the equation to have a skilled technician fix it and get it running properly.”

Jason and Karen at Sailrite
Matt Borden, Chief Technical Advisor, repairs Jason and Karen’s 12-year-old Ultrafeed LSZ-1.

Jason had nothing but positive things to say about Sailrite’s level of expertise and customer support. “Matt Grant, his brother, Eric, everybody I’ve ever talked to on the phone or via email or met at shows — you guys are doing it right. In most parts of the world, follow-up support and service has gone drastically downhill. You guys can diagnose something over the phone or by email. You know your stuff and are willing to help. It’s such a relief to have someone on the other end who’s actually engaged and glad to work with you and stick with you until your issue gets resolved so we can use our machine again.”

Advice From a Liveaboard

Ten years of sailing around the world with only your spouse for company — not to mention that the cabin on a sailboat is no bigger than a bedroom — could be enough to end some marriages. Luckily, Jason and Karen found a way to stay sane and grounded during the voyage. They had books, music, playing cards and DVDs to keep them entertained, but the biggest obstacle was how to handle arguments.

“The biggest challenge that anybody’s going to face is compatibility,” Jason explained. “Where are you going to get away when you need to be alone? The biggest struggle is space. A boat cabin is not that big. Probably way over 50 percent of people who buy a boat sell it within 18 months because they can’t coexist in harmony.”

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“We developed the ‘Five Minute Rule,’” Karen added. “If you’re upset with somebody — your partner — you get five minutes to vent, rant, rave, do whatever you need to do to get it out. But after five minutes you need to let it go because I need you back in my corner helping man the ship, trim the sails, do whatever. I can’t have you holding a grudge when a squall is coming through. You have to get over it and let it go. And I think that’s a good skill to have in any marriage or partnership, but it was extremely important on a boat.”

“It is a nice lifestyle,” she said. “If you don’t like where you are just pick up and move. You get to visit one nice place after another. But it is a lot of work. We kept our boat well maintained and in great working order so that when we dropped anchor at a new location we could go into town and explore the area instead of doing hours of maintenance work.”

“The thing is,” added Jason, “there aren’t a lot of people that make it very far. They just can’t live with each other that long, 24/7. And it’s a lot of work — every day. It’s the same chores day in and day out, and the list never gets smaller.”

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The S/V YOLO at anchor during a picturesque sunset.

It turns out sailing the globe isn’t exactly like living a Jimmy Buffet song after all, but it sounds like they don’t regret a single second of it.

Sailing With Pets: How to Cat-Proof Your Boat

After marrying in 2008, Luisa Mixon and her husband, Seth, set their eyes to the sea. Like many Sailrite® customers, their dream was to buy a sailboat, learn to sail, and eventually gain enough experience to live completely on board. When they envision their retirement years, they see themselves sailing wherever their hearts, and the wind, take them. Their journey towards making this dream a reality has been one of excitement, hard work and ingenuity. They grow closer to reaching it every day.

Before becoming sailors, Luisa and Seth would often browse used sailboat websites and peruse sailboat shows, window shopping and gathering ideas for the type of boat they would purchase when the time was right. Most of the searching was just for fun, as actually owning a boat had always seemed far on the horizon. Then one day at the end of May 2018, something amazing happened that would catapult them into a new life sailing and sewing: They found their dream boat for sale in Long Beach, California.

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Seth and Luisa sailing their newest purchase.

“The boat — a 1989 Ericson 38-200 named Astral — was beautiful and in excellent condition, so we ended up buying it. Less than a month later we were proud owners of a sailboat even though we didn’t know how to sail! Crazy, right?”

The couple then chose a marina in San Pedro, California, so the boat would be closer to their home, and learned the ropes from a few neighboring sailors. By August they had completed their first solo sailing trip and had fallen in love with life on the water. To complete the crew, the next step was to make the boat safe for Luisa’s two rescue cats, Charlie and Astro. You see, these aren’t your average felines. Charlie, a 13-year-old tabby, needs special medicine every 12 hours and Astro, a 10-year-old Bombay, requires special food for medical reasons. Considering that both animals warranted extra attention and could not be left alone for extended periods of time, it just made more sense to bring them aboard. But in order to do that, the living area of the boat had to be completely “cat proof” first.

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The Ericson (named Astral), Charlie (top right) and Astro – ready to set sail!

In preparation for this project, Luisa had already been following the videos of other sailors who had completed tons of DIYs for their boat. One of these was Project Atticus, a couple who sail abroad for months at a time and sew their own projects using the Sailrite Ultrafeed® LSZ-1. After looking at the Sailrite website and YouTube channel, Luisa finally felt she had the confidence to start a project of her own: a new bimini and screened-in cat enclosure. Naturally, the next step was to choose a dependable sewing machine and gather supplies.

“I had never touched a sewing machine in my life, so I was eager and nervous to start. We wanted the best for our boat, a machine with excellent quality that would last a long time, so I ordered the Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1 PREMIUM and every single material and tool that was suggested in the videos. It was so exciting!”

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Luisa and her Ultrafeed LSZ-1 were ready to tackle any project.

Now fully prepared, the real work could begin. With their marina being so close to Catalina Island (around 20 nautical miles), Luisa and Seth decided to challenge themselves and plan a Thanksgiving sailing expedition. This meant that the new bimini and enclosure would have to be done quickly. Being from Colombia, Luisa’s DIY adventure came with a new set of hurdles, all of which she was able to overcome.

“My first language is not English, and I had never sewn before, so the hardest part was my pace completing the projects. I had to go slow watching the videos, understanding the English. And because I wanted my project to be perfect, or at least close to perfect, I had to go back and forth, checking to make sure I was doing things right.”

Luisa took a week off work and toiled for 16 hours each day to sew her own bimini and screened-in enclosure with help from Sailrite. She soon developed a love for the work and was extremely satisfied when the finished product fit perfectly. By the end of it all, she had created a lasting addition to Astral that would come in handy on future expeditions with her four-legged first mates.

“My cats love to be on the boat … once it’s at anchor and they’re placed in the enclosure, they’re very happy. They love to see the seagulls, seals and fish. It’s amazing for them and I’m happy if they are safe and happy!”

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Luisa and Seth initially eased into their sailing journey, hoping to gradually acclimate their furry companions to life aboard. They started staying overnight at the marina on weekends and then practiced anchoring twice at White’s Island, staying for four nights each time. Luisa’s confidence with the Ultrafeed has allowed her to create several other useful projects for the boat. Along with the bimini and cat enclosure, she’s created screens for the windows below deck, modified her V-berth cushions and sewn a generator cover. She has her sights set on sewing new sheet bags and sail covers, with many more DIY sewing endeavors on the to-do list.

The plan for this sea-faring couple is to eventually move aboard Astral permanently. They’ve been placed on a waiting list, as it can take years to get the liveaboard slip, but the faster this happens, the faster they can retire and start exploring the open ocean. As for now, the pair are simply enjoying the journey that brings them closer to their dream.

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“In the meantime, we are sailing every Saturday and doing boat projects on Sunday. We work regular jobs Monday through Friday but we are practicing and learning more about sailing every day … reading books, watching videos, and continuing to sail to Catalina and White’s Island. We want to enjoy our boat to the fullest before we cast off!”

Building a Custom Wooden Boat

Somehow in the spring of 2007, Jeff Cobb ended up on Glen-L Marine’s email marketing list. Glen-L Marine sells wooden boat plans. “Week after week as the email appeared in my inbox, I’d have feelings of eagerness and disgust at the same time,” Jeff recalled. “Eager to see all the pictures of new wooden boats people around the world were building from Glen-L plans, and disgusted knowing that if I opened this email, I could kiss my productive workday goodbye because for the next two hours I’d be consumed by daydreams of the wooden boat I might build.” Jeff was particularly enamored with building a small sporty two-seat runabout model called the Glen-L Squirt.

While woodworking had never been his main hobby, Jeff had had the good fortune of growing up across the street from a cabinet builder and general jack-of-all-trades, Mr. Deedee, who built cabinets in his backyard shop. Mr. Deedee and Ms. Joy’s house is where all the kids hung out, playing basketball, ping pong and backyard football. While Jeff never did much work with Mr. Deedee, just from being around the shop as a kid he had gained a lot of woodworking knowledge. Enough so that he was confident he could build a good wooden boat, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to make the commitment. But by the end of the summer he finally caved, ordered the Squirt plans, and began building.

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“I just had to build this boat. I bought the plans, and built my first boat — a Glen-L Squirt.”

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

After completing the Glen-L Squirt in May 2009, Jeff and his wife, Melanie, began to assimilate into the wooden boat community in southern Louisiana and beyond. “We enjoyed the Squirt, but its use is very limited being that the boat is only 11 feet long. We were enjoying the people in the wooden boat community and the boating experiences,” Jeff stated, “but we wanted a bigger boat so that we could bring friends along. We also needed to go faster and handle rough chop in order to run with the big dogs.”

So, in 2012, Jeff started designing and building his second boat, the Pretty Girl Too. It’s a 22-foot runabout that comfortably seats six adults. Jeff had very specific features and design qualities in mind for this second boat. Essentially, he wanted the boat to be like a modern luxury runabout in every way but built out of wood with the general appearance of a classic wooden boat. He built the hull from a set of Clarkcraft Mariner plans that he modified substantially. He also incorporated design aspects and borrowed inspiration from several different boats, including the Riva Aquariva, Pegiva Convertible, and numerous Chris Craft models and Glen-L builds.

Building a Masterpiece

“It took me five years of nights and weekends to build the Pretty Girl Too,” Jeff recalled. “I’d say at least a year or so of that time was spent not so much in building the boat, but in thinking through the design. I don’t draw well nor do I know how to use CAD software, so the method of design consisted of building lots of mock-ups, which is quite time-consuming.”

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Clockwise from top left: Various stages of constructing the hull.

After building and modifying the hull frame to the shape Jeff was looking for, he double planked the boat with a 1/4-inch inner plywood layer and 1/4-inch outer Sapele veneer layer. Next came lots and lots of sanding and fairing. Fairing is the process of creating a pleasant fair curve as you look down the side of the boat. Too little sanding and fairing result in a profile that resembles a wrecked car that was poorly repaired at a subpar body shop.

He painted the boat bottom green and applied clear gloss above the waterline using numerous coats of SystemThree marine polyurethane for both. The finish was sanded to 5000 grit and polished to a high glossy shine. Finally, the hull was complete. Several friends and neighbors pitched in to help gently roll the boat onto some old mattresses and then lift it onto its trailer. A very happy celebration with beer and pizza followed.

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Flipping the boat so it could be loaded onto a trailer to work on the interior.

Upholstering the Rear Seating Area

Designing the finished interior presented several challenges, but none bigger than the U-shaped seating area. Several mock-ups were built before finally settling on the final design. In the end, all that hard work and planning were worth it; the rear seating area emerged as a part of the boat that Jeff was most pleased with.

Once Jeff completed the woodwork, he thought his portion of the work was finished. He was excited to see the finished project and ready to write a check to an upholsterer and get it done. But his excitement was soon quelled when he discovered that very few upholstery shops do marine upholstery, and none of them had an appetite for all the custom work needed for his boat.

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The rear U-shaped seating area before upholstery.

He first tried hiring an upholsterer in December 2016. Yet, by June of 2017, the boat was still not upholstered. He’d been strung along for months by a couple different shops telling him they’d get to it in two to three weeks, but never actually committing to the job. Frustrated by the runaround, he decided he would do the upholstery himself. He’d watched numerous Sailrite® how-to videos and borrowed an old Thompson Mini Walker — the precursor to the Sailrite Ultrafeed® — from his brother, Carl.

While Jeff was determined to get started on the upholstery work, there was a lot of apprehension. This was a major project for someone who’d never really sewn anything, and the upholstery is so prominent in an open-air runabout that there’s no place to hide mistakes. It really needed to be done right and professionally, and Jeff had grave concerns whether he was capable of sewing the upholstery to his high standards.

Then suddenly, a hero appeared! Jill, a friend of Jeff and Melanie’s, offered to do the sewing if he did all the foam fitting. This was a fantastic break! Not only did Jill have upholstery sewing experience, but she also had an Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Sewing Machine. Much to her husband, David’s, dismay, she even put their sailboat dodger project on hold while she worked on Jeff’s upholstery. She professionally patterned the curved and irregular surfaces with Dura-Skrim® Patterning Material so everything fit tightly and sewed with Profilen® Lifetime Thread. The results were spectacular: “All too often I’m asked by people looking at the boat, ‘Who did your upholstery?’ They are always shocked to learn that it was done by a couple of enthusiastic amateurs. Jill really came to the rescue and did a fantastic job.”

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The completed upholstery work on the Pretty Girl Too.

A Snapless Cockpit Cover

With the upholstery completed, Jeff’s attention turned to another issue. He knew that in showing and using the boat it would spend many nights tied up to dock, and so he needed a cockpit cover to keep the interior clean, dry and protected during these overnight stays. While he appreciated Jill’s help on the upholstery, he was determined to do this project all on his own. This would be the project where he’d put all the hours spent watching Sailrite videos and his brother’s old Thompson Mini Walker to use. He ordered Top Notch® 9 fabric, grommets, Boat Blanket material and patterning fabric — all from Sailrite — and was ready to get to work.

However, there was one concern in making a cockpit cover that kept gnawing at Jeff. After hours and hours spent sanding and polishing the decking to a high-gloss mirror shine, he couldn’t bear the thought of marring his beautiful woodwork with snaps for attaching the cover to the boat. He came up with a clever alternative. Instead of using the traditional snaps to attach the cover, he tethered it to each of the four docking cleats. Then he added pockets to the cover that hold collapsible fiberglass tent poles to keep the cover taut. Jeff admitted, “It’s certainly a little different looking, but it’s a breeze to put on and works wonderfully, even in fairly high winds.”

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The cockpit cover Jeff designed that cleverly uses tent poles so he didn’t have to add snap fasteners to his woodwork.

After completing the cockpit cover, Jeff put his newfound sewing skill into action by making fender covers with help from Sailrite’s project video. He also sewed some tote bags and did some canvas mending for a local sailing club. While finding satisfaction in the items he was producing, the actual act of sewing on the old Thompson was more often than not tedious and frustrating. The machine lacked the power to go through multiple layers of fabric and the stitch length adjustment would not hold in place. The final straw came when the tensioner broke. You can no longer find replacement parts for the machine, so Jeff rigged a homemade tensioner, but it didn’t work so well.

He then found a local sewing machine repair mechanic who installed a tensioner from a different model machine. “It worked OK, but not great,” Jeff explained. “I’d entertained the thought of getting a Sailrite machine early in the process while watching the videos but questioned whether it would be worthwhile just for doing the few projects I was working on. But once I realized how much I enjoyed sewing and began to envision all of the neat custom items I’d be able to make, I vowed that the next time Sailrite offered a 10 percent discount on the machine I was buying one — and I did.”

What made Jeff decide on an Ultrafeed? Following many other boatbuilders on the Glen-L forum who did their own upholstery, he noticed that most used the Sailrite machines and all of them spoke highly of their machines. Jill also loved her Ultrafeed and recommended it. “I’ve yet to read anything negative about Sailrite or their machines; it’s all glowing reviews. So, for me, buying the Sailrite machine was a no-brainer.”

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Jeff worked nights and weekends for five years building the Pretty Girl Too.

Smooth Sewing Ahead

Although Jeff hasn’t owned his Ultrafeed for very long, he’s enthusiastic about all the projects he’ll make with it. Having a heavy-duty sewing machine opens up a realm of new project possibilities. Jeff admits that he has more ideas than he’ll ever have time to sew, but he’s excited about the ones he will get to. He has plans to re-cover his outdoor patio cushions in LSU purple and gold for their gameday watch parties and has a desire to build curved wood mahogany captain’s chairs with custom upholstery for the Pretty Girl Too.

Another thing Jeff is looking forward to is loaning his Ultrafeed out to his brother. “Carl doesn’t sew too often, but the next time he does, I know he’ll enjoy the power and smoothness of the Utlrafeed over his old Thompson. When taking on any complex DIY project such as a boat, it’s always nice to have an “ace in the hole.” Carl’s my ace. He’s an extremely experienced craftsman in many areas and always available to provide advice and a helping hand. He’s also one of those guys who has every tool imaginable and has generously let me borrow them. It’s not often I have the opportunity to lend him any tool because he has them all, and so I’m excited about him benefitting from my Ultrafeed in the sewing projects he pursues.”

Oh, and how did Jeff come up with the name Pretty Girl Too for his second boat? “‘Pretty Girl’ is my wife, Melanie’s, pet name. She’s been so supportive of my boatbuilding hobby. The amount of support and encouragement she’s provided are immeasurable, and so I proudly named the boat after her. Thus the name, ‘Pretty Girl Too.’”

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Jeff and Melanie are all smiles aboard the Pretty Girl Too.

All Aboard Elcie: A Family Affair

Anyone with experience on the subject could tell you that raising a family is never an easy task. But raising a family on a boat in the middle of the ocean? Definitely tricky. That is exactly what Jessica Rice Johnson has been doing for almost a decade. Jessica and her husband, Richard, have always shared a love for sailing and now live aboard their custom 62-foot aluminum catamaran, Elcie, along with their two daughters. They’re quite familiar with the self-reliance and ingenuity that is required to thrive on the open seas.

As a tale about sailors, our story naturally begins on the water. Jessica met Richard while working on a sailing school ship in Maine. Sharing a love of the sea, they completed a circumnavigation on a refurbished boat between the years of 1997-2001. They returned home with their first daughter, Emma, and two years later welcomed their second daughter, Molly.

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Jessica, Emma, Molly and Richard in Haiti last Christmas.

“We wanted to share our sailing life with them and so we worked with a designer to create a boat that would have room for us but also room to carry expense-sharing crew. That boat would become a means of travel but also a source of income for us.”

The answer was simple: New Zealand. While it was a big decision, the family moved to kiwi country to seek out the level of craftsmanship needed to create their dream boat. During their stay, Richard worked in a shipyard alongside the builders and both girls were able to attend primary school overlooking Tasman Bay. “When we sailed out of New Zealand on Elcie, she was still a work in progress. All the systems were in place but some of the interior was unfinished. The girls were 7 and 9 when we headed across the Southern Ocean along with two friends as crew.”

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The process of building Elcie in New Zealand.

It was early into their voyage that Jessica realized they would need a robust sewing machine to tackle all of the projects that Elcie required. She had always enjoyed sewing and, at first, carried a School Model Singer. While it worked fine, she noticed that it could never sew through several layers of canvas or leather, which was limiting for her future DIY projects.

Every year the Johnsons would attend the Annapolis Boat Show in Maryland and peruse the Sailrite® booth, watching demonstrations and speaking with staff. “Many factors helped me decide the Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 was the right machine — the walking foot, the monster wheel, the heavy-duty nature of the machine — but it was also knowing that I would have help along the way if I needed it. I believe Sailrite is a very service-oriented company and their helpful videos and written instructions gave me the confidence to tackle projects I would not have tried to do otherwise.”

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Jessica and the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 in Norfolk, Virginia.

After gaining an Ultrafeed, the whole family has been busy creating useful projects aboard Elcie. For Jessica, some of the most enjoyable projects have been making the curtains, pillows and small items for her daughters to keep their room organized. Sail covers and dinghy chaps were some of the more challenging projects, while adding insect screens on all the doors and hatches was one of the most important (especially sailing in areas where malaria is prevalent). She’s also created an ingenious “Cable Tamer,” designed to keep all her computer and charger cords and various cables organized using materials from Sailrite.

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Jessica’s plethora of projects (clockwise from top left): Lure holder, bedroom organizer, the ingenious cable tamer and new cockpit cushions.

It’s safe to say that sailing and sewing have become a family affair. Jessica’s daughters have both created small projects with the Ultrafeed, like making Christmas gifts, stitching a pillow purchased in the San Blas Islands in Panama, and sewing courtesy flags for the countries they visit. They’ve learned valuable lessons during their stay aboard Elcie, and Jessica explained that raising two children aboard a boat is simultaneously the most challenging and most rewarding part of their lifestyle.

“I believe that our daughters share our independent spirit. I also believe they are learning many necessary life skills while sailing. I feel that skills like sewing, cooking from scratch, fishing, navigating and just entertaining oneself have become less important in this age of electronic devices. I’m glad they have had the opportunity to realize the importance of learning these skills and I hope it will encourage them to keep using them later in life.”

As the girls are getting older and closer to attending college, Jessica is savoring every moment with them. She explained that, of course, it was difficult for them to leave friends and forgo a regular school. Sailing aboard Elcie was a huge decision for them as they must conduct all their schooling (and tackle imminent college applications) aboard the ship.

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The Johnsons and their floating home, Elcie.

“While their education has been somewhat nonconventional, both girls have managed to stay on track and even are ahead of many of their classmates at home when they have spent time in traditional high schools. It’s my hope that just through the travel, they are receiving a well-rounded education and broader worldview.”

Since 2010, Jessica and her family have sailed over 75,000 nautical miles, including three Pacific crossings with many island stops along the way. It’s even possible for others to join them on their adventures! Elcie can accommodate a crew of 10 in five double cabins and has solar panels to accommodate the necessities. The Johnsons have detailed sailing itineraries and encourage guests to join them on thoroughly planned adventures filled with enriching opportunities. Their current route has taken them from the East Coast of the United States all the way through the Bahamas, Africa, South America, Polynesia and many more exotic locations.

If you’d like to learn more about this incredible group of sailors and see more of Elcie, visit their website: https://www.elcieexpeditions.com/.

Sailrite & the Mainsail

By: Heather Francis

Our passage from French Polynesia to the small island nation of Niue was supposed to be just another downwind leg on the long voyage that was taking us slowly across the South Pacific. We were hoping the two dominant weather systems that often collide here like a meteorological roller derby would do as predicted and call a truce. But they didn’t play nice, and our mainsail got caught in the fray.

Most people have never even heard of Niue. On the charts it is just a speck in the vast Pacific Ocean somewhere between Bora Bora and the Kingdom of Tonga. It is nicknamed “The Rock of Polynesia” and lives up to its name, being little more than a tall, jagged protuberance some 20 miles long by 10 miles wide.

There are no coves or bays to shelter in. The only anchorage lies in the shadow of the small island itself and therefore is only protected when the wind blows from the right direction. When the wind shifts the Niue authorities order small craft to abandon their moorings. History has proven that boats are no match for a stiff westerly breeze and the vicious coral teeth of the island.

It was, of course, 0300 when the last knot in a string of mishaps occurred. Earlier in the day our GPS, chart plotter and depth-o-meter had stopped working, probably a wire connection that got water damaged when we shipped a wave and turned the cockpit into a swimming pool that leaked into the cabin. We managed to round the island before dark and found a little respite from the 30kt winds and the boisterous seas that had been chasing us for three days. However, without our instruments or working harbor lights, we were hesitant to approach the anchorage.

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A beautiful shot of Niue.

We decided to hove-to, reducing and then back the sails so that the boat would stay almost stationary. This maneuver would allow us to stay in the lee of the island, out of the wind and swell, but also stand a safe distance off the unknown shore until daylight. We set the sails and I went below for a rest while Steve sat watch. All was going well until late into the night when I was alone on deck.

As the boat came around in a slow and controlled gybe there was a soft ripping sound, like overused Velcro® being pulled apart. Then, there were light flapping noises above my head. Shining my flashlight upwards I saw a gash of black where white sailcloth should have been. The headboard and a scrap of sail hung limply from the halyard; the rest of the sail was a crumpled heap on the boom. The mainsail had ripped from leech to luff, intersecting the third reef points. Now the only thing connecting the two pieces of sail was the delicate leech line that danced freely in the breeze.

I lowered the sad bit of sail and tied the whole mess to the boom as the rain started, saturating my well-worn rain gear in a matter of minutes. Soaked and defeated, I bounced from foot to foot to keep warm, hoping that dawn would shed some positive light on our predicament.

In the morning, after fighting to sail directly upwind with only a headsail, we picked up a mooring, happy to be safe and calm after such a hard passage. Unfortunately, our rest would be brief as there were too many repairs to make to ensure we were shipshape and ready to put to sea if the weather changed. Steve tackled the electronic problems and I got to work on repairing the mainsail.

I dug out my Sailrite® sewing machine and a bag of leftover fabric scraps from previous projects. None of the pieces of Dacron® I had were big enough to cover the almost 6-foot tear, so I decided to use the next best thing I had: Sunbrella®. I knew Sunbrella was considerably heavier than sailcloth but it is UV stable and would give the sail the strength it needed to see us to the next island, over 500 nautical miles away, where I might find a sail loft that could make a proper repair.

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Cutting the Sunbrella with a hotknife.

I measured two long strips of fabric, six inches wide and a few inches longer than the rip. Using a hotknife I cut the Sunbrella, at the same time sealing the edges so that they wouldn’t fray in the wind. I made sure the sail was dry and free of as much salt as possible before using seamstick to adhere the patch across one side of the ripped sail. Then, carefully turning the sail over, I repeated the process on the opposite side, trying to match the edges of the Sunbrella through the layers of Dacron. With the patch temporarily in place, it was time to get to the business of sewing.

After changing to a size 22 needle and V-92 thread, I practiced on a multi-layer piece of fabric to get the tension correct. I wasn’t worried about whether my Sailrite machine could sew through so many layers of thick fabric, I had already put it to the test doing a few minor seam repairs on the heavy luff of the headsail. However, there was a lot of extra sail material that had to fit under the arm of the machine to sew totally across the patch. Not to mention the weight of the rest of the sail that now took up most of the cabin space. I employed Steve to help me wrestle the sail through the machine.

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Using the Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 for repairs.

Using a wide zigzag stitch, I first outlined the top edge of the patch, checking to see that both front and back patches were being sewn at the same time. We got halfway across the repair, me pushing and Steve gently pulling on the sail, when we could no longer fit any more material under the needle and arm. Carefully, I reversed back along the same seam, Steve now feeding the sail back towards me. I did a similar seam on the bottom edge to anchor the patch to both pieces of sail.

The seamstick had done its job as a third set of hands and now the patch was secured to the sail. I sewed a zigzag seam along both edges of the rip at the center of the patch, reversing back over my work after reaching the same middle point on the repair. With one side of the repair complete, I turned the sail around and sewed in from the opposite edge, matching all the zigzag seams in the middle. Then I trimmed and secured the edges so there would be nothing to catch the breeze and open the wound.

We hoisted the repaired mainsail before lunch, not long after Steve had all our navigation equipment up and running again. Despite using grey Sunbrella, the scar of the repair was plainly visible, but only time would tell if it was as tough as it looked.

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The finished sail!

There was no sail loft in our next port of call, but it turns out we didn’t end up needing one. Thanks to my Sailrite sewing machine, our repaired mainsail carried us another 1500NM, and a few more windy nights at sea, without so much as a loose thread. A new mainsail was on our wish list but until then we wore our patch as a badge of honor, a testament to our ingenuity and self-reliance as sailors.

Heather Francis is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. She and her Aussie partner, Steve, bought their Newport 41, Kate, and their Sailrite sewing machine in 2008 and have been sailing full time in the Pacific ever since. They are currently in the Philippines and you can follow their adventures at www.yachtkate.com

Sailing & Sewing in the South Pacific

Amanda Witherell’s story is one of adventure, perseverance, serendipity and the kindness of strangers. She met her husband, Brian Twitchell, in San Francisco where they were both working. Brian, a union electrician, spent half the year working and the other half sailing his 1974 Morgan Out Island 41 Clara Katherine up and down the Pacific Coast from California to Mexico. When the financial crisis hit in 2008 and Brian was laid off, he convinced Amanda to quit her job as a reporter and cruise the South Pacific with him until the economy recovered. Having learned to sail when she lived in Maine, she had worked for a few years as a sailmaker and would be able to contribute with sail repair and maintenance on board.

Inspired by Brian’s enthusiasm and her own wanderlust, she agreed. “I quit, gave away all my stuff, packed a bag and bought a one-way plane ticket to Puerto Vallarta. We sailed around Mexico for a few months and decided to keep going south until we ran out of money. We cruised the west coasts of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.”

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Clara Katherine at anchor in the Society Islands in French Polynesia.

In Costa Rica, they met a couple on their third circumnavigation who’d made a life of sailing the world. The friendly couple urged Amanda and Brian to sail the South Pacific, but they were short on money and didn’t know how to sustain their new sailing lifestyle. When the other couple learned that Brian was an electrician and Amanda could sew sails and canvas, they insisted that they go. “‘Just go!’ they urged us,” Amanda recalled. “‘You’ll make money along the way.’”

They were right. “I could have opened a full-service sail loft in Panama City with the amount of work that’s generated by the thousands of boats passing through,” Amanda stated. The couple sailed from port to port while Amanda made money along the way repairing sails and taking on other sewing jobs.

When she was in her 20s, she talked her way into a job at a sail loft in Brooklin, Maine, where she learned how to build a sail from start to finish. Being that it was a small business in a rural community, the sail loft still did things the old-fashioned way. “We literally lofted sails on the wooden floor, using pins and string, rolling out cloth, and hand stitching the hardware that would connect the sail to the rig.” Those skills served her well in her new life, as she had limited resources and even more limited technology on those remote South Pacific islands. “I fixed sails in the Marquesas, spinnakers in Tahiti, built canvas enclosures in Tonga and dinghy chaps in New Zealand.”

Acquiring an Ultrafeed

In Bora Bora, they met a solo sailor who needed to fix his sail and was having a bit of trouble with his sewing machine. Learning that Brian was handy, the sailor asked him to take a look at his Sailrite® machine. Not knowing how to adjust the timing on a sewing machine, Brian couldn’t help. Amanda repaired his sail using their own sewing machine and the three parted ways.

A few months later, they ran into him again, this time in Whangarei, New Zealand — which goes to show how small the sailing community can be — and fate intervened. They’d arrived just in time to rescue his Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 from imminent doom. Fed up with the machine, the salty sailor was just about to chuck it into the harbor. He asked Amanda and Brian if they wanted the sewing machine, and they eagerly saved it from a saltwater funeral. It wasn’t in the best condition, however. The sailor had stored it in his cockpit locker and the sewing machine had been routinely doused with saltwater.

Amanda sewing window patches on the genoa, Fanning Island
Amanda putting her rescued Ultrafeed to good use repairing the genoa sail on Fanning Island.

“The case was covered in mold and all the metal parts were showing rust,” Amanda explained. “I cleaned off the mold, wiped clean all the metal and oiled everything, then packed it away because I didn’t have time to deal with it at the moment. We’d just been approved for work visas and decided to stay in New Zealand, so we were transitioning from cruising full time to working full time. We sailed the boat down to Wellington and got jobs that had nothing to do with sewing or sailing.”

The couple didn’t know much about the Ultrafeed or repairing sewing machines in general, so they took it to a repair shop in New Zealand. “One hundred New Zealand dollars later it was running fine and has continued to run perfectly ever since.”

They already owned an old Italian Necci home sewing machine, but it couldn’t always sew through some of Amanda’s thicker fabric assemblies, such as canvas and genoa sunshields. The Ultrafeed never hesitated to power through anything Amanda was working on. They still have their Necci, but Amanda now uses their secondhand Ultrafeed for all projects and repairs.

“Because it was given to us, I consider it ‘the people’s machine’,” said Amanda, “and I keep it overstocked with needles of all sizes and lend it to any cruiser in need. It’s been ashore in countless countries as we worked our way across the South Pacific from New Zealand back to the U.S. I’ve rebuilt our dodger twice, our bimini three times, made a new sail cover, sewed on a new genoa sunshield, stitched new salon cushions, built a foredeck sun awning/rain catcher, repaired our mainsail, and on and on.”

Foredeck sun awning that doubles as rain catcher copy
Foredeck sun awning/rain catcher Amanda sewed using her Ultrafeed.

Homeward Bound

In 2015, after years of sun, surf and sailing, they decided they were done with New Zealand and made preparations to cruise back to the U.S. “We picked the ping pong route,” Amanda explained, “bouncing between South Pacific islands against the trade winds and revisiting many of the islands we saw on our first pass through.” They also decided to sail up to Micronesia and visit places they skipped the first time. “It took two and a half years, and we put about 12,000 miles under our keel, almost all of them hard on the wind in a boat that was not designed to go to windward efficiently.”

All that cruising was hard on the sails, and by the time they got to Tahiti their genoa was on its last legs. “It was over 10 years old and had sailed something well north of 25,000 miles. I’d already replaced the sunshield twice and, running my hands along the tired cloth, I could feel that it was sun rotten and approaching the point of no return in terms of repair. But we only had 2,000 more miles to go to Hawaii, and then another couple thousand to California. We were practically home! I made some repairs in Tahiti and we set off for Fanning Island, Kiribati. Along the way, it tore just inboard of the sunshield — a sure sign of sun rot.”

They stayed on Fanning Island for two months enjoying the remoteness of the island and the friendliness of its inhabitants. While Amanda worked on repairing the genoa sail one last time, the locals kept the couple fed and hydrated with fresh fish and coconuts. “The key to a good sail repair is being able to stretch the cloth and pin it out as flatly as possible,” Amanda noted. “For a 150 genoa from a 41-foot boat, I needed more space than we had on the boat, plus a porous floor to pin into.”

pjimage
The genoa sail spread out on the ground (top) and laid out on the floor of a hut on Fanning Island ready for repair (bottom).

The couple befriended a French expat who ran the only guesthouse on the island. He offered one of his sleeping huts, which provided enough flat space for Amanda to pin out and sew an enormous window patch repair across every seam of the genoa from head to foot. “I used up every bit of sailcloth I had squirreled away on the boat, and then I reinforced the inboard section with sticky Dacron®, but I knew we were running out of time with this sail and hoped it would just stay together long enough to get us to Hawaii.”

With just over 1,000 miles from Fanning Island to Hawaii did the sail hold? “It almost did. The next tear occurred by the luff, just outside the head patch — a sure sign of sun rot. Game over. We made it to Hawaii using our two spare, elderly, hank-on sails run on our Solent stay. On a grassy lawn in Waikiki, we spread out our genoa, took some measurements, cut off every useful bit of hardware, then put the old thing to rest in a dumpster. My next project will be to build a new one.”

Woman on the Water: The Odyssey of Bria White

The sun was rising as Bria White dragged her 60-pound sail off the side of her boat and spread it on the dock. All the while, her male counterparts looked on in dismay.

“Imagine this…as a single woman on an all-male dock, I stunned the doubting onlookers. As the sun was rising, most boaters were preparing their boats to sail, but not me. I was taking down my sail, literally off the mast.”

After examining the rips and tears, she brought out her Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 and folding table and began repairing her sail. Everyone wondered how she could manage such a huge sewing project alone, but she wasn’t worried. Methodically, mending one section at a time, right on the dock, Bria worked until the sun was beginning to come down.

Putting the Ultrafeed to good use!

“Just as the doubting men returned, I was raising the finished sail. With much respect, one by one they came by to share their stories of disbelief.”  

The Journey Begins

As an adventurous woman who has traveled the world, Bria has a wealth of life experiences and is a true testament to the self-reliant sailor, a trait the folks here at Sailrite are well acquainted with.

Bria has had ample experience both sailing and sewing. Along with her four brothers, she was often out on the water growing up and was also taught to sew at a young age, a skill she excelled at. In early 2000, she acquired her first powerboat at Monroe Harbor in Chicago, but she secretly wished she’d gotten a sailboat instead.

With a successful career in information technology consulting, Bria was traveling often and ultimately ended up selling her first boat. Then, just last year, Bria decided to take a leap of faith and try something she had always dreamt of doing: traveling abroad. Enrolled in a unique work-travel program, she went on a yearlong excursion across the globe. This traveling experience spurred her dream of sailing.

“Somehow I got the courage to join a program and traveled the world for one year. It was a bold thing for a grandmother to do. During my travels, I fell in love with the sea again!”

Bria at the helm 2
Enjoying life on the water.

Learning the Ropes

After returning home from her trek across the globe, Bria’s first goal was to get back out on the water. She eventually set her sights on a Columbia 28 sailboat in Marina Del Rey, California. It was there that she joined the Women’s Sailing Association of Santa Monica Bay and began connecting with other female sailors and sharing her love of the sea. The Women’s Sailing Association (WSA) is a nonprofit organization that promotes women in the sport of sailing but also offers sailing and social opportunities for both men and women. After gaining hours of sailing experience by offering herself up as a crew member for many trips on monohull and multihull vessels, Bria finally felt that she had enough experience to move onto a larger boat. She now owns and operates a Catalina 30 with hopes of someday upgrading up to a Hunter 37.

As the sole proprietor of her Catalina 30, Bria has a special place on the water and has regained her sea legs. While the other women who visit her dock are simply visiting their family, friends or husbands, Bria is a single female boat owner. In fact, she’s the only female captain on her dock.

“I am the captain of my ship and responsible for the maintenance, upgrades and operation of my vessel. This is rare!” Bria went on to explain that as a grandmother, people are often surprised to find her lifting, pulling, scrubbing, repairing and docking her own 30-foot boat.

Bria's Catalina 30 boat.
Bria’s Catalina 30 sailboat.

However, Bria is not alone in her adventures. As part of the Women’s Sailing Association, she has met many other members who share similar stories of “surprised looks” and shocked sailors who are simply not accustomed to women as part of the crew. Bria and her fellow female sailors are blazing the trail for like-minded independent spirits. Over time, she’s learned that sailing is all about teamwork and friendships, and she’s gathered quite a few stories from other women at the helm. She even plans to write a book capturing these incredible stories.

Sailing On

When Bria found her sail in need of repair, it was no question who would do it. Being a self-reliant sailor is simply part of her day-to-day routine. Bria has taken charge of her job as captain and set to work sewing even more projects. In addition to her sail, she has redone all the window coverings in her cabin, added privacy curtains for the staterooms and replaced weather-aged zippers on her biminis. Her next big project is to update her 1978 cushions, add trimmed floor mats and maybe even make covers for her external wood trim. On her ship, Bria’s ambitions are only limited by her determination and imagination. It also helps to have a handy sewing machine along for the journey.

Her largest sewing project yet, the sail!

“As you know, a small tear in a sail can grow very quickly. Having the portable LSZ-1, which can be manually operated without electricity…makes me feel safe like I can solve any problem when it arises. Besides, having one on the dock is a great way to make new friends! My fellow sailors, both men and women, give me a lot of respect for having and knowing how to use a Sailrite LSZ-1 machine!”

If you’d like to learn more about Bria White and her incredible life experiences, visit www.drbriawhite.com or read about her journey at www.remotelyodd.com.

To learn more about the Women’s Sailing Association of Santa Monica Bay, visit their website here.