Sewing & Shattered: Jeanie Shafer’s Story

Jeanie Shafer is a jack-of-all-trades. Not only has she been sewing for 30 years, but she’s also a creator in many mediums. Between painting, pottery, sculpture, nature photography and even cake decorating, her passion for creative expression cannot be tamed. This artistry also carries over into her love of boating, which is how she became acquainted with Sailrite and embarked on her most ambitious DIY adventure yet!

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Jeanie and Tim are lifelong sailors.

Jeanie and her husband, Tim, have been enjoying life on the water for 35 years. No stranger to buying boats, the pair have owned numerous boats, ranging in size from 16 to 35 feet — all found and purchased the traditional way. That was until their most recent boat, a 27-foot Catalina.

In Jeanie’s hometown, the 27-foot Catalina had been unused and was no longer on the water as her current owner was no longer interested in sailing. There she sat in her rented spot in plain sight so that many townsfolk knew both boat and owner. One morning, the boat had been moved, and much to everyone’s surprise, it was not done by the owner. The boat’s sudden disappearance remained a mystery until later that summer when someone spotted it hidden not far from where it had been stolen.

Jeanie went on to recount the details of the discovery, “Whoever had stolen the boat had been a very busy beaver! She had been stripped of all hardware inside and out. The name had been removed and her old numbers had been replaced with numbers registered to a different boat. The mast had been unsuccessfully taken down and had crashed down onto the bow. Newly covered cushions were damaged and the brand-new sails that had only been used one summer were missing. The boat showed all signs of being lived in all summer!”

Luckily, the boat’s hull was undamaged and the outside deck and cockpit were in very good shape as well as the teak below deck. The only thing that remained in the cabin was the head, sink and stove. Jeanie and Tim eventually decided that they wanted to purchase the wayward boat, and so the work began!

The first step was deciding on a name. Would it be “Phoenix” because the boat was rising out of its old ashes? No, that was too popular among boats. Jeanie and her husband finally agreed on “Shattered” as a reminder of what the boat had once been, but wasn’t any longer. It was also a nod to The Rolling Stones song of the same name.

Even before Shattered needed new sails (among many other things), Jeanie had a 35-foot Catalina requiring a new dodger. To accomplish this, a heavy-duty, portable sewing machine would be of the utmost importance. After ample research, this lead to the purchase of the Ultrafeed® LSZ-1. “Sailrite not only had the machines but seemed to be a sewist and boater’s paradise for fabric, hardware, lines and tools! We discovered many items that we didn’t know existed and these products would soon make our DIY lives easier. The detail in your how-to videos and your personnel’s prompt willingness to share their expertise shines above all. I could never have made these sails without [Sailrite Sail Designer] Jeff Frank being able to help me!”

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Shattered in her newfound glory.

“Please know that all of these attributes in your company keep people like myself returning for life, and we share our positive experiences with others who then call upon Sailrite for their needs. It’s a marvelous domino effect!”

After repairing her own dodger, Jeanie was able to start a marine repair business on her dock that quickly spread to the entire marina! Canvas repair businesses in the area were shutting down, driving Jeanie’s customer base up even further. Before long, the projects became so massive and so frequent that Jeanie couldn’t sew them on her dock or kitchen counter. In response, Tim built her a sewing table molded after Sailrite’s loft tables — a huge undertaking that took up the entire spare bedroom in her basement!

Since then, Jeanie’s been a creative machine, churning out project after project. Her projects ranged from dodger, canvas and glass repair to a total sail pack and bimini revamp. With the help of Sailrite’s tools, supplies and instructional videos, the list goes on to include:

  • Bimini repairs
  • New winch covers
  • Topside window covers
  • Custom helm covers
  • New sail cover for Shattered
  • Main and headsail from Sailrite’s custom designed sail kits
  • And much, much more!

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What lies ahead for Jeanie and Tim Shafer? They’ve already planned for a plethora of other DIY projects to revamp Shattered. More recently, the two added another boat to their collection, a rare 21-foot Martini — a model that’s no longer in production. And with the winter months rounding the corner, the projects requiring Sailrite materials and instructions just keep coming. On the agenda is a new companionway screen, track curtains, window coverings, lifeline covers and cushion covers with Moisture Prevention Underliner beneath them to battle the Florida humidity where the boats will be sailing.

In short, it seems as though Jeanie and her Ultrafeed are ready to take on the DIY world and anything that life throws at them, and we’re happy to be part of the creative process. Reminiscing on her past projects, Jeanie gushed, “The best part of making your own DIY projects is the learning process! The “aha” moment when you get it and feel more confident in the project. And then, of course, the satisfaction when the end result looks great!” We can’t wait to see what you sew next, Jeanie.

Five-Star Sewing With Steve Bugg

While the term “do-it-yourself” is often associated with creativity, there’s another important aspect to the DIY culture: the ability to be both resourceful and self-sufficient. When Steve Bugg was laid off from his job in 2016, he decided to take matters into his own hands and embark on a career journey that involved learning new tricks and the Ultrafeed® LS-1. This is a story of ingenuity and hard work — one that proves that it’s never too late to learn a new trade and explore the world outside of your comfort zone.

The beginning of Steve’s story starts with the end. “I was a land manager for a small oil and gas exploration company. I’d been with the company for 20 years. In 2016, the company went under and everyone was let go. … It was then that I realized if I could bust my butt for someone else’s company, I certainly could work even harder for myself. I found a franchise that repaired and restored leather, plastic and vinyl.”

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Steve’s diverse customer base can be found almost anywhere — land, air and sea.

While this type of business was an entirely new realm of his career experience, Steve realized that the business was unique in that it fulfilled a common need but had little competition. The market for repair was everywhere, as leather, plastic and vinyl are found in nearly every industry. You’ll find these materials in automobiles, boats, furniture, restaurants, medical offices, hospitals, planes and more. The job involved redying, cleaning, conditioning and repairing various types of leather, plastic and vinyl.

After purchasing the franchise, Steve found he was often renovating restaurant seating, but kept running into the same problems again and again. “I was doing a lot of restaurant work but was spending a lot of money hiring other people to sew for me so I could go out and re-cover the restaurant booths. These guys were making a lot of money off me. … That’s when I decided that I needed to learn how to sew. I was missing out on way too much money.”

After doing extensive research on a number of different sewing machine brands, there were a few contenders in mind. But once Steve stumbled upon the Sailrite website, that all changed. “I was taken in by all the videos, all the support products that just fit right into what I was doing, what I wanted to learn how to do, and other supplies I didn’t know I needed until I saw them on the website.” While Steve initially was fond of the Fabricator®, the need for portability was at the forefront of his budding business, as some sewing jobs would have to be done on-site. That led him to the Ultrafeed LS-1. With its straight stitch capability, the LS-1 is portable and powerful enough to tackle the heavy materials encountered on the job.

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Steve getting the hang of his new Ultrafeed LS-1.

After purchasing his new machine, the next step was for Steve to learn how to sew. While the Ultrafeed glided through the heavy vinyl material he was sewing, it was a more difficult material for a novice sewist to learn the tools of the trade. He’d never sewn before and the challenge seemed daunting at first. In situations like this, Steve’s perseverance and “can-do” attitude made all the difference, and Sailrite’s instructional videos helped too.

“I was struggling with the whole concept, but I kept moving forward and watched a ton of videos. Then I saw a video on how to sew piping. I knew I could do that. Plus, the standard foot on the Ultrafeed has a groove that guides piping. After I learned how to make the piping, it hit me that I was going to get better.” Steve continued to watch videos and began trying out his new skills on a few restaurant booths. After making adjustment after adjustment to his sewing technique, he finally managed to become proficient in the trade. Now he can visit the job site in need of repairs, take measurements and patterns, and have the repairs sewn by the next day. And the best part is he can save money that he had previously spent outsourcing his sewing jobs.

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Steve continued to work arduously sewing and repairing materials for numerous clientele. But one day he noticed the machine wasn’t feeding the vinyl like it normally did. Being in the middle of a huge project for a restaurant, he frantically contacted Matt Borden from Sailrite customer support. Living in Texas, Steve couldn’t make it to the Sailrite facility in Indiana, but that wasn’t an issue — a simple phone call cleared everything up.

“Matt was cool, calm and collected while I was in a panic. He was extremely patient with me and guided me through the process of finding the problem and the solution. He couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful. … Before too long I was back up and sewing. I got the job done and the restaurant was thrilled. Matt Borden is my hero!”

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Matt Borden works closely with Sailrite customers for stress-free machine repairs.

From amateur to accomplished professional, Steve Bugg has been through life’s ups and downs and made it out on top. With his Ultrafeed LS-1 and determination, anything is possible. On top of the numerous restaurant booths, he’s sewn a few boat cushions, medical examination tables and cushions for mobility scooters. While Steve’s future may not always be certain, it is always bright, and he looks forward to helping his next customer.

“I’m not great, but I’m getting better all the time. It’s rewarding to hear my customers say how wonderful everything turns out. I have 100% five-star reviews to date and I don’t want that to change. I love learning. And the more I learn, the more new tools and supplies I need, and Sailrite has almost everything!”

Sewing for Salmon Season: A Marine DIY

Sewing for yourself is rewarding enough, but sewing for others opens up a whole new realm of DIY possibilities. When Debbie Stitz saw that her son’s boat was in dire need of new seats before salmon season in their hometown, she knew just the person to reupholster them — herself! Backed by her extensive sewing knowledge and a few key tools and supplies from Sailrite, she set out to completely transform her son’s boat. She was generous enough to share the story of her many ups and downs on the road to do-it-yourself success with us.

Q. Have you always loved to sew? When did you learn?

I learned to sew at a young age. I remember it well. My mother was never a sewer, but my Aunt Susie was. My first project was a skirt with shoulder straps that crossed in the back and buttoned in the front. I remember making it at my cousin’s house in Upstate New York with my aunt’s help. I was so proud when I finished the skirt. I wore it the next day and told everyone I made it myself. 

From that day forward, I was hooked on sewing and determined to teach myself. I got a job working at a fabric store in my hometown of Corning, New York, and made most of my own clothes in high school. I taught myself to read and follow patterns, put in sleeves and sew in zippers. I just loved the creativity of being able to design and make my own clothes.

Q. How did you come across Sailrite? What made you choose the Ultrafeed® LSZ-1?

I started on a Kenmore machine, but tension problems and motor speeds convinced me to invest in a Bernina as I started to venture into curtains, home décor and quilting. There is nothing more frustrating than sewing with a machine that cannot do the job and give you professional-looking results.

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Debbie and her trusty Ultrafeed LSZ-1.

I then started doing small upholstery projects and cushions, but my Bernina machine was having a tough time with the heavier fabrics and achieving a professional-looking stitch with heavier threads. I needed a commercial machine but could never justify the high cost for one. I was surfing the web one day and found the Sailrite® site. When I read about the features of the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 and the price point, I was ecstatic and ordered one. I chose the LSZ-1 model because I wanted the zigzag feature. 

Q. So you used the Ultrafeed to remodel boat seats? How did that happen?

At that time, my oldest son had asked me if I could make new vinyl berth cushions for his boat. Not only did I discover the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 machine at Sailrite, but all the choices of marine vinyl, V-69 threads, needles, zippers, foam, cushion wrap silk film, cording, 1/4” basting tape — everything I needed to make his new V-berth cushions. I had made cushions before with fabrics, but sewing with vinyl was a new challenge for me. Sailrite offered wonderful videos that guided me in purchasing the right vinyl for my project and how to make my own cording and cushions.

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The final V-berth cushions looked immaculate.

Together, my son and I chose Morbern® Seabrook Sea White vinyl. I also purchased the Flex20 LED light, Deluxe 5 ½ Magnetic Sewing Guide. And for my new LSZ-1 Machine, I chose the Right Roping Zipper Foot, Cording Foot Set and 1” Swing-Away Binder. The tutorials for learning the LSZ-1 machine were extremely well done and very helpful to get started. I was convinced that this machine was a powerhouse and sewed anything I asked it to!

My confidence was soaring when my youngest son asked if I could re-cover his torn and tattered boat seats in his newly purchased used fishing boat. Of course, I said yes. After removing the tattered vinyl from the seats to try and get some sense of a pattern, I soon realized that all three of the seats needed to be totally rebuilt. The wood and foam were so rotten, and the screws so rusted, that it took my husband and I a full day to get the seats apart! We thought about just buying him new seats, but these were Bentley seats at $400 each that were just not taken care of. We decided these seats were worth restoring and took on the challenge together, as a team. 

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My husband ordered the marine plywood, stainless steel machine screws, 4-prong hex nuts and supplies to build the seat structures. I went directly to the Sailrite site, where I found all the fabric and supplies needed to construct the new seat covers. I basically followed the original pattern of how the old covers were made, and my son’s choice was two colors of Naugahyde® vinyl that I got from Sailrite.

Q. Can you explain your DIY process a bit more?

Making and marking the pattern pieces were the most important. I took the least tattered pieces of the old covers and trimmed them where the original stitching holes were. I drew them out on poster board and added 1/2-inch seam allowances on all sewing sides. I marked the center points on the corners, and all other areas, to ensure a good match when sewing together. I then transferred and traced the pattern and markings to the Naugahyde fabric back, being sure to flip the pattern and mark for left and right sides, top and bottom, etc. I made all the contrasting cording first and machine basted to the seat pieces and then sewed the pieces together. I absolutely love my Ultrafeed LSZ-1 machine! It sewed through the layers of Naugahyde with ease and the topstitching looked so professional. The Cording Foot Set also helps to make your own cording a breeze and is actually my favorite step. 

The next step was to remove the bad foam and replace with new foam after my husband had finished the wood seats and arms. Even though we used marine plywood, I still put 3 coats of Varathane® on the wood to keep it moisture and water-repellent. I used an electric kitchen knife to form and shape the foam and then used contact cement to glue the foam to the newly made wood seats. I lightly sprayed foam adhesive to the foam and covered the foam with Cushion Wrap Silk Film. The small amounts of adhesive spray kept the silk wrap from shifting as I was putting the new covers over the foam.

Using an electric staple gun and stainless steel staples (no rust), I attached the covers over the foam for the final fit. It was a two-person effort with my husband pulling and me stapling! I then attached the Hidem Gimp purchased from Sailrite to the bottom of the seatbacks to hide the staples. There were some hiccups along the way, but nothing too serious. It took a lot of “thinking and planning” before “cutting and sewing.

Q. Sounds like quite the project. What was the reaction of your family/friends to the finished product? 

The end result was three new boat seats that looked so professionally made. My husband and I were so proud to have accomplished something that we had never done before. It was a team effort. He was the carpenter and I did the sewing. Family and friends were amazed by the professional look of our final project, and our son was so thrilled to have new boat seats for the start of salmon season here in Oregon! I am hooked more now than ever, not on catching salmon, but hooked on sewing and starting my next project with my Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1! New patio cushions and pillows are next.

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Thank you, Sailrite, for the machine, the accessories, the fabrics and all the inspirational videos you so thoughtfully put together on your website to inspire us all!

Full Speed Ahead: Sewing for the USCGC Mackinaw

Joe and Barb Traub aren’t your typical museum volunteers. They volunteer their time and sewing talents for the United States Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw WAGB-83. This decommissioned Icebreaker ship was built during World War II as part of the war effort. While touring the ship, the couple couldn’t help noticing that some canvas covers were torn up and damaged due to the harsh winters on Lake Huron. One project led to another, and they have been sewing covers and other pieces for the ship ever since. Read about Joe and Barb, their sewing background, and a little bit of the Icebreaker’s history and the role it played in the war.

A Piece of History

The USCGC Mackinaw was built in response to the increased need to transport war materials — specifically ore — during the winter months of World War II. Icebreaker ships are designed with a strengthened hull engineered to plow through heavy ice and create a path for smaller boats to travel. Dubbed the “Queen of the Great Lakes” and “The Largest Icebreaker on the Great Lakes,” Congress authorized construction of Mackinaw on December 17, 1941, just 10 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

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A photo of the USCGC Mackinaw breaking ice on Lake Huron in 1948.

The ship was built in Toledo, Ohio, and cost $10 million. The Toledo Shipbuilding Company won the contract. However, several delays and penalties forced the company to declare bankruptcy, and the construction was completed by the American Shipbuilding Company. The keel was laid on March 20, 1943. The ship is 290 feet long and the design is based on the Wind class of Coast Guard Icebreakers. However, Mackinaw was built wider and longer than other ships in this class so that the draft would be shallower. The hull was launched on March 4, 1944, and the ship was commissioned on December 30 of that year. Cheboygan, Michigan, remained the ship’s home port its entire life during active service.

The ship served many roles over its esteemed 62-year career. Not only was the Icebreaker a vital part of the war effort, but it also rescued stranded ships, assisted with shipwrecks, and even delivered Christmas trees to underprivileged children in Chicago. Mackinaw is a beacon of hope, a symbol of determination and goodwill not only for the Great Lakes region, but America at large.

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Decommissioned in 2006, the Icebreaker now resides in its namesake port, Mackinaw City, Michigan, and serves as a floating maritime museum. The museum’s educational programming and exhibits teach visitors about maritime history and the economy and ecology of Michigan and the Great Lakes. The ship is open to the public from mid-May to mid-October every year. Aboard the ship, workers offer public tours, educational tours, overnight encampments and group events.

Sailing, Sewing & Sailrite

Barb learned to sew during her youth. Her mother was a high school home economics teacher and taught her daughter everything she knew. When they were married, Barb then taught Joe how to sew. The couple enjoys working on sewing projects together — both projects for their home life and sailing hobby, as well as the projects for the Mackinaw. “We do the projects together for the ship,” Joe said. “Barb is the guiding hand that directs the process. She is the brain, and I work at her direction as I learn.”

The Traubs are longtime Sailrite customers with a unique connection to the company. Their first sewing project as a couple was a tiller cover for their Ranger 26 sailboat. Working in Columbia City in 1989 and needing supplies, Joe happened upon a local business called Sailrite. “I purchased the materials from [founder] Jim Grant himself and have been a customer ever since.” The couple even raced with Jim Grant when they were living in Indianapolis and members of the same sailing club.

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Joe and Barb Traub show off the docking pedestal covers they made for the USCGC Mackinaw using their Ultrafeed LSZ-1.

Besides sailing, they enjoy travel and home improvement projects. “We have made a variety of projects over the years,” recounted Joe. “We’ve sewn Sunbrella® window covers for our cottage and diaper bags and tote bags from old sails.” The couple have also completed a hard top dodger and bimini for their Catalina 30 sailboat, a fire pit cover and numerous sail repairs for their friends in Florida, where they’ve wintered for the past 10 years.

Sewing for the Mackinaw

Joe and Barb Traub have been involved with the Mackinaw since 2015. “Our neighbor is the director of the museum and another friend works in the office,” Joe explained. “During a visit on the ship, we noticed that some of the canvas covers were in bad shape from the continued exposure to the weather. We asked if we could make a cover for the fuel storage area. One project led to another, to another, and on and on.”

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The first sewing project the Traubs completed for the ship was a fuel storage cover.

The Mackinaw received a grant in 2018 to spruce up the historic ship, including resurfacing and repainting all exterior surfaces. The project’s goal was to preserve this important piece of American history and prevent further deterioration. Joe and Barb have been busy helping with this effort by sewing covers to keep certain parts of the exterior protected and well maintained. “We are volunteers just trying to maintain the appearance of the ship,” Joe stated.

The couple has completed three projects for the ship. Their first project was the cover for a fuel storage area made from Sunbrella Marine Grade fabric. Next, they completed eight docking pedestal covers made from vinyl and eight letter bags that hang above the lifeboats. “For the letter bags, one side required stitching through four layers of 20-ounce vinyl. No problem for the Ultrafeed®! “We’re currently working on a tow line winch cover that is 60 inches wide by 12 feet in diameter. The Sunbrella, thread, fasteners and HH-66 Vinyl Cement were all ordered from Sailrite.”

Joe and Barb are proud that their covers protect exterior parts of the ship and enhance the look and appeal of the vessel. They feel honored to donate their time and talents toward volunteering for such an important and noble piece of American history. Mackinaw WAGB-83 is a continuous reminder of American ingenuity, hard work and determination. The ship serves as a goodwill ambassador throughout the Great Lakes region, educating and inspiring both the young and young at heart.

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To learn more about the ship’s history and museum information, please visit www.themackinaw.org.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/.

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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.”

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

squirt 1
“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.”

constructing the hull
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.

flipping boat
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.

before upholstery
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.”

pjimage
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.”

snapless cover 1
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.”

pretty girl too
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.’”

PG and Me at Madisonville
Jeff and Melanie are all smiles aboard the Pretty Girl Too.