Welcome to Sailrite’s "Meet Our Customers” page where we feature fascinating interviews and interest pieces submitted by our customers. This page enables us to spotlight our loyal and creative customers and tell their stories. From tales of complete canvas refits to testimonials about how Sailrite products and services have greatly enhanced and improved their DIY lifestyles, these stories are sure to inspire you as much as they inspire us.
Sewing is a unique skill with the potential to take on any number of roles in one’s life. It can be practical, artistic, an occasional hobby or even a full-time profession. For Sailrite® customer Carol Gearheart, sewing has become much more than just a means to an end. It’s become a profession that has opened up a number of doors in the DIY universe … with surprising results!
Carol and her husband own and operate an embroidery business from their home, so creating fantastic projects is nothing short of commonplace for her. Through years of business operation, she’s become acquainted with a diverse array of people or groups who are in need of her sewing skills. One of these is the equestrian community around her home in Arlington, Washington. It all started when one customer needed a unique logo embroidered on her horse blankets and sheets. She was so pleased with the results that she spread the word of Carol’s great work to her friends and fellow horse owners.
“Our customer base grew rapidly! I can’t tell you how many blankets, sheets, stall bags and halter bags we’ve embroidered. Then they started asking, ‘Can you repair this stall bag, can you fix this banner, can you make us some curtains and table covers?’ And that’s where the Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine comes in.”
In the past, Carol had sewn several smaller projects using her household Bernina sewing machine but she found it couldn’t handle big assemblies very well. With a growing demand for a variety of sewing projects, Carol realized she was in need of a dependable industrial sewing machine. And it was especially important to have one that had the performance capabilities to tackle any project she might be tasked with completing for a customer. During her search for a new machine, she discovered a company called Sailrite.
“I had bought a very old Pfaff industrial machine, but it didn’t have a variable speed motor and it didn’t work very well. I was lucky I didn’t get hurt while using it! I did a lot of research online and contacted Tanner Grant at Sailrite. He was very helpful and aided me in choosing which machine would work best based on the type of projects I wanted to do. I selected the Fabricator and love that I can take one stitch at a time if I want to.”
Fabricator in tow, Carol completed one of her largest projects for a horse show client. She made an 8 x 8-foot curtain out of Cordura with a 96-inch zipper that zipped to a 5 x 5-foot door panel that also had a 96-inch zipper down the center for the opening. To get the zippers and zipper stops just right, Carol had help from her friend, a seamstress at the boat manufacturing plant where they had worked for over 20 years.
The process of sewing the curtain was challenging, but Carol persevered. She had to reverse engineer the client’s existing curtains and figure out the zippers they wanted instead of using the Velcro® that connected the panels on the other curtains she’d received from them. After a few days of watching Sailrite how-to videos on zipper installations, she finally felt as though she had the confidence to master her project. She went on to explain, “There is no way I could have done it without the videos and tutorials. I watched them over and over again until I got it right.”
Carol has continued to watch numerous Sailrite how-to videos to further expand on her sewing skills and to try out some fun new projects. “The videos helped me to improve my pillow-making skills and I learned how to make a box cushion for the front of my fireplace ledge. I plan to create many other projects. There is much more to learn!”
Carol’s custom box cushion.
Sewing patches on a sailor’s hat.
Finished police patches!
Biker patches sewn on leather.
Sewing patches is easy with the Fabricator!
For now, Carol has been hard at work sewing a wide variety of projects for the folks in her community and receives new requests for work all the time (as seen above). She’s been using the stitch-by-stitch power of the Fabricator to sew embroidered patches on bulky police uniforms, biker jackets and even sailor’s hats. “I put on the zipper foot to give me better visibility for sewing close to the edge of the patch and to better follow its unique contours. I absolutely love the variable speed because I can sew one stitch at a time to maneuver around the contour of the patches.”
Carol’s DIY journey has grown tremendously and allowed her to connect with various members of her community, from her embroidery work to tackling new and exciting sewing projects with her Fabricator. She has opened up her horizons to the diverse world of handcrafted projects and the opportunities are as endless as her imagination.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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 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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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!”
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!”
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.
“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!”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.’”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
Creativity is the common denominator that exists in all crafters regardless of their preferred medium. Whether it’s the need to feel productive, to channel restless energy, or to unwind and relax after a stressful day, having a creative outlet is good for the soul. Having a hobby, especially a craft such as sewing in which you make something with your hands, engages the mind, promotes wellness and is a great way to connect with like-minded people in your community. It’s the perfect remedy for the overwhelming dominance of our technology-dependent lives.
Brett Walker has searched for a creative outlet his entire life. A hobbyist at heart, he describes himself as a “DIY type of person” who enjoys learning how to do things himself. He learned how to sew about eight years ago by watching videos online. He wanted to get into puppet design and stop-motion filmmaking, but when this idea didn’t work out, he switched to live-action filmmaking to channel his creativity.
“I always try to find hobbies to keep myself busy and have an artistic outlet. I’ve done a lot of drawing and painting, then filmmaking, and now cycling and bag making.”
It’s his cycling hobby that propelled his desire to get back into sewing. “After cycling for a while and more than a few flat tires, I realized I needed a bag to carry my flat tire repair kit with me. The custom ones I wanted kept selling out, so I figured I could just make my own. I had also started to hear about bike camping and wanted to buy panniers (a pair of bags or containers attached to the sides of a bicycle for storage), but found out that they are pretty pricey, so that led me to want to make my own as well.”
Ready to pick up his sewing hobby again, he needed to test the waters and find out if he still had his sewing skills. It had been a few years since Brett had sewn anything, so his best friend’s wife let him borrow her machine to see if he could relearn how to sew; he practiced making a few bags and instantly fell back in love with the craft. With his hobby firmly reestablished, he began sewing his own bags to carry things on his cycling adventures.
Enjoying making bags for himself and his cycling excursions wasn’t enough. He recognized a need in his cycling community for locally made, custom bags and decided to turn his sewing hobby into a small side business. He named his business Canal Workshop, inspired by the canal located next to his apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, which provides miles of traffic-free bike paths. It’s this canal that spurred Brett to get back into cycling as an adult, which he’d dropped after outgrowing his childhood BMX bike.
For about a year and a half, he’d been sewing bags with a Singer Heavy Duty sewing machine, but he found that it wasn’t handling the workload as well as he needed. So he began his search for a more powerful and dependable machine that could handle the thick Cordura canvas, packcloth and nylon webbing he uses for his bags. “I was talking to a cyclist friend of mine and he told me about Sailrite®. He mentioned that their machines were more economical and could just as easily get the job done [compared to more expensive heavy duty machines on the market].”
Brett initially looked at the Ultrafeed®, but Sailrite happened to be running a sale on the Fabricator® Sewing Machine, so he decided to take a look at an industrial sewing machine instead. “I figured that an industrial machine was more suited for the work I was doing. I liked that it had a classic steel look, was all black, and the name of the machine spoke to the type of work I was doing. When it went on sale, I thought this was a no-brainer.”
He’s been sewing with his new Fabricator for about six months and has no regrets about his choice of machine. “It’s strong, straightforward, and when I see it, I just want to sit down and work. The machine hums along and causes me no real issues. I love that it’s inset into the table that it came with and that you can wind the bobbins while you work. It works like a charm.”
The sewing process has been a bit of trial and error for Brett, as it is with most hobbies, and he’s learned some valuable lessons along the way about how to sew with skill and professional results. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is to take my time. Like in filmmaking, the more time and effort you put into preproduction (planning, pattern making and cutting), the faster and more efficient the production (sewing) is. I like to make one panel of a bag at a time, then put them all together. When I first started I was so eager to see the final product that I often left off important parts like a handle or my label.”
“It’s such a timesaver to take your time with a project. Planning out the process and then executing it correctly the first time means spending way less time with a seam ripper. One thing I’ve learned, and am still trying to perfect, is setting the tension properly. I had a hard time sewing certain lightweight materials before I learned to dial back the tension.”
When asked what he enjoys most about the sewing experience, Brett mentioned the sense of accomplishment he feels when making something himself and how his sewing hobby has led to new friendships. “I enjoy that I can make something for myself that is exactly the style, size and quality that I look for in a bike bag. I also really enjoy that I can provide that same service to the cycling community in Phoenix. What I love most is I’ve made a ton of new friends; a lot of my customers have gone on to become close friends because we’re all into cycling so much.”
While the majority of his sewing projects are for his bike bag business, Brett has put his Fabricator to other uses. “I’ll hem some pants or make some pillowcases for my girlfriend. I did recently make a regular backpack. I’ve also got an order for a bike bag with leather accents, which will be new territory for me. I did some research on that through the Sailrite website and am putting in an order for diamond tip needles from Sailrite for that project.”
With a restless, creative spirit, Brett is constantly searching for the next project to tackle and a new skill to learn. “I’m always looking for ways to grow and add to my skill set. I recently learned that custom bags for off-road vehicles is a thing, so I’m going to try that out. My buddy actually put a bug in my ear about making some bags to organize his new truck. Another project I’ve got on deck is blackout window coverings for a van.”
The creative vein through it all is Brett’s need to channel his artistry into something tangible. Whether you’re a sewer, woodworker, painter or knitter, the pure joy of creating something with your hands is the thread that ties us all together.
Sometimes, the only thing standing between you and your dream DIY is a few supplies, some research and a little encouragement. Sailrite® customer and crafty creator Anita Jackson learned that with the right tools and the right attitude, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. As a retired nurse, Air Force and Navy Reserve veteran and mother of five, Anita is no stranger to hard work and perseverance.
It all began with six old patio chairs. What had once been white sling fabric was now torn, dirty and covered in what appeared to be mold. Everyone told her to throw them out, but Anita had a better idea. Why not just clean them up and replace the sling fabric? It seemed like an easy enough project. Besides, it wasn’t as if Anita was without sewing experience. Both her parents were skilled at sewing and she’d had many lessons starting from the age of 10. As one of her favorite hobbies, Anita often sewed small cellphone bags, purses and quilts in her spare time. However, the closest thing she had done to patio chairs was re-covering dining room chairs.
Armed with her previous sewing knowledge, Phifertex® sling fabric and a Sailrite how-to video, Anita set to work completely revamping all six chairs. It wasn’t long before the entire thing turned into a family affair. Her husband and two of her sons offered much-needed help by taking the chairs apart, cleaning, spray painting, fitting the sling fabric and putting them back together.
Although the Sailrite video was straightforward and easy to follow, the project was not without its hiccups. Originally, Anita had cut out all the pieces of sling fabric to replace her chairs. “Next time, I would cut and sew one to check the fit before cutting the rest. I sewed the seams as instructed in the video for all six chairs. I enlisted the help of my son and my husband to install the fabric into the frames. No matter how hard I tried, the fabric was sewn too small to install!”
Just like with any project, it’s natural for mistakes to happen. Her husband, Tim, was very supportive and further encouraged her to continue. He said, “The only way to not make mistakes is to not get up when the alarm clock rings.” Thankfully, the sling fabric was very forgiving and it was easy to rip out the old seams and adjust them so they would fit correctly on the chairs. There’s no doubt that it was hard work, but the entire DIY process gave Anita a new outlook on the creative possibilities that come from having the right tools and the right attitude. There’s a special feeling that comes from turning something old and worn into something completely one of a kind.
“I was so proud of the job that I sent photos to friends and relatives. I got a lot of compliments and some people said they didn’t realize the slingback chairs could be re-covered. I told them about the Sailrite videos and wonderful products all on one website.”
Through her adventurous DIY efforts, Anita was able to finish all six chairs just in time for her grandchildren’s spring break visit. “This project definitely boosted my confidence in trying new projects with Sailrite. Maybe they’re not perfect, but we enjoy using the chairs again. I’m ready for another project!”
For our full selection of sling chair fabric shop Sailrite and to see the full how-to video on replacing sling chair fabric, click here!
Every family has a legacy — something defining that has been carried through the years between its members. In Dave Moore’s case, his family has been passing down the creative gene through the skill of sewing. We’re quite familiar with the idea of creating custom projects here at Sailrite®, so we were eager to learn more.
As a graphic artist from Ohio, Dave is no stranger to the idea of creating one-of-a-kind projects. He had a unique upbringing with his parents owning and operating their own sewing and upholstery shop directly from their home. Growing up, he took part in numerous aspects of the upholstery process, from tearing apart old marine furniture to patterning and cutting fabric and even woodworking. As it turns out, this family endeavor would eventually serve him well in his biggest DIY quest yet, along with a little help from a certain Sailrite sewing machine.
“It wasn’t until later in life that I developed an interest in the sewing aspect of the work in order to pursue my own projects. I was always intimidated by the big industrial machines my parents used, which is one reason I was so attracted to the Ultrafeed® LS-1 machine…industrial capability in a more accessible package.”
It all started with what should have been a simple idea. Dave had always wanted his own tipi, so he decided to do some research to see what it would take to have one in his backyard. After all, most things can be ordered online nowadays. After gathering all the information he could and comparing the prices of pre-made, full-sized tipis, Dave decided that instead of purchasing one, his best bet would be to take things into his own hands (quite literally) and make his own.
But the process of creating your own tipi is no small feat. Dave had to gather a plethora of information and do some serious pre-planning to turn his DIY dream into a reality. He drew heavily from his formal training as a graphic artist and his experiences with the family business in order to create detailed plans and 3D models to ensure material efficiency, assembly, geometry and general design guidelines.
“During my research, I learned a lot about the methods and techniques of traditional native tipi making. Some of this ‘tribal knowledge’ carried over to my designs, but I also wanted to put an emphasis on merging traditional designs with modern materials and techniques. I started out small, crafting two 9-foot tipi covers on 12-foot poles, and grew from there.”
Just like with any new project, there were plenty of hiccups along the way. Between perfecting his topstitch and handling large amounts of fabric, Dave’s family background made a world of difference when it came to mastering this massive DIY. Two years later, Dave has maintained his hobby of making tipis.
Based on the reaction he received after building his own, he set out to make tipis for anyone who shared the same interest in owning one as he had. He created all of his previous tipis at his own expense and sold them through social media and word of mouth, with each one selling within two weeks for a respectable price. His most recent (and largest) tipi is 22 feet tall with 26-foot poles and is the first one to be officially commissioned.
While building tipis was his main motivation for sewing, Dave has also created several other projects using his Ultrafeed LS-1 Sewing Machine, many of them closely involving his family. He’s crafted items for his three- and four-year-old daughters. Dave explained, “They adore the little things I make for them…a stuffed dinosaur, small drawstring bags for toys and their tablets. I even made my youngest a pair of pig ears for her Charlotte’s Web Halloween costume. Small things they’ll hopefully never forget.” He’s also created backdrops for his wife’s photography studio and a number of versatile bags.
Dave plans to continue introducing the world of sewing into the lives of his young daughters and his wife. In the future, his hope is to allow his daughters to decide what they’re going to create and provide all the guidance and resources needed to make their projects come to life. His parents are very pleased that he’s continued sewing and are thrilled to see him familiarize his little ones with the skill set and trade that supported the family for so many years.
For the Moore family, the future’s looking bright and carefully handcrafted. And while there are some generational traits we have no control over, the legacy of creativity and sewing seems to have been carefully passed down through the years in the Moore household, leading to some amazing results.
“Sewing has brought me closer to my wife and kids by simply involving them in my hobby. It’s our hobby! My girls sit beside me and play with scraps of fabric and webbing. I’ll hold rulers and let them mark the material for me. It takes a lot of patience, but you can almost see their little synapses firing! They get a huge thrill when I let them step on that foot pedal to wind bobbins! Even at their age, I think they recognize performance.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”