Don’t throw away old sail covers

To the editor: As voyaging sailors know, quiet tropical anchorages are hot in the sun. What’s the remedy? Covers, covers and more covers. Either you fill a bill at a canvas shop, or make your own.

I carry a sewing machine onboard our Peterson 44, Oddly Enough, but as I’d rather be snorkeling, I’m utilitarian in my approach. Therefore it was with great glee that I discovered that old sail covers can be made into hatch awnings with a few snips, a couple of seams, and a bunch of grommets and old lashings. Sail lofts often sell used sail covers, or a friend may get rid of one that has life in it but is not the preferred color.

After seven years of cruising on our Peterson 44, I recently replaced my original awnings (made from an old Passport 40 mainsail cover) with new ones from a cast-off staysail cover. The cloth can be laid out and cut into sections, rather like cutting steaks out of a fish. The curved seam in the middle of a sail cover becomes the midline of a hatch cover and gives it a good shape.

The trick is to know not just hatch size, but what minimum overlap will make decent shade through the day. I usually cut off the back third of the cover and set it aside, and use the middle piece for my forward hatch. This is fairly flat. All the hems, including the two new ones that need to be sewn, should be wide enough to set grommets into the corners and sides, and one in the middle of the forward edge. Then, when securing it on the deck of my boat, I tie the two aft corners down to the handrails, the sides to the lifelines, and one long lashing goes forward around the headstay, stretching the cover and giving it a slight arch.

The mast end of each sail cover is slightly different, and here is where creative thinking helps. Out of the staysail cover I was left with a shape rather like a manta ray with big two-point wings and the neck being its horns. I removed the zipper pieces and put grommets in either end of the neck and used this to anchor the cover to the mast, which is just aft of my main hatch. With lashings in grommets in the four corners of the two wings I can tie the cover to the forward lower shrouds and the lifeline. Then to give the cover lift and a shape that sheds light rain (another common feature of the tropics), I set two grommets in the mid seam about a third of the way back from the forward edge, tied a ring of small rope between them, and I can rig the staysail halyard as a topping lift.

The last narrow piece becomes my roving cover to take care of an offending beam of sunlight coming through a port, or to simply shade a piece of deck. The small awnings are all quick to put up and take down. If you can keep air circulating and the sun out, the tropics are quite pleasant.    n

Ann Hoffner and her husband Tom Bailey live and voyage aboard their Peterson 44, Oddly Enough. They are currently in Indonesia.

By Ocean Navigator