Tips

Here are a few things I’ve learned that might be useful to you also.

You can list them all by clicking here, or by category:

Tools

Gear

Canvas

Stowage

Fiberglassing

Cleaning

Misc

Food Stowage
For food storage, humidity is a problem. Containers you think are airtight – such as many seasonings canisters, powdered drink mixes, etc. – are not. I discovered this with coffee creamer powder. What I do with any questionable container is transfer it to smaller plastic bottles that originally held a liquid. Square-ish pint booze bottles work well; you shouldn’t have a problem collecting them from fellow boaters (or you could do “stowage preparation and research” at the local liquor store for yourself!) Ya, I buy pints of whiskey and vodka, pour that damned Devil’s brew right down the sink, and use the empty bottles. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Iced tea mix, Gatorade mix, and so on – are more convenient in pint-sized bottles: you pour some in an empty go-cup, pour in water, cap it and shake it, and you don’t have to dig out and dirty a spoon. Olive oil usually comes in either glass or way-too-big bottles, so a pint bottle on the galley shelf allows room for other supplies. Coffee comes in different sizes but all come with the snap lid (that can pop open when the can gets bounced around the boat), so I put it in screw-top peanut butter jars. Instant potato mix comes in – okay, you get the idea . . .

By the way, the best way to remove the labels from empty plastic bottles is with a product called GooGone, available at places like WalMart, Kmart, HomeDepot, Lowes, etc.

Zippers

Zippers scare people. Wait. It’s the thought of installing zippers that scares people. There’s an easy way to do it, as I show in these three pics. (The second pic gives you a closer look of ‘zactly what I’m trying to describe here.)

Step 1 – cut a strip of material a couple of inches longer than the zipper.
Step 2 – sew it to the zipper “backwards” so it covers the zipper teeth. (Use a regular ol’ paper stapler to hold it in place. For zippers in the middle of wide cloth, double-sided sewing tape will save you many foul swear words.)
Step 3 – fold it back on itself so that the crease is right at the teeth and run another stitch along its length.
Step 4 – repeat for the other side of the zipper.
Voila! You have a zippered seam that is flush and covers the zipper well! Easy-peasy! After you do this maybe two times, you’ll probably be able to do it half drunk. Trust me.

Clothing stowage
Regardless of a boat’s interior, it is a boat. It is not a house, or even a ship. There are three things to remember:

Hanging lockers are pretty much for wet foul weather gear only, or dockside clothing stowage. Boats do not have closets.
Humidity affects the interior of boats on water much more than it does that of houses on land – I know, who would have thunked that? But you’ll forget it, or pretend it doesn’t apply to your boat. So, unlike living in a house, it is not a bad idea at all to keep your clothing in plastic bags: yes, it is a bit of a bother, but they’ll smell better. The sliding barrel lock kind is more convenient than the squeegee kind. I like the Hefty Jumbo 2.5 gallon and gallon sizes. (Note: the heavier plastic “Ziploc Big Bags” are good, but more expensive and overall not as convenient as the grocery store kind.)
Learn to roll your clothing instead of folding it. I fold my T-shirts, as I have for many years, the way I was taught in Navy boot camp; jeans fold easy; most other items are more easily half-folded and then rolled.

Hull Cleaner
To remove water “tea” stains from the hull (a problem on the Chesapeake and the ICW), I love Captain John’s Boat Brite (see boatbrite.com). It does a great job and is not toxic (on the boatbrite.com site, a testimonial tells the story of how a splash to the eyes requires only a water flush.) When someone here tried it and was very pleased with the results, she couldn’t help herself from telling everyone about it (ya, I know, great Saturday night conversational topic), and soon everyone here became a fan.

By the way, years ago I tried another well-known hull cleaning product that loudly claims on the label you can just put it on and wipe it off, but damn, the fine print suggests you wear thick rubber gloves and a face mask! I suggest you use a respirator, too – that stuff is, in the words of a guy who used long-handled brush wrapped in a rag to apply it, “ain’t no joke.” Actually, I think the product is a joke – I used it for a few minutes and then capped the bottle and disposed of it at the nearest Hazardous Wastes site. While in the Navy I essentially lived for years inside a floating factory and was never exposed to such nasty fumes.

Epoxy mixing tools
I often say, “Spend money, but don’t waste it!” Wherever you get your resin, hardener, and cloth, they’ll try to sell you plastic mixing bowls, mixing sticks, brushes, etc. The only tool you really need to get from a supplier is a roller (to squeeze the extra resin from the overlaying layer of fiberglass cloth.) For the rest, go to the nearest dollar store! For mixing, get a packet of “craft sticks”, a.k.a. Popsicle sticks. Get throwaway spoons (the hard plastic kind; picnic spoons just melt), maybe measuring cups, and throwaway brushes to dab the resin into thick cloth and matting (don’t worry about the few strands that come out of the brushes.) For mixing containers, save food containers (cream cheese, butter tubs, etc. The smoother the bottom the better.) Trust me, you’ll save enough to reward yourself for a long day of glassing with cold beer, or a hot meal, or whatever else you like.

AC Units
The best and drastically least expensive way to air condition your boat (dockside) is with a portable house window unit mounted in your companionway. People resist doing this because it looks . . . well, shall we say, inelegant, and because they don’t want to crawl over it to get through the companionway. However, after trying their other options, many boaters dockside decide that climbing over a small unit is not such a big inconvenience after all.

Your first other option is the “marine AC units” that are (a) 7 to 12 times as costly, (b) bigger and bulkier to move on and off the boat, and (c) questionably more efficient at actually cooling the air, and (d) designed for an overhead hatch, such as in the forepeak, which is great for sleeping but not so great for cooling the main cabin.

Your second other option is the “portable AC units” that vent through a flexible vent and are most often used in single rooms or offices. They work, but they’re a bit awkward to place anywhere in most small boats, they don’t seem to cool as well as a window unit, and they’re relatively expensive.

If you walk the docks of any marina with liveaboards, during the hot months you’ll see all three options in use. Except for at country-club style marinas, you’ll probably see more window units in companionways than the other two options combined.

Also, you’ll find that it is harder for your body to deal with heat when you’re constantly switching back and forth between hot and cool environments. The more time you spend on your boat, the more likely you’ll turn the AC on only during the hottest and most humid times.

Latex or Nitrile Gloves
If you’re doing a small glass job, the 50 count bags or 100 count boxes will probably be enough, but if you’re doing a big project, or a bunch of small jobs all over a boat, find someplace to buy in bulk, like maybe Jamestown Distributors. If you have any left over, surely some of your boatyard friends will take them off your hands for cash or X beer units.

The Fun of Fiberglass
Until they try it once, most people shy away from fiberglass repairs. It’s a little messy, but it’s not hard to do (except when you have to contort yourself to crawl into the bilge and then try to epoxy something overhead!) Try it, maybe practice on a backyard project – you’ll probably find all kinds of things to fix and uses for your new skills. I’ve heard quite a few people comment that except for the mess, it is kind of fun.

Boat Soap
There are several soaps especially formulated for cleaning boats, and they might be necessary for real deep cleaning. However, for a regular ol’ wash down, what many boaters do is use any ECO-FRIENDLY, BIO-DEGRADABLE liquid laundry soap. It’s much, much cheaper. Just be sure to read the labels!

White vinegar is your friend!
Before you spend all kinds of money on specialized boat cleaning products, try white vinegar diluted with water. Last year, a friend tried several products to clean some once-white starboard on his boat and then asked me for product suggestions. We tried wiping it with a cloth wet with vinegar and water, and the dirt and mold stains came off (mostly) with just a wipe and not a scrub. He was so amazed he fetched his wife to show her. Starboard, non-skid, interior moldy surfaces: it works pretty well on many things, and it doesn’t eat your hands, your lungs, or your fiberglass like chlorine bleach and other industrial cleaners. It’s such a simple thing you’d think more people used it, but I guess we’re brainwashed with all the chemical product advertisements. You can get two gallons of it at Sam’s Club for under $4.

Beware of flat surfaces!
Beware of flat (horizontal) surfaces, especially those that are surrounded by a fiddle rail! They’ll collect loose stuff of all sorts and sizes and the pile will grow like a mutant amoeba in a bad sci fi movie – you and your boat are no more immune to this than any other boater I know. All that loose stuff can become either projectile or sliding underfoot, and in port it WILL become unmanageable. This isn’t just my idea: it is pretty much the same reason all modern cars have dashboards with curves and slopes that prevent putting anything at all on them. If you have any shelving anywhere inside the boat, if possible, rebuild them into some kind of locker, preferably permanent. Galley counters and dinette tables, of course, should be kept clear for usability.

Sun Shades
Whether dockside or at anchor, sun shades can be surprisingly helpful in keeping your boat’s temp down. The reason is simple: fiberglass absorbs the sun’s radiant heat. After partially shading my foredeck, one afternoon I crawled into the forepeak to nap. I lay on my back and raised my hands to the underside of the deck, one hand where I knew was covered by the shade and one hand where the shade did not reach. The difference in temp between the two was apparent. Shades help! (Btw, a friend who is slightly obsessed with numbers likes to put a thermometer on different parts of his boat deck, and on a 90 degree sunny day, his deck will read 125 degrees. Shades help!

To save quite a few dollars, you can make a fairly serviceable shade out of old, worn-out sails. If you don’t have any, your marina mates might. An old sail is like the wind: it will show up, just not always when you want it to.

Cockpit Cushions
Sure, a set of custom-made cushions certainly make a cockpit look more cozy, and they help turn a “yott” into a proper yacht. If you don’t have them already, however, maybe you shouldn’t lust after them. Before you make your own, or, God forbid, go out and pay someone to make them for you, think about these few points:

First, they’re a bother to stow. Of course you can leave them out, but they’ll collect rainwater and maybe bird poop.

Second, that rain water is a problem whether you have open-cell (soft) or closed-cell (hard) foam because you’ll get a wet ass either way, simply because they’re covered in cloth. Don’t think the answer is to cover them in vinyl; not only is it uncomfortable in sweaty weather, but since water will invade through the seams, the interior will get wet. If the cushions are made of soft, open-cell foam, they’ll soak up water very much like the sponges they are. They’ll become surprisingly heavy, and they’ll smell bad.

Third, closed-cell foam is pretty good, and it is certainly softer than fiberglass, but it only barely qualifies as a “cushion.”

My advice? Get a few of those square throw-able cushions and call it a day. They can be moved around as needed, stowed easily, and they’re relatively cheap. When the original cheap nylon cover wears out, re-cover them in all in Sunbrella.

V berths
V berths are rarely used as berths. DON’T believe you’ll use it for sleeping as much as you think you will. Around here, we all call our V berths “clutter berths.” The tend to accumulate enough general stuff to create periodic “crapalanches.”

V berths are called that because, looking aft, they’re shaped like a V, often with a removable support and cushion to fill in the gap. This general, simple idea works well: one long cushion on the port side, another on the starboard, and a third in the middle. The specifics of the idea, however, are problematic.

First, there is stowage under the bunk. On some boats this stowage does not need to be very accessible; it is used for water tankage and such. On most boats, though, the area under the bunks is made up of usable locker space, usually accessible from the top down through 3 or 4 liftable lids. Well, to lift the lids you have to move the cushions first. So, long cushions piled high with clutterberth stuff severely restrict access. It may not be a bother for many months, but when it does, you will remember reading this. And you’ll probably swear.

Second, all V berths are not created equal. Generally speaking, the wider the bow section, the more cumbersome the cushions and locker access.

I have a few strong suggestions for re-doing V berth cushions:

Make your cushions easily movable not only for locker access but also for removal for airing out, washing, wintertime off-boat storage, etc. Don’t be thinking of long, seamless cushions like a bed. Usually this means one trapezoidal cushion at the bottom of the V and then perhaps a horizontal trapezoidal shape, and then lopsided rectangles on each side. Remember, V berths very often morph into clutterberths, so to move a large or long cushion, you’ll often end up moving a pile of crapalanche parts.
When forming the V sides and movable center cushion, use simple shapes – that means, use 4 outside corners. The angles don’t matter; the thing is, avoid inside corners. No, stay away from inside corners. No, forget about inside corners!
Consider making a set of cushions that mirror each other port and starboard, each half-set half as thick as you would want for your bedding. This way, when you have guests and need bunk space, you have a two-inch bed the size of your V berth, and the rest of the time, you have a four-inch bed for one and half of your V berth for stowage that doesn’t have to be constantly shifted.
Don’t bother trying to make the foam fit the hull. I did, and I regret it. When I re-do my V cushions, I’ll make the corners perpendicular to the bunk floor to allow much better ventilation between the hull and the sponge-like foam. This problem became apparent the first winter that I lived aboard when inevitable condensation (from breathing, if nothing else!) collected along the edge of the cushions. In the springtime I discovered a fine crop of mold / mildew / yucky stuff growing there.

Foam
Foam has become surprisingly expensive, especially at regular retail craft stores; you can find much better deals online. I use Foam N’ More, Inc. @ FoamExpress1.com: you can get several quality levels and thickness of foam in both standard bed sizes (click on Mattress Toppers) and “1/4, ½, or full sheets” (76 x80, click on High Density Foam.) It’s delivered in surprisingly small packages, vacuum-packed. Just carefully cut the plastic wrapping and stand back!

To cut foam, you can use either a hot knife, an electric kitchen knife (bread blades), or a hand mitre saw. The hand mitre saw is the cheapest way to go but gives surprisingly nice results. Just remember, don’t saw the foam: only pull backwards on the saw, lifting it up and pulling again.

Cloth
You can get Sunbrella and other boat-suitable fabrics from many places (including ebay), but Sailrite.com is a very well-known source for boaters. In fact, they have videos to show you how to make boat things, and kits ranging from simple sail bags to bona fide boat sails! They’re a handy source for things like V-92 UV resistant thread, strong and long zippers, snap attachments, etc.

Btw, stay away from patterns and stripes – often, the inside of a sailboat is a big ol’ optical illusion as far as converging lines are concerned. The exception might be vertical stripes on settee backrests, but be careful! Besides, solid colors are much easier to assemble, and sometimes matching the pattern on pieces of cloth requires extra cloth, raising the overall cost.

Sewing Machines
As I mentioned in the “Tool Tips” section, you do not need an industrial / commercial sewing machine to do most canvas work. Note that word, most. With a standard home machine you can sew several layers of Sunbrella, thin gauge flexible plastic (for windows), etc. Yes, you will need a stronger machine to handle thicker pieces such as the reinforced corners of sails, but you’ll be able to afford to pay someone else for that with all the money you’ve saved on relatively simple canvas work.

Canvas and Cushions
Although the term canvas is still sometimes used to refer to the sails (“Let’s get some canvas up and go!”), it nearly always refers to all of the cloth accessories on a boat. Mainsail covers, dodgers, biminis, sunshades, weathercloths, tiller covers, winch covers, and dink covers on the outside; cushion covers down below; various miscellaneous items such as stow bags and fender covers: nearly all of it is made with the ubiquitous outdoor fabric Sunbrella. It’s not canvas at all: it is a UV resistant acrylic cloth that will last in the weather for years.

The price professionals charge for canvas work will surprise, shock, and dismay you. It will behoove you to learn how to repair and make your own canvas, especially if you have a “budget boat.” You can probably do a respectable job at making your own canvas – after all, it is canvas for a boat and not silk or satin for a fashion runway, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. As a friend of mine said, “I’ve owned a few boats over the past 4 decades, and I’ve been on plenty more, and I’ve never heard a single word about the stitchwork on the cushions. Well, except for people telling me the a piece was overdue for replacement.” So, sew your own – you’ll save hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars better spent on new sails, beer, or both!

Garhauer
Garhauer makes stainless steel sailboat gear. Their prices are relatively low, but it sure seems their quality is relatively high! I got my new traveler from them, and I love it! They also make a jib track car that can be adjusted from the cockpit, which an ex-marina mate of mine had and loved – you can check it out at garhauermarine.com.

A Sewing Machine
A basic sewing machine is your friend. It is amazing how useful and cost-saving it is! When I found out how much boat cushions cost (because they’re all pretty much custom made), after I recovered from the shock I marched myself down to the nearest Walmart, bought a Brother sewing machine for $67, and taught myself to sew. No, I do not make pretty dresses and petticoats, but I’ve made cushions, sail covers, tiller covers, winch covers, helm covers, biminis, dodgers, and sunshades (for myself and others), and I’ve repaired quite a few pieces of canvas around the marina, too. Also, webbing straps, tool bags, laundry bags, sock bags, a bosun’s chair, a porch swing, porch glider cushions, etc., etc. No doubt about it, my “return on investment” for the sewing machine is clearly positive: I never guessed it would be, but it is one of the best tools I’ve ever purchased. (Btw, I made my bimini canvas mostly with leftover pieces, so for zippers and other materials I spent less than $100; a shop will charge at least $500.)

If you’re a guy, you might initially catch some ribbing from your guy friends, but the teasing will end the first time they need a repair to their Jeep canvas, hunting gear, etc.

(See Canvas Tips)

Fein Tools
A Fein tool is a fine thing to have! Originally developed to cut plaster casts off of broken bones, it will vibrate a blade through something solid (plaster, wood, fiberglass, steel) but not cut through something soft (that vibrates with it, such as flesh.) The beauty of this tool is in the variety of attachments. My favorite is shaped like a spatula, which allows you to cut bolts flush, cut bolts through a barely opened joint, cut bolts through . . . well, you get the idea! (Btw, Craftsman makes essentially the same tool with similar attachments, for a lower price.)

Dremel Tool
Dremel tools are your friend. Again, the variety of attachments is what makes it useful. Need to grind a divot around a screw hole in your fiberglass so you can patch it? A Dremel can make a dime-sized divot; an angle grinder with a 4 ½” rotary disk just cannot be so finely controlled. (You probably don’t want to get the fanciest model since yours will be filled with fiberglass dust sooner than you think it will!) And you’ll be surprised at how many different applications you can use a Dremel, many of which would be pretty much impossible without one!