Way back in 2003 we had our cockpit canvas renewed by Barrett Enclosures in Seattle. They did a masterful job. But that was 12 years ago. In the intervening years, I have had to redo almost all the stitching (because I made a short-sighted decision to use the somewhat less expensive "UV Stabilized" polyester thread instead of the Teflon thread), refresh the Sunbrella's waterproofing on an annual basis, and deal with slow but inevitable fabric shrinkage. It is a sad thing to me to see the sorry state that things have reached, from such initial beauty. So, it is time to do that "once in a lifetime task", a second time. New cockpit canvas is needed.
But this time, instead of investing more than ℬ6.500, I decided to give it a try myself. Already having a Sailrite LSZ-1 makes this a possibility. So I reviewed Sailrite's excellent online videos, ordered a bunch of Sunbrella, fittings, and notions from Sailrite, and set to work.
After uneventfully patterning the aft bimini panel, I encountered the first problem: There was no place on the boat large enough to lay out the pattern on the cloth. We were able to get about 3/4 of it on the cabin top, so we did that and then folded the marked section up enough to get room to finish. Yes, I know that this process was fraught with opportunities for errors to creep in. But within the tolerance that we were working with (about 1/8") I think we did OK.
But there are a lot of fabric pieces involved in the aft panel. Altogether 7 more pieces were needed, besides the obvious big one. And then the space thing reared its head again. Working with the LSZ-1 on the edge of the saloon table, I was able to sew the long seams by letting the completed section pass over the table and then off the far edge, on its way back to the floor.
On a project like this, fabric management is always difficult, especially when working in a limited space (tho not as big a problem as this). My recommendation: always, ALWAYS use seam-stick tape, 3/8" for normal seams and 1/4" for zippers. It is a lifesaver. And don't be in a hurry.
This last weekend, I finally got the last of it done and installed it. But sadly, somehow I managed to get the locations for the Common Sense fasteners for one of the aft side curtains off slightly. Rather than make another set of holes in the new piece, I am going to relocate the eyelets in that side curtain instead. The thinking is that the side curtain is old and will be replaced anyway at a time in the future much nearer than the just-completed panel. And because of this, I am not going to show you a picture of it. Yet.
The plan is to move ahead with the other roof panels in sequence - the loose center panel that connects the dodger to the bimini, and then the top panel of the dodger. When redoing the top panel of the dodger, I will be revising Barrett's design, making the top panel and the front panel separate pieces - the thing is just too unwieldy for me to handle as a unit. And in fact, it looks like Barrett made the roof and front of the dodger separately, and then stitched them together as a final step. I will use Common Sense fasteners to hold them together instead of stitching.
So. I can say at this point, nearly 1/3 done with the top of the bimini and dodger, that with Sailrite's instructional videos, their tools and their materials, this is a doable project. It is complex and requires constant attention to detail, but it is doable by the cruising sailor, at a savings of 90% over the cost of having a professional do the work. But don't figure on getting it done over a weekend...