Sunday, October 25, 2015

What we LOVE about our enclosure, what we DON'T and what Sailrite said

Two and a half years after completing Troubadour's cockpit enclosure, we are still very happy with our design. All of the products used were purchased from Sailrite. Details of the design and fabrication can be found on my Picasa web albums at the links below. As a DIYer I am always curious how my sewing projects stand the test of time. I admit that I am a fan of Sailrite, not just for their products, but also the excellent customer service and responsiveness I've received from them during the past seven years of living aboard. I don't always fall in love with every product I purchase, either, though. Having said that, some questions have come up about the thread and basting tape used on the enclosure project. I asked Sailrite if they would respond to my questions as part of a blog post. Matt Grant, Vice President and owner, fresh from the Annapolis boat show, took the bait!

One of the great things about our enclosure is all the shade it provides from our Phifertex Screens, as well as the feeling of an additional "room" when our screens are down. The enclosure top, measuring at 14' x 9' and 75 inches in height provides a large footprint. If we were going to catch rain, that is where we could gather it. We've often talked about making fabric rain gutters and I have some articles from other cruisers on how to make them if I choose to in the future.
Troubadour's cockpit enclosure with screens down.

For more on how I made our enclosure, check out these links:

We also love the Phifertex Vinyl Mesh screens. They provide sun protection as well as wind protection, especially on the gusty days. On the flip side though, when the winds are light the screens block the wind such that they need to be rolled up (which is part of the design). The enclosure keeps the cockpit dry and the screens keep the cockpit clean from the Saharan dust that is often blowing in the air in Grenada. Phifertex is easy to clean with Dawn and water. While we are on a mooring in Secret Harbour, we don't have problems with mosquitoes, but during times when we were in a marina, the screens kept out the mozzies and no-see-ums. The screens also offer privacy for on deck showers, only allowing the lookyloos to see shadows.

I am very happy with Marine Grade Sunbrella fabric and the color we chose of Toast. Sunbrella is easy to maintain and cleans well with mild soap and water. This month Chris used a foam roller with Star Brite Waterproofing & Fabric Treatment on the enclosure top because we were having a few drips and as a preventative measure knowing Sunbrella will eventually lose its water repellent properties. The Star Brite is working and beads nicely.

Sunbrella beads after waterproofing with Star Brite.

Sunbrella fabrics do fade - compare new Toast Marine Grade on the left;
 and the same fabric after 30 months UV exposure. This is typical in the Caribbean.

Regalite windows continue to be soft and supple.
I made Phifertex shade screens to extend their life and add shade to the cockpit.

I sewed all the vinyl windows for our enclosure with Regalite 30 Gauge Vinyl glass. We really love this product. The center section is rolled up in the morning and closed at night. On rainy days it could get rolled up and down several times. The windows continue to be soft and easy to roll, keep clean and don't scuff easily. Also we don't notice any distortion which sometimes occurs with vinyl windows. They have not yellowed, either. We also regularly clean them with mild soap and water and treat with plastic polish. We have two sets of side windows and an aft window, in addition to our "dodger" windows. We don't use the side windows as often as anticipated. The rain showers aren't very long here (usually). When underway we sometimes zip on the forward side windows to keep the cockpit dry from sea spray or rain. I have not completed the aft side windows, they are much larger. All the materials to make the windows are ready to be sewn, but we don't need to create what would be a greenhouse effect if all the windows were in place in the tropics. I probably didn't need to purchase all that window material.

 I am really disappointed with the life of the V-92 Polyester UV thread. 

I'm not happy with the thread and I don't like that I will have to re-stitch the whole enclosure. I used V-92 Polyester UV thread from Sailrite in a color called Ashes on the whole project. I am really disappointed with the life of the V-92 thread, especially for a project of this size. I guess I knew that it would last a few years and that seemed like a long time into the future, but now that I have to re-stitch, it seems like only yesterday that I put the enclosure on! At 30 months this thread is breaking down quickly and it seems suddenly. It's as if every stitch has just decided to quit. It's kind of scary because every exposed area is ripe for splitting open.

Expect 2-3 years out of UV thread exposed to the Caribbean Sun.

It is most noticeable on the top of the enclosure, on the tails that the zippers have been sewn into and on the binding trim, as well as the zipper and binding stitches around the backstays. I used a semi-flat felled seam across the sections that align to the bow arches on top. It is this seam that concerns me the most, however, thankfully, with a semi-flat felled seam, the inside seam does not get exposed to the sun's rays. Needless to say the cover will be removed soon and re-stitched. I plan to evaluate the responses from Sailrite before choosing a thread for this project and will update you in another blog post.

I chose Ashes for it's color and UV protection (and I used it as directed on the Sailrite website). I've noticed that the black thread on the sail pack that I made six years ago is still holding. I am now considering a more expensive lifetime thread. I really don't want to use black with my tan enclosure - white or clear would be ideal colors. It is my theory that dark thread will hold up much longer than light thread.

Sailrite, what is the expected life of UV Thread when exposed 24 x 7 x 365 in the southern latitudes? And what do you recommend as an alternative?

Sailrite Response:

"Two years is about right for your area (we suggest 2 to 3 years). My recommendation is a white or black which are not Vat-house dyed. The dyeing process does weaken a new thread from the start. Also if you have cleaned with bleach that will further diminish the thread life. But that said, I love the idea of “Lifetime” threads like Profilen or Tenara. For an Oscillating hook machine, like the Ultrafeed, get the Profilen. For anything else both work great.

"Here are some fun facts: Polyester thread (like the Ashes) loses over 60% of its breaking strength in the first year of use. Profilen and Tenara don’t lose any strength in the first three years. Black or white are the best colors of Polyester to use – they won’t fade quickly and they last longer than other colors. Profilen and Tenara are very expensive when compared to Polyester thread of equivalent sizes."

Another product I often use and like is Seamstick 3/8" Basting Tape for Canvas, part #129 from Sailrite. This product acts like a glue to bind seams together before stitching and to help seal the seam when sewn. This works sometimes and sometimes it doesn't. In my opinion, the best benefit of the product is to hold seams together before and during stitching.

I also used a similar a product bought locally (because I used up my supply mid project) to hold the Regalite vinyl to Sunbrella Canvas before sewing. However, after less than a year of the Caribbean heat and sun, the "glue" has seeped through the Sunbrella. The negative side is it looks strange and it's sticky. I can live with it.

Sailrite, what is causing the Seamstick glue to seep through the canvas? Is it the heat of sun causing this?

Sailrite Response:

"Basting tape is a great help when sewing canvas. But it is important to select the right type for the job. Getting a tape that is too sticky, or one that is not compatible with PVC can cause a sticky and ugly mess. The rules are quite simple. If the material is smooth (little texture) and slick, use a less aggressive tape. Sailrite simply calls this “Seamstick”. But if you are sewing a textured canvas (like Sunbrella), use a more aggressive adhesive thickness. Sailrite calls this “Seamstick for Canvas”. We make this work by providing Seamstick in a hybrid acrylic/rubber base composition. Here the rubber adhesive element helps to create a strong bond where adhesive thickness is minimized. It would not stick well to Sunbrella, but works great for sailcloth and other Polyester based fabrics.

"The Seamstick for Canvas on the other hand is an Acrylic based adhesive. This type of adhesive is not prone to having a chemical reaction with PVC which causes softening of the adhesive and thus a potential bleed situation. I guess what I am trying to say is that the type of adhesive is important. Rubber based products can and do result in the situation you have. I think if the #129 had been used, you would not have this issue. We intend to do a new long-term test of our current tape to confirm this again. I should also state that there are some specialty tapes beyond those mentioned here that are really aggressive for applications without sewing. I will not go into these as their website descriptions will guide you in their use.

This picture was taken shortly after installation of the cockpit enclosure.
Notice the left side of the rolled middle window near top of photo and compare to photo below.

Nearly three years later, fabric glue seeps through the fabric when used with vinyl window material.

"The older tape that I mentioned before “Seamstick (rubber based basting tape)” was offered for very aggressive use where we were careful to tell consumers not to use it on Sunbrella when mixed with a PVC fabric. We discontinued this as it was confusing and once a customer got the product they could not tell the difference from other types. I was just dangerous to offer."

Additionally, some areas where I used the basting tape there were still leaking seems. This began at around 24 months. Maybe the thread was breaking down already. It is possible in some places my needle didn't go through the basting tape. In an attempt to stop the leaks (they weren't big leaks, just annoying little drips especially along the structural areas) we purchased Gear Aid Seam Sure Water Based Seam Sealer on Amazon and applied that to the seams but it did not support it's claims on our seams. Maybe some products just don't hold up in the elements no matter where you are.

Chris laces on Troubadour's enclosure (March 2013).

Sailrite products used on Troubadour's enclosure we love:
  • As mentioned earlier, we are happy with the vinyl window material - Regalite 30 Gauge Vinyl. Relatively easy to sew and with regular cleaning it has remained supple and handles well when rolling it up.
  • YKK #10 Zippers are holding up well with regular lubricating and I sewed them so that they stayed covered and protected from the sun.
  • E-Z Lace Supreme has proven to hold its promise. This is an awesome product that saved us from putting a million grommets in our "lace on" enclosure top. The E-Z Lace allows our enclose to be attached to the frame. The  ring of stitches where the E-Z Lace was sewn to the top are exposed to UV rays, too, and will need to be re-stitched as well.
  • Nickel Plated Snap Buttons. I got fancy and used tan colored snap buttons. The tops are showing fading and whitening by the sun, and on some of the snaps the paint has cracked or peeled off. They are all still functional and working great. They get lubricated regularly, too, using the zipper lube stick.
More Sailrite fabrics we love
I am very jazzed about our Surlast foredeck awning. Although it does not live on deck year round, it has held up very well, and has only needed minor chafe repair on the corners and other tension areas where straps were sewn that attach it to the toe rail. I could have put these chafe protection patches on when I made the awning, but didn't know to do that. When I see an area that needs repair, I add a patch. As I mentioned, the fabric is Surlast and is very lightweight and completely water resistant. This large awning will roll up into a small duffel (which I also made to store it in). The stitches and seams have held up. I used double rubbed seams and would highly recommend them for any project that will be exposed in the tropics year-round. (Yes, more fabric is used in this type of seam, but worth it in my opinion for strength and durability.) This awning is five years old and is still water repellent.
 "Surlast fabric is a tough, non-abrasive polyester fabric with excellent weather and abrasion resistance and good breathability." ~ Sailrite
The Phifertex Vinyl Mesh screen product sold by Sailrite is a pure joy to have on board. If you are doing any sewing projects where you will need a screen  product - shower caddy, cockpit screens, cushions, sheet bags, hatch screens, dinghy chaps, etc. this product holds up over time, is easy to clean, and easy to sew with. I recommend having a yard or two on board because you never know what you may need it for. Phifertex provides a 70% shade factor. Phifertex Plus Mesh provides a 90–95% shade factor. Both can be used to extend the life of vinyl windows.

Stern pulpit shower caddy made with Phifertex and Sunbrella.

Sailrite products we wouldn't live without
  • Engel Hotknife - well worth the price. But don't bother with the Cutting Foot (at $50). I found this guide to be more a bother than it was worth. I cut my fabric on a stainless 36" ruler or I use an aluminum cookie sheet.
  • Magnetic Bobbin Holder - I can't tell you how many times a bobbin went rolling across the cabin sole. When Sailrite advertised this product I snatched it up. It fits perfectly in the bottom of the side cubby on my machine.
  • Seamstick 3/8" Basting Tape for Canvas, part #129 (mentioned earlier) - I really like this product and it can be used for any number of non-sewing projects. Noting my earlier concern, I will be more careful when purchasing similar products.
  • Sewing Machine Needles Size 12 - I have done several projects and clothing repairs using the simple #12 home sewing needles and home sewing thread that can be purchased for the LSZ-1 Sailrite. Be aware that the presser foot is firm and could leave tracks in your fabric (test and adjust if you need to).
Envelope-style pillow cover using a favorite t-shirt sewing on the
 Sailrite LSZ-1 using a #12 needle and home sewing thread.
  • 1" Swing-Away Straight Binder - love, love, love this handy gadget for sewing on binding. It makes projects that require binding so much quicker and easier when you use the pre-made binding. It automatically guides and folds binding tape into place over the edge of fabric as you sew. If you are going to make a cockpit enclosure as featured in Make Your Own Full Boat Enclosure DVD then I highly recommend buying this in the size needed for your project. The extra expense will save you time, frustration, tears and beers (the ones you drown in)!
  • Magnetic Sewing Guide - yes you could use a piece of tape, but this little gadget makes it so easy to not have to think so much about keeping seams straight.
Check out my other articles on the Sewing on Board and the DIY tabs on our blog. I hope you found this blog helpful as you prepare for your next sewing on board project.
A blog post on UV thread considerations for cruisers
 and more from Sailrite will soon follow this post.

Thanks to the team at Sailrite for your help and responses.


  1. Wow, you've got some amazing skills, Linda! Awesome project and article.

  2. Thanks for this detailed article Linda. I'm getting ready to do our enclosure this summer and it was very helpful. I did both our dodger and our bimini over the last 5 years but I've never done and enclosure before so I appreciate your input.

    S/V Kintala


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