Saturday, October 27, 2007

Another Set of Skills

Building a boat like the Tiki 26 involves much more than carpentry skills. To complete all phases of building and outfitting a cruising catamaran, one must not only be able to work with wood, epoxy and fiberglass, but also with rope and wire rigging, electrical components and wiring, metal and hardware fabrication and installation, and of course, canvas and other essential fabrics.

Many boatbuilders hire someone else to do their canvas work and sailmaking, and that is certainly a viable option and is possibly the quickest, but also the most expensive way to get this phase of the project done. A boat such as the Tiki 26 offers so many options and possibilities, however, when it comes to custom canvas, that I already knew I wanted to do my own. Hiring a professional would be out of the question in my case as there will not only be front and rear trampolines to make, but some sort of dodger/deck tent combination, sail covers, interior organizers and other custom items that are best done right on or near the boat so that a good fit can be assured.

Since I knew I would be doing all this other canvas work for the boat and I enjoyed learning how to do it when I was refitting my Tiki 21 last year, I decided that I would not only tackle all these projects but also make the sails as well. There was a time when practically all sailors made their own sails as well as built their own boats, but that's way out of the mainstream these days. But thanks to Sailrite, the do-it-yourself sailmaking supplier of kits, materials and sewing machines, making your own sails is within reach of anyone with a determination to attempt it. Sailrite provides pre-cut, professionally-designed kits with labeled panels and all the hardware and other bits needed to complete the sail, as well as detailed instructions aimed at the first-time sailmaker. They've been working with Wharram catamaran designs for years and have the sailplans for all the Tiki range and others. They have delivered quite a few Tiki 26 sail kits over the years and I've spoken with a couple of Tiki 26 builders who have made their sails from these kits and were quite satisfied. So after receiving a wide range of quotes from various sailmakers who could provide Tiki 26 sails, I decided to become my own sailmaker, or at least try. I ordered the kit for the jib first, as it will be less complicated than the mainsail with it's zipper luff pocket. The complete kit is shown below. It's quite a pile of parts, perhaps a bit more intimidating than the stack of plywood that I started building the boat with. But really, sewing is just a matter of careful measuring, cutting and assembly, using tools and keeping things in line, just like in carpentry. Instead of stitch and glue, as in assembling the hulls, the sails are glued (with seamstick tape to hold the panels in place temporarily) and then stitched. Should be a piece of cake! (Right!) Anyway, if this goes well, I'll order the mainsail kit next.

I started dabbling in sewing last year with an old heavy-duty home machine that gave me nothing but headaches with tension adjustments, lack of power and other problems. There's enough sewing to do in outfitting this boat to justify a decent machine, so I ordered Sailrite's recommended model, the Ultrafeed LSZ-1. This portable but seriously heavy-duty machine features a walking foot to enable it to feed many layers of heavy canvas or Dacron, and is capable of making the wide zig-zag stitches needed in sailmaking. I'll spend some time getting familiar with it making small projects before I jump into the sailmaking. The jib kit should be just right for one of those rainy, cold weeks we'll be having soon as winter approaches.

More info about Sailrite sail kits and sewing machines is available on their website at

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