The approach of winter in the northern hemisphere brings with it that age-old problem: How best to protect the boat from snow and ice? Already boats on Lake Superior are being pulled from the water, and sailors as far south as the Chesapeake are beginning to think about buttoning up for winter. While many powerboats choose shrink-wrapping over a more permanent solution, sailboats-with their masts stepped or unstepped-are perfectly suited for reusable custom, or semi-custom covers.
Several seasons ago, Michigan sailor and Practical Sailor subscriber Alan Hyde posed that age-old question in our PS Advisor column, which I have reposted below.
We now have a boat-an Allied Seabreeze 35 sloop, hull number 23, from 1965-and overall, its a well-kept and sea-kindly boat. Winter is coming, and a winter cover seems in order. The do-it-yourself conduit-frame-and-tarp described in an archived PS report is an option, but a fitted canvas (Sunbrella or better) cover is another, which will perhaps pay for itself in about three seasons. What is your view on this?
Wolf Hound, Allied 35
This is a big topic worthy of a larger article. For a snapshot view of the custom-cover options, we talked to Jim Welinski, co-owner of the family-run Shipshape Canvas shop (www.shipshapecanvas.com) in Duluth, Minn., where stored boats face some of the country’s harshest winters.
Most custom covers today are frameless, making them easier to stow and install than the excellent DIY frame-cover described on our website. In either case, a reusable cover will save money in the long haul. A robust, frameless winter cover for a Catalina 30 costs about $2,000 and can last eight to 15 years (with a re-stitching after about eight years), depending on how you treat it. Lighter-weight covers for less-harsh climates sell for just under $1,500 and can last about eight years. A single-season shrinkwrap job will cost $850. You do the math.
For cold-weather covers in dark northern climates, Welinski likes Top Gun, an acrylic-coated polyester that is tough, low-stretch, mildew-resistant, and abrasion resistant, just what is needed to stand up to fierce wind and cold. The material has two cons: It has a tough industrial finish, so a softer material is used to prevent chafe where the cover meets the hull, and it is not breathable, so good vents are essential.
For sunny climates with milder winters, Welinski recommends the UV-stable synthetic blend Weathermax, a breathable fabric that helps prevent mildew and condensation, but is not as strong and abrasion-resistant as Top Gun. Coated acrylics like Sunbrella are another option. Although not as tough or abrasion-resistant as Weathermax (see PS sailcover test, December 2011), Sunbrella’s 10-year warranty (pro-rated) against UV damage tops Weathermaxs five years.
Welinski also recommends using the UV-resistant thread Tenera in sunny places. Some canvas makers charge extra for Tenera, which carries a lifetime warranty, but others like Sailorstailor (www.sailorstailor.com) use it in all their products. Tenera’s downside, Welinski said, is that it can allow water to seep through needle holes when sewn into Top Gun, making it less desirable in this application.
For maximum lifespan, the devil is in the details. (Welinski abhors metal grommets, notorious points of chafe.) We recommend using a reputable local canvas maker that will measure your boat and help you fit the cover properly. All it takes is one fierce winter storm to shred a poorly fitted cover. Proper rope tension is critical.
If no local option exists, look for a company that has already fitted your model boat or has a template on file. Insist the company make adjustments for free within the first year. A high-quality cover should carry a four to five-year warranty for workmanship on top of the warranty for materials.