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Sunday, March 17, 2013

How To Put up and Take Down Canvas

how to put up boat canvas
How To Put Up and Take Down Boat Canvas

Boaters have come to expect that marine engines will give them trouble from time to time.  What I was shocked to learn through experience was how much trouble marine canvas can be!

It seems like such a good idea from afar: a handy way to have windows when you need ‘em, and open air when you don’t.  But in reality, canvas is a poor substitute for the more modern boat designs that have retractable sunroofs and push-button windows.  Even the newer isinglass, which you unzip and store flat in a dedicated envelope somewhere in the boat, is nicer than what most of us have because newer isinglass is thicker and easier to position.

What the rest of us have are a bunch of flexible, awkward geometric shapes that supposedly fit together seamlessly.  More often than not, my geometric shapes need to be pulled, stretched, and otherwise spiritually coerced into doing what I need them to do.

Of course, hard tops will be easier to deal with than flexible bimini tops, and new canvas should fit better than weather-beaten canvas.  When it comes to removing and attaching my canvas to my bimini top (the position of which changes every season when it gets stored for the winter), I have developed a rigorous system.  I suggest you do the same!

It took lots of time and experience to get this one right.  Which piece should go first?  Where should they go once they’re off?  I have seven pieces, all of which are a bigger pain in the stern drive than the last.  Here’s what I do:

1.   Take a deep breath.  Sometimes accompanied with (2):
2.   Have a cocktail.
3.   Remove all clothing because temperature within the enclosure nearing 120 degrees.
4.   Remove cockpit table; fold seats down flat to create a flat open space.
5.   Remove back two pieces, freeing me from suffocation.
6.   Place two back pieces in flat open space.
7.   Put clothes back on upon request of occupants on mooring behind me.
8.   Work to the bow by removing port, starboard back pieces and port, starboard front pieces
9.   Place all pieces one on top of the other, trying to make the best square or rectangle possible – place mesh screen side(s) down.
10.Roll pieces together in one big roll.  This is the most difficult boating procedure there is, and will take LOTS of practice.
11.Remove windshield piece, roll separately.
12.Store giant rolls of fake windows below-decks in a secure place.

The advantage to rolling all of the pieces up into a giant cigar is that you have less to store and deal with.  The advantage to leaving the windshield out of the cigar roll is that if inclement weather pops up unexpectedly, that’s the piece you’ll want to get on first and fastest.  The least important pieces to keeping you dry are the aft sections, so those will go on last when you unroll your cigar. 

If this seems like a lot of work, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  Here’s how I put the pieces back on:

1.   Attempt to con anyone else on the boat to reapply the canvas for me.
2.   Fail at (1) because they’ve all seen me struggle with it before.
3.   Unroll the windshield and zip it back into place by first ensuring all zippers are at the start of their runs (not midway somewhere) and lined up with their counterparts.
4.   DO NOT fasten the bottom of the windshield to the glass yet.
5.   Unroll the cigar and begin attaching the TOP zippers to the bimini top.
6.   DO NOT fasten side zippers or bottom snaps yet.
7.   Once all pieces are dangling from the bimini top, begin at an aft corner and zip pieces together HALFWAY.
8.   DO NOT snap bottoms yet.
9.   Work towards the front of the boat on both sides, zipping pieces together HALFWAY.  Use strength, but don’t force anything.
10.Snap down the windshield to the glass frame.
11.Work backwards towards the stern, zipping ALL THE WAY and snap the bottoms of the pieces to the boat to complete the installation.
12.Finally, zip and snap the last piece over the transom door when you no longer need to move through it.

Sometimes it can seem like the canvas is fighting you just to ruin your weekend.  When this happens, take a step back and look at your fake windows from an engineering perspective.  Is the bimini top skewed or twisted?  Have you created too much tension in another section that is preventing some needed stretch? 

A few notes on canvas maintenance: ‘303’ and other manufacturers make spray-on products that help keep your canvas clean, dry and protected from UV rays, salt and water.  Use these products to prevent an otherwise expensive upgrade down the line.  Also, never take paper towels to your enclosure, since paper is abrasive.  Instead, use cotton cloths to wipe down your plastic, or use diapers like the Great Loop Cruisers in the video below.  Only use clean diapers, of course. 

The best advice I can give is this: when confronted with your next boat purchase, opt for the automatic windows and sunroof.  Flexibility be damned!  If I could avoid fake windows for the rest of my life, I would do it gladly.  Then again, there is a certain something about having the wind in your face when you’re out on a hot July afternoon…

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