Man vs. Machine


luff_tape_sewingYou might have heard me say that sewing is a critical skill that every cruiser and sailor should have. Repairing torn sails and canvas in a pinch will not only keep your boat moving, but will save you a boatload of cash. I’ve always said all of this (and more) like an authority on the subject, perfectly confident that my words in theory were just as true in practice. Well… turns out I’ve been talking out of my ass. Sure, I can sew by hand. I can even work a basic sewing machine – especially since they’re designed to turn even the most dim-whitted 5 year old into a modern day Betsy Ross. But when it came to sewing our sails, canvas, sunshade, cushions (and everything else on our boat), I’ve always had an ace up my sleeve: Kelley. There isn’t a single piece of fabric on our boat that hasn’t been measured, cut, shaped and sewn by that magnificent woman. And while she was doing all of work, I was proudly running off at the mouth like some sage old salt.

Well, my words have finally caught up with me. Now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Kelley’s in NY and I’m in Florida so it’s left to me to tackle a project we both wish we’d finished before we left for the Bahamas.

For the past 1500 miles, Chance has been sailing with a single jib. A small, 90%, cruising cut jib. That’s it. All wind, all he time – that’ been our jib. Light wind and downwind sailing has been brutally painful knowing how fast Chance COULD be going. We did have a second jib – a much larger 150% genoa, but in our haste to cross to the Bahamas, we mistakenly left it behind.  Now that I’m back in Florida I’ve picked up our missing jib! I will finally be able to sail in light air!!! That is… once I’ve converted it from hank-on to roller furling. This means sewing. Lots of sewing. Crap.

Kelley called this a “simple luff tape conversion.” I couldn’t show any fear, so of course I walked into it with the swagger of a heavyweight champ. I mean, even if I’ve never actually used our fancy Sailrite LSZ1 myself, I’ve watched Kelley use it for hours. And I’m a smart guy. I can figure this thing out right? Wrong. Dead wrong.  So, I did what any self-respecting man would do: admit nothing, turn to Youtube videos, head scratching, more Youtube videos and lots of curse words. Lots of curse words. I couldn’t even get our machine threaded properly. Why is this machine so complicated? Why is it laughing at me? Did it just flip me off? What the #$%^!!!!!

I certainly wasn’t going to call Kelley for help. I’d have to hand in my Man Card. The only thing she was going to get from me was, “it’s going great babe…”  But… I was still stuck. I needed help. I needed another dude that could at least curse along with me. So I reached out to my buddy Skip. Skip has the Sailrite LSZ1 and has done a ton of canvas work with it. He was all too happy to help me out – AFTER, of course, the appropriate amount of emasculating smack talk. When he finally had his fill, we went to his place, spread out the sail and got to work.


His first job was to teach me how to use this infernal machine. It took an hour, but I eventually figured out where the doohickie went and how it fit into the thingamabob. We then set about cutting the old luff tape and hanks off. Once cut, we had to measure the luff to figure out exactly where the lufftape will go and if the sail needed to be resized/reshaped.

Apparently most lufftape conversions require a shortening of the sail’s luff length. Ours was no exception. This was a deck sweeping genoa and required roughly 2 feet to be cut out of the luff length to fit the height of the furler’s drum and track. Now there are two guys scratching their heads. Do we cut IN from the luff? Cut UP from the foot? Neither. According the 45 minute instructional video Sailrite provides online (which we watched with the most begrudging reluctance) it is actually a diagonal cut from the sail’s tack to a new point along the leech. That’s right, the leech. Skip and I look at the eachother with disbelief. This can’t be right. Wont this change the shape of the sail? Won’t this raise the clew of the sail when open and full? As men invariably do, we both set about trying to prove that our way was better. But everything we read and watched online told us we were wrong. When we finally gave in and accepted it, the rest of the work was relatively easy.


Before we cut the new luff into the sail, we cut off the head panel and lowered it further down the sail. This allowed us avoid reinforcing a new head from scratch. We cut a 22” panel out of the top of the sail and replaced with the original. Head. Following the Sailrite instructions (we completely gave in at this point) we remeasured and drew and cut the new luff.

From there, we stapled on the new luff and support tape and prepared our sewing machine for action. It took us a few dozen passes to find the right stitch, but we actually started sewing! With 40+ feet of luff and two full passes to make, having the extra set of hands to feed the sail was really helpful. As you can see from the close-ups I had a hard time keeping a consistent stitch size. Most of this was due to the way I was forced to feed it (which is a convenient excuse for ugly stitches). It ain’t pretty but there is no loss in strength. My second pass was much better. Once the luff tape was done, all that was left was the webbing loops for the head and clew cringles. Sailrite (again to our surprise) recommends a loop of 1” webbing rather than a stainless ring or sewn in grommet.


And voila! All done. It only took 2 grown men, half a dozen hours of online instruction and a giant bite out of my ego. I’ve always praised Kelley for the all the sail and canvas work she has done on our boat, but I’ve clearly taken it all for granted. That being said, once I learned how to use that alien machine, it turned out to be a fun project. And because I need to go out on a self-satisfying high note – I’ve always said how important it is for sailors and cruisers to have some sewing skills. So there.

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