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Friday, December 13, 2013

Monster Project - Making Dinghy Chaps

Some people are just gifted...
blessed with patience and skill... probably from birth.
Not me.
Everything has to be taught to me and if I am lucky I might retain a thing or two.
Or learn just enough to get myself into trouble.
One thing I can say about myself with pride is that I am no quitter.
Dorky? Yes. Quitter? Nope.
Making dinghy chaps -I can tell you this... it's not for quitters.
sv ORTOLAN:  nicely done dinghy chaps - see their blog HERE
My very first attempt at making dinghy chaps was almost 5 years ago - it was a nightmare. A total nightmare. I used newspaper and duct tape and molded it to our inflatable to use as a pattern. But trying to cut Sunbrella and form its stiffness into rounded curves -  it was very...brainful. 
Towards the end of the project I was beyond therapy and I really didn't care how it looked... 
and it showed. I didn't take close-up pictures to prove it - you'll just have to take me at my word.

sv CAMELOT: I saw Lori's dinghy chaps in La Cruz - Beautiful Work!! You can read about it HERE
I will just come out and say it - my first chaps were Fuggly... yes, FUGGLY!
And I still don't care that they were. 
My husband was smart enough not to be too critical...
but he did make fuggly faces at my fuggly chaps. 
At least he knew better than to say one word about its fuggliness out loud to me.
He would point out from time to time how pretty other chaps were when we would approach or leave a dinghy dock.
"Jimmy Crack Corn" would be my response... because what can you really say to that?
sv SINBAD: Nice outcome and he has some good tips HERE
But after years of being in the vicious sun-
hauling our sandy, gritty, wet butts around from beach to beach -
from town to town -
my fuggly chaps finally bit the dust.
I had made so many repairs and we had abused the dog out of those chaps that I couldn't even use them as a pattern when it was time to replace them. They were totally trashed!
sv DREAMTIME: there are some good sewing tips HERE
And now that I have had experience working for a master sailmaker, my sewing skills have improved tremendously. So have my analytical skills. My comprehension skills still need improvement, though.
So, even with sort-of-professional-if-I-do-say-so-myself canvas mastery, the task of building dinghy chaps feels like a monster project - that I detest... with a passion.
And that is why I will never make dinghy chaps for anyone else.
Because I know in my heart that if I heard one complaint - one single whiny comment...
I might do something unspeakable to the noise maker.
sv  LA LUNA: painted their dinghy instead of making chaps and you can read about it HERE
If making dinghy chaps is such a hassle then why didn't I just hire someone to make them, you ask?
Because I don't want to spend money on something I can do myself.
I know cruisers that have paid $500 US for someone to custom make dinghy chaps.
Is it worth $500? Yes - it absolutely is!
Mostly, I chose to make my dinghy chaps myself because I am competitive...
and I wanted to see if I could make some UN-fuggly chaps.
It was a test - Meri vs. the Monster Project.
sv TROUBADOUR: Linda has some brilliant sewing tips and links and she even has my Fuggly dinghy chaps saved to her Picasa album!! But I'm not pointing out which ones are mine - luckily it is a photo taken very far away.

Meri's Helpful TIPS when attempting Un-Fuggly Chaps:

  1. READ!! And learn from other cruiser's mistakes. I read several DIY articles and blogs before I jumped. Here are some particularly fabulous goodies: Sailrite's  free downloadCruiserswikiGood Old Boat has a nice write-up on Rib Wraps and here's another free PDF, also nicely written.
  2. I prefer clear plastic sheeting for my pattern material. It works better than newspaper (which you can't see through) and much better than a stretchy, staticky shower curtain. Plastic sheeting tapes down lovely with masking tape and you can write instructions and draw your oar lock shapes, for example, easily with a permanent marker.
  3. Use masking tape vs. Duct tape with plastic sheeting material - because you WILL need to make adjustments.
  4. I like Phifertex for the cones. I used Sunbrella to cover the cones on my first chaps and the pressure of the water either turned the ends into a sea anchor or blew them off to the side like Dumbo ears.
  5. Some cruisers like to put their boat name on their tender. We choose not to because it is an advertisement that you have no one on board when your dinghy is on a beach or at the dinghy dock. A would-be-thief might call that an opportunity.
  6. I used the lightest color Sunbrella I could find (besides white, which gets filthy looking immediately!) because in the tropics the darker colors are hot to the touch. Even some grays and beiges can burn the backside when you sit down. 
  7. Many cruisers like to use leather as their chafe guard around oar locks and such. It is very pretty, but it shrinks, it gets brittle and it cracks - and it's expensive. I used a vinyl truck tarp fabric I found here in Mexico... cheap and strong. It also gives our dinghy a unique look so it is easy to pick our's out when at the dinghy dock tied up with loads of other dinghies.
  8. I attached a Phifertex pocket for handheld radios, sunscreen, water bottles, etc... Phifertex won't collect water when it rains.
  9. I used good quality UV thread.
  10. I used a hot knife to cut out my Sunbrella pieces to resist fraying and so that I didn't have to double over and sew big chunky seams.
And so I DID IT!!! I made UN-Fuggly chaps!!
There is definitely some satisfaction that I wrestled the monster project and brought it to its knees.
But mostly. I am completely relieved it's over with and looking forward to not having to do it again for several more years.
VOILA!!! Not a great photo of my final creation because the Northers are blowing like stanky-stink and I can't get any other shot than over our davits without falling into the water... but ain't she PURDY????


  1. Meri,
    We laughed heartily at your Monster Project. Way to persevere. A Cruising magazine would definitely publish it.
    We are in Vancouver for a few month as Howard has had his knee scoped and years of debris removed. Swift Current is in Charleston and we are looking forward to being back. The Christmas season will be fun with old friends and family.
    We enjoy reading your blogs. Have a warm and sunny holiday.
    Lynn and Howard

  2. Hi Howard and Lynn... Missing you dearly and so happy that Howard will be nimble soon. Have a lovely Winter Wonderland!!

  3. Great reading and hearing about your experience. I made dinghy chaps following the sailrite video to "practice" since I had extra blue fabric. I used the sunbrella as a template but it was a huge hassle so I will try the plastic sheeting. The one thing that I could never get to work is the snaps inside the dinghy to hold the cover on better. How did you get that to work? Also, wouldn't it be nice if we could buy a pattern to work from? Our next dinghy will be a Highfield 360 and I want to avoid fuggly since we will be living aboard, rather than weekend cruisers... Thank again for your great post!! -Ann