Gimme Shelter – Customized Canvas Creations


marine_products-maint-shelter-largeWhere the 1950s couple would be the colour of varnished mahogany by the end of the season from boating in the sun all summer without sunscreen, today’s smart boater has watched their parents deal with skin cancer and not surprisingly, shade now has real value.

So, gimme shelter. The question is what is the most convenient way to get it?

The powerboat designers are rapidly moving to full hardtops and sedan cabins with sliding sunroof treatments and air conditioning, but most boats – power and sail still need a canvas cockpit enclosure.

Canadian Yachting went to Island Canvas in Toronto to get the latest in customer requests from owner Abby Prothero. She told us, “Power boaters may be moving away from canvas but we still find that many want the freedom of the fresh air. Closed-in boats may be more of a trend than an enduring change. People do want convenience but they come to us looking for both sun protection and fresh air.”

She told us that in terms of material, Sunbrella is it; there is no challenger for now but a new trend is to add Phirtex PVC mesh window coverings in either a tight mesh or more open weave depending on whether you want shade or privacy. You can still see out but people can’t see in during daylight.

Another request that Island Canvas is getting is for turnlock-fastened covers over the Isinglass cockpit windshield in keelboats. Using a cover 50% of the time greatly extends the life of Isinglass and adds privacy at dockside.

Another growing trend is screening for bugs. Abby estimates that among her customers, 90% of the boats are now screened. She chuckled at this too, because screening can be a lazy solution. You just roll it up for fresh air and you never really take the canvas down. In the summer heat, you get shade and ventilation. Plus, you keep the kids secure, undercover and out of the burning rays of the sun. Ultraviolet is a big issue. Dodgers now have a snap on front covering to cut that down.

Ultraviolet is an issue for thread as well. It attacks the thread making the fibers brittle and while your cloth may still be reasonably strong, when the thread goes, the seams rip open and the top looses much of its value. Gore is the company who make Gore-Tex and they have introduced a thread called Tenara. It has great resistance to UV and weather deterioration. On a nice new boat with Sunbrella canvas, it would be well worth the cost but Abby (who has it available) finds that the added cost is not always within the customer’s value equation.

Getting good value is important, so logical purchases seem sensible. Then Abby says, “I can’t believe this – people are buying flatscreen TV covers. We are getting lots of requests.” Considering this for a moment, we understand a cover for a cockpit TV but it seems people are buying covers for dust and moisture protection inside. We are not sure about this one.

But, getting away from webbing straps makes real sense. Abby has found that as sailboats become more and more beamy, they need stainless steel frameworks and stanchions. Steel posts are much better on a boat with a 14-foot beam. And, across that width, straps can’t hold the top up. Stainless supports are needed.

Outside stainless steel grab handles are still big. When getting around the decks, people need something to hang onto and they are going to grab the top anyway. Give them a proper grab handle.

At Island Canvas, they do boat interiors and upholstery as well as exterior canvas. A popular upgrade is for a more comfortable mattress than the stock model. Abby’s people often upgrade from the standard mattress to a 3 or 4-inch firm foam core to which they laminate layers of Quadex for a pillow top affect that offers more support.

Another trend she is seeing is that while the latest vinyl materials do a great job of passing for real leather while being weather and water resistant, people are starting to move back to cloth upholstery looking for more comfort in both the heat and in the cold.

Another trend that Abby’s people are seeing are people redoing their whole interior because that is cheaper and possibly better than actually going out and buying a new boat. In the current market, she’s seeing that some people are having difficulty selling their used books for good prices anyway and some owners already have a boat they really like so why not freshen it up with a new interior?

The key point that Abby makes though, and this is on behalf of canvas and upholstery craftspeople all across Canada – do the work over the winter. The prices will be better, the craftspeople will not be rushed and you suffer no loss of use.

There is one final point that Abby wanted to register. Invest in a re-usable winter storage cover – shrinkwrap is a big environmental issue and a major expense too. While many big boat owners are paying $700 to $900 to shrink a yacht, Abby suggests they drape over a low profile cover held in place with sandbag weights. Re-usable covers can pay for themselves in only 2 1/2 years. Odyssey is a coated polyester lightweight material but it’s very strong. The weather protection is good but it isn’t sealed as tightly as shrinkwrap. It breathes better although it’s not like old-fashioned canvas. But, she can fit an access door and everything. She closes by sharing the observation that buyers are now more educated on the new features and design ideas. Abby is getting lots of new clients. Although after 19 years of running her company, people are coming around for replacement canvas now. And, many have seen someone else’s boat and decided that they want that too.

Today, more than ever, people realize that they sometimes need some shelter and canvas still offers a wide range of options – just get going soon!

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