Sunday, April 3, 2011

How To Double The Life Of Your Isinglass

For most mariners, the joy of spring launch is short lived once the chore of preparing one's vessel and paying for it all arrives. Removing winter covers, painting, buffing, polishing, pumping, repairing... Didn't I buy this thing to relax?
This is when most of the canvas repairs flow into my shop. In the early season, re-stitching, zipper replacement and window replacements are the most common repairs on the "To Do" shelf. And while every customers always asks, "How much will this cost me?" Their next question should be, "How can I prevent this from happening again?"
The answer is simple- Keep it out of the sun.

Window Covers- Isinglass windows have an average lifespan of five years in direct sunlight. UV rays break down the plasticizers in the PVC vinyl surface leading to yellowing, charing and cracking. Installing snap down canvas window covers over the outside of the isinglass will double, maybe even triple their life span. They also reduce the greenhouse heat effect inside the enclosure and will shade the interior vinyl seating preventing them from fading and cracking as well. Do the math. The cost of window replacements every five years as well as upholstery repairs far exceed the cost of window covers. Additionally, regular cleaning and the use of a UV inhibitor such as 303 Aerospace Protectant is highly recommended.

Cover All Zippers- When having a custom canvas top and enclosure fabricated insist that the zipper teeth are hidden from the sun beneath the canvas flap. Zippers are made of nylon which is very vulnerable to UV damage- cracking and sun bleaching. You may have noticed that after a few years the black nylon zipper teeth and tape is bleached to light grey. Same holds true for velcro which is often nylon. Even the more durable poly velcro will quickly fade. Keep it out of the sun.

UV Protected Thread- Whether having a new top made, a re-stitch or repair, make sure the fabricator uses a UV protected thread such as Sunguard- polyester. Many upholstery shops use nylon thread for interior work, which is very durable for interior applications, but if they use the same thread to re-stitch your bimini top you can count on your stitching sun faded and tattered in a couple seasons. Beware of the part time yahoo's that flood the marinas in spring looking for a quick buck with little knowledge of boating or canvas work. Ask if they'll make a new bimini top enclosure and if they can bend a camper back frame? If they only do quick, little jobs, you'll be far better off finding a professional marine canvas expert who will use the proper materials and be there throughout the season to guarantee their work.  If you want your stitching to last as long as the top, Tennara thread, with it's lifetime warrantee, will actually outlast the canvas. 

Clean, Re-SealDirt embedded in canvas or vinyl will help break the material down and is food for mildew. It doesn't grow on canvas. It feeds on the dirt and other particles embedded in it. Keep it clean and re-apply a sealer such as 303, every couple years and you may avoid paying for a new one.

Winterize Removal- Do not leave the canvas on underneath the winter cover during winter drydock. Especially if the winter cover touches the canvas, which is very vulnerable to chaffing. It's best to clean it and keep it dry indoors and store the isinglass windows clean and flat with cloth between them . Cold vinyl will crack on a fold and particles may embed in the vinyl. Flat storage impossible? Roll the panels very loose and big, separated with old clean sheets or towels. Tie the rolls to keep them from unraveling and store them standing upright. Never lay rolled up eisenglass flat! When Isinglass touches itself for an extended time a "pooling" effect occurs. But if you do forget to put soft cloth between, don't despair. The pooling distortion will disappear in the hot sun.

Don't Trailer- Unless it's a proper mooring or trailering cover- having webbing loops along the bottom to tie down- don't trailer the boat with the canvas up. Your expensive bimini enclosure wasn't designed to barrel down the interstate at 70 mph.

Unfortunately, even the best fitting professionally made custom boat top will eventually wear out. But there are many things a boater can do to prolong the life of their canvas and isinglass. And while many people regard their canvas as something that protects their boat from the rain, the sun's UV rays are responsible for most of the damage to the upholstery, canvas and isinglass.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Can't Stand Your Canvas?

While most boats have canvas tops that provide adequate protection from the elements, lack of headroom may be their top complaint. There’s not much a boater can do to remedy this annoyance aside from folding back the frame and zipping it into a boot. But what if it’s raining? Or the fish are biting? Who wants to spend all that time unfastening and folding only to reinstall upon mooring? Most boaters in this situation are forced to crouch down and live with it. This pain in the neck can turn costly and dangerous for a captain who’s docking their vessel in a strong wind or when visibility is low. How much safer and easier it would be if only they could stand tall at the helm with a full 360 degree view! There are a few ways to accomplish this without paying for a whole new frame and canvas configuration.
The most economic solution is to install a pilot hatch in the existing convertible top. As long as the forward frame bow happens to be in the right place this alteration can really open things up. The captain simply unsnaps the front of the hatch off the windshield, unzips and rolls the canvas back allowing them to stand tall for a full view. A velcro flap over the zipper keeps the rain out and the rolled up hatch is secured out of the way with a couple straps. It’s fast and easy to open and close and can be done on the fly. Although it doesn’t solve the problem of ducking while walking under the top, the boaters who’ve had this alteration love it.
Another way to increase headroom is to modify the existing convertible top frame. Major frame adjustments and often a new bow and or stanchions are required for this option which means the old canvas will no longer fit. Not unless one doesn’t mind the old top altered to the point of looking like a patch quilt. If a mariner wants all new canvas but new frames are not in the budget this is a good way to increase head room. In many cases the convertible top frame can me modified and turned into a bimini top which provides the most visibility and headroom out of all enclosures.
At the core of the issue is what type of top is on the boat. A convertible top snaps directly to the boats windshield and extends over the cockpit. A bimini top has a space between the windshield and top usually filled in with a removable clear windscreen. With an appreciation of visibility and headroom, the vast majority of boaters prefer bimini over convertible tops.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Boating season ends-Ushers in Upholstery Season

As fall’s arrival marks the end of the boating season so begins the process of dry dock and winterization. The marinas are humming with activity as boats are hoisted out of the water, placed on blocks and mariners are busy preparing their vessels for hibernation. But the important chore of draining and covering shouldn’t be the only thing on your mind. Now is the optimal time to repair or replace your boat’s worn upholstery.
Marine upholstery usually includes very bulky shaped seat cushions and back rests which require much time and labor to remove and replace. Nobody wants to lose two weeks of summer boating while the work is being done. It’s ideal to do this in autumn, when the boat is pulled from the water, before it’s winter cover is secured. The work is performed over the course of the winter and when spring arrives, the new upholstery is installed. This practical timing means you get to enjoy your new upholstery throughout the entire boating season without disruption. And more time on the water is time well spent.
I quote and schedule winter upholstery and canvas work throughout the summer as most experienced boaters appreiciate the value of boating time as well as craftsmanship and love to launch their vessel in spring fully outfitted for the season.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Through the Isinglass

What is Isinglass? Does it exist? In the minds of most mariners, Isinglass is very real. It’s the clear plastic window material in their boat's canvas enclosure. And they know that it’s expensive to replace when it becomes cloudy, charred or cracked. But what is it? The dictionary is of little help: [Isinglass-1: a transparent, almost pure gelatin prepared from the air bladder of the sturgeon and certain other fish and used as an adhesive and a clarifying agent. 2: mica, especially when in thin transparent sheets.]
This material was commonly used in the old days as heat resistant windows in stove doors.
So how did isinglass jump from fish guts to our boat’s windows?
Clever marketing may be the answer. Isinglass [or Eisenglass] was the brand name for a product that has not been manufactured in 40 years. It’s a term who’s common usage has lingered in the maritime vocabulary for decades and who’s meaning has evolved from brand name to noun-as Jello is actually a brand of gelatin. There is much debate and speculation among boaters about what eisenglass [or isinglass] really is. Most experienced boaters think it only refers to the clear vinyl sheets such as Strataglass. Some think it's sheet vinyl and roll vinyl. Others think it’s also polycarbonate and lexan. With all these competing variations of a word that dosn't really exist, perhaps we boaters should demand to include our mysterious term in the dictionary and settle this once and for all. How about: Isinglass- A clear material commonly used for windows in marine enclosures.
So now the question is: What kind of eisenglass should I install on my boat?
There are several different types of window materials on the market to suit our various needs:
*Double polished roll vinyl. This is the stuff in use on about 80% of the boats. It's not quite as clear as sheet vinyl but is more flexible for rolling up.
*Extruded roll vinyl. This is the same material but the manufacturing process is different.
*Press polished sheet vinyl. Has more clarity than the above two. It's especially good if the panels stay up all season since it is stiffer and does not roll as tight. This is the stuff that the boater who knows it all will insist is eisenglass.
*Sheet vinyl with a protective coating. Available as the brand Strataglass. All of the above window materials are made of the same thing-PVC. Strataglass has an additional scratch resistant coating.
*Polycarbonate. Will not roll up. This is by far the clearest product available and is mostly on large boats and yachts.
*Lexan. Usually never on canvas. Used primarily for windows in the hull and hatch covers.
The important and expensive decision of which window material to install depends entirely on how one uses their boat and it’s canvas. Just because sheet vinyl costs more than roll stock and offers more clarity doesn’t mean that it’s better. Not if the windows are removed often and must be rolled up tightly to stow in a small space. Sheets need to be stored flat or rolled very loose and big to avoid cracking them and are better suited for enclosures that stay up all season. And if visual clarity is most important, polycarbonate is actually clearer than glass! And priced accordingly.The best way to determine what kind of isinglass suits your needs is to consult your local marine canvas professional. While the debate about the existence and proper use of the term- isinglass rages on, it's stubborn endurance in the maritime lexicon is a testament to the importance of clear vinyl windows in marine applications.