Sumara and her mast all wrapped up snug for the winter

Probably the best investment I ever made for Sumara was her heavy canvas cover. It was Coombes Boatyard in Bosham who organised my first one which was basically a rectangle of heavy tarpaulin canvas with eyelets around the edges. It lasted over 20 years. My new one is marginally shaped at the bow but overwise the same thing but this time it is reinforced with extra canvas along the ridge. The ends should always be kept open so a breeze can blow through and ventilate the boat. The good thing about real canvas is that it shrinks slightly when it gets wet and hugs the hull without flapping about. For some reason my cover was a bit short, so I added a strip this year and now it fits perfectly.

The aluminium ridge pole and protective foam tubing in place

The ridge pole is aluminium scaffold tube joined with key clamp fittings so the maximum length fits on my box trailer. It is secured mainly by a pair of angled legs which just sit against the toe rail. It is rock solid and quick to rig.

I put Armaflex pipe lagging over the guardrail wires and stanchions so the stanchion tops don’t wear the canvas. This year I also padded the toe rail as the varnish is still quite thin and the canvas rubs slightly at that point.

The canvas is held in place by tying down to a rope which is wrapped around the keel. As the boat will be left in Scotland unattended for a while, I wrap a bit of tape around the clove hitch tails to be certain nothing shakes loose.

The cover almost rigged showing the ties onto the yellow rope around the keel.

Don’t forget a cover for your mast. It is astonishing to see varnished spars left out all winter for the frost to play havoc with the varnish just for the sake of a strip of canvas!

Even more astonishing are the number of expensive yachts laid up in boatyards with naff B&Q. cheap-as-chips plastic tarpaulins strapped on with bits of builder’s string. Usually, a few eyelets will have pulled out and the thing flaps around in the breeze causing more damage than good.

I suppose the question is why take the boat out of the water over the winter at all?

I have tried sailing through the winter, and I’ve decided it’s just not worth it. There are some beautiful days, but they are rare and trying to organise crew to coincide with the good weather is tricky. When you add all the wear and tear of winter afloat and the fact that boat still needs lifting at some point for varnishing and antifouling, then I am convinced it is best to lift her out and cover her up at the end of the summer. Of course, that doesn’t work if you are living aboard!

When to lift?

I think it is best to lift out early enough for the hull to dry out slightly before any frost gets to her. If the hull planking is still very damp when a hard frost hits, then the paint will be blasted off leaving patches of completely bare wood. So, the further north you are, the earlier you should lift out.

I like to keep the moisture content of Sumara’s timber fairly well regulated, letting it dry out slightly over the winter and spring, then taking up again over the summer. I have never left her out of the water over the summer so she is always back in the water before the end of May and normally earlier. If the boat were left out for a prolonged period the timber would eventually reach Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC) which varies according to the place. London being the driest at 14%, while Dungeness and Plymouth being the dampest at 17%. So, if you are thinking of laying up your timber boat for a year, don’t do it in London!

Other laying up tasks involve changing the engine oil and flushing the engines raw water system with antifreeze. I then remove all the loose gear and clean and dry the bilges. I always unstep the mast and remove all the rigging which is a bit of a faff but worth it.

I normally replace the varnished wash boards for painted plywood ones with ventilation holes, but I keep forgetting to load them!

Technical Details

The canvas I purchased to add to the length of the cover was very similar to the original material and came from Point North. It was 16 oz Green Cotton Duck Canvas and cost £6.94 per metre. If you prefer metric, the weight was 575 gsm. It is 900 mm wide. Allow about 3% for shrinkage.

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