Sewing the Spinnaker

Before leaving the states, we bought a spinnaker kit, which we were totally going to sew along the way sometime. We quickly realized that projects do not happen while travelling, and the panels sat rolled up in one of the bedrooms. This would our first major project in the DR, and was a lot of the reason that we decided to rent an apartment. Step zero: figure out how to set up and use the Sailrite. As usual, Captain was very supportive.

The body of the spinnaker is made up of 51 laser-cut panels, which got sewn into four big pieces, two rows of zigzag stitches along each seam. I basted each seam together with a double-sided tape neither of us had known about, and which neither of us will ever sew without ever again. Jazz then worked each of the panels through the machine, fighting with progressively larger bundles of material as the panels came together. The most complicated thing here was managing all the fabric, which barely fit in the apartment – I can’t imagine how much longer this would have taken on the boat. Of course, we got plenty of encouragement along the way, because all of the things we were using were really cat toys all along.

Here’s a tiny clip of Jazz sewing. Note the excellent supervision, and the binder clips holding the right side out of the way.

Once the four panels were assembled, it was time to put them together. Any little mismatches get trimmed off, and the panels get three rows of stitches along each seam. This was definitely Captain’s favorite part, because by this point he had decided that hiding under the sections was his favorite game, and now we had to lay the big panels out on the floor to make him giant caves. The hardest part: managing all the fabric on both sides, as basically half the sail had to fit through the space under the machine. There was a lot of rolling and crunching, and a lot of working on one end while the other end was in another room.

With the panels together, we had to reinforce the corners. Each one gets six layers of dacron, sewn in concentric circles along the edge, and two long pieces of webbing folded around a D-ring at the corner that will be the attachment point. All this material makes for a very thick and not very flexible assembly. We forgot to take pictures of that process, but you can see the seams around the edges as we do the next bits: adding a dacron “tape” along each edge to keep the fabric from fraying, and adding leather reinforcements at the corners. That last bit is beyond even a beefy machine like ours, and had to be hand sewn with an awl and waxed twine. Captain watched carefully and gave us5 some notes on our process.

With the corners done, we’d finished the sail! And we moved on to sewing the sock, which is a launching device, and didn’t come pre-cut. So we stretched the forty feet of fabric out in our twenty-four feet of space, marked, and made several long cuts with a borrowed hot-knife. (Thanks, Kraken!)

I would like to tell you that that went smoothly and we put the sail away immediately. But unfortunately, this was not to be just yet. I don’t know whether he was angry at us for taking the big toy away, or whether we were just doing a bad job keeping his box clean, but Captain decided to climb into the balled-up sail and pee somewhere in the middle, which led to us taking the whole thing up to the roof to wash and dry it. This was a bit of a bummer.

On the bright side, we were asked to provide “video of the sail blowing the wind”, so here’s not quite what y’all had in mind:

And then we got the freshly washed and dried sail into the spinnaker sock, and whipped up a sail bag, and we were So Close that we kind of rushed at the end and cut a little hole in the bag. Ah well. We burned the hole to seal the edges and added a patch. This can be a symbol of life’s imperfection. At least the project is neatly wrapped up and ready to launch, when we finally hit our downwind legs – presumably on the way west from Grenada.


  1. Quite the project, but I’m sure it feels good to have it done. I also hadn’t realized how beefy your machine is. I now see why it was hard to track one down. Tell me more about this basting tape.

    1. Definitely feels good to have it done! Basting tape is a magical substance that holds your seam together while you sew it. I’ll never project without it again.

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