I was approached by Harry Smith, marina manager of the Peninsula Yacht Club in Cornelius, N.C., to review a project that required the expertise of a custom canvas designer. The project in question was a cover for a newly acquired 40-foot Andreyale yacht designed and built by Latitude 46® in 2004. The boat would be available for members of the club to charter.
The yacht club had recently spent hundreds of dollars refinishing the teak on the entire boat. To keep the boat in “Bristol condition”—that is, maintained in mint condition—a full cover was needed to provide weather protection from the top of the boat to the waterline and from bow to stern. However, we were faced with a big limitation: there were to be no fasteners of any kind installed on the boat itself.
The design challenges were threefold: the cover had to be secure, able to properly drain water and maintain the appropriate tension. After lengthy discussions with the manager, he took our information back to the board. We received confirmation that the board had approved the project and we were off and running.
Project planning 101
I began filling out the project planning template that I always use. Because of the size of the project and its fastening constraints, our plan was more detailed than usual. After reviewing and walking the boat, I developed an estimate of cost, which I shared with the customer. I required a deposit to cover 50 percent of the total cost prior to ordering the materials. The yacht manager brought this estimate to the planning meeting, which occurred almost immediately after we got the go-ahead.
My project plan included:
- initial planning meeting with the customer, the seamstress and me to discuss project scope, identify deliverables and reach a shared vision
- milestones and activities to reach those milestones
- testing and initial fitting
- final product
- potential risks and constraints
At our first planning meeting, we accomplished all the items I had on my agenda. We picked out the fabric, put together a timeline and agreed upon deliverables. I had done some preparation for this meeting, which helped the customer select a Sunbrella® product for its breathability and 10-year warranty. The cover would require 94 yards of material. The customer came prepared with the 50 percent deposit, so we could order the materials and set the timeline. We discussed the range of the project just to remind everyone that “scope creep” can kill a timeline and a budget. The most important item on the agenda was to reach a shared vision with the customer, and we accomplished that.
Activities and milestones
With winter rapidly approaching—yes, we do have winter in North Carolina!—our timeline was tight for two reasons. First, the customer requested a quicker-than-normal production time. Also, we wanted to minimize the potential UV damage to the teak with the boat uncovered. We scheduled the production time to 12 working days, if the weather cooperated. The activity timeline was communicated to the customer, but this is when we encountered our first obstacle.
One week before we started, we were informed that the boat was to be pulled from the water for drivetrain repairs. We used the time while the boat was on dry land to remeasure, plan the details at each section and actually walk around the boat. The plan was to make the full boat cover in three sections. This was the best way to accommodate the length of this 40-foot boat.
What was to be a week of repairs turned into three weeks. We tried to make good use of the time and continued our schedule to make each piece of the cover. Once the boat went back into the water, the challenge was working on a 40-foot boat from a 30-foot dock. The boat had to be turned every time we completed a section or side. Fortunately, the yacht club had dockhands who were very helpful when the boat needed to be turned.
Testing and fitting
After completing as much of the project as we could at the shop, it was time for the first test fit of the cover for the bow section. We quickly found out there needed to be a defined methodology to put the cover on the boat and tighten the twist locks and snaps used as fasteners. As we put on the cover and applied tension to raise it off the deck, we discovered that if we had to go back and secure a fastener, we would need to undo what we did to walk on the cover and connect the fasteners we missed. We took many detailed notes of our process so that we could share this with the dock crew workers who will eventually be covering and uncovering the boat. We also needed to make small changes in the design to accommodate the limited space to get on and off the boat.
Our preliminary planning paid off at the end of the project. The installation of the last pieces of the cover involved putting on the skirts that were designed to cover the boat to the waterline without using fasteners on the boat. We used zippers to attach these pieces to the cover.
We completed the project within the established timeline and used all of the materials that were estimated early in the project. The manager of the Peninsula Yacht Club was pleased to see that the cover was completed within a reasonable time, despite the three-week delay due to mechanical repairs. We are now preparing an in-service for the dock hands, so they can efficiently remove and replace the cover.
Defining a comprehensive project plan for any custom canvas project is imperative for designers and customers alike. In this case, we fulfilled the customer’s intricate design requests. He was happy with the end result, and, as a satisfied customer, he will likely refer our work to others.
Rick Berkey owns Rick’s Custom Canvas and Sail, Cornelius, N.C. www.rickscustommarinecanvas.com.