During my long trip across country and down the length of the Baja peninsula and back (over 9000 miles) I began to worry about the abuse my kayak was getting while strapped to the top of my car. At highway speeds, even a small pebble kicked up could do some real damage and the constant exposure to the sun would be degrading the UV protection of the varnish. So, I decided that I would make a cover for the kayak before my next long trip.
I had found some canvas duck at one of the fabric stores in Salisbury and was considering using it for the cover, but decided to do a bit of research first. Turns out, UV radiation is every bit as harmful to fabric as it is to varnish or epoxy (or your skin.) The cotton canvas I had considered buying would have likely lasted a year or two, but if I was going to spend some time making a cover, I figured I might as well make one to last. I found a number of candidate fabrics online but I wanted to actually see and feel some before buying. I called a number of local (and not so local) companies and finally got in touch with Ellison Sails (410 822-5366) in Easton, MD, about 40 minutes away. I had a long conversation with the owner and was convinced to come look at some samples.
He showed me some Sunbrella, both coated and un-coated, but recommended an acrylic-coated Dacron fabric due to its toughness. I liked what I saw and bought 7 yards of it along with some nylon webbing, some stainless d-rings, some plastic clips and some UV resistant thread, everything I needed to finish the job. He gave me some advice for making the patterns and for sewing the fabric. All told, the bill came to $162 – not cheap, but hopefully it will be the only cover I’ll ever have to make for it.
Based on his advice, I bought some clear plastic sheeting at Lowes and then proceeded to make the patterns. I had already decided to make the cover in two overlapping pieces, with a joint in the middle at the cockpit. They would slide on from either end and I could put it on with the kayak already in its cradles on the car. So, I started draping the plastic over the kayak and taping it in place and marking the seams with permanent marker. I tried to get each piece to lay as flat as possible, carefully pulling the plastic without stretching it. Once a pattern was on and taped, I roughly trimmed it, leaving at least a half inch for seam allowance. Then I began with the next piece, taping it over top of the first and tracing the seam onto it (I could see the marker on the first piece, so I could make sure they lined up.) I ended up with a single panel for each deck surface, extending from sheer line to sheer line and two panels for each hull section, one from each sheer line to the keel line. So, all told, I had six patterns which I carefully labeled.
I then traced each pattern onto the fabric and cut out each panel, leaving the seam allowance. I took the three panels for the front half of the kayak and pinned them together (except along the keel line which I left loose) and tested the fit. Everything looked great, so I decided where I wanted my tie loops for the front end of the kayak and where to place the tightening strap that I wanted about half way from the front of the kayak to the front cradle strap. I pinned the straps to the panels and then began to sew.
I sewed each of the hull panels to the deck panel inside-out, leaving about a half inch seam. I then turned the joint to the right side and folded the seam to one side (in this case I folded it to the hull side) and then sewed again, about 1/8 inch from the joint (you can see the detail of this in the photos.) This creates a nice neat seam. I then sewed on the straps and tested the fit one more time on the kayak, pulling the loose ends together along the keel line to see how much excess material was there. Everything looked perfect for a half inch seam, so I sewed the last seam on the inside, reinforcing across the straps and then turned it back to the right side and tested it on the kayak. It slid on easily and became snug as I pulled it into place, fitting like a glove.
I repeated the same procedure for the rear half of the cover and then fit them both on the kayak to determine where I wanted the tightening straps to be. I decided to have three straps on the deck side of the cover (one top, one middle and one bottom) which would be easily accessible with the kayak in the cradles. The back side, I decided, would be fine without any straps. I also decided to sew a strap onto the end seam of the front cover and put a snap buckle in the center of the front to allow me to tighten it around the “waist.” I took the covers off, sewed all the straps in place and then put it all back together and mounted it in the cradles and took it for a spin. I got to just over 80 mph without any humming and figured that was good enough.