Improvements to Rhapsody

Since purchasing Rhapsody in March '07, I've made all kinds of improvements to her. Some were very important, basic modifications and improvements to her core systems, and others were just little projects to make life more convenient aboard. But all of them took time and energy, and, I'd have to say that I have invested quite a bit of myself into the boat.

So without further ado, here's the list of what I've done to the boat. The ones with links lead to more detailed descriptions and pictures of the specific improvments:

New Upholstery

When I got Rhapsody she had the original upholstery, which after 14 years was quite worn. The dinette was an ugly light green and brown plaid (for the seats) and some kind of soft imitiation leather (for the backs) that had worn thru and had been covered by the previous owner with a sheet or something. The beds were covered in a light green fabric, some of it stained by usage, but all of it smelled like diesel fuel, sweat, and sea-water. So, even before I purchased the boat I knew I would be replacing the upholstery.

First I brought all the upholstery home and took off the covers and learned how it was put together and so on. There's a lot of it, with 3 full queen beds, and a dinette that seats 8 adults, headboards, and curtains. Exploring a number of different upholsters, from the top-dollar ones that do only custom boat work, to the lowest cost upholsterers in South San Diego (near the Tijuanna border) where a lot of automobile upholstery work is done, and getting estimates for recovering the existing foam and/or making new foam inserts. (the whole nine yards) took quite a bit of time.

Based on what was learned, I finally settled on a reputable firm that was doing mostly automobile work, but had done boat upholstery before, and said they wanted to do more of it. Pan Am Upholstery seemed to be the most appreciative about my goals and needs and how to achieve them, and took the most time in the estimation phase. For instance, on a 2nd trip to refine the estimate, some of the foam inserts were brought down to the shop, and they were adamant that the foam was in very good condition and it would be foolish to make new foam cutouts (they said they would "steam" the foam to get rid of any smells, which they did). And they thought the original upholstery was very well made (in France) and demonstrated an interest and understanding about how they would re-construct it. Their estimate came in the middle someplace, but I chose them because I thought they would do the best job.

Hauling all the beds and cushions to their shop (2 or 3 trips in the truck), regular visits were made every few weeks to check on progress. When it was all done, the finished upholstery was stored in the house for a few weeks before I finally had the interior of the boat in condition to bring it back on board.

I chose a darker blue Sunbrella for the dinette and lighter blue for the beds. Darker blue curtains and headboard round it out. I think it looks much better, and Rhapsody is certainly better and more comfortable as a result of it.

New Mainsail and Genoa

When I purchased Rhapsody, I could not even get the mainsail out of the furler. It was "wrapped" around the furling mechanism and would only come about halfway out before jamming. I had the rigging surveyor (Kasey Campbell of KC Performance Rigging) have a look at it, and he told me that the mechanism was probably fine, but that the sail was just so old it no longer wanted to wind up correctly. I bought Rhapsody anyways, but knew I'd have to deal with the sails at some point.

So, in due time, when the project came up, I got help from another rigging outfit (Fritz and his son, from Pacific Offshore Rigging) to get the old mainsail out of the mast and off the boat. They were very helpful, and nice folks to boot! Fritz agreed with what Kasey had told me that furling mainsails don't usually "wear out" in the traditional sense of getting threadbare, seams coming undone, etc. Usually, Fritz told me, they stretch out of shape until they don't wind up correctly, and most people dont realize they are fighting an old sail day in and day out when it wraps, jams, etc.

So based on this, and my very strong concern to have a good sailboat for the big trip, I decided to replace the mainsail. I also decided at the same time to replace the 130% genoa, which was not, strictly speaking, worn out, but was in need of repair and probably as old as the boat. That way I would have brand new versions of the two most important sails on the boat. She's also carrying a nearly new spare 100% jib, a nearly new storm sail to run on the removable inner forestay, and an asymetrical spinnaker, for light airs.

Anyways, after asking around a bit, and based on good experiences with the sails on Mandala, I chose North Sails to build us our new sails. North Sails are a little bit more expensive than other makers, but they arguably have some of the best technology, and outfit most or at least many of the big racing boats around the world. They have worldwide support, which includes over 100 lofts around the world and just seem like a first class operation. Plus I struck up a rapport with our representative, John Gardner, as he helped me make selections, came out to the boat and measured, and eventually helped hoist the sails for the first time.

I chose the slightly better quality radial cut Norlan sails, instead of the basic panel cut Dacron sails, as they would be both slightly thinner, and yet stronger and more stretch resistant. John explained how the mainsail would have thinner 7 oz fabric towards the front of the sail, where it starts winding into the mast, but is re-enforced to 9 oz towards the back of the sail, where the strength matters most. He says these sails are likely to keep their shape very well for 2 to 3 years, and be useable for perhaps 10 years overall, depending on how hard I drive them.

When I finally got to take Rhapsody out and try the new sails I was very pleased with the performance overall. Not only does the boat sail very well, but the in-mast furling is so easy that even a female mate can now furl the main and genoa easily (using the winches). In fact, with the in-mast and headsail furling, Rhapsody is actually easier than my previous boat (Mandala, a Catalina 36) to sail. With Mandala one had to go on deck to fold and tie the sail and to put the sail cover on every day. Now one can get up full sails, reef, and put the sails away in about half the time and with half the effort, and without ever leaving the safety of cockpit. Very nice!

More Improvements ....