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We wanted high-quality, durable
cockpit cushions that could live outside, given the limited space inside the
boat for storing such large items. Therefore, we did some research into
the best products for the job. Many cockpit cushions are built from hard,
dense, closed-cell foam, but to my way of thinking one might as well sit on the
fiberglass. The density of the closed-cell simply transmits too much
pressure to one's sensitive derriere.
My wife Heidi--the sewing person
of the household--researched the options and came up with the design and
materials choices below.
are made from
two types of foam for best performance. On the top (the seating surface),
we chose 2" Dry-Fast open cell (reticulated) foam. This is a wide
open foam that is designed to allow water to easily pass directly through.
It's nothing like standard open cell cushion foam--it has a texture more like a
coarse Scotch-Brite pad than anything else. It's much softer than closed
cell foam, yet is designed specifically for this type of use.
Beneath the 2" layer of
Dry-Fast, we used a 1/2" layer of black Ensolite, a closed cell foam
that resembles neoprene. Because it is much denser, this thin layer should
help prevent transfer of the hard fiberglass seats through the open cell foam on
top, which will make the cushions ultimately more comfortable.
the tops and sides of the cushions, we chose more of the same toast Sunbrella
that our sailcovers and dodger are made of. We didn't want to go with a
lighter color because they tend to get dirty and discolored so fast; the toast
will better hide the inevitable staining.
a critical part of the "stay dry" system that starts with the Dry-Fast
foam, the bottom surface of the cushions are covered with Phifertex mesh
fabric. This is a vinyl encapsulated woven polyester product that features
an open design to allow water to easily drain through.
To dress up the cushions, the
perimeter will feature piping made from foam piping cord (5/32") covered
with a slightly lighter Sunbrella color to contrast with the body; the color is
an off-white called oyster.
Here are the steps involved in
making the cushions. Perhaps I can get Heidi to write up a more detailed
1. Lay out strips of oyster
Sunbrella into which the piping cord will be sewn. The fabric is cut on
the bias to allow the fabric to have more "give" to it, which helps it
to stay smoother when it is wrapped around the corners of the cushion.
2. Make paper patterns of
cockpit seats and test fit. 1/2" seam allowance on all sides.
3. Cut fabric to match
patterns, as well as strips for sides of cushion.
4. Cut foam to match
pattern. We picked up a cheap ($15) electric carving knife that worked
really well for this. Highly recommended.
on-and-off work for a couple months, Heidi had the sewing for the cushions
done. Before we could install the foam, though, it was up to me to glue
the two different layers of foam together. First, I punched a series of
1/4" holes in the black Ensolite foam, as recommended by the writeup in the
Sailrite catalog. I used a fabric hole punch for this, and it worked
great. The purpose of the holes is to provide a clear path for
drainage--remember, the Dry-Fast foam should let water run pretty much right
through, and we don't want it to collect on top of the firmer Ensolite. I
punched the holes on roughly a 6" grid. Then, I glued the Ensolite to
the Dry-Fast with 3M 77 spray adhesive.
some minor trimming, we were ready to install the foam in the covers.
Heidi sewed full-length zippers on the back sides of the cushions, which made
insertion really easy. The covers fit perfectly, and look absolutely
secure the cushions in the cockpit, Heidi sewed webbing loops to the inside ends
of each cushion--fore and aft. Into these loops she sewed a stainless
steel hook. I installed some stainless strap eyes in the cockpit in
corresponding locations, and the hooks simply snap into the eyes, holding the
cushions in place against sliding or blowing away. The best thing is, the
cockpit lockers can still be opened with the cushions in place and hooked in.
Two seasons worth of use has proved
that these cushions are fantastic. They live outdoors at all times,
whether we're on board or not, and do not absorb any water. They drain immediately
after a rainstorm, and can be sat upon immediately after getting wet--or at
least as soon as the Sunbrella surface is try enough to be comfortable. I
couldn't possibly recommend the process highly enough, if one is willing to make
the proper investment in materials for the job. These were not inexpensive
cushions--but the best things rarely come for nothing.
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