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HomeCruiseMiss Pfaff Rocks: The Unlikely Companion of Our Cruising Voyage on S&S...

Miss Pfaff Rocks: The Unlikely Companion of Our Cruising Voyage on S&S 41 SY Pitufa

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Other girls enjoy knitting and crocheting, but I always considered myself too much of a tomboy to touch any needlework. Before we set out to sail towards the horizon on our S&S 41 SY Pitufa in 2011, we read all kinds of how-tos for sailors and also the accounts of pioneer cruisers who were equipped (and mentally prepared) to mend basically all their gear themselves and we stocked up our inventory of tools and spare parts accordingly. Mending sails was of course also mentioned, so we bought a cheap, old German-made Pfaff sewing machine on ebay–more as an afterthought. Little did we know what an indispensable help “Miss Pfaff” would turn out to be!

What is in Your Sail Repair Toolkit

We were horrified when a huge parcel arrived: the all-metal 70s sewing machine seemed ridiculously heavy. Where would we store that monster in our already crammed, floating home? It didn’t fit in any locker, so finally we put it on a shelf in the salon, secured with hooks and lines on passage. There, the big box sat for a long time, while I kept postponing upcoming canvas projects out of fear of having to tackle this new field of expertise. During a particularly wet rainy season in Panama in 2012 with a constantly flooded cockpit, the level of suffering became so high that we finally unpacked the machine. While I browsed the manual showing a dainty 70s housewife threading needles with long, painted fingernails and pressing the foot pedal with high heels (What had I gotten myself into? I owned neither adequate footwear nor fire-engine red nail polish?!), Christian oiled the engine and all moving parts. Operating the machine was much simpler than I had feared: straight or zigzag–a no-nonsense-approach without special programs. Once we had hooked face yarn and under thread, I hesitantly pressed the foot pedal and off we went! Trying different materials and folded layers we were impressed by the stamina of the old machine: everything that fits under the little foot gets sewn—leather, 8 layers of sunbrella, no problem! From then on we count ourselves lucky to have Miss Pfaff as a crew member.

Saved the trickiest for last. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Saved the trickiest for last. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

The first project turned out slightly crooked with uneven seams (the fault was entirely mine, no blame for Miss Pfaff), but functional: a big piece of canvas that covers our old (leaking) bimini and has rollable side flaps that do not only keep the cockpit dry, but also feature a little gutter that can be connected to water collection hoses. Christian as a perfectionist criticized my habit of using rest pieces to make flaps and mounts that are all different shapes and sizes, but hey, why waste expensive material? After this positive experience my confidence was boosted to a level that made me think I could redo the salon upholstery. Two weeks passed (and lots of curses, sweat and occasional tears) until I had actually finished them in a gradual learning curve from the rectangular ones, to the tricky, curved ones—each one a special invention (and of course I had forgotten all that 10 years later when I had to redo the chafed and discolored sofa and settee once again).

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Scrap material jerry can suit snake costume and UFO BBQ in background. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Scrap material jerry can suit snake costume and UFO BBQ in background. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

We were seriously glad that we already had plenty of experience with the sewing machine, when our 30 year old gennaker ripped on passage, right as we had to reach our destination without a usable engine before the arrival of a nasty front. Doing the repair in a rolling salon was a seasickish and rather unfunny experience, but a few hours later we were underway again! Lightwind sails are relatively easy to repair despite their huge size, as the thin material can be squeezed together tightly, because that is the one big disadvantage a house-hold sewing machine has: everything has to be rolled up to fit, so we cannot do repairs in the middle of a big dacron sail. Repairs on the outer areas (e.g. chafed-through leech lines) are relatively easy and we have managed those several times—even though the headsail fills up most of the salon…

Making DIY Canvas Seam Sew Easy

UV protection flap over zipper. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
UV protection flap over zipper. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

The UV light in the tropics relentlessly grills everything on deck. After replacing the zippers on lazybag, cutter sailbag and even on the sprayhood (not a big deal thanks to Miss Pfaff!) we decided to sew sun-protection flaps on top. These are kept down with velcro and guarantee a long life for zippers! Hatch covers don’t only protect the hatches from UV light, they also shade off the interior of the boat, so when the professionally made ones started tearing, I made repair after repair until there was basically no original material left and I had to tackle this tricky 4D project. (The fourth dimension comes into play when you try to imagine what the 3D result will look like in the future on deck, while working flattened and 2D in the machine…)

Thinking 4D. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Thinking 4D. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

Generally the salty, marine environment is harsh on metal, rubber and plastic, so we got into the habit of making sunbrella covers for everything that is too big or bulky to be stored below deck. The railing BBQ looks like a UFO in its blue hood, the tank for the dinghy got a tight-fitting customized suit and even the hose of our out-door shower on the stern got a funky snake-costume to stop the PVC from getting sticky and discolored in the tropical sun. We have a watermaker, but still carry some jerry cans to collect rain and have the option to get water from shore. As those live on deck, they also got their covers, but in this case I took my policy of material retrenchment to a new level and made them entirely from left-over scrap parts. Each one of them got a creative solution and I actually thought that they looked quite cool, but Christian made fun of their outfits. I didn’t buy his argument though that they would get bullied at the public water tap by other jerry cans, as those are forced by their owners to go NAKED.

Birgit and Christian have been sewing and sailing their way from the Med via the Atlantic to the Pacific and are currently cruising in Fiji. To learn more about their adventures, visit their blog www.pitufa.at, follow SY Pitufa on facebook or read their book “Sailing Towards the Horizon” (available on Amazon).

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Birgit Hackl
Birgit Hacklhttp://www.pitufa.at
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and ship’s cat Leeloo have been exploring the world on their yacht Pitufa since 2011. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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