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Notes of an occasional sailor- Cockpit Cushions

Name: Charles Bahn
Category: General/Other
Date: 27 Aug 2004
Time: 08:43:13
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NOTES OF AN OCCASIONAL SAILOR: BOAT CUSHIONS Charles F. Bahn ( Sooner or later this happens to all of us. We leave a port or hatch open in the rain, or we get dunked by a big wave. Our cushions get soaked. Not the cockpit cushions which were designed for abuse, but the interior cushions. The ones that make our boat a home. If ignored, they will mildew and add to those odors that cause the Mate to threaten mutiny. I learned the hard way. Minding our own business, our sailing vessel RAVEN was hit by the mountainous wake of a large cabin cruiser. It was summer and hot and windless, and all the ports and hatches were open. Our bow scooped up water that cascaded into the V-berth like Niagra Falls, soaking the interior cushions. After yelling the appropriate admonition at the stern of the perpetrator, the Mate and I tried to decide what to do. With no previous experience, we decided to air the cushions on the deck. It was a hot day and they would dry, right? By the end of the day, they seemed to have. The fabric at least was dry. So we put them back into the V-berth. Things were OK for a while. But after two or three weeks we began to notice that our boat didn't smell as fresh as she used to, and the odor was particularly bad in the V-berth, rather than the head, which is the usual condition. It had been long enough since our dunking that we didn't immediately put two and two together. Until we tried to sleep on the cushions. Then we knew something was terribly wrong. Investigation revealed that the inner foam was badly mildewed- even still damp. I am frugal (the Mate calls me cheap). I could not bring myself to toss the cushions and buy new ones at unnecessary expense. I took the cushions home and removed the foam from the fabric covers. The fabric covers were the easy part. They went off to the dry cleaners, and came back clean and odorless, no problem. The foam was different. I fixed up a solution of laundry detergent with a small amount of bleach, set the foam out in the back yard and soaked it with the cleaning solution. Like a wine maker stomping grapes, I proceeded to march around the top of each cushion to make sure lots of the good stuff got inside. And it did. In fact the second hardest part of the project was getting the cleaning solution out of the foam. I rinsed and marched, and rinsed and marched. The neighbors, who are not nautical, thought I had gone "off the deep end." Only another frugal sailor could understand why I would go to such lengths to save a few cushions. It took all afternoon before the water coming out of the foam was finally clear. But it was worth it. The foam sparkled and even smelled nice. The next day was hot with no rain, a perfect day for drying our newly cleaned foam. Then I encountered the hardest problem. The foam would not dry. We were blessed with hot rainless days, but after a week in the sun the center of the foam was still wet. Clearly this was not going to work. An answer came from an unexpected corner of our back yard. The top of our central air conditioner compressor produces a lot of hot air. I suspended one of the foam mattresses about four inches over the compressor on a metal grate (part of a collapsable dog kennel) so that the hot air would blow dry the foam. Since the foam was open cell, I was hopeful that the hot air would permeate the foam and dry it. It did. It took a full day, but it worked. Putting the foam back into the fabric covers was not as difficult as I thought it would be. The open cell foam compressed easily and with a bit of effort I was able to work it all back in again. To keep the cushions smelling sweet, I placed a fabric softener sheet between the foam and fabric. Our foam cushions gave us good service for the next two years. Then, while pondering my todo list, I remembered the fabric softener sheets I had placed in the cushions. It was time to replace them- to actually prevent an odor problem with foresight. As I thought about it though, I realized there was probably a better way to go. Closed cell foam. Most interior cushions on boats are made with open cell foam because it is cheap and easy to work with. Closed cell foam is considerably more expensive, especially in large sheets, and is stiffer and harder to work with. Advantages of closed cell foam are that it will not absorb water so the inside cannot mildew, and it floats. Something on a boat that floats is always better than something that doesn't. I figured if I was ever unlucky enough to hit something big, closed cell foam would be a useful item to temporarily plug a breach in the hull. And if the boat did sink, and the life raft didn't work, I could float to safety on the foam. "Fuzzy math" exclaimed the Mate. But she was secretly considering the prospect of an interior design with new cushions, and gave the project a green light. I found the foam available in large sheets (mattress size) and several thicknesses up to three inches from Defender Industries (Waterford, CT). It was expensive, so, over the next year, whenever we had a little extra money, we replaced the open cell foam with closed cell foam. I used the old foam as a pattern. Closed cell foam is hard to cut, but a sharp bread knife will do it. It is also hard to work into the fabric covers, and in some cases the foam had to be inserted in pieces rather than one large sheet. Also putting small pieces of open cell foam in corners helps to soften them. I have heard that because closed cell foam is stiffer than open cell foam, one can get by with thinner cushions. But I kept the thickness the same to use the old covers (much to the dismay of the Mate) and to insure that they fit the spaces properly. Now all of the foam on the boat is closed cell. I find I sleep much better on the closed cell foam- not because its like money in an OLD mattress as the Mate insists- it's because it is firmer and supports my back better. Just a few days ago I saw my friend and his wife sitting on their boat, just down the dock from ours, looking forlorn and obviously not speaking. Although we hadn't had much rain that summer, the hatch had been left open on the one night that it did rain. "It was only open a little," explained my friend, holding up a thumb and forefinger to indicate about three inches. But the cushions in the main saloon were soaked, "even had puddles on them" lamented my friend's wife. They asked if I had any advice. I think I told them more than they wanted to know. (From an article in DIY boat owner)

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