the sunflower pontoon

Every now and then there bursts upon you a terrific solution that should have been there all along — and probably had been. While I’ve been struggling away trying to strip the layers of paint from the aluminum pontoon “skin” — I discovered recently that that’s the official name for the stuff — I’ve also been searching for an innovative material with which to replace it. There HAS to be something better than aluminum that will require hundreds of dollars in stripper, at least that many hours of my time (picturing myself next November wearing blaze orange to prevent being shot by deer hunters while I’m still scrubbing away at layers of faded paint) and still end up looking like, well, repainted aluminum.

Then it happened.

I know pretty much every boat that goes by here. OK. Maybe not by heart, but the boat that came rocketing around the corner last Saturday was definitely not one I’d seen before. Sunflower yellow and occupied by a lone young blonde, she scooted on past. The color of the boat and the driver sans companions were notable. But the incredible thing about this boat was the skin. It was floating…. ok, billowing. It was made of something like parachute material. The wind caught it just so, which had it fluttering quietly up the lake like nothing I’d seen before. This was not a boat. This was a butterfly on pontoons driven by the Princess of Trego.

Kent and Brenda went on a canoe ride last week (long after my first sighting) and FOUND the sunflower pontoon. So we drove up there and took some pictures. That’s all fabric on the sides. Sunflowery, huh?

And suddenly my solution was upon me! I too, could use fabric for pontoon skin. I SPRUNG into action. Well, no. To tell the truth. I stood there for awhile because I’ve seen thousands of pontoons drive by my house and I have to say that not one of them ever fluttered. So I watched awhile as she met up with another boat and they did a sort of mating dance in the wide bay upstream before disappearing into the evening mist.

Then I trudged up Killer Hill and took stock of my fabric. Nothing worked except one piece of vinyl canvas. I scratched my head and measured and re-measured and determined that I didn’t have enough. Trouble was that the fabric had to show on both sides and I didn’t have enough of anything that was suitable. All my vinyl is backed with something either kind of fuzzy and white or printed with the manufacturer’s logo. Not what you want on the outside of your boat. I walked around for two days with a deep frown.


But then I measured again. In fact, I took the half-stripped skins and laid them out on the fabric.

They just barely fit, but I was able to do it. I cut them out 1/2 inch too big all around, then hemmed them on the sewing machine. I started out ironing the hems, but was terrified that I’d melt a hole through the vinyl-coated fabric. I have no idea what this fabric is, where I got it or where to get more. If I managed to melt it, there would have been no way to replace it. So I ended up just sewing the hems without ironing, which turned out easy enough.

I then RUSHED to the hardware store and, with the help of Al, bought sheet metal screws and fender washers with which to screw the hemmed fabric to the rails. Skin at last.

It was impossible to keep all wrinkles and faults out of the canvas as I stretched it to fit the old holes, but did my best.

In fact, Kent and Brenda were here for the weekend and helped a lot with getting the last of the canvas attached to the rail. Sun angle and other factors make it look imperfect, but once it was on the boat. . .

I thought it brought some nautical class to the project. Not your typical pontoon boat. . .

Here’s the finished rail a little closer. Also showing the first coat of something on that poor neglected deck. Finally!

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