Winter Sailboat Storage
Unlike the Southern states, sailing in Michigan is indeed seasonal. Unless you are a snowbird and will be either trailering or sailing south for the winter, early-mid Fall will be the time to prepare your boat for a winters nap. The commentary below is a typical process for preparing an non-motorized sailing dinghy for storage. Indeed, the following is the process I use to hibernate my own 15' daysailer. Larger boats, especially those with motors, will have a more extensive process but the basics for the boat proper, remain.
Running rigging (sheets & halyards)
The end of the season is a good time to remove your running rigging to perform a good inspection and cleaning. Any cuts, abrasions or excessive wear should be noted for future repair or replacement. After a long season, a gentle cleaning with warm water and mild detergent (e.g. Woolite) will help reinvigorate the lines. After removing any shackles, I typically place my line in a zippered mesh bag and wash using the delicate cycle of my clothes washer. Once the line is washed, I thoroughly dry it by hanging it a nice breeze, trying to avoid direct sunlight. When dry, I store it, either as a coil or within the mesh bag it was washed in. Note: New England Ropes suggests the following refinements: 1) Handwash if the line is new, 2) Use a front-load washer if possible, and 3) try using fabric softener in the rinse to make the line more workable.
Main, Jib and Spinnaker
There is no great mystery here. To prepare the sails for winter, I begin by removing and inspecting the battens followed by a general inspection of the sails for any dirty, worn or damaged areas. The damage may be some loose stitching around the batten pockets or seems, or perhaps some UV damage along the leech of the jib. The decision will have to be made whether the dirt/damage is sufficient to send out for repair/cleaning or not. Generally, local lofts will advertise 10-25% off specials for cleaning/repair orders submitted in early Fall (see the closest Great Lakes page on this site for local lofts). Once the sails have been cleaned and are ready to store, I fold and bag them and place in a rodent-proof tub or bin (the use of moth balls may be helpful, but I have no reference for this). Having seen JY-15 sails (not mine) riddled with holes and discolored with mouse urine – I’m determined to have no surprises for spring! You should remember that sails should not be washed in a washing machine and should not be cleaned with any bleach solution.
On a dinghy, the standing rigging is pretty minimal. I go through an inspection procedure in the spring, but inspecting now gives you a heads up for future purchases. On shrouds and stays, I look for any kinking or cable wear/breakage and check any swages/attachments for any looseness or play. Now is a good time to also check any clevis pins and shackles and make a list for new parts for the spring. When done, I secure the rigging to the mast (although it could be removed completely) and store the mast suspended from my garage ceiling.
Now comes the time to wash the hull and secure any hatch covers. I have also removed any extraneous gear at this point (scoop bailers, paddles, roller furlers) and have opened all bailers and drain plugs. I store the hull on the trailer (loosely tied down), with the bow elevated a couple of feet. If you have a fitted boat cover, now is the time to tuck her in. Fitted covers made with Sunbrella (or similar) fabric are probably the most economical ways to go in the long run. At around $200-300, these will last for several seasons and are usually easy to install. Many folks however go the shrink wrap route, using either a commercial company or a do-it-yourself kit. Many marinas and boat dealers offer a shrink wrap service. For a 15' dinghy, the cost can be between $90-150, with larger boats being proportionately more. Do-it-yourself kits can run up to $150 as well when you factor in the cost of the wrap material, vents, and tape. For years I have resorted using to the basic hardware tarp (using straps and bungees), and it appears to work well enough although it usually lasts only one or two seasons. Whatever method you use, be sure to monitor your cover and remove any excessive ice build-up. In addition, be sure your cover is vented so that there will be no problem with mold or mildew growth.