Holiday decorations aboard: crafting a shell light

shell lights rb

Cruising boats have finite storage space. While we haven’t gotten to the point of taking something off for every item that comes on, there are understood rules that acquisitions should have at last one function – or require serious justification! When we choose a souvenir and keepsake, it’s often carefully picked with an eye to how it can be useful on board.

shell light craft easy holiday diyThis makes it hard to rationalize the volume of locker space we’ve managed to fill with beachcombing bounty. But a few days ago, Siobhan reminded me we should use some of the shells stashed in that forward starboard locker as part of our holiday decoration.

Enter a bit of DIY crafting! We used the shells to make a string of holiday lights, where a basic LED strand has one of our shells fixed over each bulb. The difference in thickness of the shell creates beautiful soft light that highlights every curl and nub in the shell, and bring with them the memory of favorite beaches.

All it takes is a strand of fairy lights, some clear silicone, and shells with big enough openings for the lights to be stuck inside. A small of sealant tube like this one (we picked one up for about $3 at the chandlery nearby) was more than enough for us to put about thirty shells onto a strand. It proved easier to put a blob of silicone directly onto the light, and then fix the light into the shell, than the reverse.

We first tested this project a couple of years ago while Totem was hauled out in Satun, Thailand. It’s easy for littler hands, doesn’t take long, cleans up fast, and is tremendously satisfying! Looking back, I’m amazed at how the girls have grown (eek!) since that morning we took over a table next to the shipyard’s office.

shell lights satun

Unfortunately, the light strand failed shortly after, with most of the bulbs unlit. Much as I like the shell string, the charm was gone without that backlit magic. Fortunately, the silicone was pliable enough to pry the shells off again (we had debated using epoxy instead). Still, they languished in a locker, until Siobhan prompted us to dig them out and try again this week.

The shells are kind of heavy, so it can’t be strung up “just anywhere” and may need support. We didn’t attempt to fill an entire strand, which would probably weigh too much to hang. I predict these lights will be moved to several homes around the boat until we get all the decorations up.

paper strand

The tubs of carefully sorted and packed shells are safe for now, even if I can’t give all them practical justification. The memories are too precious: just pulling out shells for this one light strand prompted retelling stories of the beach in the Sea of Cortez, the one with the tiny orange-dimpled cowries, and the days spent beachcombing there with friends. Adjacent tubs reminded me of discovering maze of coyote trails behind concealed middens where a stone flake came from, of the friend who gifted a beautiful triton in Papua New Guinea, and that Tongan hike that surfaced a perfectly heart-shaped rock. It’s more than enough of a rationale to be imprudent with limited storage space, but it’s particularly satisfying to mix those memories with something we can use.

Looking for ideas on boat decoration? You might like this prior post with ideas on holiday decorations from some of my favorite cruisers and liveaboards!

This post is syndicated on Sailfeed.

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