This summer the Pacific Northwest fell under the spell of a particularly hot couple of weeks. We had temps in the triple digits in some places, and, while I’m not complaining, it became clear that we needed something to protect our delicate pacific northwest skin from the rays of blistering sun. Those hot days reminded me that we are, in fact, headed for weather that may be even hotter, and sun that is definitely stronger. We needed shade in our cockpit!
Galapagos came with a full set of canvas for the cockpit, including a pretty neat shade enclosure made of some kind of heavy screen material. Alas, it was falling apart. Literally. I mean the fabric was disintegrating. We trashed it. But I began noodling out how I could make a simple shade enclosure that would fit the bill as a ‘cheap and easy boat trick’. It had to be easy to deploy and easy to store. This turned out to be cheap, and if you have a sewing machine, which I do not, then it would be easy. I had to do everything by hand, so let’s call this ‘easy-ish’. It’s definitely easy to deploy and store.
I ordered two rolls of extra heavy Coolaroo Outdoor Shade cloth from Amazon; enough to go around the entire cockpit, including the windows in the front when they are fully open. (You can certainly order directly from Coolaroo, but it’s more expensive that way.) This fabric is rated to block 86-90% of UV rays.
To attach the side and back panels to the cockpit, I wanted to use the existing aluminum bolt rope channels (called an Awning Track on Sailrite). Yes, this is the bolt rope that is used to make sails. This is how our current heavy canvas enclosure is attached. I ordered 12 feet of bolt rope from Sailrite. To hold the panels down onto the outside of the dodger, I used plastic grommets in the corners.
Cost of materials:
Sunshade cloth $38
Bolt rope $27.60 plus shipping
Grommets: 2 packages $8.60
Needles, thread, para cord – 0 because I have those things already.
Total cost: $74.20 plus however much I paid for shipping from Sailrite.
I know alot of people who sew all the time would probably get busy making some kind of pattern for this thing but that’s way too much trouble. I do better just holding the fabric in place and cutting around the shape, leaving enough room for mistakes and to make a neat edge. If I have to stop and make some kind of pattern, this stops being ‘easy-ish’ and falls into the ‘hard’ category. Plus I don’t have a flat surface large enough to lay out fabric of this size.
Making the side panels was dead easy once I figured out how I could stitch bolt rope by hand. This stuff is extra stiff, my fingers are old, and 12 feet is a long way to sew this stuff by hand. I tried using Mike’s Speedy Stitcher, but it’s made to be used with heavy waxed thread. It didn’t work well with the thread I was using; heavy outdoor ‘sail’ thread. Plus it was cumbersome. My patience wore thin. What did the trick was using the speedy stitcher as an awl to poke holes along the bolt rope. Those holes allowed my heavy needle to go through with little trouble and I made short work of getting the bolt rope attached to the panels after that.
I wanted the back panel to be in two pieces and I wanted it to go all the way back to the cockpit combing, past the mizzen mast. A previous owner had attached heavy plastic hooks along the side of the combing and these made excellent attachment points for small bungee loops that I could put through the grommets.This part of the enclosure is large, so I didn’t want to have to take it down and store it somewhere. I wanted to be able to roll it up and tie it out of the way.
The side panels are held down by putting the grommets over stainless steel screws I put in the teak dodger in strategic places. This fabric is not meant to hold snaps. The weave is too open. Grommets work better.
The most challenging part of this project was the front, which I made in two pieces. Because we wanted the windows to be able to open, I had two different measurements for the length required to go around them. Looking more at getting something functional and fast to deploy rather than something with a tailored fit, I opted to cut two lengths of the fabric that would cover the windows on each side at their widest-open setting, then fold the extra away and secure with a bungee through a grommet if the windows were closed. It’s the least pleasing part of the project visually, but it works great and I was able to leave enough space at the top to be able to see over the top of the screen.
We are very happy with the results. We store the large front pieces, which we use much less often than the other parts. The back pieces stay rolled up and out of the way unless we need them. The side panels are folded and stored in cockpit storage. The whole set up is versatile. I have no idea how long this fabric will last in the tropics, given that the sun there eats things fast. But at this price, I can buy more fabric in the states when I come to visit and remake the thing in a day if necessary. The bolt rope is protected from UV as it’s underneath the dodger. I wouldn’t have to buy that again. And the grommets are cheap.
Here’s a photo of one of the front panels. Honestly we do not use them very much up here because our cockpit seats are set well back from the windows and the dodger top has a generous overhang in the front. It has to be pretty hot to deploy these. It’s possible in the future if we end up using these front pieces a lot I may decide to make 4 panels for the front, making one panel each for the opening windows and one panel that covers the two fixed windows on each side. That would require more attachment points, which means more little holes in the dodger. But it would look better and might give us even more flexibility. The way I have it now, wanting the flexibility of opening the windows, which we almost always have open, means there has to be enough fabric to accommodate that. For now, I call this ‘good enough’. I did end up using large cup hooks tucked up under the dodger top so that I could put two little bungees on one attachment point.
We’re still anchored here at Cabbage Island. It’s a great place and one of our favorites. S/V Galapagos, out.