After living and cruising 10 years with our cockpit canvas, we continually compiled a wish list of the perfect “family room”, aka cockpit enclosure, never really anticipating actually spending the money to do anything other than replace canvas as it wears out. Our Cadet Grey Sunbrella needed restitched & new zippers every two years plus we replaced different sections twice during the six years we were in the “serious” tropics — Panama, Honduras, Guatemala. Although expensive, we calculated we could replace it several times for the price of a hard dodger.
Fast forward 10 years and the Cadet Grey canvas needed replacing again. It leaked like a sieve and despite using all the 303 Fabric Protectant I had aboard before we left Panama, and then supplementing with Thompson’s Water Seal (a last resort) in Belize to get us back to the US, we decided to take the plunge and completely redesign our family room. After all, we spend most of our time aboard in the cockpit – eating, relaxing, reading, showering, everything but sleeping. So we formalized our wish list and invited three different canvas makers aboard to see our wish list and offer their opinions about about our options.
If you’re considering a complete redesign, here are 10 Ideas to Consider:
1. What don’t you like about your existing cockpit canvas or enclosure? We didn’t like the fact that ours was too short – David couldn’t stand up straight under the bimini. Neither of us could stand straight when coming up the companionway, we had to duck to clear the dodger. We wanted to raise the dodger 5-6″ and raise the bimini as well.
2. Boom, Winch & Other Necessary Access: If the end of your boom is over the dodger or bimini, make sure you have access to work on the end of the boom. Since we’re commuter cruisers, we take all the canvas including the Mack Pack and mainsail off at the end of each season and easy access to the end of the boom is a requirement. We also wanted the new enclosure to allow us to use our winch handles under the dodger – the old one didn’t have enough clearance. We even got alot more clearance on our side winches, although not 360 degree. Other cockpit details such as a space for the lines that connect the Monitor Windvane to the steering wheel were also painstakingly thought out. For this step, it’s important to sit in your cockpit with your canvas maker and think through in detail all the things you do in the cockpit while sailing as well as at anchor.
3. Longevity: We wanted to increase the longevity if possible and learned that dark canvas surprisingly enough outlasts light colors, so our Cadet Grey was actually contributing to our woes. Hard to imagine that switching to dark canvas wouldn’t be hotter than a lighter color, but we haven’t noticed a difference.
4. More Shade! Both of us agreed that if there was any way we would like more shade and a larger enclosure. Our current configuraration insured that any time it rained, the rain ran right down our backs when sitting on the cockpit combing. Since we were investing in new stainless, we were pleased when one of the canvas makers had some innovative ideas to accomplish what we wanted.
5. Connector. When we’re sailing, David wants to be in the open air – much better visibility especially for managing the sails. So we opted for a zip out connector panel between the dodger & bimini. In addition to opening up the cockpit underway or when approaching a dock. mooring ball or anchoring, visibility is much better.
6. Privacy: We wanted to add some type of privacy screens for when we’re showering in the cockpit in a crowded anchorage. The UV sun screens not only add some privacy, but they repel most bugs bigger than noseeums and cut the UV rays and sun’s heat by 70%.
7. Stainless Grab Bars. We already had stainless grab bars outside the dodger which we incorporated into the new design and also added a stainless grab bar behind the dodger. All three are invaluable for safety when a great sail turns into Mr Toad’s Wild Ride!
8. Ventilation & Cooling. Instead of isenglass panels that stay in place all the time and have U shaped zippers for ventilation, we opted for panels that zip and snap in place and can be removed completely. They attach to the bimini or connector with a zipper and then roll up or zip off. The UV Blocking panels are the same and both use the same zipper. We debated having two zippers so we could use both the UV Blocking panels and the isenglass at the same time, but decided we wouldn’t need that. Turns out we could have used two zippers since we use the UV Blocking panels for privacy for showering – so far this winter, there have been many times when we have the isenglass up to block the cool breeze and then need to put up the UV panels for shower privacy. We also opted after the fact to add a UV blocking screen to cover the front dodger window. We’d never had one & didn’t think we needed it, but a few days of anchoring with a west wind and the 4 PM sun making the cockpit an inferno convinced us that maybe it would be a good idea. The cockpit window UV cover is made from a different material than the side panels, softer so it doesn’t scratch the Strataglass.
9. Details. We wanted to eliminate the straps that connected the bimini to the dodger – yuck. No problem with the new stainless. Also wanted the stainless bimini frame to be able to add solar panels above the bimini at some future date, the new stainless frame will accommodate more solar. We eliminated the isenglass sailview window on the bimini. Since we sail with the connector out, we view the sails from outside anyway. Our original sailview window quickly yellowed until we couldn’t see out of it anyway and it ALWAYS leaked.
10. Ease of Removal. When we leave the boat for hurricane season, every scrap of canvas comes off and is stored down below. Redoing the entire enclosure was the perfect time to include ease of removal as one of the requirements. We even take the bimini stainless off & store it below, although it folds back neatly just like the dodger frame folds down.
We hope this list has provoked some thoughts about your own cockpit canvas. If you have other ideas or things we may have incorporated that we’ve since forgotten, please leave a comment and share! Cheers! Jan