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Friday, August 28, 2015

Shade Panels for the Cockpit

posted by Ardys

Three panels provide shade at the stern.  

Sewing the connector.  
Our sailboat needed shade.  Because the frame of NORTHERN STAR had been tweaked a bit when the solar panel array was added, the canvas didn't fit as was intended.  Additionally, the bimini was quite faded.  I looked at a few swatches of the shades of navy by SunBrella to try to determine the original color.   I finally realized that the dodger and the bimini were NOT the same color of navy.  Disheartening discovery to say the least.  
In summary, our canvas was mismatched, and it didn't fit properly.   I really didn't feel up to the task of re-making the entire bimini to make it 1) match the dodger and 2) fit properly. That would be a much bigger project than I was prepared to take on.  I considered several ways of approaching the project and balked after each idea.   I drew sketches of the cockpit area to envision what the shade panels might look like.  It all seemed so complicated. Frankly, I was afraid to begin.
Pattern pieces envisioned.  Battens across bottoms.
Mid-summer I did dive into the project.  Because we wanted to move toward a lighter color of canvas for the boat, I matched the vinyl shade fabric to our new Sail Pack. I ordered all my supplies from SailRite including matching canvas to cut into 6" strips to "frame" the shade panels.   While awaiting the shipment, I  designed pattern pieces for shade panels.

My goal throughout the project was to make the shade panels efficient to use and quick to put away so I designed them to be rolled up.  I did not want to be obligated to remove the panels and haul them to the "garage" (our aft cabin) after each use.  I used a plumb line to establish the center of the stern.  Because we have a line leading from the cockpit to raise the dinghy onto the davits, I suspended another plumb line there.  A second zipper was needed to allow that line to pass through the shade panels.  Then, I attached lengths of blue painter's tape to the frame and extended them straight down to the lifelines in order to better envision and measure the shape of each intended panel. This part of the task actually took me several hours to calculate.   

One zipper on either side of the stainless frame.  
This project was much too complex to handle entirely on the boat.  I needed space on land, so I commandeered the picnic pavilion at the old marina, South Annapolis Yacht Centre.  A worn sail from our last boat provided me with luff tape, welting and plenty of sailcloth to use for pattern making.   Several decisions needed to be made at that point.  One was that the new shade panels would be much longer than the old set of them.  Also, the shade panels at the stern would snap over the bimini frame because there was no reasonable way to zip it onto the canvas in that location.  The side panels, however, would, be zipped onto the bimini, similar to how the original shade panels had been attached.  I numbered my stern pattern pieces 1-3 which was important since each of the three was a different shape.  The two sides were mirror shapes.

My SailRite shipment arrived at the marina 6 days later. Three boxes.  It felt a little like Christmas in July.  I sent my husband out for a 20' orange power cord that I could use under the picnic pavilion and took out the hot knife.  One of the great advantages of using a hot knife is that canvas and line will not fray, thereby saving time and eliminating the need to finish the raw edges.  Also, it's possible to cut through a few layers of SunBrella at the same time, something I could not have done with traditional shears.   I am impressed that the hot knife gets hot enough in only 6 seconds to cut through materials "like buttah!"
One side panel down; the others are up.  Rainy day. 

The next dilemma for me was how to connect the side panels at the stern.  I opted to simply use snaps to connect the sides to the frame at the starboard and port "corners." 

One of the important additions to the shade panels was not identified until they were hanging. Something stiff was needed to keep the panels level and easier to roll up, and so I bought several slim battens to slide into pockets that I added onto the bottom of each panel.  With the battens, the panels hang more evenly and look tidier.   Because the battens can be removed, I still have the option to fold up the panels for long term storage.  

Zipper able to close with fabric wedge insert
By the time the shade panels were completed, I felt courageous enough  to approach the task of adding 6" to the connector canvas so that it could be zipped to the dodger. Another order went to SailRite.  I chose a navy vinyl material to bridge the gap, and then with my bravery expanding by the day, also used that vinyl as edging on several pieces of the bimini where the canvas was especially worn. At the same time, I added wedges of fabric in places where the zippers would not meet.  A couple zippers were replaced as well.  Several zipper pulls were gray and pitted from salt water, so I used black nail polish to blacken them.  They don't look like new, but they are no longer noticeable to the casual observer. 

A place to store fishing rods and fishing net above the helm.
I enlarged the viewing window directly above the helm, to better eye the top of the mast from the helm.  Because there are solar panels above the bimini, the only way to benefit by an enlarged window was to make it wide but narrow.   Then I devised a means to keep the fishing poles and net in the cockpit suspended above the helm.  I attached (2) 4" stainless steel rings to the bimini canvas ceiling to hold the handle of the fishing net, and the tips of the fishing rods. I attached a vinyl mesh fabric pocket to hold the net and a heavy duty velcro tie-up to hold the reel ends of the two fishing poles on the port side ceiling. 
2 (4") stainless rings corral the fishing rods and net

The last canvas task of the project was to enlarge the leading edge of the two weather windows.  With that done, I was able to install zippers to the leading edges and connect them to the dodger.  The connector and the weather windows are very stiff and awkward to handle, so occasionally my husband was called in to hold up the heavy ends as I sewed on them.  Finally, I played around with a system of buckled lines attached to the solar panel frame so that the connector could also be rolled up and stored under the solar panels. A separate pair of buckled lines holds the two weather windows firmly in place above the bimini.   I took care to ensure that the connector can be employed without pulling the weather windows down at the same time.  At last it was finished.   Ta-DAH!

During this project, I discovered the truth of a phrase that one of my sailor friends parrots, "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing twice."  Heck, maybe even three or four times.  I ripped out lots of seams and reshaped things as I went along.   Sigh.  I put the panels up and took them down many times while sewing them, to be sure about fit and placement of snaps and buckles.
The two weather windows are firmly secured under the solar panels for storage when not in use.
I was unable to make the connector and weather windows as pretty as I would like.  Ideally the colors would have matched but 1) we've got shade and protection from the rain in the cockpit, and 2) I learned several new skills in the process.    When we decide it IS time to replace the bimini and dodger, I believe I can do it myself. And that's what sewing on a sailboat is all about, isn't it?  Self-sufficiency.   And if I become more "salty" in the process, so much the better.   

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