Monday, December 28, 2015

Building A Hard Dodger

          It took twelve hours of sewing to replace the vinyl windows of the canvas dodger that came with the boat. It took five minutes to see that it definitely wouldn't suffice. When we tried the canvas dodger on the boat, it fit (with ample coercing), but I could see that it wasn't strong enough to withstand the wind and waves of the southern ocean, or maybe any ocean. It was undeniable- we needed a hard dodger, and that sounded like a lot of work.

          After I talked Max into this idea, which would require a whole other storyline of work, we began our research. We knew we wanted a fiberglass structure, fastened to the deck, that would shield us from wind and waves while not reducing our visibility, and as always, we wanted to keep it cheap. Many cruisers see the necessity for a hard dodger, so it isn't hard to find blogs and online forums that detail different approaches. We decided to use the existing stainless steel frame that holds up the canvas dodger, and Max thought we should try, if possible, to make the hard dodger detachable in case we ever wanted to switch it out for the canvas option. I remember how hard this all sounded back then! I found a blog that suggested using Rigid Fiberglass Panelling like the material that one would see inside an RV shower. It is very thin, .8 millimeter, though it comes in a few different thicknesses, and can easily be bent over the steel frame. After a lot of discussion, we decided we could bend one sheet of this material over the top of the frame, cut it, and then wrap another piece around the front to act as a border around the windows and the connection between the upper dodger and the deck. After that we figured we could attach these pieces to the frame with zip ties, and then cover the whole thing with matte, roving, soaking it in polyester resin after each layer. Later, we could cut out the windows, sand, paint, and install plexiglass windows! So here is how it went....

          This is how the soft dodger fit when we tried it on. As you can see, a little too tight, and a little uneven. I find this picture embarrassing evidence of my sewing skills.

         This is the first stage of construction. We moved the doghouse into the wood shop to create a false deck and screwed the stainless steel frame to the table as far back from the doghouse as it sits on the deck of the boat. We were then able to bend a sheet of RFP over the top and fasten it with zip ties, repeating the technique for the front. It actually took a really long time, because nothing wanted to stay in place.

          Here you can see the beginning of the polyester resin. We put a strip of roving over the joint between the top and bottom of the dodger and then covered it in resin. We did two layers like this.

          We don't have pictures of the many layers of resin that we rolled onto each layer of matte and roving, but there are five layers and it took us about six hours to complete. The polyester resin smells awful but is much more economical than epoxy, at $30 a gallon for the 5 gallons we used.

          After the dodger dried, we mixed up some thixotropic powder with more polyester resin and used it to smooth out the inconsistencies of the surface. Max added this feature in the hope that it would protect us from rain running into the cockpit. We added two layers of this and did a lot of sanding before we began thinking about how to install the windows.
          The windows were challenging to install. We began by thinking that we could easily bend 3/8 thickness plexiglass into the curves of the window shapes we wanted. It was harder than we thought and we ended up breaking some plexiglass in the process. In the end we used 1/4 inch thickness glass which we were able to bend and bolt into place pretty easily. Max designed the window shapes digitally and printed out patterns that we used to pre-drill the holes. We then cut the glass with a jigsaw and slowly bolted it into place, using a heat gun to cajole it as we went.

          We finally cut out the window shapes, sanded, and painted on two coats of primer. After that, we painted two more coats of deck paint, always sanding between coats. We also cut out the zip ties and replaced then with pipe clamps.

           The windows were cut and bolted on top of a gasket we ordered from McMaster Car to create a water tight barrier to keep us nice and dry inside the cockpit. We added a stainless steel piano hinge to the front window so that we could open it for air flow.

          We were absolutely thrilled by the final product. It seems water and windproof, and looks pretty sleek. This particular project involved a lot of discussion and trial and error, so we felt particularly proud and learned a lot in the process.