Following is the procedure and history of constructing a new hard dodger for Freespirit 52.
After sailing from Perth to Tasmania, my old soft dodger was looking decidedly worse for wear. On two seperate occasions it ripped and had to be repaired in the midst of rough seas and strong winds.
It was time for a change.
Shortly after arriving in Kettering, the search for a design began. My criteria were that it had to be functional yet look so much a part of the boat that you didn’t know that it wasn’t included in the original design.
My search started with Google images. When I found something that was pleasing I saved it until I had a fair collection I could mull over. I then drew up my concepts and digitally added them over a profile photograph of Freespirit 52..
The big advantage of using a computer program is that you can design and redesign many times over, trying this idea and that until you find something you can live with. As I was familiar with Photoshop, this is the program I used, though any image manipulation software that utilizes layers will do the trick.
If a computer is not available or they are not your thing, you may want to obtain a blown up picture of your craft (side on) and use paper cutouts of designs you like, placing them over the photograph where you intend the dodger to be.
All this is to say that good dodger design is vitally important and this one factor will impact upon your comfort and enjoyment in its use for many years, irrespective of how long or tedious the process may be.
As there were many technical aspects to this project I employed local shipwright Chris Moncrieff and this proved to be a good choice. His knowledge and experience helped to refine some aspects of my design as well as being integral to its successful completion.
After removal of the old dodger Chris began on the layout of the base structure upon which we built the new one right on top of. At every stage the angles and proportions were considered and discussed. This perhaps took longer than otherwise would be the case but it was a satisfying way to work and it ensured we both were on the same page design-wise.
Next we stood up panels with the profile shapes drawn or taped on to be checked for size and scale. We proceeded in this way until the final shape evolved and we were happy with how it looked.
One of the important design considerations for me was being able to sit on the cockpit seats comfortably whilst under cover.
With the old soft dodger this was just not possible and so much of my sea time would find me hunched over trying to get protection. By standing up the panels in this way and physically checking, I could be certain of obtaining the proper head room that will make future sea voyages much more comfortable.
After a few days the final shape evolved and we could see how it all sat together on the hull. Building the dodger directly onto the boat perhaps took a little longer than if it was knocked up in a workshop, however its big plus was being able to see and make adjustments as they became apparent.
For the entire construction, first quality marine ply was used. 5 ply for the sides and window rebates, two layers of 3 ply laminated for the roof. By laminating the roof plywood we obtained the pleasing curve that was another of those design elements that evolved as we progressed. The template we used was provided by Chris and proved handy on a number of occasions throughout the build. Extra pieces of 5 ply were then added around the top, bottom and sides of the windows area to provide a rebate that would eventually see the windows fitting flush with the outside surface.
Once construction was finished and bonded, the windows were cut out and a new hatch fitted to the structure. One thing I’d learned from others who had built hard dodgers was that they quickly became hot boxes without good ventilation. As I intend travelling to the tropics this became an important consideration that would impact on the comfort and enjoyment of the crew.
After the new hatch was trial fitted the whole structure was rough sanded and soaked in Wattyl TP80 wood preserver. This step is to make it resistent to moisture and a much more sound structure over all. It is good insurance to preserve the ply structure beneath the fibre glass and window surfaces. Ply is a wonderful building material but it has one weakness in its end grain laminate structure. Liberal application of a good two pack wood preserver like TP80 helps to overcome this weakness, making the whole structure much more impervious to moisture and rot.
The dodger then was unscrewed from its support structure and taken to a friends’ garage: a covered space where fibreglassing the shell could be done under cover.
Firstly the surface was rough sanded to remove all traces of wood preserver and leave it grippy for the layers of fibre glass resin to stick to.
Over the next few days we applied layers of heavy multi strand mat over the entire structure. Chris’ expertise with fibre glass was invaluable here and because of this the job went smoothly and efficiently, ensuring a good solid bond was made without delamination or bubbles. This was made more difficult by the tight compact curves that needed to be negotiated during the process.
With the window rebates masked off the laying of the glass was applied starting at the bottom. The biggest area, the roof top was laid up last. Layers were saturated and then bubbles removed with a small metal roller especially designed for that purpose.
A product called Peel Ply was then rolled out over the still wet ‘glass to ensure a smooth and even finish when dry. This product is really just a silk-like material that when applied helps to draw the resin up through the glass matting, yet it can be peeled off when the resin is dry.
I’d never heard of this before and was delighted the next day when the Peel Ply was removed to reveal a smooth even surface. Using this product certainly cuts down on sanding/finishing time as well as ensuring a better bond through even saturation of the resin within the woven mat.
First Chris cut the excess glass off by hand with a 4″ angle grinder, then lots and lots of hand and where possible, machine sanding began. Attention to detail is important here as a smooth, straight and fair surface acheived this way will pay off when the final finish goes on.
- This is why hand sanding with a speed file, really just a large sanding board with a handle on top, is preferrable to a machine that won’t take out the bumps and hollows inevitable in any fibreglassed project.
- With filling and sanding finally complete our painter Cameron Hughes was called in to apply a hi-build primer to both inside and outside surfaces. This is really just a thick priming paint that helps to fill any pin holes and aids greatly in acheiving a glass-smooth surface for the final coat.
We also undertook a further trial fitting of the windows that had been cut out back at our friends shed prior to bringing it back down. As a single sheet of acrylic is very expensive and Chris had no prior experience working with it I was understandably nervous about this, however my trust in him was repaid with a perfect fit and little wastage.
- This preparatory phase now complete it was time to refit the dodger back onto the boat so we loaded it up on Chris’ ute and headed back down to the marina. A little bit of jiggling saw the new dodger sitting proud as punch up there on Freespirit 52 looking like it belonged.
Attaching the whole thing and fairing it into the boat itself took time and attention. Meeting angles were coved and fibreglassed, filled and faired to a smooth finish with yet more sanding. We were not favoured with ideal weather at this time so the new structure was covered in a temporary tarpaulin that kept the rain out whilst still allowing access to areas being worked on.
- On September 1 Freespirit 52 was hauled out onto the hard stand and the dodger painted. It was decided early on to paint both the new construction plus the cabin top to which it was attached. This proved to be a good decision as the finished product now looked smoothly blended and as one. Exactly what I was hoping for.
- Painting was a 4 day affair and involved masking off and application of a hi-build primer all over. Following this the whole thing was sanded and re-masked off. Top coating then began and two layers of Jotan High Gloss Polyurethane paint were applied in quick suscession. We got lucky with the weather and managed to get it all done before it once more closed in and become unsuitable for our purposes.
- Cameron did a good job and the paint flowed and covered well under his care. The tricky removal of the masking tape was undertaken whilst the paint was still wet and was a very stressful thing to do. The alternative however of allowing the paint to fully dry prior to tape removal, opens the possibility that the paint edge will come up with the tape and be very ugly. A good tip.
- Once more back in the marina pen we built a new dashboard, (described in normal posts) and then installed the windows. An integral part of the design was to give the appearance of the windows a ‘wrap around’ look. The boating equivalent of the wrap around sunglasses if you like. Achieving this look involved close tolerances between each window sheet with very little margin for error.
- To pull off a perfectly uniform appearance each window needed to be ‘blacked out’ in the area where the glue was to be applied. Specially formulated paint was applied to these areas after marking them out and peeling back the protective backing paper. I did this with a disposable brush and it worked ok, however were I to do this again I would use a roller to achieve a more even appearance.
- The procedure is to first scratch up the area to be painted with fine steel wool or a scouring pad, then apply Sika Aktivator 205, a special cleaner solution. When this is dry and the surface perfectly clean the Sika Primer 209 N is then applied. This paint was extremely expensive at $60+ for just 250ml, however it is very specialised for this type of application and choosing a non specific alternative would have been false economy.
- This product is also made for use with the glue solution of choice for Acrylic surfaces called Fix 200 made by the same company, Sikaflex.
- With that preparation complete a double sided foam tape was laid down within the window areas to hold the sheets in place and at an even distance from the dodger surface whilst the liberal coverage of Fix 200 cured.
- Due to the unique properties if this Acrylic glue, the curing process is quite slow and must be protected from UV rays for up to 7 days after application. As we used 209 to black out the surfaces on top of the Fix 200, covering up was already done and no further protection was needed.
- A few days following the window installation the new hatch was screwed and glued into place, thus completing the build of my new hard dodger.