Monday, January 11, 2010 | Author: Jacob
When we purchased Pisces she had a dodger, that while functional, did questionable things to the aesthetics of the beautiful Jason 35 design. After some negotiations, Julia agreed to the removal of the dodger in return for keeping the deck box.

One of the design issues for a dodger on a boat such as the Jason, where the companionway entrance has a high bridgedeck (a great offshore design feature), is that you need a tall dodger to allow clearance to the companionway. As seen above this doesn't always look so nice.

We sailed Pisces sans-dodger for over 2500 miles, and while this was fine, we recognized the effect that wind and sun exposure had on our energy and comfort levels while on watch. This season we are all about increasing comfort and convenience onboard, so a dodger was high on our list. So high on our list that when we arrived in La Paz we contacted Doug from Snug Harbor Sails to have him make a dodger. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for our pocketbook) he was extremely busy, and couldn't make a dodger for us in the timeframe we needed.

So, project background aside, here's how we built our own removable, foldable, spray dodger while at anchor for under $250.

Step 1: Design and experiment
The major problem for a do-it-yourself dodger is the need for a frame to support the fabric. You could get this frame made out of stainless, but then you're going to spend so much money that you might think twice about making the rest of it yourself. We have sailed on a friends boat in New Zealand that has a wood frame, which works.

We were very interested in a creative framemaking method from Yves Gelinas, inventor of the Cape Horn windvane. Yves sailed an Alberg 30, Jean de Sud, around the world via the capes and made an amazing movie of his experience. One of the many improvements he made to his boat was building a dodger with a frame made by inserting bicycle inner tubes inside of fire hose. When inflated, the inner tubes causes the fire hose to be quite rigid, and they can be used instead of stainless.
We always thought that was pretty awesome, so we wanted to give it a shot.

Well, putting aside how hard it is to explain to the guy in the bike store in a foreign language what exactly you are trying to do and why you don't know what size bike tube you want...we had mixed success. Our finding was that if you make an arch out of a single inner tube (cut the inner tube, and hose clamp in PVC caps to seal the ends) it makes a decently strong arch that will rebound to its original shape. However, if your boat is large enough that you need multiple sections connected, it doesn't work so well. We couldn't get enough pressure to keep an arch across two sections of inner tube. And that includes exploding a few inner tubes and inadvertently shooting a PVC end cap halfway across the anchorage.

Step 2: Path of least resistance.
So the inner tube and fire hose was a bit of a bust....who would have thought?
Luckily for us our boom gallows are situated right at the end of the cabintop, and provide a natural attachment point for a spray dodger. If you aren't so lucky to have something there, I would seriously consider the possibility of adding a boom gallows in this location and building a dodger similar to ours. All in all the cost would still probably be equivalent to paying someone to make a dodger, and it has the advantage of adding boom gallows which are very nice to have.

We did quite a bit of looking at other peoples' dodgers in this time, trying to figure out how they are put together, and what made them look ok. What was most surprising is how crappy the majority of dodgers look, this gave us hope that we would be able to pull off something that would not stand out as particularly crazy.

Step 3: Build.
We were able to purchase gray sunbrella which we like as light colors stand out less and help keep heat down.

We started with the front panel, and did some mock ups trying to get the height right so we could get in and out of the companionway, and still easily see over it when standing, etc. We did a lot of measuring and careful re-measuring. Once we had this piece roughly cut (extra fabric on the deck side) we measured and cut the triangular side panels. We then hemmed the top of the front piece and the side panels together, using nylon webbing in the hems to increase strength when we tension the dodger.

At that point we were able to put the grommets in the upper corners of the front piece. This was a big step, as it allowed us to get real tension on this piece for the first time. It is important to have this tension prior to doing some of the further cutting/measurements.

Hard to get enough tension without grommets.

Next we finished the hemming for the side panels. The goal of the side panels is to create a little cocoon of wind protection if you are sitting in the front corner of the cockpit, but at the same time you have to be sure not to interfere with the winch handle and getting in and out of the cockpit. Lots of measuring again, and then hemming. At this point the dodger is getting a bit heavier and hard to maneuver through the sewing machine.

Once the side panels are done, the next thing to do is to work on the bottom of the front panel. This will probably be the most complex hem, as it has to follow the curve of the deck and make allowances for things like the companionway hatch, lines, etc. We worked from the outside inwards, and just did each little piece individually. On the longer flat runs we did an extra-wide hem of several inches creating a hollow tube. Our original plan was to put short lengths of chain or some other weight in these pockets to hold it firm to the deck, but so far we haven't really needed to do this, we might add them later. We also leathered anywhere that seemed like it would be prone to chafe.

Starting to measure for the cabintop hem.

Finished hem with leather and weight pockets.

At this point you pretty much have a dodger, and the difference it makes in the comfort in your cockpit is huge. We found ourselves spending more time outside hanging out, and we notice that the protection from the dodger actually extends a few feet aft of the dodger itself, as it deflects wind away. The temptation at this point will also be to not put windows in, as it is hard to imagine cutting away most of the fabric you just put together.

Not too crazy!

For window material we used cheap vinyl because it was on hand and cheap. We also wanted something that can be rolled and stored without worry. The technique we used to put the windows in was to measure and cut the shape you want, and then baste and sew the window material to the inside of the dodger fabric. You then measure in an inch from the stitch line you just made, and cut the fabric at this new line. The fabric then gets hemmed over to a half-inch hem, and sewn down again. In the end the window material is then held by two rows of stitches.

Measure measure, take below, measure measure, mark, baste, hem, sew, take back up, repeat indefinitely.

This technique has the advantage of letting you get the window in the exact shape and position you want. The disadvantage is that when you go to create window covers, you have the pieces of sunbrella you just cut out, but they are 1" too small in all dimensions. You can add material to them, but it's a pain and at this point in the project you don't want to do any more sewing.

As a cover for our windows we used a big piece of raw linen. It was very inexpensive, lets in some light to the cockpit, and is a very lightweight material that is not prone to flogging in the wind.

Our goal was to create a spray dodger that would keep us a bit more protected from the elements, and also to have it pass the 'two boat length test'. That is, to have it not look crazy from two boat lengths away. So far so good. We think it looks a lot better than many professional dodgers, and the wind protection it offers is substantial. In order to take it down you simply untie a few lines and roll it up on the cabintop or take it below.

Side flaps deployed.

Side flaps retracted.

I would estimate we spent 60 hours total, including our experiments with bicycle inner tubes, and hiking around La Paz for materials. Total cost was probably about $250, most of that because Sunbrella is quite expensive here. If we did it in the US I would have expected to spend maybe 40 hours and spend half that amount.

Gallery of 'interesting dodgers':

The Vampire: Hide from the sun.

How to do it for $50.

The Singlehander: Dodger for One.
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On January 11, 2010 at 9:46 PM , Anne said...


On January 16, 2010 at 11:32 AM , Ellen said...

Aside from the fact that I'm completely impressed with your skills and creativity, the main thing I love is that it decks out your boat with a killer pair of shades. There's one shot where I can't really see the dodger; I can only see an anthropomorphized boat wearing sunglasses. Well done!

On November 24, 2010 at 4:11 PM , Scott said...

LOL. The image "how to do it for $50" is my friend's boat. There are thousands and thousands of sea miles on that plywood dodger without issue. I don't think it actually cost him $50 all in either!