Making the front window panel in my cabin

To quickly catch you up to speed:  I bought a Sailrite LSZ-1 heavy-duty sewing machine, which I refer to as the “sailmaking machine”, back in September to construct a dodger.  This is a canvas “housing” that fits over a steel frame over my companionway (main hatch), and acts as a spray shield, shade, and keeps the rain out of my cabin while the companionway is open.  They’re all custom for every boat and cost a few thousand dollars.  I thought I was really going to stick it to those money-hungry seamstresses & seamsters by doing it myself!  If only they could see me trying to make it over a five month period…

Making the pattern over the frame with heavy paper

After gaining some confidence with smaller projects, I decided it was time to get this out of the way.  Thunderstorm season is quickly approaching and it’d be nice to have a dry companionway while entering & exiting the cabin!  But where to start?

Dodger Pattern

The old dodger was so beat up and stretched out that I couldn’t use those panels to trace new ones.  I had to start from scratch.  I held the frame up with some straps and covered the frame in 3-mil plastic sheeting, tracing out the pattern of the frame and then cutting it out.

The problem I found with this was that the plastic stretches too much, and would distort the pattern as I trace it out on the material.  Next I went with heavy-duty brown butcher paper.  This worked much better, though it was fairly stiff and not the easiest to manage and manipulate.

Nevertheless, I made all the patterns I needed and proceeded downstairs to the sailmaking machine.  I could have found a large open area to do this, but I wanted to construct it all in my small cabin so that I could learn some things about making these kinds of things while at sea.  I learned a lot of tricks, including one for how to trace out a 10′ x 3′ pattern on a 4′ x 1.5′ table.  I rolled up the pattern inside the fabric, and then traced it out as I unrolled it on my table.  See the picture below.

I solved the problem of not having a 10′ space to trace out this pattern by rolling the pattern up in the material and tracing it out as I unrolled it

Done! With protective window panels off

Dodger Construction

Sewing all the patterns together seemed so easy.  Don Casey made it look real easy in his book about doing everything yourself.  I’ll tell you what – it’s not easy the first time (never is?).  And considering the odd shapes of some of my panels, this just took a lot of measuring, stitching, fitting, restitching, refitting, etc.

Two broken needles and a lot of expletives later, I finally finished.  All panels stitched together, vinyl windows sewn in, snaps for window covers, zippers for appropriate sections, and all the other miscellaneous hardware.


New dodger from the stern

It fits, but not great.  It’s a little loose, but not grossly.  I like to think that this might be partially due to the paper that I used to create the patterns, since it was difficult to manage and fit around the frame.

I was going to keep these patterns, but I think my next best solution will be to get some thicker plastic sheeting.  I used 3 mil previously, but upgrading to 6 mil contractor sheeting should eliminate any stretch but also be flexible enough to make good patterns.

Also, my frame is very simple – just two inverted ‘U’ shaped frames hinged together – and there aren’t any struts for the front windows or back panels.  This makes for a looser fit, but will be important if I need to remove the dodger quickly in order to reduce windage if I ever found myself in a gale.  I’ll also probably decrease the size of the windows on the next revision a few years from now.

New Wheel Cover

My new wheel cover allows me to fold the table out without removing & stowing the cover

I finished this wheel cover right before my final push to finish the dodger.  One addition I made to my version was a zipper running down the front.  Instead of removing the entire cover to unfold my cockpit table, I can just unzip the front of the cover and fold the table up!

Old cover

New cover – what a difference!

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