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The following describes an enclosure that has worked well for Alchemy for ~~20+ years.
Last edited, 02/23
Most enclosures, especially full enclosures, in some significant way compromise the safe and efficient running of the boat. We did want an enclosure, for all their obvious advantages, but were unwilling to compromise the running of the boat. This describes our solution. The following is long and includes comments on limitations on full cockpit enclosures and the advantages of the proposed style of enclosure. It describes the way we designed an enclosure that we have, with notes on construction at the end.
After some comments about enclosures as usually seen, the following describes what I call our “off-shore enclosure”. Please note, I first wrote this for those boats intending to go offshore, but the thinking and design is fitting for any widely wandering boat.
I feel most cockpit full-enclosures as seen in use are often quite unwise for boats that wander widely.
I have observed them be so seductive that poor seamanship occurs: not being dressed to go on deck and deal with a deck problem or not wearing a harness/tether/inflatable while on watch. (An acquaintance came into an anchorage and waved to us in shorts and a t-shirt later proudly sharing that the overnight he had just done in rain & 16C/60F temperatures was a doddle as he never left his enclosure, navigating by radar with heat and chartplotter int the enclosure. Had he had to go quickly to the foredeck to work the boat, he would have quickly had his physical abilities compromised by the cold or wasted time getting kitted-up.) Crew will need to fight against the tendency to cut corners: one important on-watch tendency to try to look around through salt-stained wet plastic windows and not do a full 360 with eyes and ears in the open at regular intervals. Full enclosures often make doing so onerous. (Some I have discussed this with unzip and stick their head out one side and then the other with much of the horizon obscured: many just look through the plastic windows.)
Other problematic areas include: designs where running the ship is compromised (such as winches that can’t be used as the handle hits the canvas or supports), where access to the side decks takes time (unzipping and needing gymnastics to get onto the side deck), inability to safely take the helm if necessary (visibility compromised through often spray covered plastic and compromised hearing/feeling the elements) and, finally, not robustly enough built to with stand days of beating to wind, a storm or a knock-down*. Seeing the sails in these full enclosures takes effort, so it is likely the sailing will be done by instrument. Finally, many enclosures make keeping a proper watch less likely: getting your head/ears/eyes out into the elements and not compromised with plastic, ceilings etc. There are numerous other examples, but, in aggregate: situational awareness is often quite compromised as is working the boat in an efficient and seamanlike manner.
So, the trade-off I see, is that most full enclosures make the running of the boat more difficult/less safe while making life, especially at anchor and in marinas, more appealing. In most areas of choosing systems: ground tackle, sail handling equipment etc., the boat comes first. With enclosures you bump into the interface of how and how much one compromises seamanship and boat-handling ease with being more comfortable (recognizing that being comfortable and rested does contribute to safety and good decision making).
That said, the enclosure we have come up on our 40-foot sailboat has extended our cruising season a month to 6 weeks on either end in our sailing in colder climes and solves most of the above concerns, but fails at being a sun room in which to entertain while at anchor. Extending one’s season is a big bonus for us and, in practice, we have left our “enclosure” up most of many a season (and not just the beginning and ends) in the colder, wetter sailing we have found in Northern Europe (it is easily and quickly adjusted to allow for enjoying the occasional warm sunny day) and now after 3 seasons in the Canadian Maritimes and two in the Great Lakes. We succeeded in this by forgoing some of the attributes that make enclosures so wonderful when at anchor and, even more so, at a marina.
Our dodger (original equipment) consists of a hard-top and canvas sides. (A conventional canvas dodger could do the same by installing a zipper on the aft edge.) The hard-top provides great handholds and a feeling of security. The enclosure idea emerged during one very late start going south from New England (USA). (Never have we been colder than motoring S on the ICW.) We were unhappily cold/wet so I taped some random plastic sheeting on the aft edge of our dodger (think of the doorway entrances to ice houses) and the difference this made was very quickly impressive. Since then, this idea has evolved and improved (with the help of great canvas workers) into an aft see-through curtain done in 3 sections, the side sections are basically fixed while the middle section allows easy entrance/exit.
The difference this simple arrangement makes is huge. Not having cold wind (or spray, rain or sleet) on you as it wraps around the sides of the dodger into the sitting area is an impressive comfort in long watch hours (we are rarely at the helm and the on-watch position is port forward tucked under the hard-top and inside the enclose where all instruments can be seen and there is 360-degree view, albeit though plastic (360s are done outside the enclosure). Things like cushions, books, Kindle etc. stay dry and safe in almost all weather. When sunny, it acts like a greenhouse and is very warm and inviting (especially when sunny and still cold/wet/windy). During winter lay-up months (when we are still living aboard) it acts like a mud room. With the companionway open, it can be heated when the boat is kept warm.
Fatigue is often a hidden element in many a sailing mis-adventure. It is quite fatiguing to be exposed to the elements, especially adverse elements, for long periods such as occurs on an offshore passage. Fatigue makes for physical mistakes and mental errors of judgment. We find ourselves far less fatigued with our “offshore” enclosure.
In cold weather, it is extremely nice to not have the “closed-in” feeling that washboards give. Visually we look outside into the open and access does not mean dealing with and storing washboards: simply climb the steps and push aside the middle panel (see below).
In this design, all winches are fully functional and no aspect of running the boat is compromised. One can quickly step into the cockpit through the center flap to do a 360 sweep and be completely outside the enclosure to see well above the dodger and be allowed to feel the wind and to hear. We do not generally “heat” the area so we are always dressed for action on deck and since we have regular visits to the open cockpit to scan the horizon there is no temptation to not be harnessed up and tethered. Finally, it is a design for a couple or crew of 2 and, I suspect, some dodgers might not come far enough aft to make sufficient space for comfortable sitting. Angling the enclosure curtain aft might help with that.
This design has seen, 2 trips to Central America, 2 Atlantic crossings, the last through Iceland and Greenland, and multiple gales at sea and at anchor. It has also endured, (and been hugely appreciated), storm level winds from the stern at sea and, luckily far more often, on a wharf or pontoon/dock. The design has proved, somewhat surprisingly, very robust.
This “enclosure” for sure has many compromises, but it has worked for us for almost 2 decades and has extended our season by 20-30% while making all lousy weather sailing far more pleasant. We are not young anymore and not stoics and very much like our comforts. I doubt we would have done the cold/wet weather area sailing that we have so very much enjoyed without this addition.
My best to all, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
The enclosure is in 3 more or less equal sections. The upper edge is held fast with a bolt rope in the panels and a bolt rope channel attached to my hardtop. (For soft-tops a zipper attachment would work fine.) This could be a direct attachment, but I have a wonderful grab-rail off the aft edge of my dodger which I wished to be usable, so I needed to work around that. (The enclosure needed to go inside the grab-rail and around the end of the handle-bar where it connects to the dodger: installs without the grab rail will be much more straightforward.)
Each side panel zips to the dodger side curtain where there are flap extensions over the zipper to make water intrusion through the zipper less likely. Where the side panel meets the coaming there are snaps. The inside bottom edge of the side panels are held in place with bungy cord led to the floor to give the stretchy cord some length. This is a very important design feature as in a working boat, you will always be bumping int these panels, pushing them aside, falling into them a bit and the bungy cord allows forgiveness for these assaults while protecting the panels and the other fasteners.
Both side panels meet the middle panel with a top to bottom zipper. This middle panel is able to be rolled up high and secured (or flipped on top of the dodger) when conditions are pleasant and/or you want better access to the cockpit.
This design has seen 2 Atlantic crossings, the last through Iceland and Greenland and multiple gales at sea and at anchor. It has also endured (and been hugely appreciated) storm level winds from the stern at sea and, luckily far more often, on a wharf or pontoon/dock. The design has proved, somewhat surprisingly, very robust.
Come back with questions/comments/thoughts
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
*I would argue that it is a rare full enclosure that should not be struck and stored safely below when the forecast is for a Gale or Full Gale or worse. The same goes for the quite large Biminis that are proliferating nowadays, often sporting solar panels on top. Think what the forces are if the boat has to sail upwind, heeled over, and banging into waves and swell.
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My problem is finding someone who can fit a cost effective enclosure and guarantee fixtures upto F10 winds from the stern or bow?
Please would you share or recommend anyone who is willing to stand by their enclosures work?
Grateful for your ongoing support and feedback.
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Thanks Dick,My problem is finding someone who can fit a cost effective enclosure and guarantee fixtures upto F10 winds from the stern or bow?Please would you share or recommend anyone who is willing to stand by their enclosures work?Grateful for your ongoing support and feedback.Fair winds,SoniaSY Salacia
I suspect there are no guarantees in the world of marine canvas: too many variables. For example, most canvas that has trouble at sea is caused by the skipper waiting too long to do maintenance such as backing up stitching that has seen too much UV. Similarly with the canvas itself: few know how quickly Sunbrella gets compromised in say, protecting the mainsail from UV. Sunbrella (and other fabrics I would guess) can still look quite good even after it has lost a portion of their strength and opacity.
I always seek out local knowledge from those who have been to sea and look for canvas people who cater to offshore sailors. This usually means you are paying top-dollar. But good canvas work is usually worth it. I would go to a canvas person and not a sailmaker who also does canvas as the canvas person is likely to do far more work with canvas, design and execution.
A well-made well-designed dodger for an offshore venturing boat should endure F10 winds, from bow and stern without any problem. The more pressing concern may be that those winds often come with boarding seas. Green water coming full force down the length of the boat and slamming into the canvas packs a mighty wallop. It is with seas that paying extra for strong bows with thicker walls and robust anchor points to the boat might make a big difference.
Many boats I observed in UK waters had dodgers that were folded down with regularity. This, by necessity, makes for lighter weight support bows and more easily folded up canvas and windows. I also observed some had more encompassing enclosures that only went up at anchor and in the marina.
This ability to fold down the dodger is not necessarily a bad thing if faced with heavy weather. Full cockpit enclosures, I believe, should have, in the design phase, a plan for striking the enclosure if heavy weather is expected. (If gear like this suffers in heavy weather, the crew is in greater danger working the boat having to deal with broken gear, possibly sharp points, canvas over the wheel and the like, all done in heavy weather when all attention should be on the boat.)
Random thoughts. My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy