Blue Water Essentials in a Small Twin-Keel Cruiser Passage Preparations for the Vivacity 20 – Part 2

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Blue Water Essentials in a Small Twin-Keel Cruiser

Passage Preparations for the Vivacity 20

The Hull: Part 2

by Dave Chamberlain

In sunny Southern California, we have an invention called the “earthquake-proof building.” It’s true. We have buildings that have been proclaimed “earthquake-proof.” Whenever I hear of another one of our newly designed and built structures so dedicated, I laugh out loud at the arrogance. We all know that if the earth started rocking and rolling at an exponentially increasing rate, eventually every building would come down… “earthquake-proof” or not.

Even though I’ve seen the movie “The Perfect Storm” several times, I still believe any owner of a small twin-keeler can modify her into a solid and safe blue-water vessel. Seaworthy enough to take on the ultimate wind and waves depicted in the movie? No, but stout enough to make seasonal, prudent ocean passages, while taking on the chin the occasional gale that interrupts most ocean ventures.

Sealing Vents

My Vivacity (mini) came standard with plastic, sealing mushroom vents fitted on the cabin roof, port and starboard. I broke them within two weeks. Take them off, because they don’t bring in enough fresh air anyway, and install bronze mushrooms with the tilting tops. One mushroom can be tilted forward and the other facing aft. You now have instant circulation, even with the main hatch closed. These bronze mushrooms are totally sealing with rubber gaskets. You want the 3″ size. Put two of these on and your problem is solved.

Mini’s starboard 3″ vent hole is my only source of fresh air because I use the port ceiling hole for the stovepipe of my fireplace. Since I like a lot of fresh air, I needed a larger cowling vent. Twelve years ago I found an old, used cast bronze cowling with a separate 3″ base. It had probably come off a commercial fishing boat because It had layers of different colored paint (even orange). I stripped this off and polished the beautiful bronze underneath. The cowling had a thumbscrew so I could face it in any direction. Perfect, but how do I seal the base opening when the waves threaten to pour in the cabin?

The answer is to simply buy a heavy gauge aluminum or stainless steel saucepan, or cap, that is just barely larger than the cowling base (of course, the cowling is removed at this point). On the inside of the cap glue down a fitted sheet of 1/8th rubber. Drill a hole in the exact center of the cap and fit a 1/4 or 3/8 x 5″ or 6″ bolt. This will be held in place with a nut. Next, fit a retaining bracket with a wing nut and you’re finished. With the cap in place, you can have a wave sweep over and you’re dry. I fitted a similar cap over the exit for my stovepipe.

With the seas starting to build it’s nice to know you can have the cowling and stovepipe stowed and the waterproof vent caps fitted in just a few minutes.

Strengthened Main and Forward Hatch Covers

Mini had very thin hatch covers which would dish-pan very easily. They made me nervous, especially when I was standing on the closed main hatch while raising the mast. I sure wouldn’t want to face days of gale weather with flex in my hatches.

The solution is easy: thicken up the hatch by gluing a panel of 1/4 or 3/8 plywood on the underside and laying up a couple of layers of fiberglass. This is all very straightforward as long as your hatches don’t have a crown or the added thickness doesn’t keep the hatch from closing or sliding. Unfortunately, the Vivacity’s hatches are crowned (they sure look nice, though) and the forward hatch will not close if the added plywood extends all the way to the edges.

Deep, parallel grooves must be cut in your plywood every inch and a half (or so) to get your panel to bend. When it’s time to glue (epoxy) the plywood to the hatch, these grooves are filled with thickened epoxy which makes the entire structure incredibly strong. You may have to experiment with the depth of the cut. Too deep and the plywood will break, too shallow and it won’t bend. I used a circular saw with an abrasion disc (I’m no craftsman).

If the coaming around the forward hatch opening won’t allow you to extend the plywood to the full dimensions of the inside of the hatch cover, the plywood edges must be tapered down before laying up the fiberglass.

One word about the sliding main hatch cover. Replace those plastic runners with aluminum. Fasten down the aluminum strips with counter-sunk flathead screws. Mine turned out great.

How can you describe the happiness of a solid hatch cover?

The Dodger

The dodger on a small cruiser is a joy to behold.
It keeps you warm in wind-thrown spray
And keeps you cool under sun’s hot ray.

Don’t settle for the little dodger that covers just the top of the main hatch. Build a full-width dodger that covers at least the forward two feet of the cockpit. Have sides that come down and wrap around your shoulder when you sit close to the bulkhead. The security and warmth it provides are amazing. If you’ve seen a picture of mini’s dodger you’ll realize she looks too high and large. Still, she doesn’t look bad. My purpose was to provide full standing headroom through the hatch. I cut a square through the false floor, then framed and paneled it up. I have six-foot headroom on my Vivacity. Look, Mom, I’m almost a Flicka.

It’s impossible to describe how to build a dodger in a few sentences, but there are a few good canvas and sailmaking books which illustrate in detail how to build one. Buy the book. Most small cruisers don’t have a dodger because they are way too expensive to have made. Take heart and please believe me when I tell you, “You can build a good dodger.” Your crew will bless you.

The basics are these: Buy some S/S pipe and a pipe bender, some [email protected] cloth in your favorite color, a couple of long nylon zippers, and some windshield vinyl. You’ll need snaps, twist thingies, duct tape and butcher paper. Bend and mount two identical arches of tubing (so when they are folded forward, the unused dodger closes, accordion style, laying on the cabin top) to the cabin sides. Hold them in the full set up and open position by running a length of duct tape down the centerline starting on the cabin top where the dodger will start, just forward of the open main hatch cover running up to the forward arch, then connecting to the aft arch. Attach duct tape to the upper sides of the aft arch, running them down to the coaming, exactly the way you wish your completed dodger to be shaped.

Now for the fun part. Duct tape the butcher paper to the frame, the cabin top, and coaming, in a perfect representation of the completed dodger. You are making a paper dodger. ‘Hope it doesn’t rain. What’s fun about this, is that you get to sit under your paper dodger and experience what it will be like when the paper eventually becomes real [email protected] cloth, sewn tight and durable.

Use your paper dodger as a pattern. Cut the pieces right along the frames, then lay them on your cloth. Be precise. You can cut out four panels: the front panel where the windshield will be ( don’t worry about that now), the top, and the two aft side panels. Lay your paper patterns on the cloth and mark the cloth with chalk. Now add an additional 1/2 inch along every edge. This gives you a cloth to sew the panels together. The edges of the dodger which will have the female end of the connecting devices, give an extra inch and a half. Use the best dacron thread and match the color to your cloth. A straight stitch is fine.

When you screw down the little twisties (what are those little things called?) on the cabin top and sides, be sure to dab on some sealant.

The windshield and side windows are sewn on after the dodger is completely sewn and attached. Have I mentioned the zippers yet? These are sewn on the inside of the dodger and hold in place the stainless steel tubing. With the full-length zippers holding fast the tubing, the entire structure becomes surprisingly strong. Back to the windows. Cut them to shape and sew them on the inside of the dodger, right over the cloth. Cut out the cloth, allowing an extra inch or more, so it can be doubled over into a hem and sewn back onto the plastic. I also installed circle side windows. They look old fashioned, and I like them. Congratulations! You’ve just saved $2000 by doing this yourself.

You may never be able to modify your craft into a ‘perfect storm’ conquering vessel, but with the completion of these three projects, you’ve contributed to the dryness, strength, and comfort of your small cruiser. You’ve also added your labor and attention to the overall essence of your small yacht. She will take care of you, too.

In the next installment, we will take a look at the standing rigging.

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