Sunday, August 28, 2011

New Hard Top

I'd been toying with the idea of building a hard top for the dodger for a couple months, since the day my friend Greg sent me a link to a blog about a cruising couple who built one for their boat on a dock in Mexico.  It got me thinking.  A hard top would be nice to have -- it would hold up a lot better in the sun and spray than canvas and provides a nice mounting platform for solar panels.  It would take some time and effort but I knew I could do it.  The more I thought about the project the more obsessed I got with it.  Unfortunately, There was no turning back.  Thanks, Greg.

After studying the cruising couple's blog I decided to do things a little differently.  They took an FRP wall panel from Home Depot, tied it over the dodger frame, and layed 6 layers of fiberglass over the top.  I liked the idea of the panel on the bottom.  This would give it a nice finished look and cut in half the amount of fairing, sanding, and painting I would need to do.  But instead of solid glass I decided to go with a foam core sandwiched between two layers of glass.  This would result in a lot of strength and stiffness without a lot of weight.  So, I bought a sheet of CoreCell, tied it over the frame, and cut it to size.

Since this was the biggest fiberglass project I'd ever attempted and I knew Greg had a lot of experience working with epoxy, I recruited him to help me lay it up.  We put a layer of 17-oz biaxial cloth over the foam core and followed it with a layer of 6-oz cloth and fairing filler.  The next day we moved it to the dock, turned it over, and layed down a layer of biaxial on the bottom side of the foam.  I had already cut a sheet of the FRP wall panel to size so we then epoxied that down to finish the glass work.  That was the easy part.

I spent countless hours over the next week filling, fairing, and sanding, followed by more filling, fairing, and sanding.  Until, at last, I had a nice smooth finish that was ready for paint.  A week later and I had 3 coats of glossy topside paint applied.  The conceptual hard dodger that had been living in my head for months was finally becoming a reality.  And, I have to say, it looked pretty good.

One minor miscalculation on my part involved the existing dodger frame.  It simply wasn't strong enough to support the additional weight of a hard top and solar panel.  I knew I'd need to beef it up a bit.  So, the next couple weeks involved buying new hardware, mounting bases in the deck, and cutting stainless tubing.  I added four additional struts which provided the necessary support.  No more wobble.

For the sides, I decided to reuse the existing canvas dodger and simply bolt the hard top over it.  Millie spent a day sewing chafing patches to help extend the life of the fabric.  I expect to get a couple more years out of the soft dodger, after which time we plan to make a new one and attach it directly to the hard top.   I ordered a solar panel to mount on top and once that has been done we'll stretch the canvas back on.  I can't wait to see it finished...really.

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ALittlePeaceAndQuiet said...

SWEET! Looks totally Pro...especially the second picture where the shadow of the boom looks like a blue racing stripe.

"A man with many talents is limited only by his imagination and bank account" --Wade