How To Home Build a Hard Dodger For an Offshore Sailboat

After reading about our dodger, very experienced live aboard voyagers Lane and Kay Finley sent along a detailed description of their hard dodger, complete with photographs. The advantage of theirs over ours is that it is all hard with glass windows; much stronger and pretty much maintenance free. On the other hand, I like the larger expanse of window, fewer blind spots and curved shape of ours. Just goes to show that everything on a boat is a compromise.

Many thanks to the Finleys for sharing the information below:

In the end, we designed and built our own hard top, using foam-cored fiberglass construction to achieve strength and lightness. The finished project is strong, safe to stand on, gives excellent visibility through glass, doesn’t ruin the lines of the boat and provides amazing protection from the weather.

Our navigation electronics now live under the hard dodger where they are protected from the elements and much more user friendly. We have also noticed that we get less ‘salt air’ inside the cabin.

Before undertaking this project, we took pictures of dozens of hard dodgers on boats that we saw sailing in New Zealand waters. The New Zealanders are well aware of the benefits and you can see all sorts of creative designs in every port.

Since we consider our Annapolis 44 to have fairly elegant lines we were very cautious to adhere to a complementary design. After many drafts, we finally drew the final design to scale and then lofted the plans on our garage floor. We built the mould out of MDF plywood with inserts for the windows so that the 10mm safety glass would end up being set-in against a solid fiberglass lip and be flush with the exterior surface of the hard top.

This was a ‘female’ mould, so the interior surface was sanded smooth and then waxed to prevent the fiberglass resins from sticking to the mould. We laid up the required layers of fiberglass cloth and resin in the mould, and then placed the foam core (30mm medium density) over the fiberglass layers. At this point we laid up more fiberglass to the design specifications and ‘sandwiched’ the foam in place.

High Modulus, a composite engineering company in Auckland, made some recommendations for the engineering specifications.

The finished product, which also includes a dome light and reading lights in the ceiling, was fibreglassed in place and we re-painted the deck to finish it off. It has proven to be an excellent addition to the boat and cost approximately US$3000 in materials to build. Of course that does not count our labour. However, it was an interesting winter project and one that we are very proud of.

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 18 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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