So, Karin and I are hardy souls. We’ve cruised for years on Marie, our Hinterhoeller Niagara 35 with a dodger and the full knowledge that sometimes it gets wet and cold. We have foulies and sweaters. What more do we need? Nothing, really. We have been very happy cruising this way.
But everyone once in a while….not too often…mind you…but more as I’ve gotten older, I’ve looked with envy a few pilot house sailboats. I think to myself, “Hey, that Nauticat doesn’t look too ungainly.” Or, “Wow a Hans Christian Pilothouse would be just the thing in this nasty rain.” And even, “Hey, a Lord Nelson Victory tug shure would be comfy cozy for off season cruising.” Now that last one is worrying. A Lord Nelson Victory tug is NOT a sailboat. And we’re sailors, dammit!
So pulling back from the brink (yes we went and looked at the Lord Nelson…and it was damn cute”) we asked ourselves, what is it that we really are looking for here? The answer is easy, a little more protection from weather, and maybe some warmth in the cockpit.
So clearly what we need is not a pilothouse (yet) but some solution that gets us a little more protection without requiring selling boats, buying boats, loans, etc. Yes, a new full enclosure is spendy….but not as spendy as those other options.
I actually talked about a full enclosure with Ellen, The Artful Dodger, who was working in Port Townsend six years ago when I bought Marie, and needed new canvas. She was against it then; worried about windage from all the canvas. She and I agreed that a lot of the full enclosures you see today are ugly, and ruin the lines of an otherwise nice sailboat. People get them too tall, or pulled out way wide on the push pit and rails to get more space. Ellen had a nice eye for the “right” dodger that fit your boat. Too many today are too tall, and have windows too steeply pitched. Again, they look odd on the boat.
Ellen talked me into the dodger, and then a piece I could zip into the dodger and pull back over the cockpit for rain and sun protection only when needed. Here’s what it looks like. This set up has worked well all these years. But I’m getting cold and creaky…..and, again, those pilothouses are singing their siren song.
So finally we decided to take the plunge on a full wrap. I walked the docks at Shilshole to look at dodgers and enclosures. I talked to a few different shops about the challenges on Marie. I talked to a few other sailors about their dodgers. And in the end I kept coming back to Jason Iverson and his crew in Olympia. There are other good shops, and if Ellen were still around I would have gone right back to her, but every Iverson dodger and enclosure I saw looked great….even old ones. And Jason was great to work with. I took pictures of Marie, and even sketched up the lines that I thought would get closest to an enclosure I could stand up behind the wheel and steer with, but still not be too large and unwieldy.
The Niagara has a nice coaming, and I wanted to land the cover there, and not try to fly it out to the rails or do anything else that would start to create odd looking edges corners and wings. I also didn’t want the back rail of the bimini over or aft of the rear coaming. I’ve seen examples of enclosures that do that and they all look like some kind of transplanted Conestoga wagon. Yuck.
While we were on Lake Union I July, the team came down over two weeks, First to put up the Bimini frame and measure, then a week later to install new dodger and bimini, and template for the sides and rear, and then a week later to install the enclosure. Compared to what I drew, and based on their experience as we talked about the different pieces….I think they did an awesome job.
Again, as I went over the new work, I was impressed with the fit and finish from Iversons. There are tabs in exacly the correct place to tug as you get the zippers into alignment. There are extra snaps right where you need them to fold the doors out of your way and hold them open. When you unzip the connector panel, some of the snaps line up perfectly forward to hold the piece in place if you don’t want to take it all the way off. All in all, you get what you pay for.
Saturday morning just after midnight we pulled out of Shilshole to motor up to Anacortes. We’re repositioning her for cruising later this month, and didn’t want to take the whole weekend doing it.
In the past, if we had done this, I would have been out at the helm….and Karin likely would have shuttled back and forth to the warm cabin. She gets colder than I do.
But on this trip, buttoned up inside our new enclosure, we both were able to sit up in the cockpit, chatting, and looking at the water. Karin hasn’t done any night time sailing. Looking at lights and trying to figure out if those are boat or just red and green stop lights on a far shore was a new experience for her. And I’m only a little more experienced at it, so we were keeping pretty close watch. It was a full moon behind us as we motored North past Richmond Beach, Edmonds, Mukilteo and Langley. Lovely.
Finally Karin just fell asleep on the starboard side of the cockpit. Something she never would have done were we exposed to the 51-degree air and the breeze of making 6 knots. She nodded off somewhere near Langley, and didn’t wake up until we were at the entry to the Swinomish channel.
Day broke while she was snoozing, and we passed several sailboats motoring south near Strawberry Point. Their owners were bundled up in full foul weather gear with warm hats pulled over their ears. I get it. That was me before last month. And there I was sitting in my jeans and just a fleece top. No windburn from hours at the wheel. Not tired from exposure. All of that is my way of saying, so far, the full enclosure is scoring high marks. Anything that increases your comfort and makes it more likely you’ll be out and about on a boat is a good thing.
I timed the currents and our speed so we could go through Deception Pass at the slack at 10am. We picked the inside route simply for the reason that Karin, despite all the years of sailing in the islands, had never gone through the pass. She’s always been gone when I’ve done it for one reason or another, or we’ve gone outside or through the channel.
But this time was her turn. We peeled open the new side curtains in part to see what it was like to move with them open, and also to improve Karin’s view of the Pass. It is, as most all of you know, very pretty.
The report card for our first venture with the new full enclosure is a solid A. It gives more protection and cuts exhaustion considerably. As a general rule, I do not like to motor for 11.5 hours. But sometimes doing it sets you up for a great sail, or to meet people who don’t have time for a leisurely sail. Previously, I would be beat from cruising for so long exposed outside to sun or to cold. But by being inside the enclosure, we arrived with plenty of energy to walk, or in my case, wash the boat. Some things never change.