Would you make or have you made a bimini, enclosure and dodger? Now, that’s a big project! My sincere respect goes to those Seamless Sailors who tackle The Enclosure. Since we didn’t know the age of Magnolia’s enclosure; the plastic panels were getting cracks in the glass no matter how much Plexus we used; and on top of all that, the canvas leaked no matter how much waterproofing we went through. It was time to bite the bullet and make the investment. The cockpit is our sunroom after all. We planned the job for over the winter while the boat was out and a fabricator might have more time for a big job. I admit that I did not take on this project myself. We decided it was worth having it done by someone with experience to get it right and not be my experiment. We wrote a proposal with what we thought we wanted to use to interview prospective professional Seamless Sailors.
We met with two expert fabricators with our project proposal. One recommended by another excellent marine contractor we use for refrigeration and one very popular in our marina. Both would do a great job and offered estimates within a few hundred dollars of each other. We picked ours based more on his attitude and description of how he as a one man shop approaches big projects like these – with perfection. The captain was sold. Considering the fit issues to avoid puddling water, that’s top of the list. He also made some suggestions for adding supports, handrails, and other features that we hadn’t thought of. While we thought we wanted the same layout of what we had (minus the leaks and cracked glass), he suggested splitting the larger panels from two to three for the dodger and four panels aft to help address the mainsheet. Great idea for creating better access and for ease of storing the enclosure panels. The overhead window was split from one larger window to two and repositioned to a better angle for viewing the masthead fly. And he added fabric protection on the glass where the metal supports could “burn” the glass. (My friend on Second Sally made fleece sleeves over pipe insulation for the supports as an alternative idea.) Sunbrella covers lined with soft Panorama Sunbrella snap onto the binding framing the glass to protect it. The YKK zippers have flaps that cover them to protect the plastic zipper teeth from the sun. (Folks love RiRi zippers but they are getting harder to find.) He even added extra snaps to the roll up plastic tabs so that when they aren’t in use they snap together so they don’t flap annoyingly under sail. The materials he used were recommended to ensure many years of service – Sunbrella, Tenara thread and high quality fittings for adjustable tension straps at the aft end. 40 gauge Regalite in light smoke color was used for the vinyl glass. 40 gauge offers higher optical clarity and visibility than the 30 gauge.
Now, Stataglass, O’Sea, Regalite, Kal Glass, Crystal Clear or Plastipane…almost a religious debate. We decided that for the price and quality, Regalite would be best for us considering we planned the external covers. Some folks swear by Strataglass with the protective coating it offers, although it is the most expensive. All of the brands require special care, but the Strataglass requires IMAR cleaners. You have to decide if it is worth the extra cost. We like Plexus for cleaning older vinyl. We’ll be using 303 Aerospace Protectant on the new glass. You might go with a 40 gauge for the dodger and 30 gauge for side panels as a cost saving option. Plastipane appears to be better for a short term project or a repair in an older enclosure. Advice from Second Sally was to remember when handling the plastic vinyl – it stretches a bit when it’s hot and is brittle when it’s cold. It looses the flexibility over time. So caring for it is key.
We stayed with Sunbrella Captain Navy to match the sail cover. I’ve heard some stories of lighter Sunbrella fading and failing more so than the darker colors. Not sure why that happens considering that Sunbrella is solution dyed, but that would be a consideration for long-term investment. Top Gun would also be an excellent choice with a bit less stretch over time. We also heard that the darker enclosures are hotter. That hadn’t been our experience yet. If there is more heat retained by the darker color I’d assume it would be at the top of the enclosure. Since these sunrooms aren’t really air tight, I think there would be enough air circulating to reduce any accumulating heat. (Plus I’m not tall enough to be encountering the very top of the enclosure.)
Thanks go to Captain Canvas (Deale, MD). Not only did he do a professional job, but he delivered it on time as he said he would. A delight in the marine contractor world. He surprised us with a Sunbrella tote bag of 303 Aerospace Protectant cleaning products and microfiber towels only to be for the glass. And a jar of his homemade XXX spicy tomato juice!
Update: It was frustrating putting on the 14 glass panel covers. So I added red (port) and green (starboard) numbered tabs in the upper right hand corner of each panel to mark the enclosure glass panel covers. Also to store the panel covers when not in use, I made a simple bag out of used sail cloth. Since we often keep the middle side panels down for air flow and easy access to the cockpit, I made two long, round bags for storing those panels rolled up.
- Sailrite has a video on selecting plastic window materials
Jan Irons, Commuter Cruiser, has an excellent article on enclosure design and care
Soggy Paws article on enclosure and hard top design
– Troubadour has updated her blog on her enclosure design and how it is holding up.