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Old 09-28-2007
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Hard dodger

Hard dodger
Extend your cruising season with this added protection
by Loren and Betsy Lyndaker

After many years of dreaming, sketching, and reading about other similar projects, a hard dodger became a reality for Whippoorwill, our 1980 Cape Dory 27. Having a home port on the east end of Lake Ontario in Chaumont, New York, shortens our summer cruising season. We decided that a hard dodger would extend our season by protecting us from the sun, wind, rain, and cold.

We had spent a year living aboard, traveling to Maine, then south on the Intracoastal Waterway, to the Bahamas, and back to Lake Ontario via the Erie Canal. Our next challenge would be to sail northeast from Lake Ontario out the St. Lawrence Seaway, around Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and back down the East Coast toward home.

These days, with her new hardtop dodger, Whippoorwill, Loren and Betsy Lyndaker's Cape Dory 27, presents a new (much drier and warmer) profile when resting at anchor.

The extra protection from the elements -- as well as the stability of a hard dodger, compared to our present canvas dodger -- would be welcome.

We had seen other boats over the years with hard dodgers, some homemade and some manufactured. Our finished project has a number of similarities to the handmade doghouse described by Stuart Hopkins in the article "Good Old Catboat" in the September 2001 issue of Good Old Boat.

So, how do dreams become reality? Plans are drawn, lists of materials written, and measurements taken, checked, and rechecked. Our first step was to replicate the curve of our cabintop so the hard dodger would blend aesthetically. This arc shape was cut into a 6-foot pine 2 x 6.

We mocked-up a frame on the boat using a variety of 1 x 2 furring strips. We used screws to hold it together. When we were satisfied, we brought it home to our garage as a funny looking cap on the back of our pickup. Next we used two 4 x 8 sheets of 1/4-inch luan plywood to form a mockup of the top and side surfaces of the dodger. Another trip to the marina proved that the curve of this mockup fit the lines of the cabintop very well.

Construction phase

Now the real construction could begin. Back home in the garage, we spent many hours in the construction phase. We preferred to use okoume marine plywood for the final top of the dodger. As there were no local suppliers, we ordered the okoume from Florida. We used three layers of 4-mm okoume to form the top of the dodger. After cutting the first layer to fit the mockup, we cut the second and third layers 1/2 inch larger to compensate for the curve.

We removed the mockup luan top from the frame and attached a layer of okoume with finish nails. (These could be pulled through from the inside later.) We bonded the layers with epoxy. We rolled this on both surfaces with a fine sponge roller. We clamped the layers together and placed weights on top to secure them for 24 hours while they cured. We used #6 screws to secure the second and third layers to the frame, then we removed these screws after the layers cured. Next we cut 1 x 1-inch ribs from a 6-foot oak 1 x 8. We epoxied two of these on the underside of the top and used stainless screws and epoxy to attach the other with a slightly different curve to the upper side at the back of the top.

For the final front and sides we used 1/2-inch maple plywood. We cut these from the luan patterns. Next we cut the windows with a saber saw. We aligned the tops slightly to accommodate the angles of the curve. We added a 3/4- x 3/4-inch oak support inside at all joints for reinforcement. This ran the length of each joint. We epoxied these, clamped them, and allowed them to cure at least 24 hours.

Finished edge

We trimmed the top with a Skilsaw. The final finishing was accomplished with a plane. After hours of sanding, smoothing, and rounding, we eventually produced a finished edge. We removed the internal mockup frame and turned the whole thing upside down. We added two internal knee supports made of 6-inch oak triangles. Then we stiffened the aft vertical portion of the dodger with the addition of a 1/2 x 2  1/2 x 24-inch piece of oak board epoxied onto each inside vertical edge.

The next step was to transfer the whole operation to our son's basement because the weather was getting too cold for work to continue in an unheated garage.

The windows

We made cardboard eyebrow patterns for the frames which would hold windows in the sides and front of the dodger. When satisfied, we made the permanent eyebrows of 1/2-inch maple plywood using a router to cut a groove in each to hold a polycarbonate pane. We had these panes fabricated by a nearby glass shop from ¼-inch clear polycarbonate. We had the middle front window panel fabricated of 1/4-inch clear laminated safety glass, rather than polycarbonate. This pane is not removable.

"The extra protection from the elements...the stability of a hard dodger, compared to our present canvas dodger would be welcome. "

We applied another coat of epoxy to all surfaces, inside and out, and allowed this to cure. Then we epoxied the "eyebrows" to the frame, clamped them, and allowed them to cure. We remembered to do a wet sanding between coats of epoxy.

Internal knee supports made of oak, top right. Early stage of construction, top left, before eyebrows were added for side windows. Note the oak stiffener above the okoume-laminated top. The polycarbonate side windows slide into their frame eyebrows, as shown in the middle photo at right. The front window was made of laminated safety glass and is not removable. Testing the fit of the windows after the interior was painted, bottom photos. Notice the oak stiffener and joint support and backing blocks for
stainless handrails.

When the dodger was completed, all exterior surfaces had three coats of epoxy and all interior surfaces had two coats. The windows slide into their frame eyebrows and are held in place by a small piece of wood attached with two bolts that go through to the inside of the dodger and are secured with wing nuts. This makes them easy to remove (see photo on next page). We fashioned screens for the windows using 1/4-inch luan plywood for the frames and epoxying the screen to the inside. We painted these frames with Awlgrip.

Next we through-bolted 24-inch stainless-steel grabrails to the top of the dodger for handholds and drilled holes to attach two rigid solar panels to the top. We installed the windshield wiper above the safety glass in the center front of the dodger. We drilled all holes going through the top oversized by 1/4 inch so they could be filled with epoxy and then drilled again to size. This will keep moisture away from the plywood.

Painted finish

When warmer weather once again returned to northern New York in spring, we transferred the dodger back to our own garage. One warm day we painted the inside of the dodger with a light brown exterior latex paint. We painted the outside with two coats of Awlgrip that was rolled on with a foam roller then tipped with a 1  1/2-inch brush.

Once the paint was dry we transported our well-traveled dodger to the boat for another fitting. It fit!

Our marina owner, Geordie MaGee, who also owns MaGee Canvas Company, introduced us to a vinyl-covered rope which we were able to use to seal the forward edge of the dodger where it meets the cabintop.

One of six oak blocks, left, with a 1/4-inch channel to secure the polycarbonate. It takes about five minutes to remove all six windows or screens. Vinyl-covered rope, top center, and installed, below center, provides an effective seal for the forward edge of the dodger where it sits on the cabintop. Exterior shot, top right, shows the triangular oak piece which seals the top of the teak coamings. Interior shot, bottom right, shows the halogen light above the radar display. A red LED is also available for night travel.

We did the final installation of the dodger with stainless-steel bolts. It was attached at the front to the fiberglass rib that supports the boat's cabintop handrails. Two bolts through the cabin sides were strengthened with wooden backing plates. We also added screws in the teak coamings in the cockpit where a triangular piece of hardwood completed the installation. We sealed the entire installation with silicone caulk on the inside seams. We attached the solar panels and completed the wiring for the panels and windshield wiper.

We hired Geordie to build a full cockpit enclosure made from Sunbrella. This included screens for warmer weather. Now we were ready for the St. Lawrence and the 40-degree water of the northern Gulf of St Lawrence.

We accomplished that 2,000-mile St. Lawrence trip in the summer of 2004, and Whippoorwill spent that winter in Maine awaiting our return. The new dodger proved its worth during the many cool, foggy days of our northern Gulf of St. Lawrence passage. It increased the living space of our boat by about 50 percent and gave us good protection from the elements. It was well worth the many hours spent on planning and construction. 


The author:
Loren Lyndaker is a high-school math teacher and Betsy Lyndaker is a retired nurse. They have owned their Cape Dory 27 for almost 20 years and have been sailing Lake Ontario for 22 years. They have completed other improvements such as repowering with a 2GM Yanmar and interior cabin remodeling.

mdi and johnkt like this.
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Old 10-03-2007
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Nice article, always thought of a hard dodger on my PSC Orion, your looks very nice and melds with the boat lines quite well.
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Old 10-06-2007
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Really nice job. I wish I had known about the vinyl covered rope sooner, I was living on a 25' O'Day Pop-up, and I created a canvas/vinyl dodger as a temporary shelter during bad fog and inclement weather on the mooring. The weather stripping that I used did not offer the type of seal that I desired, and the weight of the pop up sealed the cabin well but could have used reinforcement at the mast as well. Keep up the great resource - and thanks for the information!
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Old 10-17-2007
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Out the St Lawrence

Your Dodger is very good looking on the boat as well as practical. We are planning to head out the St.Lawrence in June of 2009. Our IP-35 currently has side curtains but we want to add a hard top and a full enclosure for the trip. I don't think we will go as far as a structure; just a Wavestopper (r) or other commercially available hard top with soft sides. My wife and I would appreciate your thoughts on the trip out the St Lawrence; Timing, Harbors, Locks & Bridges etc.

Thank you

Last edited by Capstan; 10-17-2007 at 11:30 AM.
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Old 09-17-2008
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I live in the Pacific northwest and often find myself cruising in the fall (can even have nasty weather here in mid summer). A hard dodger has been on my list of things to do for sometime, though with the lines of my boat I don't have much room so it will have to be pretty low profile. (see: http://www.boat-links.com/Atkinco/Sail/images/CaptainCicero-1.gif ).
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Old 09-19-2008
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would a hard dodger perform any differnt than a pilothouse boat? in many situations, they seem to be larger than a well designed pilot house. any advantages/ disadvantages on the open water v pilothouse? im struggling with a new boat purchase, looking for some insight.

also- what does a hard or soft dodger cost new?

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Old 09-19-2008
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The main difference of the pilot house is that you have all the controls and instrumentation of the boat completely out of the weather (I have seen boats that have all sheet, halyard and reefing controls from in the pilot house). A dodger allows you to dodge out of the way of breaking waves and keeps the forward part of the cockpit a little dryer.
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Old 04-03-2010
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Saw in your message that you had travelled to northern Gulf of Saint Lawerence. This is where I live, just wondering if you had stopped into my little island village of Harrington Harbour.

Nice job with the dodger by the way, very handy to help keep things dry when the weather gets nasty. A friend is planning to install his solar panels on the top of his.
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Old 04-03-2010
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Nice project, ......something those of us who like sailing in all weather, well almost all weather, should consider.

I really like the idea that it can still be removed for off season storage or if a storm is on it's way. For me I think that is a must, being able to strip off as much stuff as possible is key if there is big wind on the way.
Have faith that the oceans are going to rise and flood the world, that plague and pestilence brought on by Climate Change is going to punish us for not believing. Please do as they say it is our only hope. :P

Last edited by Architeuthis; 04-03-2010 at 10:16 PM. Reason: edit out off topic comment
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Old 12-04-2012
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Re: Hard dodger

Hi ...can I contact you directly as I am embarking on this project as we speak and need to ask a few questions......Thankyou in advance..
Cheers, David
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