Ahh the tropics. So wonderful with their crystal clear warm waters. But there’s also lots rain and terrible heat. And ironically, it is hard to fill your water tank when there are no docks to drive your boat to. Here’s how we are trying to solve all these problems on our sailboat Aldebaran, with one new item: the bimini hard top (aka our new roof).
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I could have spent 3 months preparing for the passage here in Ecuador, but I had a month. Why? Two realities are colliding. First, we have about 30 people visiting us this next year in Galapagos and French Polynesia. Yeehaa! Second, Aldebaran is a 1968 trimaran in need of lots of love. So I’m working my butt off to make the boat nicely habitable and 100% seaworthy.
Our original mega-haulout in Ventura Boatyard (Oct 2014 – March 2015) got the boat to a strong cruising level. The anchor system was super beefed up, brand new rigging installed, shelf/storage space was quintupled, a solar-battery array purchased, the list goes on. The boat was rock solid for cruising in Central America, hopping between ports.
The heat and rain took a toll on us, from Mexico to Panama. Due to our community trips with 4-6 people, it was tight quarters and we had to live in the spacious and breezy cockpit. Many cruisers park their boats during the hot & rainy June-October period in Central America, but we kept going. That’s when there’s good south swells for surfing, and we wanted to keep making progress towards Latitude 0 degrees.
Despite having a dodger and full-enclosable bimini (which is a canvas and plastic window covering around the whole cockpit), the formidable rainstorms made the cockpit a wet sauna. Starting in Oaxaca with our friends Keri & Bryan and 4 year old Tessa, we began using a variety of tarps to stay dry at anchor. We paid a Huatulco seamstress $200 to build us a custom heavy-duty tarp that was wildly better. We affectionately named it “Juan” in honor of the seamstress who built it for us.
“Juan” improved our quality of life tremendously, keeping us dry and reducing the temperature by a significant 5F. Still, the torrential rains got through the seams and another tarp was ‘doubled-up. (Welcome to Tarpology-101). The tarp craziness didn’t bother us too much, as the lack of wind in Central America forced us to motor a lot. However, when it was time to sail, things got complicated.
Fast forward to the trade winds of French Polynesia, which we will encounter this next season. We plan to sail much more regularly, and needed a better solution to the rain/heat problem. Furthermore, refilling our 140 gallon water tank is a constant struggle. Envision moving three 5 gallon jugs (which weigh 40 lbs each) from a beach or dock to a dinghy then up to your sailboat and then syphoning into a tank. Now envision doing that 9 times. It’s tiring, not to mention it requires us to stay near places with tap water.
The solution to our water needs, plus the rain/heat problem? A roof for the cockpit, also known as a bimini hard top. It provides shelter AND catches rainwater for your tank. After spending 3 years in Tahiti, my friend Kyber in Santa Barbara installed one on his Outremer catamaran at great effort: I took note. We’ve been designing ours since the bumpy days in El Salvador, sheltered by our big custom tarp “Juan”.
Ecuador, as I mentioned in my mooring post, is an excellent place for a boat. The weather is relatively cool, lightning is rare, and skilled labor is inexpensive. After we careened the boat on the beach and finished some big repairs, it was time for a new project: our bimini hard top.
Day 1. We hired all-around mechanic Wacho (aka MacGyver) to help design and build our bimini hard top. Using 3/16” plywood sheets, we screwed them into the dodger’s stainless steel tubing and the boom cradle at the back of the cockpit.
This is the final wood “mold” that we made after a day’s work. 2 sheets of plywood just reached. It was quite hard to get the curve perfect with good drainage for the water.
Day 2. We hired the fiberglasser named Agapito – he put 3 layers of heavy cloth fiberglass onto the plywood mold. Since he had coated the wood with an industrial “butter”, the fiberglass popped off the wood easily at the end of the day.
Day 3-6. Agapito took the fragile fiberglass hard top to his house (with no plywood on it), where he added another 2 layers of heavy duty cloth. He built and glassed “rails” to direct the flow of the water. The plywood “mold” was left perfectly intact on the boat, and we cut that into a hatch for the aft cabin to protect it from rain as well. Thicker beams were set up underneath to give the roof rigidity, and it was all painted with gelcoat (polyester resin and colored tint)
Day 7-8. We took the still flexible fiberglass hard top to the boat, and affixed it with bolts. Now that the curve was set, we put in the last rails, which further stiffen the roof, and direct water flow towards the bottom edge.
Day 9. The hatch was installed, everything is re-painted. The bimini hard top is 100% fiberglass with polyester resin. The sliding hatch for the aft cabin is 3/16″ plywood encased in 2 sheets of fiberglass.
Day 10. Collect rainwater! We gathered almost 20 gallons last night from the roof’s starboard drain– that’s only 1/2 the roof’s potential for gathering water! We plan to run a longer hose from the port side drain, and “T” with this hose to enter the water tank for maximum water harvesting.
Note: the water tank stays closed until it begins raining. We also wipe the roof before each fill, and allow the rain to run 5 minutes through the hose to clean things, before attaching it directly to the water tank.
PS. We also have a small capacity water maker (desalinator) exclusively for drinking water… more on how that fits into our water system in an upcoming post.
Roof Dimensions: 8 feet wide at the front, 4 feet wide at the back, 9 feet long.
- $475 fiberglass labor
- $200 woodwork and installation labor
- $300 materials (polyester resin, fiberglass, etc..)
- Total: $975
- install stainless steel supports to structurally strengthen the roof. The welder is making those for about $120.
- buy longer hose so the entire roof is gathering water! Or at least direct the other side to a bucket.
- make “extensions” for shade and rain. We’ll use fabric from old spinnaker sails that we have on board.
Last night while it was raining, we sat in the cockpit watching the pitter-patter while we collected water automatically. Amazing! A new era has begun!
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