Projects: Dodger Construction

In December of 2005 I purchased a Sailrite LSZ-1 sewing machine and began work on a winter cover. The plan was that the cover would provide a basic introduction to sewing that would lead to other canvas projects. With the winter cover finished, we looked forward to other projects, including new sails, a dodger, and miscellaneous smaller canvas projects - e.g., pedestal cover, sail covers.

I began work on a Sailrite dodger late summer 2007, constructing the frame and patterning for the canvas. I resumed construction in March 2008 and finished the dodger mid-June 2008. The project took an estimated 40 hrs, which includes the mental preparation that seems to go along with doing something like this for the first time.

Although Sailrite's instructions are fairly clear, it helps to buy the CD-ROM "Constructing a Sailrite Dodger" that they sell. Not only are there some steps detailed in the CD-ROM that are not covered in the paper instructions, but the video of some of the steps clarifies confusing or vague portions of the paper instructions.

A significant discrepancy in the Sailrite instructions is the lack of detail during the patterning step. This is one of the most important steps. Doing things a bit more thoroughly at this point than the Sailrite instructions indicate can translate into easier and more accurate construction, and a better fitting, easily secured dodger.

The first problem was the patterning material: it stretched and stuck too tenaciously to the double-sided tape used to secure it to the bows, causing distortion during removal. The second problem was that the Sailrite instructions don't stress the importance of determining the mounting points for the edge of the dodger during this step. The third problem was that the instructions don't suggest patterning the various panels on atop the other, thereby ensuring that reference marks on each panel line up exactly. And I suppose the last issue was that the strapping tape they suggest applying to the bows, to prevent the double-sided tape from leaving a sticky residue, leaves a sticky residue. Ah, yes, and one last "issue": due to shipping constraints, the Sailrite bows must be cut into three pieces, two hockey stick-shaped pieces and a center, slightly bowed, piece. This means that there is little crown built into the dodger, resulting in a fairly flat-topped, boxy appearance. Sailrite isn't to blame for this; it's inevitable in a "one size fits all" kit. That's part of the reason why custom dodgers cost more than five times as much.

Construction began, of course, with the pattern. Once the pattern is created, it is laid over the dodger material, in this case Captain Navy Sunbrella, and used to determine seams and allowances. Along with the dodger kit, I'd purchased an Engel hotknife, which I used to make all of my cuts in the Sunbrella. The hotknife is easy to use and it seals the edges of the fabric as it cuts.

Once the panels are cut - a top panel, front panel, and two side panels - the window material needs to be installed. We chose Strataglass for its clarity and longevity. The pictures below detail this process. Much of this step was slow, deliberate work since the instructions at this point simply say, "Now is a good time to install the windows." Helpful. The CD-ROM was especially handy here.

Although the Sailrite DVD suggests designing the windows on the Strataglass, then adhering each one separately to the back of the fabric with basting tape, I decided that I'd be more comfortable drawing my design on the front of the fabric - with all of the necessary stitch, fold, and cut marks - then position the Strataglass on the back and cut along the lines to reveal the window material.

The window design for the front panel came together nicely and allowed me to simply sew one long piece of Strataglass to the panel, then make the cuts in the fabric to reveal the windows. To ensure a smoother finish and allow a little more flexibility, I cut the window material into three separate panels once it was stitched in place. My hope was that the cuts will allow the panel to follow the contours of the deck and the frame more smoothly.

Material has been cut along reference lines and removed, revealing first Strataglass side window.

Completed front panel ready to be sewn to top panel.

Side windows located in top panel. Picture shows first line of stitching that secures Strataglass to dodger material.

Window material exposed. Rolled hem to finish edge of window cut out.

Top and front panels stitched together. Major step in dodger construction completed.

Detail shot of front/top panel seam, including front zippered sleeve and vinyl trim piece visible in other photos along top forward edge. Seam covered with 1" binding for a more finished look.

Vinyl trim piece on top panel secured.

Major panels sewn together. I was anxious to see how the dodger was coming together. It looked pretty good.

We wanted the ability to zip on a small awning that would cover much of the cockpit, providing shelter from the sun. This is the rear zipper and flap that will eventually allow us to add an awning.

I wanted to avoid installing too many snaps in the dodger, and I'd come across this idea on a webpage. It's a pvc track that attaches to the deck and accepts a boltrope. I wrapped Sunbrella around the boltrope and created these zippered sleeves to allow quick installation and a sleeker appearance to the dodger's forward edge.

Test-fitting the dodger in early spring. Before the side curtains...

...And after the side curtains.

Dodger done (mostly) and installed on the boat. June 2008.

back: projects