One of the things I found really tiresome on overnight passages was standing up at the helm to keep a lookout. All of the commercially-available cockpit chairs I found had no armrests – or at least, no armrests which were at a height suitable for resting my arms. So I experimented with garden chairs. First of all, I bought a cheap plastic one, and took a saw to the legs, extending two of them with bits of wood to rest on the deck, and shortening two others to rest on the cockpit lockers. This was a dummy run for the real thing to establish the precise location of the seat support: too close to the wheel and it would not be possible to get past; too far away, and it would be uncomfortable on the arms of the helmsman. Having established that the idea was viable, I bought a hardwood garden chair kit for about £15, raised the arms by a couple of inches and fitted a foot rest. I then fitted a proper stainless steel seat support into the deck with a hardwood stiffener to the cockpit locker and put the seat in place. It’s a tight fit in the HT cockpit, but worth its weigh in gold, as the helmsman can keep a 360 degree lookout from the chair, making long-distance shorthanded passage making far less tiring.
With the arrival of Wendy, it was evident that we needed another raised seat in the cockpit, as she far preferred to sit on a plastic stool on the locker tops so that she could see forwards without standing up. I built a lightweight hardwood seat close to the centreline using beech decking.
It cost around a tenner to make, and it is used daily as:
· a seat by the off-duty watch, with optional cushions
· a mini-table for drinks and snacks in calm conditions or in harbour
· A workbench for the vice
· A very convenient place to put the Coleman stove when the water is flat, so preventing the saloon from getting too hot.
Another useful modification in the cockpit is the hardwood rail behind the helm’s seat. This uses light line attached to lacing hooks for storing our mooring warps. As the cockpit is fully-enclosed, this means that there is a range of neatly-coiled and dry warps of various sizes and lengths immediately to hand whenever they are needed.
The really big modification is our enclosed cockpit. When I bought the boat she had a plywood cuddy with a canvas cover over the after half. The soft top was something which I never felt the need to remove, so last winter when it took on the properties of a colander, we extended the original cuddy to make a wheelhouse. This has been incredibly valuable, and we now have no need of oilskins, except to go on deck or in the dinghy. It is light and airy, with lighting at night, space for the dry storage of our folding bikes, provides dry access between the aftercabin and the saloon, and most important of all provides perfect shelter underway, be it from wind, spray, rain or intense sunshine. When we rounded the Raz de Sein a couple of weeks ago, other boats’ crews were wrapped up with just their eyes peering out of their oilskins. We were in tee shirts and shorts… An unplanned by-product of the hard top is that we now have well-placed handrails all around the after superstructure, making access to the afterdeck and bathing platform much safer. On the top of it we mounted a pair of 80watt solar panels which provide power for the freezer, and a solar water heater so on sunny days we can have a shower without using any fuel.
With hindsight, I would have made the after surface slope slightly more, at the same angle as the after edge of the aft coachroof to make the lines a little fairer, but apart from that, it has worked really well, and we are delighted with it.