Thursday, August 18, 2011


When I bought BIANKA in 1995 it came with a nice heavy duty vinyl coated dodger with windows:

It also had an extension that could be zipped onto the back of the dodger when at anchor. Which also had sides to enclose the cockpit if one wanted too:

It offered real nice protection from the elements but, was also hot in summer because it blocked the refreshing breeze when the windows were installed. Though you could unzip them and roll them up which I often did. Like many things on a boat exposed to the sun and elements it deteriorated over time. Zippers break, threads wear out, plastic glass windows crack etc... I restitched things a few times but, eventually it became time to replace it. As I pondered what I would replace it with I started thinking about durability. Sunbrella is often the fabric used by most boatowners but, it always seemed to me that in a few years that would have to be replaced again too. Around this time I was also thinking about adding some solar panels. Hmmm. I wondered. Why don't people use solar panels instead of fabric for the tops of dodgers? Why not indeed! It is much sturdier and would last much longer than fabric and it would also serve to provide power to help charge the battery bank. A dual purpose solution always works for me. So I decided to go about replacing the worn vinyl dodger with a solar powered one.

I wanted to use the existing dodger frame. It seemed sturdy enough to hold the two 75 watt Seimens solar panels I bought. At four feet long they were just about the perfect size to fit on top of the dodger frame on the port and starbord sides. There might be a little shading on occassion from the sail and boom on one of the panels but, at least one panel would probably be in full sun during much of the day. If I got anal about it I could tie the sail off to one side and get both panels in the sun if I wanted. This is starting to sound like a plan.

At first I thought I would drill holes through the frame and attach the panels directly to them. But, I found that drilling trough stainless steel is pretty hard and I thought holes might weaken the frame a little too much so I abandoned that idea early on. I then came up with what I thoughT was the perfect solution. I would use hinged jaw slides to clamp around the 7/8" dodger frame and install the solar panels to them. I then thought I could save a little money and use less clamps if I use two pieces of aluminium angle to mount the solar panels onto before attaching the brackets to the clamps. The advantage to this is I would only need four of the hinged jaw slides for the whole dodger instead of four for each panel like I originaly thought. So that was plan A:

This worked out well for a number of years sailing in all kinds of conditions and weather until last year. When a broken hanger line grabbed the edge of one the solar panels and broke the aluminum bracket holding the solar panel almost taking it over the side. Resulting in a scramble by me to do some serious damage control since I was sailing solo in near gale conditions at the time. Well so much for that idea! It's time to move on to "Plan B".

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