A covered foredeck helps keep the noon sun at bay
By Paul Esterle
Spending a Tennessee summer on my 35-footer taught me that surviving the sun and heat calls for proper sunshades and awnings. I quickly learned that if I didn’t put up adequate shades, the noon sun would heat the cabin to such high temperatures that even air conditioning could not cool the space down until after sunset.
I first tried to thwart the sun by rigging a canvas tent over the boom to help the permanently installed bimini over the cockpit keep the boat cool down below. This helped, but the sun still beat down through the 2-foot-square hatch above the V-berth and the foredeck and cabintop were fully exposed. The hatch had to remain open to provide airflow belowdecks.
I pored through marine catalogs and found what’s called a kite awning, which is mounted between the mast and the bow. None of the several sizes available were a good fit for my boat, so I decided to design a custom foredeck awning.
Designing the awning
I started by calculating the size of the awning and deciding where the attachment points would be. I wanted to cover the area from the mast forward over the foredeck to the bow. Most photos I had seen showed kite awnings stretching down to the forestay fitting at deck level. I concluded that this would restrict air flow through the forward hatch and decided the front of my awning would attach to the bow pulpit.
To keep the awning from sagging, I planned to drape it over support lines running from the mast to the bow pulpit. The position of these lines provided the outline of the awning’s center panel.
Next, I used two lengths of light (1/8-inch) Dacron line to make an outline of the side panels. Once they were in place, I could see a way to tie the lower corners of these outer panels to the forward chainplates.
Installing the two main support lines and two lighter lines to represent the outer edges gave me a good idea of how the finished awning would look. After adjusting the lines several times and looking at them from on and off the boat, I finalized the shape of the awning. When I was sure I had the right profile and size, I made careful measurements and then drew the pattern to scale on a piece of paper. From the scale drawing, I calculated the dimensions of the awning to its finished edges and marked all grommet locations. Seam allowances would be added later.
Many different fabrics—with different prices, coatings, and dimensions—can be used to make an awning; among them are Top Gun, Odyssey III, Boat Topping, Fleetboat, Stamoid, and the widely used Sunbrella (see “Resources”). eBay is a good place to check prices. Go to the boat section under ebaymotors.com and type “marine fabric” in the search box. Look for vendors selling the fabrics you’re interested in. Make sure you (or the person making your awning) use UV-resistant thread; even if you use a high-quality fabric, the awning will fall apart if UV rays break down the thread used for stitching. If you sail on saltwater, use stainless-steel grommets. Brass grommets are fine for fresh water.
Once you’ve drawn the scale pattern for your awning, you can either make it yourself or have it made for you. Most home sewing machines can sew all but the heaviest fabrics. And while an awning for a 35-foot boat probably won’t need the reinforcements of double seams I’ve shown in the illustration on the next page, to make them the dimensions are there if you want them. Check one or more of the books listed in “Resources” for tips on working with boat canvas.
Having your awning made by a fabric or canvas shop will probably cost a little more, but the finished product will probably be worth the extra expense. I decided to have my awning made by a local canvas shop that had the vinyl-coated Dacron fabric I’d chosen and also gave me a reasonable price on both fabric and labor.
There are some important things to keep in mind if you decide to farm out the job. Be sure the shop knows whether your dimensions include the seam allowance, and tell them what your allowance is; fabric must be added if they aren’t included. Specify the size, type, and location of all the grommets. Finally, be aware that if you made the measurements, you will be responsible if the awning doesn’t fit.
The two center lines running between the mast and the bow pulpit that support my awning are actually a single length of 5/16-inch StaSet X line (made by New England Ropes) that wraps around the mast. A length of 5/16-inch to 3/8-inch-diameter Dacron line is sufficient for this use. To make it easier and faster to set the awning up and take it down, I attached a Helms model FHC-12 Universal Rail Clamp with eye straps (www.helmproducts.com) to each side of the bow pulpit. I tied fixed-eye boat snaps (West Marine #246365) to the ends of my support lines so I can snap them quickly on the eye straps. You could also use two rail-mount cleats or simply lash the support lines to the bow pulpit. If your boat does not have a pulpit, you can tie the forward end of the awning to the stem/headstay fitting or put it higher up on the forestay. If you tie it to the forestay, the line will want to slide up the stay, but using a piece of light line that runs down to the stemhead will help keep the awning-support lines in place.
After you’ve set up the two support lines, you can drape the awning over them. The forward end of the awning snaps into the snap hooks on the pulpit, and tension comes from a bungee cord that runs behind the mast from a grommet on either side of the back of the awning. Two other bungee cords run from the lower sides of the awning down to the chainplates.
When my awning is rigged and properly tensioned, there is enough clearance under it to allow me to leave the forward hatch open in almost all conditions. That keeps the V-berth and cabin ventilated. The awning has been a wonderful addition to our onboard comfort level. Even though there isn’t enough room for me to mount a wind scoop in the forward hatch, I find I can live without it.
I take the awning down only when we’re leaving the dock. Since it has no hard battens, it’s easy to fold up and will easily fit in a small locker with all the lines and bungee cords attached.
Paul Esterle writes about boat projects as he maintains his small fleet of project boats at his home port in Maryland, at the head of Chesapeake Bay.