An Arch for All Reasons
Over the course of ten years of cruising, the aft end of my 34-foot Dufour, Gypsy Wind, had morphed from a clean and simple look to—well, a complex mess. First came the wind generator and its pole. The addition of a solar panel added another pole and crossbar, and of course there was the wiring for both units. Next was the bimini and its hardware, the mount for the outboard, the ring buoy, and I had yet to consider davits for the dinghy, which to this point had either been towed, or stowed on the foredeck.
I knew the solution was an arch, but a quick call to a stainless fabricator had disabused me of that notion, since I have no elderly aunts waiting to bless me with a large inheritance.
Then I happened across Atlantic Towers, a New Jersey company that fabricates aftermarket boat arches for many different styles of boats, including sailboats. I took one look at the clean lines, the sturdy yet lightweight aluminum construction and the apparent ease of installation, and I was intrigued. Then I looked at the cost and I was hooked. These beauties started at about $1,700, considerably less than their custom-built counterparts.
I looked at photos of other sailboats, and then examined my own to determine which particular tower was going to fit. There are two basic models—one where the width between both sets of legs is equidistant, and the other where there is a 10-inch difference to accommodate the narrowing sterns of some boats. There are various widths within these models to suit larger and smaller vessels.
The author replacing his cockpit arch
At last the big day came and my new arch arrived at Morningstar Marina in St. Simons, Georgia. I tore off the packing material with gusto, but on reading the instructions I saw that installation was going to be a challenge, since I’m not really a technical person.
The first thing I had to do was clear away all the hardware I had mounted on the transom. This was not easy. The bolts I’d used to attach the solar panels to the lightweight mount I had made had galled in the salt air and were not at all ready to come out. This took a couple of hours with a Dremel. The old wiring for both the solar and the wind generator were tossed away and before the morning was out, the aft end of my boat was as clean and tidy as the day I had first sailed her.
Although I had already measured the boat for the new arch, I soon realized that fitting it to the boat was going to take some McGyverying. These arches are built with an approximate 30° angle to clear backstays, biminis and other accoutrements at the back of a boat, and have longer legs that can be cut to accommodate various stern shapes. They’re not infinitely adaptable, but they’re certainly close. I found the easiest way to handle positioning the arch was to assemble it, then attach my topping lift and haul it into position. I then marked the positions of the mounts to determine where I would have to drill for the stainless steel bolts.
At this point, I discovered the arch did not come with great instructions. Steve Tull at Atlantic Towers told me the sailboat arch was one of Atlantic Towers’ first products and the instructions were being upgraded. If you’re one of the handy types, the lack of definitive instructions won’t bother you. If you’re more like me and prefer everything spelled out in excruciating detail, it’s simply going to take you a bit more time. Careful observation and some thinking (and chats with Steve) will get you through.
Again using my topping lift, I moved the arch back to the dock, clearing the way to drill the holes for the four mounting bases, and installed them with the beefy backing plates supplied with the kit (which included mounting bolts, backing plates, connecting bolts, even some Marine Tex and Loctite)
With the arch on the deck, I now had to drill for width. Each arch is adjustable for width, with the outer sections being bolted to the middle segment. The key here is to build in enough “prebend” to stiffen the arch so that the final installation doesn’t wobble. The top of the arch is set wider than the base, and the legs are pulled together to be attached to the mounts.
I decided to install the rear legs first, level the arch using the topping lift, and then determine where the front legs would need to be cut to fit. Once that determination was made, it was a simple chore to slide the legs onto the mounting blocks, drill the legs for the retaining bolts, and firm up the installation.
Next, I installed the receiver for the wind generator, making sure it was positioned so that the blades cleared the backstay. After deciding where the solar panels would mount, I drilled holes for the wiring for both units and ran messenger lines through the legs to where the wires would exit the arch and enter the hull. At the same time I ran an extra messenger wire so that I could later install cockpit lights and stereo speakers. Both of these options are available from Atlantic Towers.
At this point, all that was left was to clamber on top of the tower (it will support two men when properly mounted) and install the receivers for the dinghy’s block and tackle, since my new arch would also serve as my dinghy davits.
I mounted the wind generator and solar panels, connected the wiring, stood back and popped the cork on the champagne to toast my new love.
I’m pleased to say that the arch handles its many duties flawlessly—the solar and wind units are at last securely mounted, and the davits make easy work of handling the dinghy and its motor.
Wally Moran hails from the Great Lakes and
wanders far and wide aboard his boat Gypsy Wind.
Wally Moran, a contributing editor for SAIL,
Read more about Cockpit Convenience from Peter Nielsen here