Know How: Nav Station Makeover

Having had so much fun upgrading the systems on our project Norlin 34, it came as something of a shock to realize that after installing a windlass, propane system, new winches, new portlights and new genoa sheet tracks in the space of three years, I had run out of things to do.

Sprucing up an older cruiser with new switch panels

Having had so much fun upgrading the systems on our project Norlin 34, it came as something of a shock to realize that after installing a windlass, propane system, new winches, new portlights and new genoa sheet tracks in the space of three years, I had run out of things to do. Well, not really. The old girl turned 40 in May, and it was time to address some of the cosmetic issues I’ve been steadfastly ignoring over the years.

The list of wanna-do’s is long indeed—rip out the nasty vinyl covering the hull sides and replace them with wooden ceilings, find a way to improve the ugly, scarred cabin overhead, refinish the heads compartment, and give the nav station a makeover. But which project to tackle first?

With the boat in the grip of a savage and seemingly never-ending New England winter, not to mention a seriously tight budget, my options were limited. I settled on the nav-station makeover, which would involve refacing a couple of beat-up instrument panels, and replacing the ugly old DC and AC switch panels that had been annoying me for years.

The existing DC panel consisted of three ancient aluminum Marinetics circuit breaker panels loosely joined together and mounted on a piano hinge. Because of its location I would have to replace it with a panel of the same height, though it could be wider. A quick look online for made-to-measure DC panels revealed prices that made my head swim. A plunge into depression was averted when I found that West Marine was selling plastic 6-breaker DC panels made by Blue Sea Systems for $50 each, complete with LED indicator lights.

Three of these, side by side, would fit very nicely. I would have to make a hinged framework on which to mount them and also the new AC distribution panel. The latter was a 360 Main + 2 Position from Blue Sea Systems; the boat’s shore power demands are modest, with only a battery charger and a single AC outlet to be served.

I ordered a piece of 3/16in G10 fiberglass sheet from McMaster Carr, trimmed it to the correct dimensions with a jigsaw, and cut out the holes for the 3 DC and single AC circuit breaker panels. I drilled the holes for the panels and screwed them in place to check everything fit properly. Then I glued on some white Formica sheet with contact cement and cut the edges smooth with a laminate trimmer.

Meanwhile, I spent a happy morning removing the old DC panels and cleaning up the wiring (which I had labeled) and replacing the terminations with spade terminals as required by the new panels. I bought a new brass piano hinge, cut it to size and bolted it to the new panel, and used my trusty Dremel to remove some fiberglass so the new panel would fit properly. The switch panels are more than adequate for my needs and incorporate two accessory outlets.

The rest was easy as pie. I removed one of the black instrument panels that housed only the flush-mounted VHF radio and stereo units, along with a battery monitor, but bore the holes and scars of assorted other long-gone instruments, and took it home to reface it with some more of the Formica I had stashed in the basement. The other panel was too difficult to remove, so I made a cardboard pattern and cut out the Formica to match. Luckily, it was a near-perfect fit on the first attempt. I’m happy with the new-look nav station; now for the cabin overhead…

Once I’d sold the old DC and AC panels for $100 or so on eBay, this upgrade set me back less than $300 and a day’s work. Bargain!



Cruising: La Soufrière Volcano Eruption

This past spring my family and I were at anchor aboard our 50ft steel-hulled cutter, Atea, off Bequia, a small island five miles south of St. Vincent in the Southern Antilles. Bequia’s large, protected bay is lined by a collection of beach bars, restaurants and hotels, and is a more


Electric Multihulls

Witnessing the proliferation of Tesla automobiles you would have no doubt that the revolution in electromobility is well underway. Turn your gaze to the cruising world, though, and you might well wonder what went wrong. Where are all the electric boats? And as for electric more


The Perfect Offshore Boat: Part 2

November, 2009: Mia and I were sailing our 1966 Allied Seabreeze yawl, Arcturus, on our first-ever offshore passage together, a short hop from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. Our second night out, the brisk northwesterly wind shut down, but the sea state more


Tune in for Olympic Sailing

Today marks the start of 470 and NARCA 17 racing on Enoshima Bay, and racing in the other seven fleets is already underway. A few of the American sailors are already off to an impressive start, with Maggie Shea and Stephanie Roble currently in second place in the 49er FX, Luke more


Boat Review: Happy Cat Hurricane

I’m not sure what I expected from my daysail on the Happy Cat Hurricane. One thing I do know is that the day didn’t go as planned. The SAIL staff was invited by Alex Caslow from Redbeard Sailing to Gunpowder State Park on Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore. We were to test several more


Olympic Sailing Guide

The Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Games is finally here. From July 24 to August 4, sailors from across the world will be gathering on six courses on Enoshima Bay to race for gold. Ten classes will take part in the event: RS:X (men), RS:X (women), Laser Full Rig, Laser Radial, more


Chartering: Voltage is King

For some time now, both in the pages of this magazine and with individual charterers, I’ve talked about how important it is to pay close attention during a charter checkout. The idea is to listen “between the lines,” as it were, to be sure you aren’t missing any hidden red flags more


ETNZ May Abandon New Zealand

Remember when the Kiwis were the young, underfunded upstarts of the America’s Cup world, with right on their side as they took on the Big Bad Americans? Remember the withering criticism leveled at Larry Ellison when, in the wake of “The Comeback” on San Francisco Bay, arguably more