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Building a Hard Cockpit Top

Esther & Neil Symons

Milagro
Morgan/Catalina 45
November 9th, 2016

Our canvas cockpit cover was getting old and starting to leak.  It needed to be replaced.  We decided to make one out of fiberglass for more protection from the sun.  Our cockpit has clear plastic sides that completely enclose the cockpit and as these were in good condition, we wanted to reuse them.  With that in mind the new top had to be the same shape as the existing canvas top.

Here’s how we did it:

Before I took off the canvas I fastened a 2 by 2 down each side at the level of the bottom of the canvas.  This was to hold the stainless frame in position and also to mark the level of the bottom of the canvas.  On top of the stainless frame I fastened strips of ¼ inch plywood sewing it on with string.

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Over top of the plywood I sewed on ½ inch special foam that can be fiberglassed over. The pieces on top are foam molds to make room for the recessed pot lights.

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Once the foam was the correct shape I had a contractor (Jesus) fiberglass the outside.  He put on five layers: Three layers of mat and two of heavy cloth.

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Before taking it off the boat I made a form from 2 by 4 and plywood to make sure it held it’s shape while it was moved.  Then we lifted it off the boat to take to an area where the inside could be glassed and finished.

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At the work area, 3 layers of fiberglass were put on the inside and then it was sanded and filled and sanded some more. Six coats of gel coat were sprayed inside and out and then wet sanded from 250 grit to 1500 grit.  Then it was cut-polished and polished with wax.  The finishing was the most time consuming part, taking about 15 days.

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Once on the boat, 2 inch stainless steel supports were added to the original frame.

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The side curtains were fastened on using awning track and bolt rope bought from Sailrite.  Zippers were sewn to the bolt rope and then the awning track was screwed into the top.  Remember, there is a ½ inch of foam so the screws don’t go through.

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Six 3-watt LED lights are installed in the ceiling.

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The overall dimensions of the top are 8 feet by 10 feet.  The total cost was about $5,000 US.  That was taking advantage of the labour costs in Panama of about $120 a day for both Jesus and his helper.  The foam and the gel coat were imported from the US.

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The top was heavier than I would have liked, at about 200 lb. as Jesus put the resin on with a roller and didn’t squeegee off the excess. I think we could have used only 3 layers of cloth on the outside.  However, I have no fear of walking around on top of it.  It is great for working on the mainsail.

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  1. Susie says:

    Neil,

    A great step by step article! Always wondered how they hard cockpit surrounds. I will pass this along to my husband should the need arise. It looks great!

  2. Michael Matthews says:

    Congratulations. It looks great. It must be a bit slippery to walk on though. Should last a long time. Nice work!