April 14, 2011

Dodgers: A necessary evil

IT WAS A LOUSY DAY, but typical enough on the Inside Passage in midsummer. There was no wind, just a grey, cold drizzle, and I was sitting on the bridgedeck at the forward end of the cockpit, facing the bow, with my feet down inside the companionway. The autopilot was doing the steering and the kettle was boiling for coffee in the galley. Despite the weather, the scenery was magnificent, as usual, and I was thinking to myself that if it weren’t for the damned racket of the engine, this would be heaven.

I was also thinking, “Thank God for the dodger.” Without the spray dodger to shelter me from the cold and wet, I just wouldn’t have been there. I’m too much of a wimp to enjoy sitting out in the wind and freezing rain of a Northwest summer.

Some people desperately hate dodgers and I would be one of them if I didn’t think that their pros outweigh their cons. But only just, mind you. Let’s have a look at some of their advantages and disadvantages:

You can keep the main hatchway open and no rain will get below.
A dodger provides better ventilation, which is especially good if the galley is aft.
Dodgers keep you warm and dry, out of wind, and provide shade as well. They increase your endurance in adverse conditions, which is a big safety factor.
They provide places to keep stuff: the binoculars, snacks for the deck watch, the handheld VHF radio — even charts, when the hatch slide is pulled closed. I find that the older you get, the greater the list of pros becomes.

All too often they look terrible. The dodger on my Cape Dory 27 quite spoiled her sleek lines. If I were Mr. Alberg, her designer, I would never have forgiven me. You see very few aesthetically pleasing dodgers around, and the ones you do see are (a) usually on boats longer than 35 feet and (b) horribly expensive.
Then there’s the windage. Dodgers don’t go down in size as the boat gets smaller because people are much the same size, and it’s the passage of people that governs the size of a dodger. So small boats have comparatively larger dodgers and the effect of windage is comparatively greater. They’re a handicap to windward, they can add to weather helm, and they’re an eyesore to boot.
Dodgers reduce visibility, especially in the rain or spray they’re supposed to dodge. They also make it more difficult to “feel” the wind direction and make a connection with the water.
Ironically, a dodger is of no use in extreme survival conditions at sea, when it should be folded down flat and securely lashed in place, which does no good at all to the plastic windows, of course.
Another thing: to fix a dodger in place, you often have to drill 15 or 20 holes in the cabin-top, each one a possible entry point for water that will rot the plywood or balsa sandwich and cause great consternation and loss of money at some later stage.
Some people claim that a dodger makes it awkward, if not unsafe, to climb from the cockpit to the side-deck, but that really depends on the design of the boat and the dodger.
The anti-dodger crowd also claim that if you dress properly for the weather, you don’t need no stupid dodger. But I fear that any attempt to keep me warm and dry on the way to Alaska would have me looking like the Michelin Man, and just as unable to move.

So, on the whole, my vote goes to the dodger. I don’t like dodgers, at least the ones I can afford, but my soul craves comfort and my flesh is weak.

Today’s Thought
We have all sinned and come short of the glory of making ourselves as comfortable as we easily might have done.
— Samuel Butler the Younger, The Way of All Flesh

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #186
Is a boat “she” or “it”? The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, subscribed to by all the maritime nations of the world, refer to ships as “she” and “her.” And so do the Inland Rules of the United States. So let’s have no more nonsense about a boat being “it,” okay?

“And how did you find your steak today, sir?”
“Sheer luck. I just happened to knock that little bit of potato aside ... and there it was.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Ben said...

I love my dodger, a nice hard dodger on a 34 footer, I think they are pretty important for any slightly cold weather sailing. see


for some thoughts about my dodger design...

Micky-T said...

Nope, I can't equate a dodger with the word evil at all. So many dodgers on so many different boats have kept me and much of my personal little comforts of a night watch or a particularly wet day watch dry, that I can't even put them in a category of aesthetics or if they "look" good. It's an offshore tool to keep the crew dry and relatively comfortable in a very wet and often cold environment.

Maggie said...

ten years sailing our Beneteau 41S5 without a dodger, or a Bimini. We purchsed in Alaska and sailed her down to Seattle and since have sailed in all kinds of conditions as far as Barcley Sound as a close as Blakely rock, without protection. Believe me I want the dodger bimimi but just cant seem to make it a priority. Have good foul weather gear!

Deb said...

We just bought a 1982 Tartan 42 that has the top companionway hatch only - the type that you step straight down into rather than the type that is open into the cockpit. Do you know of any dodger built for this type of companionway? We want to add one but it seems like any dodger that would allow you to get down the companionway would be prohibitively tall.

S/V ???(no name yet)

John Vigor said...

No, sorry Deb, but I can't think how you you would fit a dodger over that companionway and still be able to duck under it. The only way it would work is if you could fold it down forwards while you went in and out, and I don't know if that's possible with your layout. Would it be too hard to cut out a normal companionway and insert dropboards as usual?

John V.