I said I was going to write this in my post “In the works“, just taken a bit longer than I thought.
This is what our wheelhouse looks like at the moment. The blue cover is really designed for use when Vida is ashore, or left on a mooring. It doesn’t have any windows and is almost impossible to do up fully from the inside. It is also all one piece which means you have no way of accessing the mainsheet or jib sheets when sailing.
Yes, we know that it definitely cannot be described as pretty!! The slab sections rising up from the cabin clash with every other line on the boat and it is too angular and too high.
However, we have a few more urgent concerns (although if we can make it look better while working on these then all to the good).
Ventilation: Even with the boat ashore in North Wales it got very warm under the wheelhouse on a warm summer day. It would quickly get unbearable to be at the steering wheel in the tropics.
Structure: the windscreen windows have vertical aluminium tubes between them. The stainless steel window frames are screwed to these on their sides and to the GRP at the top and bottom. This has caused corrosion between the different metals. Plus so far as we can tell the aluminium poles are not fixed in place by anything other than the window frames. That seems inadequate if a person gets thrown against it by a wave or a big wave hits it. Fortunately the poles at the aft end are very securely fitted.
Visibility: from our reading we are concerned that there are times when it is important to be able to look out directly rather than through glass (we have never sailed with a windscreen before so haven’t yet experienced the problems of rain and fogging).
Steering wheel: this has been repaired/strengthened before, it still doesn’t feel very strong. We are looking at replacing it with a slightly larger one (we can fit a 600mm wheel without hitting the side or blocking the hatch) should be nicer to use.
Seat: The original plans show a removable seat for the person helming with a backrest. Fitting one s1hould make it much more comfortable to be on watch for several hours.
We are still developing these, so still subject to a lot of change.
First, remove the existing glass a bit at a time and fit new supports that take the weight of the roof on their own. Probably use square section tubes of either stainless steel or carbon fibre. Possibly take them to the coachroof rather than to the existing windscreen base (to provide a bit more slope for better looks). That might allow us to change those big grey slabs at the the front of the wheelhouse so that they are slightly curved to blend in better (attach shaped rigid foam and cover with a fibreglass, then layers of epoxy fairing before paint).
Second, refit the glass (or switch to acrylic to match the rest of the windows and hatches except not tinted) but only go high enough to see through it when seated. So it would look much more like the fixed windscreens of a a Najad (see below). The effect would be a but like a windscreen with solid bimini above it. The key advantage is that when you stand to steer, you look out above the windscreen with your 360 degree view unimpeded by anything. This is a bit like what the Amel’s have (see Delos videos) but the dimensions are more horizontally squashed as Vida is 38 feet and the Amels 50 feet long. One other difference is that we would like to fit the glass/acrylic so that it can be hinged open or easily removed for maximum ventilation (this is one reason for switching to Acrylic rather than cutting toughened glass and sourcing new frames).
The next job will be to create a connection between the windscreen and the “bimini” (existing wheelhouse roof) that can removed/opened for ventilation and closed in cold/wet weather. One option is to simply continue with the lines of the windscreen to the roof, attaching to the support struts. Another option is to cap the windscreen with a shelf that extends into the wheelhouse (we need to do careful measurements to see if this is possible without always banging your head on it when coming in or out of the cabin). We could then have small, nearly vertical opening windows to fill the gap to the wheelhouse roof. The front of the wheelhouse roof would then be an eyebrow giving rain protection to the upper windscreen making it easier to see out in the rain. We have seen a number of boats with a soft fabric “window” in this position (although generally the bimini is further back and these removable sections are quite gently sloping (we just don’t have the cockpit length to do that).
Then we will create “curtains” or side walls for the back and sides (we have toyed with the idea of some of the sides being rigid acrylic). Unlike the existing blue cover we will have multiple sections that can be zipped in and out independently. They will also be mostly transparent (with protective drop down covers on the outside). We will be able to remove them and have mosquito mesh when appropriate. When not tacking much we should be able to sail with the windward side and 1/3 of the back in place if needed for warmth or sun protection. This will allow us to easily zip open (or closed) “door” shapes from both inside and outside making access easier whether at sea, at anchor or ashore.
At the moment we don’t think there is any point in replacing the wheelhouse roof for something a little shorter that might look better with some of the windscreen options. We certainly don’t want to “downgrade” from a solid roof to a fabric bimini that won’t last very long by comparison. If you want to sit fully exposed to the elements then by all means use the aft seat of the cockpit or sit on the cabin roof.
While this is quite a bit of work, the costs should be relatively low. Certainly it is far more sustainable to work with a 44 year old boat rather than buy something new. Improving the looks is the hardest challenge due to the space constraints (and the need for standing headroom). However, if we can improve strength, ventilation, visibility and access with much the same look then that will be a significant improvement for us.