As principally a racing sailor, I enjoy hand steering when I want to and to have an unobstructed view of the sails and to feel the weather when I do. However, I also appreciate a good autopilot and the ability to get out of the sun, rain and wind when needed. Clearly, a compromise was going to be needed when setting up the new steering arrangements for the boat – a compromise that was not evident in the original helm position. The original single helm was located to Starboard under the cockpit roof with no visibility forward other than poking your head awkwardly through a poorly situated hatch. I guess the idea was that the boat would be sailed mostly on autopilot, so it was set-up for that. Fair enough; but this arrangement also used a lot of space in the cockpit that could be used for my other favourite activity on a boat, lounging around. The existing set-up had to change.
Added to this was the fact that there was rot in the floor of the cockpit and the stairs leading to it due to poorly sealed drains and fittings. Further, I wanted to beef up the traveler structure and the centre winch ‘pod’. The simplest solution was to cut the floor out completely and rebuild it. This also allowed us to tweak the layout of the cockpit to maximise the use of space and it allowed us to relocate the starboard fuel tank (which was under the original helm position) aft and inboard a little. Why was moving the starboard tank necessary? Well, all boats are jigsaw puzzles, of a sort, and moving this particular piece allowed us to widen the aft cabin from a largish single to a full-size double (almost queen) berth. A surprisingly easy solution that addressed a range of challenges. Win!
Bucking modern trends, we decided to keep the curves of the boat reflected in the cockpit with nice, elegant (to my eye at least) curved bench seats with lounging areas behind the helm positions. We have not yet decided on whether we will put a fixed table in the cockpit – something to ponder over a beer down track. As with the decks generally, we are opting for non-skid on the cockpit floor for now. Before we eventually turn our bows toward home and cooler climes, we will install flexi-teak over the non-skid.
With the new cockpit arrangements addressed we turned to the helm stations themselves – two of them. Fortunately, the original steering is hydraulic and based on easily sourced components (Jefa, Hy Drive and the like). The challenge was the layout and how we would optimize that. Inspiration was drawn from the Outremer 5X (you may recall it was on my wish list, but not within my budget). We cut into the cockpit roof to provide visibility and moved the starboard helm position up and out to the side of the aft cabin bulkhead and built a mirror copy on the port side. Dashboards were built that follow the angle and curvature of the cabin itself and will house a new suite of B&G electronics. It would have been ideal, aesthetically, to locate the wheels in the middle of the new dashboards, but we wanted to maintain a large window on the port side of the bulkhead and we need to retain the engine controls on the starboard side. Aside from this, the wheel positions provide the best visibility of the sails looking forward. To compliment this, we have moved the primary winches from the deck (not the best location for them …) to the cabin top just in front of the dashboards where they can easily be utilised if sailing short-handed.
With the layout decided, it was back to epoxy, vacuum bags, filler, sanding, sealing and paint.