Hard Dodgers & Autopilots

Dear Linda and Steve, It has been a while since we first wrote you and we are making progress on the particulars of a our next boat which we hope to use for a couple of years of voyaging, starting in Northern Europe in the summer of 2002 and ending in New Zealand. We have dog-eared our copies of OCE and STS and just returned from a weekend weather course with Mike Carr. We seem to be a bit “in irons” on a couple of topics and would love your advice on them and perhaps a general thought on the direction we seem to be heading with the boat. Background: I am 41, have sailed/raced for 25 years, raced my Ohlson 38 to Hawaii a few years ago, several other blue water passages under my belt, have moderate mechanical aptitude. Nancy is 29, sailed for 4 years, is taking additional sailing courses, a little frightened of the long passages, and nervous about anything other than a bullet-proof boat. We are both reasonably fit. We are sold on the advantages of long waterline for comfort and speed and since we will not be cruising for very long (this time) want to get a boat that will have a strong resale value (that and inexperience in owning a larger boat have caused us to not consider a custom boat).

Potential Boat: we have a tentative contact on a Swan 56 that will be a one-cockpit design with hydraulic furling headsail, a manual furling stay sail, and some type of manual boom-furling main (to permit easy in-the-cockpit reefing by one person) a couple of electric winches, a bow thruster, etc. A little more mechanically and electrically complex in order for us to easily and safely short-hand a longer water line boat. 1) Hard dodger – My bias is to get one, but several experienced sailors are telling me otherwise. They claim we’ll be fine with a soft dodger, that the hard dodger will look bad, potentially reduce the after-market price unless it is easily removed, in the tropics it will impede airflow and make the cockpit hot when at anchor. They say that we’ll not want or need the dodger in the tropics. No one at Swan wants us to get one of these – in fact German will not allow the factory to build one, it would have to be added after Nautor releases the boat to us. What do you think? I know we’ll appreciate the hard dodger for the mid-latitude portions of our trip, but what about the tropics where 70% of our trip will be spent? If we do get one, how big would you suggest? Our cockpit is about 8.5 feet from the aft end of the companion way to the (huge) wheel and about 2.5 feet from the wheel aft.

If we do opt for a hard dodger how much of the cockpit should we cover. We want room to sit and read in the sun/breeze, eat meals under the stars, etc. (80% of the time there will be only the 2 of us on board).

We’d love any other thoughts on the topic.

2) Auto pilot – With only two of us this has to be a bullet-proof system and I am thinking that we may want to install two complete systems so that we have redundancy. I have been pleased with my B&G system, Nautor knows and likes these systems and they seem to be wide enough spread that repair will be possible in many places. The B&G with an oversized RAM is the recommendation of Nautor and friends at KKMI here in the Bay Area who have a lot of experience with these systems. On the other hand the WH system that you have seems very interesting, if a bit less user friendly. I have tried to get some information but haven’t had a lot luck and am some what skeptical of buying electronic equipment from niche manufacturers who haven’t made a serious financial investment in the sailing market. My most important criterion is dependability and reliability, my second criterion is that I’d like it to be fast enough and smart enough to use on a short-handed Hawaii race.

Can you give me any additional thoughts? WH vs. B&G? Two redundant systems?

Any general comments on our potential boat choice and direction would be welcomed.

Congratulations on the 1500 and we love your books, videos, and web site. Nancy is already checking out the vacuum packers and the Splendide. Thanks very much if you find the time to respond. (I know you must get dozens of these types of messages and certainly can’t answer them all.) Fair winds, Scott and Nancy

Hi Scott: Some good questions – but first a general observation: If you are looking at a Swan, try and find a design without the bridge deck – we feel the bridge deck designs are inordinantly dangerous offshore. As to your questions: 1-German Frers is right about the aesthetics – it would be next to impossible to do it well on the Swan 56. A properly designed soft dodger will provide the same physical ambiance as a hard dodger, and in the tropics, as your friends have pointed out, it will be a better compromise. For offshore work you will want one inch tubing (rather than the normal 3/4″) along with some solid tubing supports running on the diagonal (rather than straps or lines). On length, the minimum would be what you need with your knees up, for protection – this is typicall 54″. However, the ability to sleep is a nice feature and usually takes more like 70″. You will want two opening windows (make sure the zippers have splash covers), removable side curtains, and a back curtain with the center easily rolled up. Ideally, this is all accomplished without messing up sail handling (check out the Sundeer 56 dodger/cockpit photos in Offshore Cruising Encyc.). Having said all of the above, I should also mention that a true pilot house is really wonderful (albeit heavy). 2-On Autopilots, over the years we’ve become admirers of Will Hamm’s WH pilots. These are head and shoulders above anything else we’ve seen – including B and G. I assume the Swan is 24V and you will want his 1/2HP drives – they will steer the boat in gale conditions. Good Luck – Steve Dashew

Posted by Steve Dashew  (November 30, 1999)

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