Vanitee is a restored 28 foot timber boat typical of the Gippsland Lakes. Constructed in 1926, Vanitee has had a number of incarnations. Originally a gaff rigged carvel built yacht, she was later converted to a motor vessel, used for fishing, and finally as a recreational vessel.
Vanitee is built of Huon Pine, a slow growing Tasmanian native timber highly prized for its golden yellow colour, fine grain, and natural oils that resist rotting due to the presence of the chemical methyl eugenol. She has been meticulously restored by her shipwright owner. We were asked to manufacturer a drum-tight traditional “pram-hood” style dodger and stern cover that could function as a mooring cover and working, foldable dodger.
Our client wanted a drum-tight traditional pram-hood dodger, with a zip-on stern cover to protect the woodwork. It should allow good ventilation, exclude birds and vermin, and be in keeping with the style of a Gippsland Lakes fishing vessel and accentuating the beautiful lines of the boat.
The vessel is moored in a pen in a marina quite open to the prevailing frontal weather systems sweeping across the lake. At times these can be quite severe. Traditionally, these vessels had a pram-hood style dodger of cotton canvas stretched over 4-7 curved metal bows (usually brass), and no stern cover.
The dodger folds down inside the coaming of the bow for fishing or recreation, leaving a large open floor area. If bad weather blew in, the dodger could be raised, providing good shelter for the operator. The vessel is tiller steer, with the height of the dodger allowing the spray to deflect over the head of the captain, while allowing a clear line of sight ahead just over the top of the dodger.
The original dodgers did not include a clear vinyl window in their design, although they are quite common today in boats used for recreation. Passengers often sit on deckchairs under the dodger and view the world through a small window in a lower panel. Vanitee’s owner wanted his dodger as traditional as possible, so “no window” was the brief.
“Vanitee" is 90 years old, and still looks gorgeous. She has 5 stainless steel bows allowing her dodger to lie just inside the forward coaming. The bows are mounted inside the coaming on an angled plate.
Patterning the dodger so it sits well tight when raised time and time again was intricate and precise. Choice of pattern fabric was critical, as it needed to mimic the stretch quality of the fabric used. We selected a non-woven polyester patterning fabric.
The bows were tied in the correct position to give a good functionality while keeping the lines looking good. Consideration was given to where each bow sat, as when erect, the structure will in essence be supported by the fabric and a few fittings on the coaming.
Fittings, selected for form, function and ease of use were attached. With such a tight fitting dodger, self locking button fasteners were installed centre front and at the ends of each wing, with snaps in between. Most pram-hood dodgers are held in place with either brass hooks or toggle fittings and grommets. Covers using these fittings are quite loose, as the fabric has to pull out over the toggle fitting or hook.
Each panel was patterned separately, working from the coaming, up and over the top to the 5th and highest bow. Eventually, all panels were in place. The placement of each pocket was critical as the bow needed to lie exactly along each seam. The lie of the bow dictates the size of the pocket- if the bow lay forward, the pocket was larger, and if the bow was more upright, the pocket needed to be much smaller. A zip-on dodger is not feasible in this situation due to the tight and continuous curve of the bows.
This vessel had a ridge pole supporting her stern cover. The pole clipped to the rear bow of the dodger with a bow clamp, while the other end of the pole was supported off the stern deck.
The stern cover and wing panels of the dodger were patterned with one piece of pattern fabric. The patterning fabric lay down over the ridge pole to the coaming. The coaming pattern was moulded all around the boat, the vent placement marked. The whole boat was patterned in one session. When removed, the pattern was intact and in one piece.
These old wooden boats would have had cotton or poly cotton canvas dodgers. Today, acrylic canvas offers the best technology while maintaining the look of the original canvas.
Colour selection was critical. Fabric should be light enough to keep the timbers from overheating in the intense summer sun with the consequences of large amounts of condensation inside the boat. Lighter coloured covers are also more thermodynamically stable with the daily temperature swings experienced in the area.
The colour chosen was an acrylic canvas linen weave beige, bird droppings and other dirt would not be as obvious as on a plain weave fabric.
During the build process, it was necessary to keep in mind how much of each panel is on the bias. In the dodger, almost every seam was on a bias, and the panels could have easily stretched out of shape. French seams with light marine pvc backing was used along the bows. This had the dual function of strengthening seams which are under a lot of tension, and adding a waterproof quality to the seams.
Heavier marine pvc precontrait reinforcing was used to minimise stretching. This reinforcing is completely hidden, laminated to the outer canvas skin, adding strength to the coaming border panel that contains the fittings.
All stitching was done with PTFE thread, for long life and UV stability. In this location, we find UV affects bindings and thread particularly, so the cover was manufactured free of binding, using turned hem techniques.
For extra functionality, the lower panel of the dodger can be unclipped from the coaming and folded upwards to increase airflow through the boat, while maintaining shade. Straps using pelican hooks to attach to the coaming were added to the dodger wings, to provide some extra support to the frame while the front panel is raised.Vents were installed in the boat to ensure good circulation of air. These were covered in the same acrylic canvas and two placed high in the stern cover, with another two low in the stern. The cover pulled tight onto the ridge pole with an elastic bungee, and snaps to the coaming.
For use, The stern cover is removed by releasing the zips, rear snaps and tensioning elastic. The stern cover rolls up into a small custom-made matching bag and is stored under the bow. Folding the dodger involves releasing the support straps and two self locking button fasteners. the bows lay forward stacking on top of each other neatly inside the coaming. Extra airflow can be achieved by unclipping the front of the dodger off the coaming and folding upwards.
“Vanitee" is a very well known boat on the Gippsland Lakes. She serves as a working advertisement for her owner's business.
Her shipwright owner is receiving compliments for both his restoration work and her covers, and as a result he is seeing an increase in his own business traffic. Paintings of her in her current state have been awarded art prizes.
Her cover functions as designed, and sits drum-tight.
As far as making boat covers, making this type of cover is about as hard as it gets. It seems so simple when executed well, but takes every last bit of skill to get it right so it is very tight but still functions. We love doing these covers, they are really intricate, artistic and challenging.