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  • Writer's pictureBJ

Making Space on a Sailboat: Cockpit Coaming Cabinets

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

One of the things I love and hate about my Cooper 416 sailboat is I have a lot of storage space. I know...I know...a lot of you sailboat owners are saying that is impossible because sailboats are notorious for having very limited storage spaces. But, by relocating 2 Group D batteries from under the settee and upgrading to 6 Lifeline 6V 220 ah batteries below the cabin sole I opened up a compartment that is 30" x 14" x 36". And by removing a 30 gal holding tank from under the U-shaped dinette seat and installing a custom 45 gallon poly tank in the bilge I moved more potential weight lower in the boat, opened up another big storage compartment, and eliminated some residual odors.

But, there is a curse with increased storage space. I am sure there is a law of nature that explains how "stuff" (junk) will fill empty voids. In other words...if you have an empty storage space within about 3.5 weeks it will become full. Then every 2 1/4 years you will open that space in search of some part, or a specialized "boat" tool. (NOTE: You will never find boggles my brian how things can disappear on a sailboat never to be seen again.) You remove everything from that storage space, possibly find the tool you're looking for, or maybe you pull something out and say to yourself, "ah...that's where that's been hiding." After all is said and done, you cram everything back into the compartment. Then, 18 years later (as in my case) you will start removing everything from the boat that is not bolted or screwed down so as you are not hauling useless junk across the Pacific. Sometimes in that process you will find a part, or a tool, or perhaps a trinket that you haven't seen in over 10 years. Eventually it dawns on you that the reason the boat lists to one side and performs so poorly in the beer can races is because you're carrying around about 500 lbs. of bits and pieces that you will NEVER use. Yes, I is there for a reason, perhaps some grand aspiration, or perhaps the idea of "this might come in handy "just in case." TRUST ME...YOU WILL NEVER USE IT.

Now, all that aside, as I am planning my voyage across the Pacific I am cleaning out, reorganizing, and yes...trying to find usable storage space. I want to carry spare parts. I'm not talking screws and such....I am talking water pumps, and a few major systems components that are known to go wonky on long voyages and are 10 times more expensive to get in Vanuatu than from West Marine in Seattle. I am also planning for 2 to 3 more folks to join me for the passage from Seattle to Hawaii. They will need someplace to store their gear, and of course there are things such as rations and such.

When I purchased S/V Discovery some 18 years ago she had these useless little cubby holes in the side of the cockpit coaming underneath the primary winches (see photo below). To say there were worthless is an understatement. But, one day while down below deck in a lazarette I happened to look up. The cockpit coaming itself was a bunch of space completely going to waste. Immediately my mind went to work thinking about how I could make use of all that space and get rid of the worthless bins now occupying very little of that space very poorly.

I figured since I can access the underside of the coaming I can build a cabinet consisting of a bottom and 2 sides out of 1/4 inch MonoPan and glass it in place with 3"inch strips of fiberglass cloth. The top and sides of the coaming would complete the cabinet. The first step was to remove the good-for-nothing fiberglass cubby. Easy...remove 6 screws, the teak trim, and pry the box out of the cockpit combing. Finally, after 4 hours pounding and prying, I have chips of fiberglass from the cubby all over the cockpit, blood splatter, a sore finger, and the remnants of the box in hand. Next I cut the opening a little larger to fit in a 11-1⁄8" x 20-7⁄8" Beckson HT Series Flush hatch to form a water tight compartment. Then, using the MonoPan glass in the "box" and then paint. Now, I have 2 useful 2.5 cu. ft. water-tight compartments in my cockpit coaming.

But get's better. In my cabin there is more empty space under the headliner where the coaming extends over the bunk. So, I pull down the headliner, cut a hole in the bulk head, fitted a Whitecap Industries 7-1⁄2"H x 9-1⁄8"W teak vent for a door, build another shelf out of MonoPan, paint, and.....drum roll please.....another 3 cu. ft. of dry storage space. I figure this will be a good place for sweaters and such that I will likely not need in the South Pacific.

So, for a few days of labor and approximately $450 I have gained, about 8 cu ft. of storage, and useful water-tight compartments in the cockpit. (Those Beckson hatches are expensive, but worth it!) the way..I also built that cabinet and bookshelf. I got those louvred doors for $12.50 at Longship Marine in Poulsbo, Washington. I am no fine cabinet maker by any stretch of the imagination, but it works and looks reasonable.

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