"Portable" Cockpit Seats for Passagemaker Dinghy

We had some discussions here recently, under topics having to do with sleeping aboard and longitudinal seats for Northeaster Dory and Passagemaker Dinghy.  I mentioned somewhere in there that I'd made some "portable" side seats for our Passagemaker Dinghy, and promised to share more detail and some photos.  So, here's that....

A couple seasons back, I spent an evening knocking up a couple of little "seats" to fit in our Passagemaker Dinghy Winkle (take-apart, lug rigged), bridging the gap between the sternsheets and the midship thwart.  This idea had been rattling around in my fevered brain since a capsize the previous August.

The capsize was caused by losing control of the helm while initiating a tack, sitting with my rear on the bottom and the wind not blowing quite hard enough to have my shoulder blades all the way out to the weather rail.  The tiller went all the way over, out of reach, and Winkle spun around and caught the sail aback before I could get my feet under me to get up from the new downwind side and get control of the situation.  It was my weight which put her rail under more than the wind.

Subsequent sailing convinced me that, when sailing alone, I need something to sit on to keep my feet lower than my rear.  Sitting astride the midship thwart is awkward--have to get a leg over to tack and the sheet comes down right there above the daggerboard, right in the way.  Can't sit on the sternsheets, as that would put her down by the stern badly.  What was wanted was something which would allow me to sit just aft of the midship thwart as far out from or as close to the centerline as needed to balance the boat.

Some sort of "cockpit seats" like a full-blown sailboat came to mind, but, in a wide, light boat like this, that would often leave me sitting too far out to properly balance the boat.  I thought about building a pair of extra-wide side seats, but they would be much in the way if permanent, and, if made removable somehow, rather heavy and bulky to shift out of the way when not wanted.  A simple pair of short planks long enough to bridge the gap might have answered, but they wouldn't sit quite right most of the time on account of the different planes of the two surfaces and the curved edges.  Might rub the seat edges raw, and likely wobble and slide around too much.

So, I found a couple of 1/2" x 5-1/2" "craft board" pieces (nice, clear, light stuff from Home Depot), 36" long, cut 'em down to 34-1/2" so they'd fit along between the frames without binding (wouldn't due to break Winkle again by accidentally wedging a plank in somewhere it'd stick and spring her!).  I screwed the cut off bits under one end to about make up the difference between the seat heights, screwed a pair of little rubber feet under each end (eight in all), rigged up short lanyards to clip 'em off to the jackline under the lip of the aft seat (so they don't float off in a capsize...ahem), and...Voila!  See photos below.

I can position these inboard or outboard as needed, depending on wind strength and point of sail.  Initial tests in the garage suggested that the rubber feet would keep them from sliding about at any reasonable angle of heel.  The garage testing also showed that I'd be able to move from one to the other in tacking much more quickly and surely than crawling about on the bottom, and that adjusting the distance from the centerline would be quick, easy, and positive enough that I wouldn't likely end up falling onto the bottom due to the seat slipping away before I could get seated.  Seemed promising.

I subsequently had a brief sea trial of the seats shortly thereafter at our local Corps of Engineers reservoir, with two granddaughters aboard.  The wind was light, and my "ballast" was shifting around some, so it was a good test to see whether the "portable" seats would allow me to shift my weight around in the middle of the boat in response to shifting wind...and ballast.  Worked pretty well, it did.  In light wind, I could arrange them about two feet apart and position myself on either side, just aft of the daggerboard, and lean in or out a bit as necessary, keeping my weight near the centerline.  If the wind picked up, I could move them father apart as needed. Sure was a lot easier to get my weight from one side to the other in tacking, and a much more comfortable way to keep my weight near the centerline when the wind went light.

Subsequent trials in heavier air have shown that the seats work as expected.  Our tacking drill in a good breeze is now: put helm down (but don't let go!), get down on one knee as the wind spills, drop the fall of the sheet, switch hands on tiller, pick up the fall of sheet in the other hand as she comes through stays, then get up on the new weather seat as the sail fills on the new tack.  If she's heeling over a lot, I can brace my forward foot against the daggerboard case and lean back with my upper body over the rail without hurting myself.  I believe I could sail comfortably like that for hours, if I had sea room, leaning in and out and playing the sheet as the wind varied.

The planks are 5-1/2" wide, which seems enough to make a passably comfortable seat under the upper thighs.  Between the 1/2" thickness of the plank and another half inch or so for the rubber feet, the level of the "portable" seat comes about an inch higher than the sternsheets.  The end resting on the middle thwart has an extra 1/2" x 1=1/2" x 5-1/2" piece (what I cut off the end of the 36" boards to shorten them to fit between the frames) between the little rubber feet and the plank, which half inch seems to about make up the difference between the heights of the middle thwart and the sternsheets.  It'd be better if they were lower than the existing seats rather than higher, but then I'd have to build some kind of hangly-dangly, underslung thing with laminated ends or hooks or some such to create the necessary drop.  What I've done is simpler, less bulky, probably lighter, and works well enough so far.

I'll need to disassemble them and fix some things.  I managed to crack the little spacer pieces under the forward ends (didn't drill pilot holes large enough, I guess), so I got a stick of the same type of wood sized 1/2" x 1-1/2" from which I'll cut off pieces 5-1/2" long to replace the cross-grain, sawed off pieces which have split.  Then I'll need to smooth things up a bit, maybe chamfer the edges, and finish them somehow.  It's nice looking wood (some sort of clear, light pine, I imagine); if I don't mess it up too bad, I might just rub it up with tung oil for a nice, warm glow.
I've inserted seven photos below, which should give you a better idea of what I've done.  Larger versions of those are in a shared Dropbox folder here:


The large images run about 8 mb each if you want to download those to enlarge some of the detail.  The "1080 high" are sized to show up decently on a computer screen or tablet, and run about 1 mb each.  The "600 wide" folder has the small images as imbedded here.

Sing out if you have any questions.



4 replies:

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RE: "Portable" Cockpit Seats for Passagemaker Dinghy

Well, I wasn't quite done with the photos when I clicked when I should have clacked, or some such.  Here are the others:

With any luck, that's all of 'em, and in the intended order....


RE: "Portable" Cockpit Seats for Passagemaker Dinghy

Should've put that link as a link, not text.  Duh.  "Use da link button, Og."


RE: "Portable" Cockpit Seats for Passagemaker Dinghy

Thanks for the detailed report Michael. I've got a bad back and need my arse above my feet to be able to move quickly enough to tack. Hence your report struck a chord.  If the forthcoming CLC peapod can accomodate sailing side seats, I'll build her. If not, I'll build an Iian Oughtred Tmmie Norrie, which as sailing side sets. 


RE: "Portable" Cockpit Seats for Passagemaker Dinghy

Ooops. Last sentence should read "If not, I'll build an Iian Oughtred Tammie Norrie, which has sailing side seats" 

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