Bottomless Lockers Be Gone
There is no end to creative applications for this handy organizing trick.
Storage is a challenge on small boats, and my new-to-me Corsair Marine F-24 trimaran was particularly Spartan this regard. The skinny hulls provided minimum volume and the race-focused designer intentionally omitted proper lockers. A performance-oriented boat such as this must be kept light if she is to sail to her potential. But even day sailers and racers attract a certain amount of necessary clutter, sure as honey attracts flies. Something had to be done, and yet, as a new owner it’s tough to know what will best suit your needs and what the boat needs. It’s even harder to cut the first hole. This project was 100 percent non-invasive.
The cabin contains three rectangular holes that are effectively without bottom; anything smaller than one-inch simply rolls under the hull liner, lost until the boat is cut up for scrap. There is a 9” x 22” hole in the galley countertop and two access holes under the settee cushions, 7” x 16” and 7” x 24” respectively. The spaces are 16 to 21 inches deep with tapering sides.
On heavier cruising boats I’ve owned, I found it handy to create lightweight wooden boxes to organize the top layer of deep lockers, copying the trays found in every steamer trunk. However, even the lightest light tray adds pounds, can be awkward to lift out, and the rigid shape can be awkward to stash aside in a smaller boat. My beach cat sailing experience reminded me of how “cat bags” provided extra storage on smaller multihulls. My beach cat had 6” x 18” nylon bags that hung from the lip inside 6-inch Beckson deck plates. These could be used to hold sunscreen and a few snacks. They are commonly installed on kayaks, and I used a pair on my Stiletto 27 catamaran. There was one bag on each bow to store the anchor rodes (I sewed extensions onto the bag). But a 6-inch opening is a serious limitation and would not suit my purposes.
The Galley Counter Well
The countertop cut-out was fitted with a cutting board that rested in a recess molded into the counter. Just below was a second lip, obviously intended to hang something, but what it was I could never discover.
The suspension ring for the bag was created by cutting two frames from ¼-inch plywood, and gluing them together with the lip of a rectangular cloth bag sandwiched between them. The outside dimensions allowed about 1/8-inch clearance all round to fit the lower recess. The inside of the frame was measured to be about 1-inch wide and to overhang the opening by about 1/8-inch. I used a 1½-inch hole-saw to cut the inside corners, a saber saw to connect the holes, and cleaned it up with sandpaper.
The bag was hand-sewn from large scraps of Sunbrella; the UV resistance is not needed, but mildew resistance is welcome, since the bag will hang into bilge space. A stiff mash fabric, such as Phiffertex or trampoline fabric can also work. The bag was tapered to match the curve of the hull, knowing that if I was off a little, it would flex.
The top of the bag, I left two inches long to allow for sandwiching between the frames (1-inch) and a trim allowance (1-inch). A half-inch hem was allowed on all seams. If sewing machines hate you, as they do me, these can be hand-sewn while watching TV.
Once the bag was complete, I suspended one of the frames over an opening—in my case a Black and Decker Workmate. I laid a heavy bead of sealant (3M 4200) on the frame, and carefully lowered the bag into place.
The sealant is tacky enough to hold the bag while the lip is positioned. I then coated the underside of the top frame, placed it over the fabric, and screwed the frames together with a ring of flathead screws (#8 x ½-inch), which provided clamping pressure during the cure. After the adhesive is cured, the excess fabric can be trimmed away with a sharp knife. A light sanding will remove any excess sealant. With the bag thus laminated between the rings, the assembly is stiff and strong.
A Catch-All Tray
While I was at it, I added a counter topper with a fiddle (see adjacent photos, “Removable Catch-All Tray”). Every boat needs a catch-all spot for wallets, keys, and sunscreen, without which they end up in the sink. A removable tray contains these items and allows the counter to be quickly cleared for meal preparation (just lift the topper off and set it aside).
The topper is prevented from sliding off the counter by a dowel that fits in the finger-sized lifting hole in the cutting board.
The Settee Wells
The settee seats had similar access openings, but lacked the secondary inner lip. There was only a single recess, sized to accommodate the 1/2 -inch plywood covers. The solution was to make the edge of the cover thinner by making replacement covers from ¼-inch plywood, reinforced with a second layer of ¼-inch plywood bonded to stiffen the center.
The bag frames were made thinner by using .09-inch fiberglass shower surround instead of the ¼-inch plywood. Again, the inside corners of the frame were provided with a generous radius to prevent stress concentration and breakage.
Because the vibration of a saber saw tends to start cracks in thin fiberglass, the straight lines were cut using a cut-off wheel in an angle-grinder. Because the material is too thin to hold clamping screws, I used #8 machine screws as temporary through bolts, which I removed before the adhesive fully cured. The replacement lid was painted with three coats of Interlux Briteside enamel, sanding between coats. This is a good match to the fiberglass liner. The ring were left unfinished.
What if there are no access holes to these spaces? Without detailed knowledge of the structure of your boat, I’m never comfortable saying “just cut a hole.” There could be wires or a tank just below the surface, so do some research through fellow owners and some investigation with a flash light.
A test hole and a webcam can reveal much. The liner may also serve a structural purpose, supporting a centerboard or stiffening the hull. A hole may just make the seat floppy. If reinforcement is needed, it is often acceptable to cut the hole and then recreate the strength and stiffness by bonding a strong ring inside the lip, on the underside.
This can be hand laid fiberglass, perhaps 4-8 layers alternating layers of biaxial and unidirectional cloth several inches wide. It can be precast fiberglass, or even scrap from another boat. Plywood can work, but it should be at least ¾-inch thick, 3 inches wide and well bonded.
The reinforcement should be equivalent in strength to what will be removed. Just cut the hole a little undersized, reinforce as needed, and then trim to size with a jig saw, multi-tool, or angle grinder (cut-off disk).
The bags will work without a recess, they will just stand proud ½-inch and move a little. The more advanced carpenter can create a recess by attaching cleats to the underside, or incorporating a lip into the reinforcement described above. Alternatively, tapered fiddles could be installed around the opening, preventing movement and smoothing the transition under the seat cushion.
The galley bag is filled with cooking implements, pans, and non-perishable food, neatly subdivided in smaller bags. The settee bags hold spare clothing, safety harnesses and tethers. We even store a few bulky items in the pit below the bags; because the bags are soft, they can be roughly pulled out and laid in a corner without fear of scratching anything.
Weight-conscious racers can carry bags of unnecessary gear to the car in a thrice. Those that stay (safety gear) weight less than a pound each. As a day sailor or cruiser, I now have more space than I need, a clutter-free countertop, and a roomy cabin.
A fun little project — and all for the cost of scraps and a few evenings messing around in the basement.
Drew Frye is technical editor for Practical Sailor and author of Rigging Modern Anchors . He also blogs at his website www.blogspot.sail-delmarva.com.