A three-part series
Part Three: Biminis, Dodgers and Pilot Houses
The essence of a Kraken cockpit
Kraken Yachts’ design engineer Filip Sochaj explains the Kraken approach.
Come rain or shine, storm or calm the helmsman and crew need to operate the yacht from the cockpit and the bimini is there to provide shelter in all weathers. Yet on so many yachts, the bimini appears to be an afterthought; a ramshackle marquee secured by zips, straps, clips and hinged pieces of stainless steel tubing that bite your fingers and is more suited to protecting smokers outside a pub than ocean sailors in mid-Atlantic. So to prevent sailors flying away like Mary Poppins, Kraken Yachts’ chairman, Dick Beaumont, first asked himself ‘Why have a folding bimini, especially if it’s to be deployed in all weathers?’ The answer was; don’t, so for his yacht White Dragon, Kraken’s Flagship, he designed a fixed and rigid soft top bimini that is strong enough to withstand heavy weather whilst offering the crew better protection and which improves the aesthetics and functionality of the whole cockpit area.
After testing it in all weathers during his 12 month, 35,000 nm trip from Hong Kong to Turkey, the design was fully approved.
Other than racing yachts, I can’t remember being on a boat which either didn’t have a bimini or which was being prepared for one. They are so important for protecting you and the crew from wind, water and sun.
Our criticisms of the standard bimini are:
Their primary function is to give protection from wind, rain, wave and sun until it has to be folded away because its to windy, which of course is when you need it the most to keep the cockpit crew dry and out of the wind and spray.
- They are incongruous with the shape and design of the yacht and look like an afterthought, which invariably they are.
2. They flap and rattle as the wind rises.
3. They leak at the connecting zips between the two parts of the bimini and dodger.
4. Due to their shape and lack of tension, it’s not practical to fit side screens.
5. Solar panels have to be removed if they are to be folded down.
6. They are vulnerable to strong winds so you will forever worry if your bimini will survive the mean-looking clouds on the horizon. And when you do decide to take it down it’s always an intricate dance with zippers and tensioning straps leaving you with a collapsed clothes’ airer type of structure sitting somewhere in the aft of your cockpit.
If I sound negative about folding biminis it’s because on one particular delivery trip from Gdynia in Poland to Carteret in France we continually had to collapse and then erect the thing again as the squalls went through, to prevent it taking off.
The dodger is less obtrusive than the folding bimini but has major drawbacks:
It only covers a small portion of the cockpit leaving the crew, and particularly the helmsman, exposed to the elements.
It is low, necessitating crew to stoop under it and descend the companionway.
It impairs forward vision when it’s folded down.
Regardless of the usability and construction shortcomings and the very questionable aesthetics, folding biminis and dodgers are popular as cockpit protection is essential for a blue water cruiser.
Kraken Yachts’ Bimini
Our new design solves all the problems identified above and has the added benefit of an overhead handrail that is used every time crew moves from the cockpit to the side decks.
To overcome the issues of retro designing we integrated the bimini at the early stages of deck design. That way it all looks right because it is part of the boat and not an add-on.
For new Kraken owners there are three options to choose from:
1. Fixed Rigid Soft Top Bimini
- Creates a ‘clean and sleek’ look on deck.
- Is fitted with removable clear panels forward and both sides so you can fully open the enclosed cockpit in a matter of minutes.
- Allows for installation of solar panels.
- Rigid fixed construction will stand up to any weather conditions.
- Has bracing straps which may be fitted in very heavy weather.
- Easy to clean without needing to be removed.
- Provides full headroom throughout the cockpit.
A rigid flexible bimini is made up of a stainless steel frame with Ferrari Stamoid fabric stretched over it. A fixed windshield on the coachroof provides constant protection from rogue waves while removable clear plastic screens can be configured to provide the right amount of shelter from the elements whilst retaining full uninterrupted forward vision.
We use Ferrari Stamoid because of its excellent stretch properties which when tensioned drum tight eliminate all flapping and sagging. That same material was used on White Dragon and after 3 years there is no sign of deterioration.
2. Hardtop Bimini with integrated windscreen
Some clients have requested a hard top bimini others have requested a pilot house style. It really depends where you are expecting to spend the majority of time cruising.
We have two further options:
- Composite construction to keep the weight as low as possible.
- Increased resistance to mechanical damage.
- Clear flexible panels in the front and sides which are removable to allow full airflow from all sides.
- Solar panel compatible.
- Follows the design lines and angles of the saloon deck and cockpit.
- Has bracing straps that may be fitted in very heavy weather.
- Allows full headroom throughout the cockpit.
3. Hard Top Pilot House
- Is more enclosed than rigid Bimini.
- Can have a flexible dual height extension and drop down side to cover and enclose the cockpit fully.
- Solid plexiglass panels have the benefit of staying 100% clear and not obstructing vision.
- Centre windows open to provide better airflow into the cockpit.
- Has reduced headroom.
- Can only accommodate reduced solar panels.
We think the best all round solution is the soft top rigid bimini because it is less obtrusive than either the hard top bimini or the pilot house, has less windage, offers good overhead hand holds for climbing in and out of the cockpit, gives maximum space to mount solar panels on the top, can have multiple clear panels to give good vision of sails and the mast and can enclose a bigger area for when the weather is poor.
Ultimately it’s the owners choice and it depend a lot on where the yacht will be based. In higher cold latitudes the pilot house version with an additional soft top extension might be considered a preference. However if you do go to the tropics the air flow restriction will not be ideal and it should be considered that all Krakens can have a forward full vision nav/pilot station where a most of the time on watch can carried out in the warmth and protection of the saloon.