Hard Bimini Installation

This project was the result of two events. Since the Hard Bimini has been installed for four years, it was well worth the effort. The two events are unrelated, but significant. The first event was for protection. Our good friend Jim Bates was sailing on a mutual friends, Paul Furstenburg, boat. They were going from Florida to the USVI. During the trip, a chain plate snapped and the main mast came tumbling down. Paul's boat has a hard Bimini, and the aft support, just above Jim's head had a huge dent in it where the mast hit. If the support had not been there the mast would have hit Jim's head. The real first lesson here is make sure your chainplates are in good shape. I can safely say I have fixed the chain plate problem. Please check the Chain Plate Replacement Project. The event was also a great reason to have a hard Bimini Installed.

The second event, is simply weather. We have had a Sunbrella Bimini since the first year we owned DREAM AWAY. For my way of thinking a Bimini is an absolute necessity sailing on the Gulf Coast or in the tropics. Two big problems with a cloth Bimini, they all eventually leak, and you can not stand on them. The leak that broke the back was our last Harvest Moon race. The Bimini leaked so badly, it was difficult to tell if you were just standing out in the rain or not! We decided that we would replace the cloth Bimini with a hard Bimini.

Now the easy part was done, we made a decision. The next phase was to actually get the Hard Bimini done. Two things made the project go pretty quick, and inexpensive. The first thing was that I decided to make the top out of Starboard, rather than build the top out of fiberglass. If the Starboard did not work out, I could build the top out of fiberglass at a later date. The second thing was a bit of luck. The shop I was using belonged to a good friend who had emigrated to New Zealand, so I had tools and plenty of space. Another space in the same building was being rented by DockSide Designs. Brian and Dustin running the business were just getting into an aluminum welding business. We came to an agreement. They would charge me the shop rate for the welding and I would pay for the material. All I had to do was the fitting and the fabrication.

Clever me, I really took advantage of those two. Not so. The fabrication was not a big problem. It involved cutting and shaping all of the pieces. The fitting was the problem. I had taken very careful measurements, so we bent and crowned the frame to match the size and crown of the boom gallows. I now loaded the bent frame on my suburban, and drove to Watergate Yachting Center. We then moved the frame to the boat, and a couple of jigs and other devices to get the measurements correct. We had to measure where and how big to make the supports, the size and angle of the support feet, and also measure the attachment points of the frame to the boom gallows. Now the frame is loaded back on the suburban, and taken back to the shop.

So now I had to fabricate the legs, leg feet and the attachment plates. When I finished that, Dustin tacked up the frame, to go back to the boat again, and check the measurements. Now I have a frame that is approximately 100" X 100" with two four-foot legs hanging off each side. It was a joy just getting the frame onto the roof of my Suburban and lashed down. Next I drive back to Watergate Yachting Center. The frame was not very heavy, but there was no way I could carry an object that size. So I rounded up some help, and got the frame to the boat. Just sit the frame on the boat, make sure it all fit, and we are good to go. Did I mention that DREAM AWAY is a sailboat with all kind of standing rigging, booms, lifelines and such? I had to get a little more help, move a few things and then the frame was on the boat, what an adventure. No matter, I am sure that all of the measurements were perfect and the frame would fit perfectly.

Well you guessed it; the measurements were not as exact as I had hoped. So now I bent this, moved that on the tacked-up frame, to get all of the aluminum parts all right were they needed to be. Now we do the reverse process, get the tacked-up frame off of the boat and out to the suburban and tied down on top, without moving anything. Drive back to the shop and offload the frame. Now Dustin does another tack job, so all the pieces are closer to the real thing. We repeat the process all over again. The frame on the suburban, back to Watergate Yachting Center, on the boat, for the fitting. This time the tacked-up frame is very close to fitting perfectly. I twist and bend a couple of pieces, and then the frame is back on suburban, and then back to the shop. Now the welder says we do a "heavy" tack-up where it will be difficult to move anything, but we must be sure before we weld everything in place. He is kidding ---- right?? NO! He does the heavy tack-up, and then load, haul, unload, fit, load, haul, and unload.

The fitting came out perfectly. Now the welder welds out the complete frame. I am now ready to put on the top. Not quite! Dustin explains to me that when you weld aluminum it has a tendency to twist and move in the welding process. He wants me to do one more fitting before I put the top on the frame. Now it is starting to dawn on me why the agreement was that I do the entire fitting. So load up the frame, over to the boat, fit the frame, back to shop, and unload. Actually there was some movement in the frame, but I was able to compensate for it with force. Now I am ready to put on the top, and some aluminum track to run around the outside of the frame to hang sun screens, bug screens or curtains.

I can not remember the exact price I was charged by Brian and Dustin for the parts and welding, but it was right around $500.00. Now I have to add the cost of the StarBoard for the top, which was approximately $400.00. The price seemed very inexpensive to me, so I asked Brian and Dustin why it cost so much to get a Hard Bimini constructed. They asked me to figure how many hours I had spent fabricating, fitting, and putting on the top. I figured about 32 hours. Their shop rate at that time was $65.00 an hour, so now I see why my costs we so inexpensive. As you can figure out, the actual welding was very little time compared to the remainder of the project. Yes it was well worth it, and I am very happy.

The pictures shown here are of the very first fitting. I did not take pictures of the other fittings, or the welding at the shop. There are some pictures of putting the StarBoard top on the frame, and then last are a couple of pictures of the finished Hard Bimini on the boat. The finished pictures show the sunshade hanging from the installed track. Also in one picture is a LED cockpit light I installed we use to read by, and also makes a great low level anchor light. The remote GlobalStar satellite phone antenna is shown. The plan is to put a couple of solar panels on the top of the Hard Bimini. When that project is completed, I will add pictures and comments here.

Fitting Frame Port Side

Fitting Frame Port Side, Forward Section

Fitting Frame Port Side Looking Forward

Fitting Frame Looking Port to Starboard

Fitting Frame Starboard Side Looking Forward

Fitting And Cutting StarBoard at the Shop

Underside of Frame At Shop

Underside of Frame At Shop

Fitting Center T-Track Between Pieces of StarBoard

Hard Bimini Looking Forward

Hard Bimini, Underside Reading Light

Hard Bimini, Handrails And Sat Phone Antenna