It’s a cloudless mid-summer afternoon. You’ve had a great day of sailing but you’re ready to drop anchor, start dinner, and relax for another stunning sunset. You’ve been in the sun all day so some shade would be great but you don’t have a bimini on your sailboat. You don’t really want to go down into the cramped cabin yet. The first mate will be making dinner and you’d just be in the way.
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While you’re sailing, you’re in the shade of the sails at least some of the time. But when you stop and drop the sails, you’re a sitting duck–roasted duck, that is.
Isn’t there a way you can improvise with an inexpensive tarp to make a sun shade? You could use it during rain showers too, to keep the cockpit dry and more comfortable.
You can set up a boom tent in just a few minutes with a small tarp, two pieces of PVC pipe, and a handful of bungee cords. I used this technique aboard Summer Dance before I added a bimini and besides being a lot cheaper, it has other benefits too, like more headroom.
Here’s what you need:
- 6′ x 8′ plastic tarp with grommets in the corners and sides. Depending on the length of your boom, you may be able to use a larger tarp or you might want a smaller tarp.
- (2) 1/2″ x 6′ Schedule 40 PVC pipes or conduit. Depending on the size of the tarp you choose you might need longer or shorter lengths. They should be several inches longer than the short edges of the tarp.
- (4) 2′ bungee cords
- (2) 1′ bungee cords (optional)
- (4) 4″ long double-sided hook and loop strips (optional)
If you color coordinate the parts, it won’t look too ghetto. For example, a blue tarp and bungees with white PVC pipe.
Here’s how to set it up:
1. Flake and tie the mainsail compactly to the boom. Use your mainsail cover normally, if you want.
2. Standing in the cockpit, drape the tarp lengthwise over the mainsail and boom.
3. Hook one end of a 2′ bungee cord to each corner of the tarp and hook the other end to the nearest convenient attachment point on the pushpit, lifelines, stanchions, etc. like in the first picture.
4. Standing on the cabin top, pull the hook of one of the forward corners further through its grommet until you can hook it into one end of a piece of PVC pipe. The tarp grommet should now be captured between the knotted end of the bungee cord and the end of the PVC pipe like shown below.
5. Repeat step 4 for the other forward corner of the tarp. Bend the pipe downward slightly until you can hook the cord in its end. The bungee cords should stretch enough so that they hold the tent stable and the tarp arches a little for rain to run off and not catch much breeze.
6. (Optional) Use the double-sided hook-and-loop strips to lash the remaining grommets in the forward edge of the tarp to the PVC pipe. When you do the same to the other end of the tarp, they will stretch the tarp flat between the two pipes and hold the tent together.
7. Standing on the transom, repeat steps 4-6 for the other end of the tarp.
8. Use the 2′ bungee cords to pull the boom tent toward the mast or aft toward the transom to provide the best cockpit coverage and to keep the tent from sliding off the boom if gusts of wind come up.
Since there are no supporting poles, access over the coamings for fishing, swimming, or stepping onto a dock is better than with a bimini. You might decide that you like your boom tent so much that you don’t want a bimini anymore. If you don’t need the shade while sailing, a boom tent is more convenient. But if you would prefer a bimini, read Upgrade to a Bimini Top on a Budget.
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