We all know the amenities of big boats. The comfort and volume they offer. Huge floating platforms filled with gadgets producing all sorts of luxury. One of the more useful of these gadgets is the Bimini which is a must for yachts sailing in areas with lots of sunshine: UV-rays are a real hazard to sailors, the occasional sunburn can quickly turn into skin cancer, which by the way is not all too uncommon amongst sailors.
During the handover of one of these big boats some two weeks ago, I remember how the fresh owner insisted that we had his Bimini unfolded even in a partially cloudy environment that day. The sun indeed can do a load full of harm to our bodies. Besides, in high summer with really hot temperatures, the shade of a Bimini is a bliss. On bigger yachts a Bimini could be called a standard part of the fitting. But what about smaller boats?
Assembly of the Suntent/Bimini
So, as you all know that I utilize my small First 27 SE not the way it is meant to be by Sam Manuard (winning regattas) but as a fast family boat. It´s a quick cruiser for me and since most of the time I am alone or with my family, I want to offer a decent amount of useful luxury on my boat. Luckily, the Seascape-founders didn´t had only the winning of races in their minds when they projected my boat and so there is an option in the spec-list that is called “suntent”. That sounds like “Bimini” and it really is one, sort of. And I went to buy it.
As with everything Seascape does function dictates the form. Everything they do has to be practical and clever. So, for the suntent in the First 27 SE, this applies as well: It comes in form of two big tarpaulins, the material is the same as used in Jib-cover or Lazy Bag. On the Lazy bag two slide fasteners are already attached – you just slide in the counter-zip of the tarp and pull it through all the way back astern.
The tarps come with a long strut. Padeyes on the tarp´s edge very 50 centimeters or so are used to fasten the strut to the tarp and tie it up to the reeling. At first I struggled to find the right system but in the end the task is clear: Get it tied up neatly so that a nice tent is made. At the occasion of the first time assembly my kids served as time keepers and it took me some 10 minutes to fasten both tarps, so that´s a quick job. And what a transformation of my small boat this is indeed!
The Size of the Suntent
Well, of course you cannot expect a small boat like mine to be as equally comfortable as a big cruiser. But indeed the guys in Slovenia have done a good job in utilizing the available space to come up with a great solution. The suntent is as long as the Lazy Bag which is nearly the length of the boom itself.
The tent leaves a 40 cm uncovered area of the cockpit free in the rear: Logical since the boom ends roughly right above the mainsheet traveler. This is good because you can stand freely and walk around there, I can imagine this is very practical when at anchor, mooring stern first to hop on or leave the boat or when you come out of the water via bathing ladder after a refreshing morning swim.
You may see on the pictures that I had managed to tie up the starboard side quite nicely whereas the port side of the suntent had some big buckles. I guess I will improve my strutting techniques the more I set up the tent. It may look a bit intimidating and “heavy” by first glance, but the advantages are overwhelming.
The one Downside of the Suntent
There is, however, one downside to the suntent, at least on my boat: As the tarp is attached at the bottom of the Lazy Bag and goes down to the reeling, standing height is not provided. I am 1.86 meters tall and can barely stand with my head up right next to the boom. The more to the outside the less standing height is given. So, as it is the case with the saloon down below as well, most of the time you are on your knees.
Also, when mooring bow first (like I have to in my home marina), it takes a bit of snake-like qualities to muddle yourself through underneath the tarp to enter the foredeck. A solution is the option “suntent with poles” offered by Seascape: Two GRP-poles will create a round shape of the tent, offering more internal volume. I don´t think I need this extra. And, looking at the downsides, of course, these two minuses come naturally because the First 27 SE is barely 10 metres long. She keeps a low profile which makes her a “small” boat by definition, the suntent or Bimini cannot and does not want to change this. So, let´s have a look how it works in real life then.
Perfect Protection against Sun, Rain and Wind
This weekend we expected full-blown summer´s days: High temperatures, barely any clouds, loads of sunshine. A perfect occasion to spend the days on the boat with my boys. As wind outside was steadily over 20 knots and being quite rough and gusty, I decided to spare the stress of strong wind sailing and have a smooth onboard-time without sailing. The kids loved it: Finally they could utilize the marina´s playgrounds intensively.
As the kids ran away to storm the children´s areas, I assembled the suntent for the first time and checked it thoroughly. What a change to the boat this was! Taking out the bean bags, which I absolutely love and consider definitely to being a must-have on a small boat without any seats available. I let myself sit on one, have the legs stretched out, opened a can of Panaché and decided that the approximately 600 Euros extra for the suntent is indeed money well spent.
When my kids returned we had lunch and after spending the whole morning running riot they – by free choice – reclined, rolled their tiny arms and slept away for a classy, deep, refreshing afternoon-sleep. Which was awesome to see: Down below, where there are some berths available, the air was sticky and hot even with all hatches open. Now, here outside, a fresh warm breeze, in the shadow, it was perfect for a little nap.
I can also sense that this suntent is very useful in bad weather as well: When it rains cats and dogs all day, the suntent will make the cockpit area accessible. Also, the entryway down is protected so that it can be left partially open to make for better ventilation. After my kids awoke, I sat down with them, a cold beer in one hand, enjoying the warm breeze and congratulating myself to having gone forward with this purchase.
Go for it on your own boat as well!
Which is really a thing: Two boats left of GEKKO an Umberto Felci-designed Esse 8.50 is mooring. Owned by a family as well, but I shall say that these guys are really ambitioned racers. Not a Wednesday-race they miss and even during this weekend´s strong wind-period the guys went out. Two daughters, father and wife. Really lovely to see. But their boat – almost equal in length and offering even less comforts – did not have any of these amenities. The girls had to sit in the open sun, sweat their heads off, covered in long sleeves, base caps and always looking for a slight shadow created by the slim boom.
We, however, could comfortably make ourselves indulge into the full width of the cockpit, stretching our legs, laying down wherever we wanted and enjoy the shadow, the fresh breeze. Which ever small boat you sail, you should definitely go for a sun shade, tarp or Bimini-type tarp as well. I would have never thought how much better the comfort is and how big the instant impact of a suntent would be. This is definitely an option I will go on to advocate and recommend our prospects and clients – worth every Euro!
Also interesting in this context:
Micro-Cruising – what is this?
A small boat´s galley, what you need to go for
Small boat cruising comforts first time sleepover test