Bulletproof Companionways

Going beyond companionway slats for voyaging offshore.


Diamond/Sea-Glaze Companionway door

Photos by Drew Frye (top) and Evans Starzinger

The used boat review of the Tartan 37 in the January 2015 issue mentioned that several companies specialize in producing bullet-proof companionway door arrangements that can be customized to fit almost any boat. I would like the names of such companies in the U.S. as I am looking for ways to improve my boats current companionway arrangement.

Hiroshi Shimoda
Bonjour IV, Wauquiez 35 Pretorien
Astoria, Ore.

There are a variety of manufactured companionway doors on the market that would be suitable for coastal cruising-just Google companionway doors and youll see the lineup-but for bulletproof protection, its hard to beat a setup with an aluminum frame, through-bolted or welded design.

Two examples weve seen that epitomize the bulletproof companionway are those aboard Jimmy Cornells Garcia Exploration 45 and aboard Hawk, a 47-foot Van de Stadt sloop formerly owned by high-latitude circumnavigators (and PS contributors) Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger.

Cornell, renowned cruiser and author of World Cruising Routes, conceived the Garcia 45 (www.garcia-yachting.com) as the ideal cruising boat for extreme conditions. Among its voyaging-centric design details is the well-insulated, super heavy-duty companionway hatch slide and door. The powder-coated aluminum door has two bi-folding window panels and can be dogged down with four individual dogs for maximum protection.

Leonard, who authored The Voyagers Handbook, and Starzinger (www.bethandevans.com) hired the Canadian company Diamond/Sea-Glaze to fabricate Hawks aluminum, Dutch-style companionway door. The weathertight, split-panel door, which features a window and a stainless-steel deadbolt, is one of the semi-standard doors that the company offers. The buyer supplies the companionway doorframe dimensions and feature preferences (painted or bare aluminum, window, etc.); Diamond/Sea-Glaze (www.diamondseaglaze.com) makes the door to fit; and the buyer can install it himself.

Because this type of door is common on offshore work boats, there are quite a few smaller companies, like Freeman Marine (www.freemanmarine.com), that make similar doors. However, these custom and semi-custom doors are expensive, so they arent the best solution for most coastal cruisers, and even some passagemakers. Note that the much-less-expensive companionway slats serve countless vessels offshore each year.

Another route would be to make a watertight door yourself if youre really handy, or find an experienced local machine shop that can fabricate the door body for you and source all of the other components (hinges, dogs, and gaskets) separately yourself. The key is that the frame must be as strong as the door.

We also recommend checking in with the Wauquiez owners associations and see whether any other owners have already beefed up their companionway arrangement; if so, theyll likely share the details with you, making any DIY or machine-shop job much easier. The boat manufacturer may also be a good resource to tap.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.