Much of the cruising we do on Priorities involves anchoring out. When anchored, the boat points into the wind most of the time, so having the hatches open creates a refreshing airflow through the boat on warm nights. Running the generator and air conditioning all night long would be a loud and obnoxious alternative, and carbon monoxide poisoning is a real concern with extended generator operation, too.
When I bought her, Priorities’ Lewmar hatches were equipped with the standard screens. These screens were a welcome upgrade over my previous boat, which had no screens at all. Screens have been especially useful while cruising Lake Huron’s North Channel, where the bugs seem large enough to carry away small children at times. As an additional add-on, Priorities also had rolling shades to block out any light during the day, helping to keep the cabin cool when the hatches had to be kept closed.
Unfortunately, opening or closing the hatches from inside the cabin could get cumbersome since the screens were attached with a bunch of flimsy latches to the trim on the inside of the hatch. The larger forward and midcabin hatch screens were especially annoying… there were so many latches it required both hands to remove, place down somewhere, then finally close the hatch. Of course, numerous bugs would be hanging out on the outside part of the screen, and they would all get into the cabin any time closing was attempted. All of these things are relatively minor inconveniences until anchoring out on a warm night with numerous rain showers, requiring the “Hurry up and close the hatches” fire drill in the dark. More than one crewmember got rained on a few nights due to this. Also, since the shades were a separate add-on, they added an extra step and couldn’t be opened from deck level, such as when I was stuffing a spinnaker down the hatch. There had to be a better way.
While at various boat shows I noticed several new boats equipped with Oceanair SkyScreens, a fancy setup of screens and shades that easily roll up into the headliner with one hand like household window shades. One side is a blackout shade, allowing nearly no light through. Slide it the other way, and a bug screen unfurls. The shade and screen meet together with a simple magnet, allowing the user to easily “pop” the two apart to gain access to the hatch above. The SkyScreens are operable from deck level as well, useful when stowing the spinnaker. Price was the biggest drawback… $110 to $350 per hatch.
There were other options, too, like screen nets that went over the hatch and stayed in place with weights, but these needed to be stored somewhere are were prone to blowing away or getting lost. Lewmar sells hinge kits for their screens, and these have worked great on the small size 10 hatches, but still were cumbersome on the larger sizes.
With a long trip to the North Channel planned for 2017, I wanted to give the SkyScreen a try. I first installed one in the midcabin hatch, and since it went so easy I installed another one in the forward hatch. Finding one in stock anywhere that fit in the giant Lewmar Size 70 forward hatch was tough… eventually I found one for sale at a decent price at Sailboat Owners.com.
Overall, installation was fairly easy and only took about two hours per hatch. Since the SkyScreen replaces the interior hatch trim but doesn’t involve removing the actual hatch, this install can be done on a somewhat rainy day or during the winter with the boat covered.
I really only encountered two minor difficulties. First, the curved, corner insert pieces were difficult to slide into place due to some burrs that existed in the plastic track. Some trimming of the tracks allowed them to slide into place more easily. Second, the skirt that cleans up the gap between the hatch and the SkyShade needed trimming in the forward hatch install, not an easy task with thick plastic.
After a full season of use, the crew and I were very happy with this improvement. Opening or closing each hatch is a 5 second job rather than a 30 second job, so we end up opening our hatches more as a result.
Due to cost, I’ve only installed SkyScreens on the forward and midcabin hatches, and plan on installing one more on the forward head hatch. Our bimini and cockpit enclosure allow us to leave the hatches in the aft cabin open even when it’s raining, so we’ll use simple hinges on the standard screens.