On a trip across the Atlantic, Murrough Armstrong-MacDonnell finds the answer to cockpit comfort - a cockpit sole that lifts up to form a table

Cockpit tables are great things on any boat, but stowing them away when they’re not in use is always a headache. We saw the perfect arrangement for us on a Wauquiez yacht in the Azores – a table that folded in a similar way to our ironing board back home.

In adapting the idea for our yacht New Dawn we had a few major considerations: the seats project beyond the edges of the cockpit well; the table had to clear the large brass winder for the centreboard hoist winch, and last, but not least we have a diesel filler in the cockpit sole. Furthermore, our two already inadequate cockpit drains need no further discouragement.

We already had a pair of beautiful teak gratings of equal size, but both were individually too small for the table. These were rebuilt over many happy hours into a long and a short grating using phenol resorcinol glue and a dozen hidden scarph joints.

Those starting from scratch could avoid most of these constraints.

We started by making a mock-up of the cockpit sole in hardboard and inch square battens. This ensured that it would all actually fit when we took it back on to the boat. Since the cockpit is slightly tapered, we had to be especially careful.

Then we built an iroko frame to raise the old cockpit gratings, and provide a fixing for stainless steel tubular legs. The timber merchant asked if they were new engine beds, so I suspect they’re over built.

The frame has simple peg joints which we carefully marked so there would be no confusion when we assembled it.

This table folds down to form the cockpit floor when not in use

For the final assembly, we put a saw cut into the end of each peg, which we splayed by driving in glue covered wooden wedges so it all went together very tight.

The 1in diameter stainless tubes (recycled from an old awning frame) go into sockets drilled in the iroko – easy to do and very strong. But, if I were to do the job again, I would use 3⁄4in tube for the cross pieces so the table would fold down flatter.

The position of the bolts on which the two legs pivot is critical: if it’s not midway, the table will rise OK but won’t be level.

I’m still not sure what went wrong on our first attempt, but we had to drill a second set of holes to get it right. Perhaps it would have been more sensible to set the table up square first, and then marked where the holes should go.

The height of the table is determined by the position of the two fixed wooden traps that hold the cross pieces underneath the grating. It’s possible to clamp them in position temporarily, so you can make sure it’s right before finally glueing them into place.

Made to measure

Of course, other boats would have different dimensions. Without the overhanging seats it should be possible to lift up the entire cockpit grating. Instead of the fixed surround, you could then have a deep sill rather like an old fashioned card table.

And, of course, the stainless frame’s pivot would need to be bolted direct to the cockpit sole.

Having used our table for a season, we find we’re much more inclined to dine in the cockpit than before. It takes no more than a few seconds to raise the table and lower it. It’s not at all wobbly when up and when down you wouldn’t even know it was there.

I only wish I’d seen the idea 20 years ago, before I ever made the two original gratings!

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