an umbrella mounted to a sailboat cockpit provides much needed shade.

It’s been said that the most useless things aboard a sailboat are an umbrella and a Naval officer. However, sometimes that’s just not completely true.

Cruising in New England, I would often rig a homemade cockpit cover. It was carefully crafted from Sunbrella, with furling side covers for when the sun drew near the horizon. It was fitted with battens and tie downs and good for up to 20 knots of wind. It was great on hot days, great on rainy days, but it was a bear to rig (so I didn’t use it often and it lived in a bag, stowed away). Sometimes, without cover, and if the sun was just right, I would crouch desperately and uncomfortably beneath the hard-top dodger over the main hatch, in search of shade.

When I moved the boat to North Carolina, the sailing season was longer and the days were far warmer. I noticed biminis covering many cockpits, but a bimini on Pelorus would block the solar panels. There had to be a better way for me to easily and readily gain shade in the cockpit on hot, windless days.

Why not an umbrella? The basic problem was how to rig it to stay put. At a sporting goods store I found an adjustable, plastic fishing rod holder by Yakgear for $19. The bottom of the holder featured a familiar star-shaped design and was designed to fit into a base. I just knew that distinctive bottom shape would fit the socket atop my cockpit winches like a glove. And I was right.

Getting closer to the solution that was coming together, I needed only an umbrella. I bought one of those large golfing-sized umbrellas, one with a straight handle (not the usual curved one). The handle dropped loosely into the fishing pole holder, and I made a bit of light lashing to keep it there snugly.

It does look a little odd when my cockpit is covered by a golf umbrella, like maybe a caddie is in search of an errant ball. But the umbrella takes just a minute to deploy, does the job, and takes up very little space when stowed. It’s big enough to shade one person comfortably, and I can easily tilt it, or move it to either of the two cockpit winches. Alternatively, I can slip the umbrella into one of the permanently mounted fishing pole holders on the lifeline stanchions.

The downside? Well, it’s not very wind-friendly; one gust and it’ll lift off like Mary Poppins. Accordingly, on most days, I tether it to a winch base or lifeline, just in case.