Friday, September 3, 2010

Roof Rack Mod for Solo Loading Sunfish

One of my original love activities is sailing. My grandparents retired to a cottage near Kilmarnock, Virginia on a small cove off Dymer Creek. Creeks off the Chesapeake can be pretty big. Dymer Creek, where they were, is about 1/2 mile wide and about 3 miles off the Bay. The Bay is very wide there, you cannot see the other side. There were abondoned farm houses, a burned down menhaden factory, a boat yard where they still built wooden workboats and a small island. Basically the best place in the world for a nine year old to be with a boat in the summer.
Grandad loved the dump and one day we brought back a little sailboat. My grandmother, Bee, sewed a sail for it, Grandad put me in it and gave me a big push away from the dock - probably so he could take a nap - and my adventures really began.
So it is pretty easy to see how I came to love the freedom and feeling of sailing.
The problem is that I need to get the Sunfish - my only remaining sailboat - to the water. I have a trailer but it is not reigstered and the cartop would be a lot easier. The sunfish weighs about 150 lbs and loading it solo would result in a broken back, broken boat or broken car. Lifting one end of the boat is fairly easy but there is no way to lift the boat onto the van one end at a time so I came up with this extension for the rack. It lets you lift the boat up onto the van one end at a time.
The rack extension is 1 1/2" PVC pipe with a 90 deg. bend on the end. There is a slot cut into the bottom of the extension that the leg of the roof rack sticks out of. The slot is long enough to allow the extender to slide out a couple feet, enough to catch the boat. The PVC is not stiff enough by itself for the sunfish so you have to do something to stiffen it. I placed a piece of square metal inside the rack that slides out with the PVC. You could use wood stiffeners along the outside of the PVC or even rig up a leg support that goes to the ground.
In the above, you can see the extender bending under the weight of the sunfish.

The above picture is the angle of attack for lifting one end onto the rack.

Once you have the front end up, it is not too hard to lift the back end up and swing the boat onto the roof. I still need to mount the rear rack, but I wanted to test the concept before going forward.

Below is a detail of the PVC with the cut out. I used a rotary zip saw to cut open the PVC.

Below are 2 shots of the roof rack inserted into the PVC extender showing how the leg of the rack sticks out of the extender and the slide range.

To perfect the rack extenders I need to stiffen the PVC. I might do this with maybe 1/2 plywood running along both sides of the extender cut into a shallow "V" to track the shape of the hull. I have to figure out how to attach the "V" without affecting the ability to slide. This same extender concept would be a great way to mount a shade off the side of the van.


  1. HEy Walter. I also own an 85 Westy (that I bought new). I've just started it back up after 3 years parked in the Driveway. I'd like to find some other Maryland owners to help with diagnostics, etc.

    You can find me at

  2. Find the latest used and new cars for sale.
    Great used car deals and prices.
    More here more

  3. Wow, brilliant idea. I'll pay the biggest compliment by using the same idea to put my Laser on my Matrix!! Thanks for posting!