Big and red and shiny !

My new sail that is …..honestly you lot, what are you like ?

Very early on in the Hunter Liberty experience i made 3 notes about the boat in my ‘defects and omissions’ page in the logbook as i got to know the boat :  1.not enough sail area ,2. not enough ballast and 3. badly behaved at anchor.   Some of that might have come from the fact that my previous boat had been a bigger, heavier and much more stable boat (Frances 26) , 26 feet and 4 tons compared with 22 feet and a ton and a half fully loaded for the Liberty.

A little piece of history.

The late David Thomas drew the initial design as the Liberty 22 back in 1979 , 65 of those were built and then it was re-released as the Liberty 23 with slightly more sail area, more ballast and ugly windows !.  Many of the early boats, as with mine, were up-ballasted and most of them had their masts sleeved as the original masts were prone to breaking.   Several owners then modified the existing sail plan to get a bit more rag on the sticks : in fact there are now several modified rig Liberty’s around including single and 2 stick junks, and one that i know of that went through a stage of big roached and fully battened conventional sails before going on to a hybrid lug/pirogue style rig with an added jib.


Most readers will know that iv’e messed about with my own rigs twice , first just to make everything actually work, with new running rigging and clean running blocks.   Later still and i moved the mizzen aft and swapped the conventional booms for home made sprit-booms which i am very happy with today, i also had a long period in which i tried all sorts of ways of being able to reef entirely from the cockpit but i never did get that to work well with the original booms : to be honest that idea really needed new alloy booms so i never went down that route.   For the first part of today’s post i thought i would do a review of the sprit-boom project and talk about my experience sailing with the modified rig this year.


Overall impressions.

I must say i that i really like sailing with the sprit-boom rigs and that the modification has had a positive impact on the Liberty’s behaviour at anchor as a secondary effect. Generally speaking i find the sail handling easier, the loads i anything lighter than the original rig, easier and simpler to reef and simpler to tweak the sail shape.  What i’d like to do though is break all of that down a bit and talk about each feature because i didn’t just change the booms….do remember that i moved the mizzen mast 4-6 inches aft at it’s pivot point and raked it even further aft.

1.Sail balance.

When i made my first notes about the sailing qualities of the Liberty i commented that the boat had considerable lee helm in very light winds upwind but that the helm balance then changed very quickly as the boat powered up but then alters to heavy weather helm in a fresh breeze especially when broad-reaching.   One of the worst situations i got into with WABI”’ was my spring delivery trip back from Topsham and the Exe : coming out of the Exe into Lyme bay i sailed into a full-on blizzard and about a force 7 sea state.  At first i just hove-to while i worked out my options but i couldn’t get the second reef tied in properly so i ran into Torbay just under the mizzen and of course the balance was all wrong….what it really needed was either just a deep reefed mainsail and no mizzen or a small jib on a bowsprit to pull the bow downwind and a very small amount of sail up aft to allow me to heave-to again if i needed to.

I do like the Liberty’s split rig as i think that the ability to heave-to is a critical safety measure for a small boat : mostly in that it allows a boat to sit bow-on to breaking seas while making a sternboard but in many conditions it just allows me to stop and have a thin about a situation…..most situations being solved by putting the kettle on and having a brew !

With that in mind i did wonder what would happen to the sailing balance when i moved the mizzen aft :,he answer being ‘not a lot’ !.  It does seem that the mizzen becomes more effective earlier on in light weather but doesn’t seem to be increasing the weather helm as the wind increases.  What i have found though is that in a fresh breeze i now reef the mizzen first which maintains balance but keeps the sail power up and that makes the boat more positive, especially in waves.  This suggests to me that i might benefit from having more sail area aft in light weather which is something i’m working on in real time here.  That experience, particularly the lee helm in light winds definitely suggests that the boat needs more sail area all round.

2. Getting it up , getting it down and wiggling it about !

The actual sail handling is now different in that the sails aren’t stowed on their booms, rather the mainsail is now attached to an extended mast track at the luff and is stowed on deck in it’s old stackpack bag but minus the battens.  Of note ; that significantly reduces windage forward which was the main culprit in her wild sheering about at anchor.  The mizzen also uses the old bag, once again without battens, but is clipped and lashed to the mizzen boom when not in use.

To hoist sail, once the sails are out of their bags, i clip the clew into an eye bolt at the outboard end of the sprit-boom and usually top that up with a simple topping lift aft.  I did get rid of the lazy jacks completely as they were a complete waste of time ; one small failure though was that i couldn’t get the small mast tangs and blocks off the masts when i did that so the halyard would often do a wrap and get hung up on them although iv’e since corrected that problem.  The mainsail isn’t fixed at the tack, rather it has a 2 : 1 purchase going through the tack cringle that leads aft ; hoisting is conventional but i then cleat the halyard at a pre-set mark and tension the luff by heaving down on the tack downhaul and i repeat that when i reef.     Primary sail shape is then set by the tack downhaul and the snotter tackle which acts as both outhaul and vang, obviously critical is the down-angle of the sprit.

To reef the mainsail i release the halyard and ease the snotter, i don’t have reefing lines at the clew at all now (i tried that), rather what i do is pull enough sail down so that it’s not trying to fill and then larks-foot a short strop and it’s wichard clip into the reef clew ring and simply clip that into another eyebolt a few inches forward of the clew eyebolt near the aft end of the sprit-boom. Hoisting again is to a pre-set halyard mark and then tensioning is done via the tack reefing line which is also on a 2 : 1 purchase.  At no time during reefing do i have to go forward unless i decide to tie the bunt of the sail up, the aft end of which i do from the companionway.

Reefing the mizzen is slightly different in that i still use the fixed tack position from the old goosenck fitting on the mast.  The mizzen is if anything slightly more awkward to reef because i either have to pull the sprit a long forward or balance on the cockpit seats aft to clip the new clew in….that arrangement is one that i’m experimenting with during this winter but might be just one part of having a more radical rig alteration aft.  What i will probably change to is a more conventional clew pennant that is cleated off at the forward end of the sprit-boom near to where it crosses the mast….that would be an easy fix.


3. Effect on anchoring.

Naughty little boat : the Liberty is well known for being badly behaved at anchor even when an owner uses a high quality anchor and an all chain rode.  I know of one that dragged in a non-tidal situation where the boat, sheering wildly to a fresh breeze, simply pinged the anchor off a rocky/kelpy bottom and nearly ended up on a beach ; that was a claw type anchor if you are wondering.  Quite early on i thought that the main-mast being far forward was one part of the problem but the greater sail area from the stack-pack sailbag mounted high on the boom was the main problem.  Just for an experiment one day i anchored in a wind and tide situation. watched  WABI”’ surge around for a while and then i took the forward boom right off ; that considerably reduced the amount of sheering.

Today when i drop the sails , even for a quickie, i tie the mainsail down onto the coachroof and when i anchor for the night i pack the sails away but i stow the mains’l on the cabin top but have the mizzen in it’s bag clipped and lashed to the mizzen boom.  It’s that combination of reduced windage forward and some windage aft that helps keep the boat from sheering about wildly.

In some situations WABI”’ will still try and sheer around more than i would like, one such situation occurred off Cellar beach in the entrance to the Yealm  : i got there nice and early and anchored in a good spot, other sailing boats arrived and anchored properly and then the MOBO’s started to come in from Plymouth.  One came into the anchorage and put himself between me and the next anchored boat and he then loaded his family into a tiny dinghy, heading for the beach only leaving a young teenage daughter to mind the shop.  You can imagine what happened next as both boats started to swing and it was of no use trying to tell the girl either as there was nothing she could do…..i ‘suggested’ firmly that she text or phone her dad and tell him that a collision or anchor wrap was likely and then we would both end up on the beach !.   In that situation i hoisted my mizzen close-reefed to act as a riding sail and then of course it was the MOBO swinging into us so it was a case of putting fenders out and motoring forward with the sail sheeted in to get the anchor up and get out….also one of the rare times that i couldn’t do a stern anchor recovery as i was having to use the mizzen to keep WABI”’ pointing into the wind.

Rig and sail development on WABI”’

For the main part of today’s post, likely to be a long one and followed up by at least 2 more i thought i would talk about the actual way forward i’m taking with the rig and sails development.   This is essentially the 3rd of the rig posts as iv’e talked about 2 other possible options so far : the yawl/canoe-yawl option (Canoe-yawl post) and the split lug rig option based on local boats (Rig Down day post).


Iv’e decided to stay with the split rig option and keep both masts in the positions they’re in now ; that is with the original alloy main mast up forward and the smaller mizzen mounted in the cockpit rather than in it’s original awkward place in the companionway. So, i’m staying with a cat-ketch configuration but i might be altering the rig aft to a taller stick with a lot more sail area and then i might go the next stage which would be to re-balance the boat with a small jib.  This of course means building a new mizzen mast which is something i’m working out the details for….unless of course i steal the main-mast off the other Liberty in the yard as it’s only a few boats away….i’m sure the guy wouldn’t notice if he had 2 mizzen masts .  (only joking Molly)

Mizzen pad

What iv’e learnt so far is that everything suggests that the Liberty is under-canvassed so for a first change i’m having a new mainsail cut right now ; it’s going to be made specifically shaped to work with the sprit-boom so it will be longer on the luff and have a higher clew, it’s also getting a long top batten and will have a bit more roach so it should be a much better shape and it will have more area.  Iv’e just been crunching the numbers after remembering how to work out the area of a sail that doesn’t have a right angle at the tack….ok,  ok i know but maths was never my strong point and it was last night in bed when i had a sudden lighbulb moment and realised that i knew how to do it !

So, anyway, the original Liberty mainsail is reckoned to be 100 sq feet and discounting any extra area in the roach my shiny new red one should be coming in at 124 sq feet.  That already feels like a positive change and i’m not worried too much about the change in power or balance because of the points i have already made.  What i’m leaning towards next is having much more power available at the back of the boat in the shape of a much larger mizzen but which can be reefed of course.  Just to say that the existing mizzen is tiny at 60 sq feet and has never set well….moving it aft did seem to help but the boat is still underpowered in ghosting conditions.   I’m tempted to go to a radical extreme and have 2 equal masts and 2 sails the same but that would mean doubling the mizzen  area and i think that would just end up reefed most of the time…..even downwind as the new, larger mizzen would just blanket the mains’l.   What i’m kicking around is the plan of building a new, taller, mizzen, a longer sprit boom and aiming for around 90 sq ft aft.  My desk is covered , right now, in scraps and notes as i try to work out the proportions of a new sail….what i’m going to do once iv’e got it on paper is to stretch the old mizzen that came with the boat out on the drive, measure that and add the same amount as the area taken up by it’s single reef.

The whole idea is more than slightly inspired by this boat below, which iv’e only mentioned before and for those that don’t recognise it is L. Francis Herreshoff’s ‘Meadowlark‘ design and conceptually similar to the Liberty.   Obviously Meadowlark is only just a ketch with 2 equal masts/sails + plus a small jib that we might call a blade today.   On the Liberty i should be able to carry a small jib tacked to the short bowsprit that i built last year although with more area in the mains’l and the jib i may have to add a pair of shrouds to counteract the jib luff loads.   If you want to have a look at the hull shape it’s surprisingly similar except for Meadowlark having a transom….and she has leeboards rather than a centerboard.  Meadowlark, by the way, is almost my fantasy boat except that i think that designer Roger Martin has done a better modern variant with his 30′ Presto Sharpie.   I’ll be talking about the Presto Sharpie in a separate post BTW.


Next post : the new mainsail.

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