Talking about rigs…..

Pathfinder project build, Easter 2022.

It’s Easter Friday 2022, as I write, and in very bad taste this morning I was thinking of the time when we nailed the yard apprentice to one of the doors of the big shed…..that morning it was a team effort to unhang the door and lay it out on the dirt floor for some essential work. The yard apprentice was gobby at the best of times and that week the boatbuilders had had enough of him hence nailed him to the door just before the lunchtime bell went ; it’s ok, it was only through his overalls !. The best thing was when a local lady walked through the yard with her noisy and aggressive Terrier….it sniffed at him and then cocked it’s leg……….

In real time – as i write it’s April 15th, some 110 years ago the Titanic gutted itself on an iceberg and went down in ice cold water just over two and a half hours later. Many years ago a young lady whom i was very fond of dragged me out to go and see the film of the sinking and the ‘Romance’ – I hadn’t wanted to because i didn’t want to see the sinking through Holywood’s distorting lens ; as it happens i found the film very moving but not the moments that seemed to matter to many. Here’s the really spooky thing ; we saw the film at a small cinema on the Southampton dockside just yards from where RMS Titanic left for her first and last voyage…….that gave me chills.

If you’re wondering where these Easter cultural references are all about then i’d say that it’s either because i’m working hard on my book project in between coats of paint on the boat – either that or it’s the paint fumes ; personally i blame the paint fumes.

However, i seem to be in storytelling mode this morning so here goes with a little segue into what i was going to talk about today.

Long time readers will know that my last boat was often to be found at the bottom of a greasy ladder that was ‘mostly’ attached to a rough and slippery wall at the boatyard….and the landing was into thick mud unless there was a pontoon there ; there was one sometimes but heavily sloped at low water and an interesting climbers move to get from ladder to pontoon. One winter and spring i was moored there and literally under the bowsprit of the boss’s lugger ‘Spirit Of Mystery’ which was built just down the road and has a famous history. At that time ‘Mystery’ lived alongside the wall and for a while her bowsprit overhung my cockpit – there being enough height gap that we could both rise and fall with the tide : things have changed now and Mystery has since gone north with her owner.

One spring, must have been 2019, i was working fast to get the little Cat Ketch ready for my big getaway and i was passing gear up and down the ladder on a falling tide when some posh car ‘townies’ parked at the yard and strolled in like they owned the place ; the bloke came to the dockside and saw the Lugger ‘Mystery’ and my little Cat Ketch and loudly declared “look – an old gaffer’ to which i replied, soto voce, it’s not an old gaffer it’s a young lugger……..muppet” !!. Honestly…..people that don’t know their rigs don’t belong in muddy boatyards…..i think one of them tripped over one of Mystery’s mooring lines or her ‘pull-over’ line.

Maybe i was just in a particularly snarky mood that day – once again i blame the fumes as i think i was gluing in the new headlining insulation that day so i may have been ‘off my tits’ on a morning of sniffing glue.

Hunter Liberty and Calstock viaduct.

Anyway, today i’m going to talk about my rig – thoughts and decisions.

The first thing to say is that I was once a yard rigger and that I really enjoy looking at and figuring out unusual rigs so that’s a good start – second thing is that iv’e owned several different boats and they’ve all had different rigs and I remember them as much for what their rigs were good or bad for as much as i remember the boats themselves. For the record…..first boat was a fractional sloop (Folkboat), second was a Dutch style high aspect gaff with a soft wingsail and no boom (Wharram Tiki), the third boat started out as a masthead cutter and became a ‘slutter’ (Frances 26) fourth was a classic English gaffer with a big ‘barn door’ mainsail and 2 small jibs thus a cutter and finally my last boat was a Cat-Ketch or ‘Periauger‘ with a pair of freestanding masts….the Hunter Liberty as above.

My decision tree looks something like “1 mast or 2, triangular or square sails and if the latter then which version of square – thus classic gaff yawl, high aspect Dutch style gaff or one or other version of a Lugger ; standing or balanced. With my last boat i really appreciated the way a split rig behaves so i’m almost certainly going with a split rig and that brings me on to which version of ‘square’ sails ; one early idea of mine had been to acquire the complete rig off of a local Devon Yawl and use that as a quick and dirty option – the DY rig is quite tall though. For a few days and sleepless nights i played around with the idea of going with a cruising ‘square-top’ as per the more modern race boats but that rig while superbly efficient is very powerful and could easily overpower a big and stable dinghy.

I’m really drawn to either of the ‘working’ rigs and by working rigs i’m thinking of the Dutch working craft like Botters and Tjalk’s with their high aspect gaff rigs, often with a curved gaff and a boomless mainsail. I had the version drawn by Hanneke Boon on my little Wharram catamaran – that sail actually wraps around the mast as a soft wingsail , was boomless and seemed to work well. The second working boat i have in mind is the classic west country and Breton working rig – the standing Lug with a freestanding mast far forward in the boat. This part of the country is well known for working Luggers and just over the channel I saw similar sized big dayboats with standing Lug rigs… feature of those is that the rig is quite tall and seemed to be able to catch the wind in a sheltered estuary.

Working Lugger…..Camaret (Brittany)

The EC boat project.

My history with this is that a few years back I was trying to set up a boat to ship to the USA in a standard 20 foot container and to sail in the Everglades challenge – my solution, I thought, being a very retired and modified Osprey class racing dinghy ; converted to a standing Lug because I could build a rig that would have been tall enough to be powerful but which would go in the container. Most of my advice on that came from English sailmaker and ex barge skipper Jim Lawrence – who has since retired from sailmaking.

Jim’s thoughts about small Luggers intended for going fast and far is that the rig needs to be powerful and surprisingly tall – his view being that most small modern Lug rigged boats get a bad reputation because they just aren’t built with big enough rigs and nowhere near enough sail area.

The boat that inspired me is a converted National 18 dinghy, owned and then converted by a former National 18 class champion – by all accounts he cruises the boat with his family and then turns up at the Lugger rally in Looe and planes around the course….downwind at least. I watched out for an ’18’ myself with that conversion in mind but never seem one at the right price and the right time – one big problem I thought I saw was that the converted National 18 has a full carbon taper tube mast and there’s nobody in the UK who can build one so it would have had to be a heavier hollow wooden one ; just as I am planning now for the Pathfinder.

Converted National 18, photographer unknown.

It might sound as though iv’e already made the final decision about which rig to adopt but that isn’t the case because iv’e first got to work out the engineering and structure of how a tall and stay-less rig will be supported in the boat. Today, in between coats of paint and working at the computer i laid out my kneeling mats under the upside down boat and spent time just studying the structure of the bow girder and frame/bulkhead No 1. If I chose the Dutch style high aspect rig then a lot of the work is done except that the mast will have to go as far back as it can and that will need a slight modification of the compression post : if instead I go with a Lug rig then i’ll take the existing king plank out and build a new and stronger one for the mast’s deck partners and modify the bow girder to take the mast foot.

If you’re wondering then designer John Welsford supplies rig drawings for the sloop and yawl versions so I have a reference point for important stuff like the center of effort ; John has also drawn several balance Lug rigs for his other boats like Longsteps and SCAMP. So, once again i’m going my own way but it’s not a big departure from one form of Lug rig to another or for one form of gaff yawl to a different one……lot of engaging fun though trying to work it out !.

Next…..I have to design the actual spar – it’s going to be made from 8 staves of maximum length Douglas Fir in what is known as birdsmouth construction with solid blocking from heel to above deck and up where the gubbins (technical term) attaches. I can’t do the birdsmouth machining prep here but John the excellent timber guy will do it for me as part of the finishing and machining : when i get to the job i’ll be using the building frame with a deck on it as my spar bench – probably need some help with mixing batches of glue and getting everything in place . I plan to use long cable ties to pull everything together , maybe with some cheap plastic wedges for application of force.

I also have to work out the downsides and any potential problems – two I can see are the mast will be heavier than the standard rigs and right at the front of the boat so I may have to re-balance the hull with more weight aft ; I already have a plan for a 60 Kg battery alongside the aft end of the centerboard and of course there will be a big weight (me) at the back when i’m sailing. Handling a longer and heavier mast in and out of a hole in the foredeck could be a problem so i’ll be thinking about that.

This afternoon while I was working my partner came out to see if i wanted coffee …..I always want coffee…..but found me lying on my kneeler mat under the bow of the upside down hull ; what I was doing there was trying to work out how to use the bow girder to sit the heel of the mast on and how to modify the king plank to support the rig at deck level. I think that the king plank will have to come out because honestly it wasn’t my best work and needs to be much better and stronger as partners for a powerful Lug rig……I think i’ll just leave the compression post in just in case I change my mind later.

Post link – High aspect (short gaff) rig :

That’s about it for now.

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