One of the great joys of owning a small sailing boat is the opportunity it provides for experimentation, particularly if you have a cruising boat rather than one belonging to a strict racing class.
At the moment I’m spending my spare time working on a sailing dinghy which my father designed and built in about 1970. She is a beautiful thing to behold, but she has had a very hard forty years of life!
Current work involves rot repair, routine paint removal, and re-painting – all pretty standard stuff, and certainly not difficult. However, I have found myself filling an inordinate number of screw and bolt holes, indicating just how many bits and pieces I have tried out on the old boat over the years.
Most of the experimentation I’ve conducted has been related to rigging – usually running rigging, but sometimes I’ve changed the sail-plan completely. In fact, this particular boat has had at least six different rigs in her lifetime including: -
Bermuda (or Marconi) rig;
Chinese Lugsail (Junk rig);
Standing lug rig;
Balance lug rig;
Gaff-headed cat rig;
Knockabout rig with both balance and standing lug mainsails.
In addition, I’ve tried all sorts of variations to the above themes, and in the process I’ve discovered a lot of useful information which has not always tallied up with what I’ve read in the standard text books. The message here, folks, is not to believe everything you read! Go and find out for yourself.
When I was younger, I thought that the correct location of the centre-of-area of the sail-plan in relation to the centre-of-lateral resistance of the hull was something which could not be varied without destroying the balance of the hull. On the day that I cut a hole through the deck of my boat in order to step the free-standing mast for the Junk rig, I sat for ages, terrified that I may have got my calculations wrong. Since then, I’ve experimented a lot, and I have discovered that great liberties can be taken – at least in the case of a shallow-bodied centerboard (or leeboard) boat which has a powerful rudder.
Observe and Learn
Some of the best regarded open boats in history have had their theoretical centre-of-lateral resistance positioned way forward of where the experts say it should be. Examples include the Beachcomber-Alpha Dory (centerboard almost under the mast), the Yorkshire Coble (all the fixed lateral plane at the bow), countless thousands of Junks and Sampans, Polynesian and Melanesian craft, and some of James Wharram’s catamaran designs, to name just a few.
As was pointed out by Phil Bolger in several of his essays, the rudders or steering oars on these boats should be taken into consideration when determining the actual, rather than the theoretical, location of the centre-of-lateral resistance. Note that I am only speaking about craft which have shallow underbodies, and lack long keels. Phil made the point in dramatic fashion by reporting that his Folding Schooner design would sail to windward in fine form with only her mainsail set, even though the entire sail was behind the dagger-boards!
So, I’m encouraging those people who have an interest in seamanship and design to have a go at some rig experimentation. I’m certainly not saying that you should throw caution to the wind and abandon all reference to design conventions, but I am saying that you can take some liberties, and the sky won’t fall around your ears.
Making it easy to change
In the case of a number of my own designs, I have spent a lot of time proportioning various sail-plans so that each boat can be equipped with a selection of different sail-plans, without having to alter the mast stepping arrangements, and in most cases making use of the existing mast.
As an example, here is a sketch showing my Periwinkle design with six different rigs, all of which use the original set of mast locations, and most of which use the original main mast.
Now, I have a number of other rigs which will work on this boat, but space limitations prevent showing too many drawings. The point is that with a bit of thought, you can tailor a rig to suit your particular purpose, and it should not require carpentry, and maybe not even need a new mast. But it is up to you to do your homework, or pay to have somebody else do it for you.
Scanadalising and Re-stepping
Reefing is something about which I’ve written in the past, but it is timely for me to mention “scandalising” as a quick method of reducing sail in an emergency. This is an example of how the so-call old-fashioned rigs can be so much more versatile, in comparison with modern rigs, when used on a cruising boat.
Most people understand reefing, but you can also do things such as reducing the number of masts and sails in a multi-masted rig. In the following sketch, you can see how Peiwinkle can be sailed with either the main sail, or the mizzen, set on a single mast set in a third mast partner. This system has been tested in the boat, and all of the combinations work beautifully.
Scandalising is different, and less efficient than either reefing or reducing the number of sails and/or masts – but it can be done in an instant, and it will get you out of trouble if caught out short-handed.
If you are using a gaff-headed rig, then all you need to do is simply release the peak halyard – the head of the gaff will drop, and you will have decreased your sail area in an instant. You can do the same sort of thing with a sprit rig by moving the peak of the sprit to a correctly located cringle on the leech of the sail as shown in the following drawing. The head of the sail is tied off against the mast to stop it blowing around out of control.
Keep it Small and Simple
The very best way I know of getting long-term satisfaction from boats is to keep things simple and choose the smallest boat you can reasonably use. I’ve said all that before, I know, but it is the truth. However, there will always be people who have possessions for reasons of ego, and for them a boat is a statement about status and maybe even power.
You could argue that I’m just as much of a slave to ego by following my simplistic path – perhaps it could be seen as making a statement. But I don’t think about it that way. I just know that I get tremendous satisfaction from being on the water in a boat that is cheap, functional, good-looking, simple to rig and repair, uses wind or human power primarily and can be built at home.
These days we have access to vast amounts of easily sourced information, and that presents much opportunity for amateur builders to gain insight into how construction methods and seamanship evolved in a time when people had less money and no power tools. But the lessons are worth very little unless you go out and have a go.
If you are building, don’t get hung-up on dozens of problems you have thought about - and forget about getting into endless discussions on internet forums – just go out and start the job. By all means read instructions and good-quality technical books, but avoid “the paralysis-of-analysis”. Start building, and the job will provide most of the answers as you move along.
The same thing applies when trying out alterations on the water. Trust your own common sense (tempered by reasonable care) and you may well find that what the experts say is not always as reliable as you thought. Of course, I’m not an expert, so you can trust me….