Practical Shoestring Sailing
Editor's note: We are proud
to welcome a new columnist to Duckworks. Alvan Eames (see
bio above) is an experienced sailor from Great Britian
who has generously agreed to share his knowledge with
us. This is the first of an ongoing series of essays which
I'm sure you will fine most enlightening
I have maintained for several years a dinghy of
the Oyster Class, for sailing in and around Morecambe Bay. The
Oyster is 16ft 9ins overall, totally undecked, heavily clinker
built, gunter rigged on solid wood spars, and ballasted by a
heavy iron centre–plate. The design is by John Leather,
and was sponsored by the Yachts and Yachting magazine some years
The modifications and methods outlined here have
all been used in the true practical sense and I shall try to
show how the impecunious enthusiast can sail and maintain a
cruising dinghy at a very low cost and with good efficiency.
My Oyster, Morag, has outsailed many Bermudan
rigged cruisers both beating and running, and on the one and
only occasion when I was cajoled into taking part in a cruiser
race, I came in second, in spite of making a pot of coffee halfway
through the course. Following the example of Hilaire Belloc,
I do not approve of racing, believing that sailing is for pleasure,
not for punishment.
Choosing a boat for someone else is rather like
choosing someone’s wife, or buying him a pair of shoes,
but having started sailing in a hard-chine, carvel built oddity,
and progressing through a succession of plywood dinghies, I
had formed a fair idea of my ideal boat. All sailing men seem
to yearn for a bigger boat, but the Oyster, at under 17ft ,
can be sailed singlehanded and is also capable of carrying four
or five adults with ease. On one notable occasion I sailed up
the River Lune in a vigorous Force Four wind with twelve adults
aboard. This was evidently too many, as I went aground and was
unable to persuade the party to get out and push me off, so
I was stuck for a full tide. It never happened again. This size,
moreover, is easily handled ashore for maintenance, and given
use of a handy beam overhead (or sheerlegs) for tackle, and
a few old tyres to ease rolling over, may be kept up to a very
acceptable standard without help.
The bookshops are full of works, which cater
for the rank amateur, teaching him how to sail, and what to
do so as not to make a fool of himself. These notes are more
for the man who can sail, and seeks the reward of doing his
own modification and maintenance, and is not frightened of innovation.
Innovation not for its own sake, but in the constant search
for efficiency at low cost.
So much for my choice of boat. Now on to the
rigging and the methods used.
The modern pundits, almost without exception,
preach the use of either 7x7 galvanised wire rope or 7x7 stainless
steel. The disadvantage of both of these materials is that splicing
is a job for the professional, or demands the use of a Talurit
machine. Furthermore, the galvanised 7x7 uses such a fine gauge
wire as a base, that the zinc coating is so thin that it does
not last in service. The suggestion is that 7x1 iron wire is
used. The reader will have noticed that there are large numbers
of telegraph poles scattered about the country, and many of
these poles are supported by iron stay wires of 7x1 construction.
As the individual strands are so much thicker than the fine
wires of 7x7, it must follow that that each strand can take
a thicker coat of zinc.
Occasionally I have confided these views to chandlers
and riggers, and they have all poured scorn on them, declaring
that such wire could not possibly last, and would certainly
not be strong enough. But chandlers and riggers do not all sail
boats, and I respectfully submit that Conor O’Brien is
a much more valid authority, to people who have heard of him.
He sailed round the world using such wire for his standing rigging,
and published a few books explaining the advantages. Unfortunately
his books are not much read these days, with the modern passion
for lightness, speed, and the everlasting seeking after publicity.
There is a certain flexibility in iron wire used
for standing rigging, as it is not possible to remove all the
kinks therefrom, but a little give, in shrouds, is permissible,
rather than having them bar-tight, which can give rise to undue
strain in a choppy sea.
It is not possible to buy such iron wire from
your friendly neighbourhood yacht chandler, and even if it were,
the price would be quadrupled. Rather go to your local Television
and Radio retailer. The wire, of nominal 3/16ins diameter, is
sold to TV aerial riggers for the purpose of holding aerials
onto chimney stacks. A 200ft coil can be bought for a very modest
price, and as like as not you will get a handful of thimbles
click to enlarge
The galvanised 7x1 wire is child’s play
to splice. The method is to turn up 10 or 12 inches round the
thimble, push a spike (or a screwdriver) through the lay on
the standing part, separating the seven strands into 4 and 3.
Then unlay the tail into its separate strands and push three
of them through the hole made by the spike. Next squeeze up
the hole with pliers as tight as possible round the 3 inserted
strands. Then put a half inch right angle bend in the ends of
the 3 inserted strands, and spread the 7 ends evenly round the
standing part, each end laid in line, and away from the thimble.
Then, taking one of the inserted strands, wind it tightly round
the rest until 1/4ins remains. Bend the 1/4ins stub to lie in
line with the rest, and take the next available inserted strand
lying near the 1/4ins stub; continue to wind as before. After
the inserted strands have been dealt with, do the others in
turn. The last strand is wound up as tight as possible without
the ¼ins stub.
Standing rigging as described has lasted without
attention on my Oyster for five years. Incidentally I use lanyards,
not turnbuckles, for tensioning the rigging. For the lanyards
I use 1/8ins dia pre-stretched terylene, and about 5 or 6 parts
The same iron wire is in use for the span on
the gunter yard. The use of a span makes adjustment of the peak
halliard unnecessary whilst reefing. There is a special span
shackle available, but I used an ordinary shackle until I was
able to get the right part. I put a turk’s head, of small
line, as a stopper on the span to prevent the shackle moving
too far forward when setting or lowering the sail.
I also use the same iron wire for part of the
throat halliard arrangement. In view of the need to have a tight
mainsail luff, I use a 2:1 purchase. The end of the halliard
is made fast to the masthead, then down to a block, on the end
of a wire, with the other end of the wire shackled to the yard
jaws. The halliard then goes up to a block at the masthead,
and down to its belaying pin. The wire thus used saves a few
feet of expensive pre-stretched terylene in the throat halliard.
Next Month: Running