Odds and Ends on Sail
by Alvan Eames

Running Rigging

Efficient setting of a gunter, or a gaff mainsail, demands the use of a two halliard system. The throat halliard has a two-part purchase, as outlined in the previous column. This enables a tight luff to be achieved. A little slack in the luff lacing at the throat allows the halliard to give a tight luff right along the yard to the peak, by pushing the yard up tight.

The proper way to set up a gunter sail, is to hoist the sail with the yard more or less horizontal, until the luff is fairly tight. Then pull up the peak into the right attitude. Swig up the throat halliard very tight and belay, and finally set the peak. The turk’s head on the span forms a stopper about a third of the way from the jaws end, and permits a fair lead for the peak halliard. Otherwise the span shackle would pull hard up towards the mast, and make for heavy hauling. Alternatively lash the span tight against the yard with two or three turns of small line. This is also beneficial if the span is so slack as to make the peaking up of the sail impossible.

It is one of the advantages of the gaff or gunter rig, that the sail can be lowered when the craft is not luffed up head to wind. It is advisable to employ twin topping lifts, in order to control the yard when lowering. They may be rigged as one continuous line from the masthead to a block at the end of the boom, back up to a block at the masthead, and then down to a cleat. However, I found it better to use two separate lifts, from the boom end, up to small cheek blocks on either side of the mast and down to small cleats on the gunwales just aft of the shrouds, one each side. If the topping lifts are made from good line of at least 1/4ins dia, they may very well serve as spare halliards in an emergency. The need for twin lifts is that they gather up the sail when lowering, and prevent it from going into the sea. This particular attribute may be usefully improved by the addition of a lazyjack passing under the boom and making fast to the lifts about halfway up each. A boat rigged as described might seem to use a lot of line, but each piece has a useful role, and makes for efficiency in sailing.

A boat need not be a mess of ironwork. It is better, and cheaper, to use a hitch or tie instead of a shackle for many purposes, such as halliard to jib.

The mainsheet warrants care and thought in its arrangement. The mainsail of the Oyster is 113 square feet, and a two-part purchase is sufficient for winds up to force three, but when the wind gets up to F4 or more, then 3:1 is more comfortable. This can be arranged by the use of a double-ended mainsheet. From a cleat on one side of the cockpit area the sheet passes round a block on the quarter, up to a becketed block at the end of the boom, down to the other quarter block and then the tail finally to hand or a cleat. This gives the 2:1 purchase. When the wind gets up, the shorter end is removed from the cleat and made fast to the becket on the boom end block, using a buntline hitch, or any other suitable knot or tie, thus giving a 3:1 advantage.

Buntline Hitch

The foresail, too, must be set with a tight luff for efficient sailing on the wind, and a good way of using a 3:1 halliard purchase obviates the need for a tack downhaul. The end of the halliard is hitched to the head of the jib, or perhaps the upper swivel of the furling gear, and passed round the block at the masthead, then down to about a foot from the cleat or belaying pin, where it is attached to the top of a small becketed block. From the becket a length of a lighter line comes down to hand. The tail is passed round the belaying pin, or cleat, back through the block, hauled down and made fast. It will be apparent that a snatch block would be the more elegant method, but any small block could be used, by having the length of the tail passed round the sheave, pulled tight and then, when hauled down, the loop is passed round the belaying pin, and hauled up using the tail. There you have it…a 3:1 purchase, which on my boat is sufficient to bend the mast.

It is not necessary to use a shackle for attaching the sheets to the clew of the jib. A cheaper, lighter and possibly less painful way is to make up a short line of small stuff with a turk’s head at one end, and a spliced loop at the other. This is hitched to the middle of the rope used for the jib sheets. The loop is passed through the eye in the clew of the sail and is secured by putting the turk’s head through the loop. If the lengths are carefully arranged, no amount of flogging can dislodge it, and it is instantly put on or taken off. It is also kinder to the crew when it strikes the side of the head. The jibsheet fairleads are mounted about a foot inboard, on my Oyster. Many tubby cruisers have their fairleads far too far from the centre line for sailing close to the wind.

All my halliards are made fast to belaying pins through the mast thwart. They are spaced out fairly well so that they provide extra staying for the mast.

A tallow box is a good thing to have on any boat. Mine is made of wood and it is in constant use for the greasing of shackle pins, and dressing the leather lining of the gaff jaws.

It is not necessary to buy expensive blocks made of stainless steel or plastic etc, when common unstropped wooden blocks are available. I used to buy ex-WD blocks from a firm called Thomas Foulkes at a very cheap price, by the dozen, and strops are very easily made up.

To make a strop you will need a piece of rope that will fit nicely in the groove of the block and about three and a half times the length needed to go round the block and the thimble. One thimble is needed for an ordinary block, and two for a becketed one.

Unlay the rope into its three separate strands, and, taking one of the strands, tie a simple overhand knot and pull it tight to about the size desired. If the kinks in the rope cause the knot to lie tidily in the grooves, then all is well. If it will not pull down tidily (tiddly) then undo it and retie it the other way. Then, having pulled the loop down to the right size, you simply take one end of the piece and lay it up back into the lay until only an inch or so is left, and then do the same with the other end. All that remains is to tuck the ends in, as on a simple splice as neatly as possible; put the rope ring onto the block, add the thimble (s) and a tight whipping is clapped on. This is a very satisfying task, and is much better than watching television. A stropped block with a long tail is every bit as effective as an expensive swivel block for many applications on a boat.

A similar method may be used to put an eyesplice into a rope. Unlay one strand only to the desired length, and taking the single strand in one hand, and the double in the other, tie a simple overhand knot, right over left, and pull down to the required size. Then lay up first the single strand, and then the double, until the eye is completed. The tails are tucked in the usual manner. And I would wager that the finished job is less likely to pull out, than an ordinary eye splice.

The Dutch, in general, are very able seamen, and it is said that they can sometimes be considered a trifle parsimonious. That is perhaps unfair, but one of their ploys deserves a mention. To splice an eye in a rope necessarily uses (wastes) a bit of length. The Dutch use a simple tuck splice that does not involve unlaying the rope at all. It is easily and quickly made, very secure, and readily undone to leave the rope at the original length. The rope is looped round to the wanted size, either a soft loop or round a thimble, and the tail is tucked under one strand, then a second, and then a third. All different strands, of course, with each tuck a short distance from the next. Perhaps a fourth tuck would be desirable with hard synthetic rope. As a matter of interest I put a common splice into one end of a six foot piece of polypropylene line, and a Dutch splice into the other. I then fastened one end to an immovable object and the other to the towbar of a Landrover, and tested it to destruction. The common splice pulled out after the line stretched to twice the length.

a simple Dutch tuck splice

My tiller is made from the shaft of a large felling axe, which is quite shapely, and is made from ash wood. I cut a large notch in the forward end of it, which enables a length of shock cord, loosely rigged between the two quarter knees, to be hauled out, dropped into the notch, thus holding the helm steady. Useful when sailing single-handed.

To assist in rope splicing, a hollow fid is very useful, and I have also made use of an old gadget which was originally made for carpet pegging. It is a wood handle with a spike at the end, with a trigger which opens a jaw. The effect is rather like a pair of long-jawed pliers with a spring to keep the jaws closed. They were in common usein the early part of the last century, in the North of England, where I live.


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