Custom Search

By Rob Rohde-Szudy - Madison, Wisconsin - USA

Mast Tabernacles...Almost
…and other rigging improvements on a Bolger Light Schooner


I frequently stress the importance of reducing the time and effort it takes to get the boat set up and on the water. It can make a huge difference in how often you go boating. Sailboats are particularly in need of this kind of work and mast tabernacles are one of the best ways of reducing the fiddling.

In my case the payoff for having tabernacles would be especially good. Gaff rigs have lots of lines, and I have two masts worth. To be able to leave all that junk attached to the masts would be heaven!

But as always, it’s not that simple.

While I most often sail this boat, it is sometimes used as a power launch. So the masts have to retain their ability to be unstepped and removed. Worse, tabernacles normally hinge to the front of a bulkhead. These masts step in the middle of compartments, which would mean very tall tabernacles. This wouldn’t work with any kind of reasonable cover tarp at 65 mph on the highway. Changing this would require moving bulkheads, which would also demand switching from the daggerboard to a Michalak leeboard, as well as a complete redecking. These changes would probably be an improvement, but frankly I’d rather start from scratch than try to make changes of that scope.

I did have one idea for making tabernacles that were integral with a mast that fits the existing step.

However, this approach requires a steel tabernacle to stay slim, and this gets heavy in a hurry. It also is much easier to build square than round, which presents problems for gaff jaws.

On the other hand, the masts are not too heavy for me to lift. Maybe it would be simpler to develop a method for keeping the masts as is, and still leave the rigging attached.

Rig Simplification

The first thing to do was get rid of any strings we didn’t need. I found that the lazyjacks were not at all useful for me. When reefing it is just as easy to lower the reef points to deck level. When motoring with lowered sails, I would simply put a couple sail ties around the sail, boom and gaff, the re-hoist with the halyards. Or brail up to the mast in a calm. Losing the lazy jacks doesn’t seem like much, but with this many lines it noticeably reduces tangling.

Similarly I got rid of the staysail halyard, since I really never use it.

Boom Parrel Changes

The boom parrels presented a problem for this approach. If you set them tight enough to keep the jaws on the mast, the boom cannot brail up or lay down close to the mast without the parrel trying to break the jaws.

I replaced this with a simple piece of 3/16” Dacron line and a rolling hitch. That way it can be lengthened for folding up and snugged up when rigged.

I suppose it would work almost as well to use a clip and remove it when unrigging. But the rolling hitch approach has the advantage of supporting the boom at the jaws, which takes some strain off the sail ties holding the bundled sail, boom and gaff.


There is not much that needs to change in this regard, really. The one key element is that we need some way of holding the boom jaws to the mast above deck level. This could be a light eyebolt or the halyard cleat. All it needs to do is keep the boom out of the way while we get the mast stepped. In my case I had a cleat on each mast to keep the halyards under control while unstepping the naked mast. Now I unstep with the halyards loose, but the cleats are still sometimes handy for controlling the halyards after laying the masts down. But if I think they won’t tangle, it’s one less step to skip cleating them.

This worked really well. Here’s how it goes.

Setting Up

The masts still stow in their normal position in crutches in the mast steps. The sails hang down below them forward and splay out onto the center console midships, where they are tied down to the pinrails.

To erect the rig we first lift the masts out of the crutches and remove the crutches. While doing this, the masts are set to the side to be out of the way of the mast steps. The crutches are unceremoniously pitched on the ground, later to be stowed in the back of the Jeep.

Then we walk the foremast up and step it. The boom parrell gets hung up on the mast cleat, so it doesn’t fall down while we’re trying to step the mast.

The halyards had been loosely fastened to the mast cleat.

Once we cleat them to the pinrail, the foresail is ready. (The sheet doesn’t need to unclip from its horse anymore.) We repeat the process with the main, except we need to clip the sheet to the horse. If we want to clear the cockpits we can hoist the sails a little ways and cleat the sheets.

Finally, the jib. We now leave the jib tied down to the deck with a turn or two of tack line around the bundle. Before hoisting, however, the tack line needs to be tightened and cleated. Then hoist and sheet in. This normally happens after the boat is in the water, which I’m parking the tow vehicle.

Here's the jib stowed...

...and what's under the bundle.

Then we unroll the jib (any wind will do that for you) and pull it back on board. (It will be overboard.) Hitch on the halyard and throw a sail tie on the works until you want it.

We’re ready to launch! So far rigging took about 13 minutes including removing the light bar, shipping the rudder and putting in the drain plugs. This is a huge improvement over the 40 minutes it took before!

Before testing I also simplified the sheeting arrangement. I decided that Midwestern wind is a little too fluky to cleat the sheet as Bolger intended. So I got rid of the rings that guided the sheet down the boom. That was my dumb idea, not Bolger’s. It helped a little bit in keeping the sheet from snagging things, but slowed down sheet response unacceptably.

This brings us to the testing portion. Boy, am I glad I disentangled the sheet before this test.

Gusty Winds

We tested this rig in 15 mph wind gusting to 25-30. This is more than we normally go out it, but that made it a good test. (I made sure the motor was in prime shape before setting out!)

I knew we would be reefed, and as it turned out we had barely sailed out under reefed main alone when a big gust launched the sail tie off the reefed tack. Clearly the luff was under too much strain for my little jam cleat sail ties to do the job. I was very grateful I had changed the sheet to a “normal” hand-held arrangement. This was on a beam reach, by the way.

The gas tank had always been sort of in the way of the mainsheet, but with this kind of force I am amazed the entire tank didn’t get launched overboard. It certainly got roughed up and the hose got disconnected. This is about where my wife asked if she should put up the foresail. She should take up skydiving, or maybe bound knife fighting – you know, something safe.

After demanding to know whether she was out of her mind, I turned downwind to reduce strain and sort things out. Almost needless to say, another gust hit us hard and to avoid capsize I had to let the mainsheet fly. When the main boom thwacked against the foremast I think she started to guess that the rig was overpowered. Good thing there were no shrouds in the way. Smart guy, that Bolger fellow. (I should probably knock wood when telling you I still haven’t capsized a design that everybody says must be capsized.)

I turned back to a reach and then upwind so I could retrieve the sheet. The next gust put enough strain on my rudder to yank the steering cable right out of its cable clamp. I had the better half drop the main while I had a word with Mr. Evinrude.

Steering Upgrade

Well, first thing’s first – steering. I had been using steering cable clamps meant for outboard motors. Max Wawrzyniak recommends doubling them in his book, and I guess it stands to reason that an outboard motor applies less force to the cable than a big rudder under conditions of severe weather helm. But there’s no getting around those forces with this rudder design. It’s a big barn door with no balance area, and its tip sweeps dramatically backward, increasing the leverage of that unbalanced area.

This experience increases my conviction that I really need to build a Michalak pattern rudder, but in the meantime I switched to a different kind of cable clamp, and more of them. I'll probably switch to 3/8” pre-stretched Dacron line, for next year, actually. On my next outing I discovered that part of the plastic coating on the cable had stripped off. I am afraid this rudder is more than outboard motor cable can handle.

Time to fix the reef tack line.


I don’t really like “jiffy reefing” lines, since they tend to get caught on things. But I was sort of stuck with them here. It turns out that it’s not so bad if you have cleats to keep the lines from dangling where they don’t belong. Jiffy reefing lines do save some effort and risk in this case as well. The aft reefing point on the mainsail is right about over the transom. Reefing it requires some precarious perching over the motor well. Much better to simply haul in a line and cleat it.

With another cleat to grab the excess line, the reefing line doesn’t need to dangle on the motor and get caught on things. (This is the main thing I never liked about jiffy reefing.)

The jiffy reefing line to the tack doesn’t eliminate any danger, but it’s a lot stronger than a sail tie.

Also note that I replaced the original 1/8” Dacron tack sail tie with 3/16” Dacron. It does make a difference at the tack.

When I reef it there is extra line that I don’t want dangling in my face. I take it around another cleat on the boom.

Actually, fixing the reef tie turned out to be an opportunity to save even more time with setup. Finding sail ties in the bottom of the boat has always been a time-waster in striking the rig. It is much faster and easier, as well as more secure, to bundle the sail with cleats mounted right on the boom, and a line permanently mounted to the cleat. (The reef cleats are too far out at the ends to help much with bundling.) The bundling cleats are the “extra” cleats you saw above taking up the excess line from the jiffy reefing system.

Notice that these cleats also serve as reef ties if you put them in the right place. Just lace them through reef grommets in the sail. Be careful not to overtighten, though, or you’ll pull the draft out of the sail. Obviously this is handy if you want to pull some draft out the sail, but I typically can’t be bothered by such high-performance fiddling.

The only nuisance is that these lines dangle annoyingly in your face. This is easily remedied in the same way, only this time we don’t need a cleat. I added a small screw with a wide head an appropriate distance from the cleat.

Gas Tank

Lest you think I forgot, I did move the gas tank further from the sheet horse and a little lower. It seems to help.

The only reason I didn’t do this from the beginning is that it gets in the way of steering with the motor. However, I’ve since found that I steer with the rudder anyway. The only time I ever steered with the motor was in the case above where I lost the steering cable, and I can always move the tank into the cockpit in these hopefully-rare situations.

How it all works

In total, all of these changes got our setup time down to 12 minutes. Not bad at all for a schooner. And that is me setting it up alone!

The one time-waster still unaddressed is getting the cover tarp on and off. I am not counting that 5 minutes or so because we normally do it at home, but it is time that matters, so it must be dealt with. Eventually.

Rob Rohde-Szudy


Click Here for a List of Articles and Columns by Rob Rohde-Szudy

To comment on Duckworks articles, please visit our forum