A Boat on the Side

In Defence of the Lugsail Yawl

We are occasionally asked about alternative rigs for our boats. I try to explain, as best I can, my reasons for retaining the lug or gaff cutter rig.

Over the centuries these rigs have evolved to be the best suited to a hard working life at sea in small boats. As our boats have a good deal of workboat DNA in them, why would I presume to know better? After hundreds of years and millions of sea miles I’d suggest they’ve been well and truly proven.

A few weeks back someone asked about putting a cat rig on a Stornaway. Here’s why I wouldn’t. In the interests of ultimate simplicity, the very first Scruffie 16 was cat rigged with a single standing lug mainsail, set well forward. On her first day on the water she went very well – straight and true out of the box and straight and true clear across the Broadwater. The next few shakedown sails were in gentle conditions and all was well, however the first time out in blustery, choppy conditions led to her being caught in the stays a couple of times, once perilously close to a stone jetty. Small jibs were fitted soon afterwards and like catamarans, occasionally used to push them round when tacking.

The American Catboat is wide and shallow and pivots well on a centerboard. Most of them point quite well and their dish-like sections offer little resistance to turning.

A 24-foot Atlantic City Catboat

Stornaways, with their workboat style long ballasted keels, are not, of course, quite as quick to tack but offer a multitude of important compensations, especially where it counts – when the going gets tough.

Let’s look at the rig, starting with the main mast. While our smallest model, the Shimmy, is unstayed like the catboats, all others are stayed with two side and one forestay. Our mainmasts are hollow and are bolted to a small tabernacle on the foredeck or cabin roof. It’s a two or three minute job for the skipper to raise them. The unstayed cat masts are proportionally much longer and heavier on a substantial tabernacle. This dramatically increases the heeling moment. Many traditional Norfolk Broads boats use a high tabernacle with lead weight at the heel to counterbalance the mast which makes raising and lowering much easier but adds an awful lot of unwanted weight to the deck. Some American Sharpies use a high tabernacle to ease the burden but it’s still adding weight where it’s not wanted. Of course you can use carbon fibre but you’ll need deep, deep pockets. We looked at it once and fell into a swoon. Smelling salts were administered and we soon came round.

The Stornaway 18s took the Scruffie 16 rig  a stage further via a neat bowsprit and a roller furling genoa plus a small unstayed lug mizzen – the lugsail yawl. When our sailmaker, Ben Kelly, entered the picture the mains underwent a major change to a battened roach, smaller yard and much better cut – less weight aloft, less area but more power. I instigated offset tack cringles to retain a better shape when reefed and rope strops to hold the leading edge of the rolled up sail. The mains are fitted with a brailing line so main and jib are de-powered in seconds. The original jib became a storm jib.

Pete Goss's Spirit of Mystery arriving in Sydney 154 years after the original 19th Century lugger sailed from Cornwall.

The mizzen, of course, is an excellent steadying sail still used on countless motor fishing boats. To heave to on a Stornaway, furl the genoa, gather up the main with the brailing line and sheet in the mizzen. She’ll fore reach all day without a murmur. The unstayed mizzen can be grabbed by the boom and used as a brake or if you’re like me, to show off by reversing under sail. Another huge advantage is the ability to sail perfectly well on all points under genoa and mizzen alone. Our skippers sail countless relaxed sea miles this way. As all lines lead aft to the helmsman and there’s no centerboard to jamb or to trip over, it’s all very civilized and safe. I once sailed a Stornaway in a ferocious white streaked storm under reefed mizzen and storm jib without touching the tiller. She took it all in her stride.

The lugsail (itself an evolution of the squaresail) as a yawl, for my money, is simply the best. Careful fine tuning of hull and rig have increased all round ability dramatically. Upwind they’re now better then ever and offwind they fly. They can be rigged and launched single-handed in under ten minutes and if you can’t do that you’re not going to go sailing as much as you’d like.

Cue song:

♫ ♪  Summertime and the rigging is easy

Fish are jumping and the skipper is high ♫ ♪

Finally, on the ever of Australia’s federal election, I am inspired to quote from the venerable Book of Oz Chapter 9 vs 99. “Blessed are the mediocre, for they shall inherit the dearth.”      

STOP PRESS:  Annette was searching the net for photos of notable luggers and catboats and came across this gem from the archives of the New York Times.

From the New York Times Archives
Filed under: The Boats Leave a comment
Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.