Saturday, February 7, 2015

New Website - Currently on the steep side of the learning curve

For those of you who may have subscribed to the new website, I have an uncomfortable feeling that you may have been deluged with "New Posts" as I have been progressing with the process of learning the new software characteristics.  If so, please accept my sincere apologies.

The good news is that I'm reading and experimenting diligently, and progress is starting to take place. I hope to get the 'Designs' section and the embryo 'Shop' looking more professional in a few days.

Concurrently, I'm working on the construction of a new mast for a customer, and it promises to be a major step forward in 'home-workshop-buildable' masts and other spars, without the need to cut 'Bird's Mouth' profiles. Many people don't understand that very small errors in the setting-up of the saw or router for 'Bird's Mouth' staves can have a huge effect on the diameter of the finished spar. Also, unless you have a very well arranged table-saw or router table, the potential for disaster is substantial...

They say that, '..pride comes before you end up with mud on your face...', but I'm quietly confident that the prototype mast I'm making will be faster, safer, and easier to build, and will have one REALLY substantial advantage over a 'Bird's Mouth' spar in that the wall thickness as a percentage of spar diameter will remain constant over the length of the mast. In the case of a 'Bird's Mouth' mast, the wall thickness (in percentage terms) increases as the mast tapers towards the tip - so much so that many masts become effectively solid towards the tip - not what is wanted at all! We need to keep masts light - especially as we go higher.

More to come when I get through this website business.

I've got a number of boats under construction or repair, but design will dominate before too long.

Monday, February 2, 2015

New Website (almost) up

For several days now, the skeleton of my new website has been up and running.

This has been a longtime coming, mainly because of my relative ignorance of things to do with computers and IT.

 My previous website was brought into existence to give people access to the vast number of construction and rigging photos which I have available, and to save me the costs and, primarily, the time involved in sending repetitive emails to enquirers needing help and illustrations - a picture being worth a thousand words, I'm told...

Because of my general ignorance of matters relating to computers, I decided to use the most simple of programs, even though many people had told me it was out-of-date. That program was Microsoft FrontPage 2003, and it has served my very well indeed. I was able to follow the simple templates, and before long, I had a website which was simple to navigate (lots of basic buttons on the left-hand side of each page) and allowed me to put up many expandable-thumbnail galleries.

Despite my lack of computer knowledge, and scant knowledge of graphic design, the amateurish website has pulled in an average of between 2.7 and 3.4 million hits per annum for many years. That is page hits, by the way, not numbers of visits - but still not bad.

The new website, which is WordPress based, will display better on mobile devices, will support a shopping cart, will interface with social media (another thing I know almost nothing about), and will incorporate this blog and lots of other things - including, hopefully, a forum. That way YOU can be involved.

For those of you who have already subscribed, please be patient. I will be having a meeting with the website developer, (Julie from on Wednesday, February 4, and that is when control of the site will be handed over to me for further action - at the moment I can't respond to subscriptions. Julie has done a great job, but has only had a few bits of content from my old website to use in filling out the page content. Once I have official control, and have learnt how to drive the site, I'll start filling up the pages.

In addition to a lot of videos and new plan information, I will be starting to run an on-line shop which will market fittings, books, boatbuilding supplies such as paint, plywood, fibreglass, fastenings, specialty glues, epoxy, and sails etc., etc., Because of my one-man-band status, the development will take a little time. As for the stock in the store, I will be partnering with a selection of very well-known companies, and the materials on offer with be of very high-quality. For overseas customers in particular, my plan sets will be available as instant PDF downloads in addition to the existing printed sets. Printed sets are nice, but the postage which I pay can be as high as AUD$36 for some of the plans. I don't charge that much, so it has a big impact on the viability of my chosen business.

Finally, I am in the process of up-grading my design software, which until now has been of the most basic type. Disregarding hull modelling, which I do in a combination of 3D modelling programs, carved half-models, and hand-drawn lines, my actual plans drawings are done individual line-by-individual line (i.e. manually) using a basic 2D CAD program - AutoDESK (the AutoCAD people) AutoSKETCH 9. Most of my plans contain between 16 and 32 sheets of A3 paper, plus illustrated instruction booklets of up to 70 pages, so the production of a set of saleable plans represents a HUGE investment of time.

My proposed path into the 21st century with regard to drafting should result in better plans presentation, and with luck, exploded diagrams of sub-assemblies.

So folks, thank-you for your patience and support over the years, and stand-by for a bit more action and communication!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Following up on some comments

In relation to my post, "Lugsail Performance - Better than you may Imagine", Simeon writes: -

I know you've been busy with First Mate but some of us fans are still waiting for illumination on your comment from an earlier blog entry:

"In a later post I'll show you how you can improve the windward performance of the lugsail even more, using nothing more than a short length of V.B. cord."

Well, I have been very lax both in the writing of posts, and in the answering of comments. I'm sorry for that - it has been a combination of building a house, trying to catch-up of long overdue work (and in the process, putting food on the table), and having more plumbing work done on my heart (currently up to nine stents). Still, it is not an excuse for me being rude and dismissive.

Regarding the method of improving the performance of a lugsail when sailing on the wind, a clue lies in the sheeting arrangement on a Chinese lugsail.

My old boat, which is still sailing after 45 years, here sporting her Chinese Lugsail back in about 1990

The system I use to improve the performance of a lugsail is a very simple vang which which leads to the head of the yard. This vang system can also be used effectively with all varieties of lugsail (balance, standing, and dipping), the sprit rig, and the gaff-headed rigs of differing styles.

Most people are familiar with boom-vangs, but the vang I'm showing here operates at the top of the sail, and unlike boom-vangs, it is very lightly loaded, requiring only a light line. This is not an idea of mine - vangs like this have been in use so centuries - however, I suspect that my method of rigging and adjustment is novel.

In the above drawing, I've shown a small boat with a balance lugsail set close-hauled. For the sake of clarity, I have omitted the mainsheet from the sketch.

The vang is simply a length of 3mm (1/8") VB-cord made fast to the head of the yard. In the case of a sprit rig the vang attaches to the upper end of the sprit, or to the outer end of the gaff for a gaff-headed rig.

I have drawn the vang in red, and it runs down to a thumb cleat on the weather side of the transom, across to a simple fairlead on the rudder head, and then along the tiller to a small V-Jamb cleat or a little cam cleat located in a convenient position to allow adjustment. There is very little load on the vang, and it is quick and easy to adjust.

The vang is lead to the weather side so that the angle it makes up high is not too acute, therefore increasing the mechanical advantage. When tacking there is no handling required, because the vang slips out from under the thumb cleat of its own accord as the sail moves across the boat. After the tack has been completed and the boat has settled on the new course, it is a simple matter for the skipper to reach over and grab the vang as it blows out in a smooth curve from head of the sail down to the rudder, and slip it under the thumb cleat on what has become the new weather side of the transom.

For up-wind sailing, this simple vang allows one to adjust the amount of twist in the sail from boom to yard (or gaff, or sprit), greatly improving performance if the crew knows what they are doing. Some will tell you that you should have twist in a sail to take into account "wind gradient". Well, full-size empirical testing has shown that such a thing may be of value at very low wind speeds, but once the wind speed exceeds 6 knots, you are better off with minimum twist.

Sailing downwind, the very same vang can be used to prevent the yard/sprit/vang from going beyond 90 degrees to the centreline of the hull (70 or 80 degrees is better), therefore avoiding the dreaded "death roll".

In this photo of Phoenix III at rest, you can just make out the 1/8"/3mm vang blowing out in the breeze behind the sail. Obviously it has been completely loosened off, but it gives an idea.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

First Mate Sailing

There are quite a few examples of First Mate on the water now, but except in photographs, I haven't had the opportunity to see the boat sailing.

First Mate with the sprit rig option
I designed this boat for my friend, Ian Hamilton, who wanted a Phoenix III but didn't have the confidence to tackle such a building project. However, having previously built a Bolger Cartopper, he felt that a stitch-and-glue version would be within his capability.

As it turned out, Ian never did build the boat, so I came up with a deal where he would pay for materials, sails, trailer etc., and I would build the boat in my own time. This approach saved him a lot of the money normally required, and it allowed me to test the panel developments I had drawn - the most critical element in a stitch-and-glue boat design. A symbiotic process. The problem from Ian's point-of-view was that once I had proved the panel developments, there was no pressure on me to finish the job!

The stage at which Ian's boat lingered for a long time

Well, I've gradually got Ian's First Mate finished, and we've had three outings to carry out "Builder's Trials" - I'm absolutely thrilled with the results so far!

The video link below shows First Mate sailing off Manly, which is a bayside suburb on the south-eastern side of Brisbane, the State Capital of Queensland, Australia. Conditions were good, with about 15 knots of wind from the north-east, kicking up a short, steep chop. The rig on this particular boat is the 76 sq.ft. balance lug, but Ian will probably purchase the 104 sq.ft. sprit rig at a later date. Because both rigs use the same mast, in the same location, it is quite feasible to have interchangeable rigs for different styles of operation.

I was the one with the camera, and I'm afraid that there was nothing I could do about the camera shake in the choppy conditions. I was in a 12ft boat which has a quick motion, and was handling the camera with one hand. I have no idea why the final scene is in soft focus....but it is still worth watching. Skipper of the boat was one of my sons, David.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

On the subject of Lugsail Performance

Here is a very short clip showing First Mate during pre-delivery testing in brisk conditions off Manly, Queensland, Australia.

Note: the rig is the SMALL (76 sq.ft) balance lug rig). The standard Sprit rig is 104 sq.ft.

This is just a taster for a longer video I'll put up as soon as I can edit the raw material.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Lugsail Performance - Better than you may imagine

I've lost count of the number of times that I've read comments from people saying that lugsails may be simple to rig, easy to reef, and convenient to use, but that there is a high price to be paid for the good points, and that the price is poor performance to windward - especially when sailing without a jib and/or staysail.

Concentrating hard on getting our 45 yr/old dinghy up to windward in order to weather a sandbar, using a balance lug rig without a jib.

The prejudice against lug rigs is made worse because so many people are disturbed by the asymmetry of having the yard, boom and sail on only one side of the mast - to most theoretical observers it just seems wrong.

I admit to having suffered from the same prejudice, and the only thing that forced me to attempt an asymmetrical rig was my interest in Chinese lugsails. Back in 1984 I rigged my boat with a Chinese Lugsail (a.k.a. Chinese Junk rig) just so that I could learn about the performance and operation first-hand.

This rig proved to be an exceptionally good cruising rig, but it required lots of development work with the shaping of the battens before starting to really sail well. For heavy weather sailing in tough conditions, I've never had anything better. However, it was heavy and complex for use on a dinghy.

Well, despite the fact that professional seamen used lugsails for centuries, today's sailors seem to find it very difficult to overcome their feels regarding asymmetry and the perception of  poor windward performance.

Recently a group of sailing friends spent a few days at Lake Wivenhoe in south-east Queensland, Australia, and some interesting video has emerged (videos courtesy of Paul Hernes) showing Rick O'Donnell and John Shrapnel sailing against each other in Rick's Iain Oughtred-designed Fulmar and John in the Periwinkle I designed and built for him. On this particular day Rick had a single reef tied into his mainsail, and John had removed his 52 sq.ft mizzen sail altogether, so both boats were carrying reduced sail area.

Rick's Fulmar is somewhat longer than designed, as I believe that he increased the station spacing during construction, and I think she is about 18 ft LOA. Periwinkle is 17 ft LOA and has a cut-away forefoot, so she is handicapped by a significantly shorter LWL than Rick's Fulmar.

In the video below, you can see for yourself how the lugsail performs against a more conventional rig. Note that the lugsail is on the "bad tack" - i.e. the sail is wrapped around the mast, which is a frequently heard argument against the practicality of the "asymmetrical" lug.

So, don't be put off a lugsail just because you feel uncomfortable about asymmetry, or because you think they don't perform well to windward. Lugsails are cheap and easy to make, simple to handle, a breeze to reef, and very quick to rig and strike. The easier a boat is to rig and un-rig, the more likely it is that you will use her. In a later post I'll show you how you can improve the windward performance of the lugsail even more, using nothing more than a short length of V.B. cord.