A bit about the dismasting...

08 07 2013 Posted by Daniel

I’d like to take a few steps back in time and discuss the major event which precipitated this new rig work. You can read the initial post and the follow-up starting here.

I was dismasted enroute to Bermuda from the Florida Keys. The dismasting occurred upwind, in 18-22kts of wind, with a long 6-8 foot swell running. Good sailing, and I was close hauled and moving nicely. Around midday I was belowdecks and felt the mast snap and fall overboard. I say “felt” because when the boat is under sail close hauled in those conditions there’s a definite driving (and heeling) force from the mast and when that force changes suddenly it’s very noticeable. We (that is to say, the boat and I, since no one else was on board) were suddenly bobbing instead of sailing, and I had a very large tangle of rigging and sails leaning off the port side.

Since conditions were fairly stable I took the time to make a full assessment of the situation. One of the first things I did was to pull on each of the shrouds to see if any had failed and to see if I could reposition the rig underwater to better see what had happened. Pulling on the lower starboard shrouds (the ones under tension on the upwind tack I had previously been on) revealed two cleanly fractured titanium tangs, the metal pieces which bolted the shrouds to the mast. These tangs were made by Colligo Marine and were sold to me with the verbal statement that they were “massively overengineered” and would last longer than the boat. They were less than a year old and had seen only one other offshore passage of any significance - my relatively benign Gulf of Mexico crossing which only featured one squall in 23 days of light wind sailing. I was able to reposition the rig underwater enough to see that the mast had folded in half at the spreaders, that the cap shrouds were definitely still attached all the way up, and that further recovery of the rig would be impossible by a single person. So after taking what photographs I could, I let the whole lot go.

The fractured tang pieces.

Without going into a lot of detail, suffice it to say that Colligo Marine did not accept liability for the incident and mentioned that since their tangs were so well made, clearly something else had caused the problem and the tang breakage was a result of overstressing these “overengineered” components (clearly without breaking or even damaging any of the considerably weaker parts attached to them) through some other force unseen and not leaving any observed evidence of it’s existence (beyond the broken tangs, of course).

I’m not at present legally able to say, without risk of libel, that their tangs caused my dismasting.

But for a company who makes mission critical parts to so distance themselves from any liability possible from a situation in which a component of theirs broke — this does not encourage me to recommend them.

There’s a bit of an epilogue to this incident as well… I’ve just heard personally from another friend of mine that their rig also dismasted, in similar conditions. Guess where the failure was visibly observed to originate from? Yep, titanium Colligo tangs on the lower shrouds. They watched it come down, and according to a verbal conversation I just had with them, the lower shrouds fractured and let go first, with the tangs cleanly fracturing along the bend line (just as mine had), crumpled at the spreaders, just like mine, and went over on the lee side. Again the rig was unrecoverable, and again the cap shrouds remained intact and attached. Since they were observing their rig at the time it let go, this gives me more confidence in my assessment of my situation, and given that two pairs of these same “overengineered” tangs from the same vendor have now fractured at the same location under similar circumstances, well, you can draw your own conclusions.

I recommend you forward this article to any of your friends who may be considering or have already equipped their boat with Colligo Marine titanium tangs, especially on the lower shrouds. I’m not drawing any conclusions here, just presenting facts and (experienced) opinion, but what happened happened and now there are two boats who have lost rigs when equipped with the same gear. Let’s prevent it from happening to a third boat.

Just a brief interlude...

25 06 2013 Posted by Daniel

It was nice the other day. So I went sailing.

Special thanks to my buddy Hunter for the photo.

Click on it for a bigger but still a bit blurry version.


Junk Rig Conversion Part 7 - Putting it all together

30 05 2013 Posted by Daniel

With the sails complete, I headed back to ALETHEIA with my fingers crossed, hoping the sails would fit the spars and constraints onboard.

Bending them on was fairly straightforward, but since it was done on a slightly-windier-than-advisable day I was not able to take detailed photos of the process. Fortunately Susie and Stan Marshall, boat neighbors across the dock from me, were out and Susie took some great shots as the sails went up. So at least you can see part of the process.

Since completing the dodger I also had to make the booms and yards for the sails. These spars are effectively long wooden poles, with some custom shaping, to which the sail is tied. The yard is at the top of the sail, the boom is at the bottom. For those of you not familiar with nautical terminology, you may have heard the phrase in a movie about tall ships: “Haul the Yards!” and the process of hoisting the sail by heaving on lines which lift these yards is precisely what they are talking about. From this longer phrase comes the term “halyard” which is nowadays used to refer to the line which hoists the sail.

Making the Yard and Boom

The yard and boom both started out as Douglas-Fir lumber which I obtained from a local building supply company:

I first glued them to the appropriate thickness using standard Titebond III waterproof wood glue:

Then shaped them to size and finished the edges with a circular saw and router:

After an epoxy coat and some white paint, I added attachment points (click to enlarge):

And painted the ends red for a jaunty appearance (click to enlarge):

The Battens

The yard and the boom are two of the main pieces which help the Chinese lug sail hold it’s unique fan shape, but there are also the very important “ribs” in the middle of the fan - these parts are called battens and are also commonly made of wood or bamboo. In my case, I’m making them using a slightly experimental technique (although demonstrated to work by some very well known designers and sailors already - I’m not jumping out on a complete limb here). My battens will be made of PVC pipe, which of itself is too flexible and not stiff, but is perfectly strong. To stiffen it, I’m inserting a wooden core for a part of the length of the pipe, making it stiffer where it needs to be and allowing flexibility in the front, also where it is desirable. The hope is that this combination of flexible stiffness will make for a batten which holds better shape and allowing the sail to develop proper shape more readily.

Like the yards and booms, the wooden batten cores (there are 11 of them, plus 2 spares) started out life as Douglas-Fir lumber.

Painted white for protection from water:

Inserted into a forest of PVC pipes:

And finally I melted and sanded the pipe ends so that they would have the least chance of chafing the sail:

Prepping the masts

Before I could hang anything off the masts, though, I needed to do a few final bits of preparation. When I installed the masts on the boat, I put them up with a single halyard and planned to climb the masts later for both inspection and to install the remaining halyards, lazyjacks, and other miscellaneous lines necessary for the sails. I also did NOT realize that the masts were far too rough for sliding sails up and down and would need to be sanded further. So up I went, with a sander in my hand, for two hours of grueling, unpleasant, dusty sanding in full respirator and eye protection in the face of a 15 knot breeze. This was my least favorite part of the job short of fiberglass grinding. It didn’t itch as bad afterwards but it was certainly miserable during the process. I am not sure anybody else in the history of sailing has had to climb their mast and top-down sand the entire thing in complete circumference, then climb the foremast and do it all over again. Lesson learned.

The next day I climbed the masts again, this time to install all of the other halyards and lines I had hoped to do the first time.

In short I added, for each mast:

  • Main Halyard on a 3:1 purchase.

  • Jib or Staysail Halyard, single part.

  • Two running backstays, one per side.

  • Two “topping lifts” or lazyjacks, one per side.

  • One mast lift.

I may or may not add a dedicated flag halyard as well, later on.

Bending on the sails

The basic process of attaching the sails to the masts so that they become functional is called “bending on”. The sail is taken to the mast, along with it’s yard, boom, and battens. For a sail of the size which I was working, I first hung the boom in the lazyjacks, set the yard on top of it, and attached the halyard. Hanging the sail took several further steps:

  1. The sail was hung from the halyard by tying the nock (or throat) and the peak to the yard. These are the two corners of the sail on the top. Then all along the length of the yard, the sail is tied every foot or so to hold it close to the yard. After that’s done, a strip of wood is screwed to the inside of the yard to help reduce damage from banging into the mast.

  2. The sail was then hoisted until the first batten pocket was visible. The batten was inserted into the pocket, a sleeve of firehose was added to the batten to protect it from the mast, and the batten was firmly lashed to the luff of the sail (that’s the front edge, for you landlubbers).

  3. Then, to hold the batten in roughly the right spot, a bit of line called a parrel is tied between the forward end of the batten, around the mast, and back onto the batten a ways back from the mast. This bit of line holds the batten snug to the mast and transfers the force of the sail to the mast, and thus to the boat.

  4. With the batten and parrel properly in place, the sail is hoisted to the next batten pocket and the preceding two steps are repeated until the last batten is installed.

  5. Finally, the sail is lashed to the boom in a similar fashion as it was to the yard.

But that’s not all! The sail should now hang roughly as intended on the mast, but it needs several more controlling lines to help shape it and direct it’s force. The most important at this point are the yard hauling parrel, the luff hauling parrel, and the sheets. It would take a book to describe all of these lines and how they work effectively (see my previous post on sailmaking for some very good places to start), but the gist is that each of these requires a bit more fiddling with the sail, some trial and error to make them fit right, and, as always, a nice cold beer when the job’s done.

Here are some sequential shots of the sails going up on ALETHEIA, many of which were taken by my friends Stan and Susie.

The foresail bent on to the yard and with the first batten in place. Right now the parrel on the batten has not yet been installed, nor has the firehose.

The mainsail on it’s way up, as I’m inserting one of the lower battens (click to enlarge).

The mainsail fully hoisted after installing all of the battens. You can clearly see the red firehose and the dangling ends of the batten parrels at each batten. I’ll trim those once I take the boat for a test sail or two and get the tension set right (click to enlarge).

A closer detail look at the interaction between dodger, mast, and sail. The sail is swung far out to port here so it looks much smaller than it is.

A shot of the foresail fully hoisted while I was tweaking one of the parrels (click to enlarge).

Another shot of the setup process from a different angle. You can more clearly see the sheets from here (click to enlarge):

The sails are ever so slightly too long, but as they measured to specification I’m pretty sure that’s because the masts were either slightly short from the factory or are buried a bit more in the boat than planned. If it becomes a problem, I can simply shorten the last panel on each sail to make up the difference. However, for now it appears they should work just fine.

Last but not least

With the sails attached and the control lines installed, there were just a few remaining details. In order to use the control lines while sailing, it helps to run them all back to the cockpit so you can adjust the sails from one place, preferably while shielded from the weather. So I needed to create a smooth-running set of pulleys and guides to help make the path of all these control lines clear and organized. These components, commonly called fairleads and deck organizers, are essential to preventing tangles and confusion, especially when things get rough.

Some of the deck organizers I fabricated out of scrap aluminum and delrin sheaves:

With the lines going back to the cabin top, I needed to move my primary winches to help with the halyards. Hoisting those sails with the battens is doable but not by any means easy, especially under a strong press of wind, so having these winches handy will help, particularly when shaking out reefs in inclement weather.

I added some turning blocks to the base of the masts to align the lines with the deck organizers.

Then the lines run cleanly down the deck inside the dodger to the cockpit:

The lines from the mainmast do something similar, although shorter:

This is pretty much the completion of the construction work required to re-rig and re-fit ALETHEIA. After a few interior projects, I’ll be moving her out to an anchorage and living there for a while as I take her for a variety of test sails here in the bay. After that, who knows? Stay tuned!


Junk Rig Conversion Part 6 - Sewing the Sails

24 05 2013 Posted by Daniel

I took a break in the middle of the dodger project to visit a friend’s apartment cross-country for a week. It was a great space to assemble the sails, so I took full advantage of the opportunity. Carrying a sewing machine through the airport, especially one as heavy as the Sailrite LSZ-1, was not a fun job, but it all worked out in the end.

I don’t plan to go into too much detail on the process here, as sewing junk sails is something of a unique process to each sail and craft, but the general gist of it is well written in many books. Some of the references I have used are:

Practical Junk Rig by Hassler and McLeod, which is considered the modern “bible” of junk rig design.

Thomas Colvin’s excellent Sailmaking, a book written by a man who has spent the majority of his life aboard, building, or designing junk rigs of various kinds, with a particular emphasis on the traditional Chinese styles.

And the fine folks at the Junk Rig Association, in whose company are some of the finest and best known round-the-world and adventure sailors alive today. Without their help this project would not have gotten off as well as it has so far.

I also solicited advice from my designer, naval architect Tad Roberts and fellow sailing conspirator RLW at the fantastic Boat Bits blog, whom I mention here from time to time. His other site, Volkscruiser, focuses on simple sailing designs and philosophy for the average person, and I highly recommend it as well.

So, with the proper credits where they are due, and armed with a bevy of ideas, I set out to translate the design of my sails as handed to me by Tad into a physical creation of cloth, thread, webbing, and brass grommets that would hopefully actually fit my boat.

For those of you hoping for some more technical information, here you go.

Fabric is Odyssey III, a fairly lightweight (~7.5 oz) waterproof, UV resistant acrylic-coated polyester fabric designed as a cover and awning material. As a result it is somewhat more UV durable than standard dacron sailcloth, although I expect to make covers for my sails nevertheless at some point. Total construction time for the two sails was approximately 96 man-hours, but the mainsail took about 2/3 of this as I was figuring things out as I went. The foresail went significantly faster as I began learning some tricks to speed the work up. I believe that, with help, I could knock out both of these sails again in about half the time, especially if I had a more suitable work area like a place with a slick floor and not carpet.

The foresail is roughly 29 square metres, and the mainsail is roughly 31 sqm. in area, each of them have a pseudo-parallelogram for all but the two topmost panels, and the very topmost panel is a large triangular storm sail akin to a “crab claw” sail which reportedly is a very good sail shape for high winds. This panel has an area of about 4.7 sqm. for each sail.

The general sail shape is reminiscent of the suite of sails designed for the famous Badger, sailed by Annie and Pete Hill for many years, with the batten angles changed slightly to enhance the fanning and natural cambering of a flat-cut sail. There is zero camber in the panels. The aspect ratio is pretty close to 3:1. There are 6 battens in the main and 5 in the fore. I’ll go into more detail on the battens, yard and boom construction, and actual rigging in the next post of this series.

Now that they are made and the dimensions doublechecked (they came out within an inch of all expected dimensions!), I just hope they fit the boat!

The following photographs show portions of the process, along with a member of my loyal shore crew.

An "instant" fiberglass hard dodger - Part 3, Putting it all together

23 05 2013 Posted by Daniel

Last I left off, the dodger and arch were roughly in place, but completely unfinished.

After fitting the arch in place, I connected the arch and the dodger via some handrails which I made out of Alaskan Cedar, a strong, lightweight wood.

I bonded the dodger to the deck with a heavy fillet of thickened epoxy and three layers of 9 ounce fiberglass tape.

Once that was cured and sanded, and the rough parts of the dodger filled in and faired, it was time for paint.

The solar panels were refitted, using the mounts I’d fabricated earlier during the test fit.

I very carefully measured, then cut and epoxy sealed the window frames.

And finally cut the windows themselves out of 1/4” Lexan polycarbonate, for which I was fortunately able to find a local direct source (SABIC, the company who bought the Lexan brand, has a commercial sales group in Charleston and has excellent prices as there are no middlemen, effectively).

The end result is, to my eye, quite nice:

After all of that work, it is finally time to rig the sails!