Portland Pudgy ~ Junk Rig Conversion

*** A version of this article will be appearing in the February, 2019 Junk Rig Association magazine; for unfamiliar terminology, be sure to check out the links in the “glossary” tab at the top of the Auklet blog. For loads more information on junk rig, and to receive the upcoming JR dinghy issue electronically or in print, consider joining the JRA! https://junkrigassociation.org/join_jra ***

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The Portland Pudgy is a roto-molded polyethylene double walled 7’8″ dinghy, marketed as a combination dinghy/lifeboat for cruising sailors. A sailing rig, designed to break down and stow in the compartment in between the inner and outer hull, is available complete with a telescoping aluminum mast. In many ways the original sailing rig is well thought out, but it is not designed with easy reefing in mind. Other than the reefing issue, the Pudgy is an outstanding boat for sailing on its own. This made my own Pudgy, Marigold, seem a particularly good candidate for conversion to junk rig, for local sailing from our tidal dock. An endearing characteristic of the design is that when the boat is not loaded the drain plug can be removed, which makes the cockpit self bailing, so the boat requires no attention after heavy rains. All Marigold needed was a junk rig to make the sailing just as easy.

The original rig, perpetually reefed for safety when gusty wind could come up at short notice. Photo credit: Suzanne Jean

Fortunately, this Pudgy JR conversion has been done before! Marcus Raimon, and his little Portland Pudgy Pugwash, have already demonstrated just how well it can work. Marcus kindly provided dimensions of his rig, which made for a great starting point.

Designing and building Marigold‘s junk rig was fairly straightforward. The boat already had mast partners and step, rudder and tiller, and daggerboards that fit into molded slots port and starboard. Looking at the book Practical Junk Rig, and thinking about the length of the boat, it seemed appealing to go with a Hasler/McLeod sail, with a 6 foot batten length that was only slightly longer than what Marcus was using.
We really miss Theo, since moving from Holyoke – she did such beautiful drawings, but we are muddling through. Suzanne and I traced this picture from Practical Junk Rig, and then filled in the measurements. This method really suffered at the throat of the sail, because of the small scale, and I can think of better ways to do it now, to more clearly show that topmost 4 inches of the luff. But I’m including this rough sketch and notes to show that you really can make it work anyway.

This is what we built the sail from, and it does still drive the boat, including upwind. Approximate math tells us that the sail is in the neighborhood of 45-47 square feet, without the missing bottom panel, which would add another 7.25 square feet. The diagonal measurement of 7’9.5″ sets the angle of the lower battens, which are intentionally not 90° in the H-M design. That diagonal line should land right at the throat, where the yard meets the sail, and there should be 2 inches, on center, from the uppermost parallel batten to the fanned batten, and then two inches again to the yard. But it works even if you goof that up a little bit, as we did…

Construction was a simple operation with UV stabilized polytarp, cord, and tape, with no sewing whatsoever. Our approach followed the assembly guidelines on the website http://www.PDRacer.com, as well as instructions that came with a different sail kit from PolySail International, saved from another project. In the end, we used bright orange UV stabilized polytarp, bought from a generic tarp store online. The color was chosen in hopes of avoiding getting run over while sailing such a small boat.

Starting off with a flat sail design made layout particularly easy, with one complication. Actual tarp sizes are smaller than the dimensions under which they are sold. The original sail plan called for five parallelogram panels, which we happily laid out… And discovered that the fanned top of the sail ran right off the edge of the tarp. Nominal and actual tarp dimensions are not the same! Which I knew, but had not realized by quite how much. Photo above and below: Suzanne Jean

This was solved by redrawing, with one less parallelogram panel, and rubbing off the original lines.

With the outline in place, and batten positions marked for later, the next step was to put double-sided carpet tape just to the outside of the perimeter outline.

Below, Suzanne is trimming the excess tarp from the outside of that additional width of tape.

Once the tarp (now a sail cutout) was down to a manageable size, most of the rest of the work took place indoors, where it was considerably warmer. A non-stretch polyester perimeter line was laid alongside the inside edge of the double-sided carpet tape, the second backing pulled off, and the edge of the tarp folded across the non-stretch line and stuck down with the tape. Because we used tape rather than stitching, the usual edge-webbing for junk rig sail construction would not work, but the line folded into the tarp seems to be doing the job just fine for this small sail. Shemaya folding in perimeter line. Photo: Suzanne Jean

Corner patches were added to the head and throat, using more double-sided tape and triangles of tarp.

After all that was in place we added Gorilla Tape – especially heavy-duty duct tape – to cover all the folded edges. I believe that the layers of tape are also helping to take the place of the webbing that would normally be added to the perimeter of a stitched JR sail. The purpose of the webbing is to prevent stretch; the tape layers seem to be adding quite a bit of additional support to the perimeter line, together making the edge of the sail quite stable.

Once the tape was on, grommets went in at the head and throat. This could be done more simply, but we had the grommet kit already, so we went ahead with this version. For an effective low-cost alternative, check out this riveted “jiffy grommet” available from Sailrite (link included for readers’ convenience – I am not receiving anything for printing it): https://www.sailrite.com/Jiffy-Grommet

Photos below are of regular spurred grommet installation with hammer and dies.

Battens were attached next, made up of 1/2″ OD x .035 wall thickness aluminum tube (https://www.onlinemetals.com/merchant.cfm?pid=4352&step=4&showunits=inches&id=71&top_cat=60 – nope, not receiving anything for posting). Wooden molding from the hardware store went on the other side of the tarp, with plastic wire ties sandwiching it all together. We simply used an awl to poke the holes, not being inspired about breathing burning plastic that would have come with the method that involves burning – and thus sealing – holes with a soldering iron. The small holes seem to be holding up just fine in use, without the melting. Machine screws, with flat washers and nyloc nuts, fasten the batten ends, and the same screws hold webbing loops for attaching rigging. If I were to do this again, I would fasten the aft webbing loops so as to straddle the ends of the battens, which would help the sheetlets avoid getting stuck on one side when tacking. It was a bit of an ordeal getting the machine screws through the heavy tape, so I’m in no hurry to take it apart just to change it over.

The yard was not yet in place in the above photo, but it’s just a piece of dowel “closet rod” from the hardware store, 1 1/8″ in diameter. I was concerned that this might not be strong enough, and planned that if there were a problem I would add more material by lashing it on, but it seems to be just fine in use as it is. The yard is attached to the sail with plastic wire ties, as well as with lashing through holes drilled at either end for tying to the head and throat grommets.

The boom is simply another batten, on the foot of the sail, with no extra reinforcement. It’s an endearing characteristic of junk rig that the boom carries very little strain, because the sheet parts go to each batten. For this reason the boom can be lightweight, making it much less of a swinging hazard than the heavier Western variety.

The masthead fitting is particularly important in a junk rig, because of the various lines that support the sail bundle. This fitting is ordinarily a custom metal band or cap with rings for attaching the rigging. The one for Marigold, however, is made out of webbing. My many thanks go to Annie Hill for this suggestion, which is what she did on her bigger boat Fantail; the webbing masthead fitting is easy, lightweight, and simple, and works like a charm. It fits snugly on the top of the mast, and though I had originally planned to add a couple of small screws to make sure it stayed in place, inertia set in and I decided to try it without. With all the downward pull of the lines, the webbing has shown no inclination whatsoever to come loose, and being such a small dinghy it has felt acceptable to leave the webbing unfastened, avoiding holes in the wood and possible water issues with screws that are removed every year.

One caveat is that it’s important to use webbing that is UV stable. The polypropylene that is often used for sail ties will degrade in the sun in short order, completely losing its strength and becoming a safety hazard. Polyester is more suitable, as are some of the high-tech modern materials, though I used nylon because I had it on hand. The nylon seems to be working out just fine; in this use there is no problem if it stretches a bit, and it appears to be holding up well enough to the sun. For a detailed discussion of webbing material characteristics, see http://www.sailrite.com/Notions/Webbings. (Link included for readers’ convenience – I am not receiving anything for printing it.)

The knot seen in the masthead fitting picture below is the “water bowline,” which I happened to come across last year; it has become my new favorite knot. This photo was taken after the end of the sailing season, without any adjustment or retightening. The water bowline has been great for rigging, because even with slippery modern line it does not work loose on its own in the way that regular bowlines or two half hitches often do when they are unloaded and shaken, as happens so often on a sailboat. I’m delighted to have done away with using waxed thread to secure the tail of every rigging knot. As an aside, here’s my favorite video for how to tie this knot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDhqEtfWCcg Shown on a scrap of dowel, not the actual mast. Photo: Suzanne Jean

Once we had all the various pieces in order, we had a tremendous amount of fun rigging the whole thing in the living room. I could not be more pleased at the ease of working on such a small sailboat rig. My fun seems to be magnified, the smaller the boats get – it’s easy, it’s lightweight, and something about raising the mast and sail right there in the living room still makes me laugh.

The original aluminum mast was too short for the new rig, mainly because the telescoping tubes had frozen with corrosion in the mast’s shortened “reefed” position. Being inclined for very simple test materials, we got a 12′ piece of “closet rod” dowel from the hardware store, which is hardwood of some indeterminate kind. This is the same material that we used for the yard, except that this one for the mast is 1 1/2 inches in diameter, which is the largest size available at our local store.

On the boat, a 3 foot piece of aluminum tubing with an outside diameter of 2 inches fits into the original partners and step. The closet rod mast drops down into that aluminum tube, with a bit of play at the top of the tube, which benefits from the addition of a couple of small wedges. The mast step that is molded into the Portland Pudgy is slightly tapered, so the heel of the whole arrangement has been without play, both for the aluminum tube and for the dowel mast inside it.

The original theory of this tubing arrangement was partly that it would provide extra strength at the partners, along with being the correct size for the existing partners and step. But the bigger reason was that the sail bundle, with all the batten parrels, could then be dropped down over the aluminum tubing, and the wooden mast could be removed without fussing with the parrels, which would be all in order when the mast was put back in place for sailing.

In practice, the dinghy does not seem to mind having the mast left up at the float, including in some pretty bouncy waves, and when the little boat dries out with the tide it has seemed fine as well. Some of the lines that go to the masthead are also not perfectly simple to release, which one needs to do in order to allow enough room to lift the mast clear of the aluminum tubing. Because of this complication, and because the boat was faring well with the mast in place, in the end we just left the mast stepped until the time came to break everything down for winter. I do think that the tubing has provided useful additional support for the lowest part of the skinny dowel, especially at the partners.

The sail bundle stows well in the boat when not in use. There is only one aft lift (lazy jack), and it fastens to the boom by clipping into a small carabiner that is lashed to the boom. To stow the sail, the aft lift is unclipped and slid forward, allowing the sail bundle to come down securely into the cockpit where it gets tied to one side. Photo: Suzanne Jean

The boat sails nicely with the new rig, and is generally balanced in spite of the changes, except for upwind when it rather predictably tends toward lee helm. This upwind issue is a result of the new sail area forward of the mast, and is easily corrected with the tack hauling parrel, using it to shift the lower part of the sail farther aft which restores the overall balance. Batten parrels are cut long, so that off the wind the tack hauling parrel can be let out, easing the sail forward across the mast and doing away with weather helm.

After sailing in choppy water it became apparent that the rig would also benefit from a yard hauling parrel. It’s completely unnecessary under many conditions, but in the right kind of chop the yard thrashes enough to make one worry about breakage. The yard hauling parrel was simple to add, and took care of the hazard while also improving the sailing, as it stopped the wind from being repeatedly knocked out of the sail in light air conditions with waves.

Then there’s the sheet arrangement. The original rig for this boat used a line traveler for the sheet block, simply attached through holes at either side of the tiller on the transom. With the JR rig, using 6 foot battens, it works well to run the sheet back and forth from the blocks on the sheetlets to three blocks at the transom, which are tied individually into a substitute line in place of that original traveler. In this photo the sail was reefed, so the lowest section of the sheet is bypassed, using the sheet as it exits the second stern block instead of the third.

Some discussion has been had in the JRA fora that perhaps all those sheet parts are not necessary for such small boats. I figured that rigging it this way was an experiment, and that I might end up doing away with some of those parts. In practice, I’ve liked them after all. They require much less strength than a single sheet, which is convenient when one is not in the most ergonomic position for hauling on lines, being reclined in the bottom of a dinghy.

Also worth a mention, for those of us in the “not perfectly spry” category of years or circumstance, is that I ended up leading the halyard and the tack hauling parrel back to a handy spot that is reachable from the comfort of my usual sailing position. This is not fancy: the boat has attachment points forward and aft, low in the cockpit on each side, that were originally intended for lifting the boat on davits. A scrap of line, with two loops tied into it close to hand, is stretched out between the two starboard lifting rings; those loops make perfectly reasonable spots for quick slip knots for the halyard and tack hauling parrel. Someday cam cleats might be nice, particularly for one-handed use while also steering, but the present set up is working well enough for now, and is quite an improvement over scrambling forward. This arrangement is a little bit visible in the earlier photo of the stowed sail in the boat at the float.

Photo: Craig Pursell

All in all, the junk rig for the Portland Pudgy feels like quite a success, and a real improvement on the original rig when it comes to local daysailing. The junk rig reefs quickly and easily in our gusty and changeable protected-water winds, and over the summer and fall I was impressed with how much more secure I felt in the little boat, compared to previous forays with the old rig and too much sail area, which had made for a bit of a reminder of the real possibilities for dumping an 8 foot dinghy. Furling the sail is also vastly easier than the previous arrangement, which had required standing and wrestling the sail and boom up against the mast for tying, and removing the whole business, mast and all, when not in use.

Additionally, the original rig was prone to substantial lee helm and weather helm, as wind intensity and point of sail changed. This was a particular problem with the somewhat flexible plastic rudder, which was strained by these steering issues in strong wind. Being able to shift the JR sail forward and aft, using the tack hauling parrel, has meant a significant improvement in both safety and comfort, as it has taken the strain off the steering.

Since the new rig feels like a keeper, a “proper” mast is now in the works, being built of tapered spruce and close to 14 feet in height. This extra height will allow plenty of room for adding that bottom panel back onto the sail, which was otherwise going to be a bit cramped. The new mast will fit the existing partners and step, with no aluminum tube. I am also having some small thoughts of trying a cambered sail for comparison, though there are no immediate plans.

Just as it is, the new rig has made the Pudgy even more of a pleasure than it already was, for all sorts of sailing around the neighborhood.
Photo: Suzanne Jean

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