Peep Hen Capabilities and Limits, part two: Shifting and Gusting Winds

Arriving in Rockland Harbor anchorage, after quite a flurry. Yes, the clew on that sail could use an additional line down to the boom… Photo credit: Teeter Bibber

The most alarming thing that happened in the Peep Hen this year had to do with sailing in quite strong wind gusts, that were blasting in from radically different directions compared to wherever the last one had come from. In this situation, the boat can go a long ways toward ending up right over on its side. Being a Peep Hen, with heavy ballast in its box keel, it does reliably come back upright, but it’s the one situation in this boat where, from my perspective, things really are not fun. It’s worth considering the details on this possibility, if one is inclined to test the limits on this particular boat.

Ordinarily, the Peep Hen does very, very well. Especially when loaded for cruising, it’s comfortable, and easy to sail in a perfectly reasonable range of coastal conditions. It’s a little snappy when it’s not loaded, but water, food, and gear for multiple nights take care of that nicely. Twice this summer, both times in harbors in Penobscot Bay, things got more complicated. Both happened in strong, gusting northwest wind. I have friends who decline to sail their bigger boats on those days in this area, and I’m understanding that thinking quite a bit better lately.

The first time this problem came up was after a half a day of sailing on a beam reach, going south from Belfast and headed for Rockland. The wind increased as things went along, but the boat was fine. The handheld anemometer showed gusts to about 18 knots, right there at cockpit level, but they arrived more or less from the same direction, and the boat was already making good speed in the steadier wind of 12 to 14 knots. Eventually I put in a reef, which settled things down nicely.

A bit later I was working my way into Rockland Harbor, and without realizing it had happened, picked up a lobster trap buoy and its line, hooked on the rudder. The boat steered funny, and was slow, and three times I looked over the stern, expecting to see something amiss, but nothing showed. In the past, hooking a lobster trap line (called a “pot warp” in this area) has stopped the boat dead, unceremoniously turning the bow away from the wind. This day, the wind was so strong that we (boat and I) were towing that lobster trap behind us, all the while tacking into the inner part of the harbor. Good grief.

This would have been enough complication for one day (never mind with the problem still unrecognized) but the next thing that happened was that ferocious wind gusts came blasting from the land, toward the mouth of the harbor. Just like that, the boat was well over on its side, and not nearly as inclined to come right back up as is usually the case. Having such high topsides, water did not quite pour over the gunwale into the cockpit, but very nearly. The boat was over well past 45°, but as there is no clinometer (yet!) we don’t have figures for it.

Ordinarily it has worked out very well in this boat to sail with the main sheet wrapped in a couple of figure eights around a vertical pin in the tiller. We have used that pin to replace the clam cleat that the boat came with, because the clam cleat was prone to jamming. The pin arrangement is easy to release, but stays put. imgp2291

Fastening the main sheet at all goes against conventional wisdom, which says that on a small boat one should never have the main sheet cleated; rather one should be somehow holding it, so that it can be released instantly in case of problems.

My experience with this particular boat has been that it’s possible to get away with fastening the sheet in most situations, because when there is a big gust of wind, simply turning the boat into the wind with the tiller is enough to release the strain and let the boat get back on its feet, which it does immediately. The only situation where I’m in the habit of holding the sheet is if there’s not enough room to make that turn, either because of other boats, the shoreline, or stray rocks and other obstacles. Otherwise, it has worked out fine to have the sheet wrapped on that pin.

Not so, on this day! There was of course a cure for this alarming heeling in the gusts: to go back to holding the sheet, so that it could be quickly released when the boat started to get pushed over. It also helped to leave the sail set further out than normal for sailing upwind, and both of these things I eventually did. But it was still shocking to have had the boat go over so far, to put the tiller completely to leeward, and to have the boat not come up immediately, and it took more than one round to begin to figure it all out. It was as if the boat had no headway because of recovering from the previous pushing-over, so the steering had no effect, and the rudder was unable to turn the boat into the wind and let it come back up. In hindsight, it’s also possible that the boat was over so far that the rudder was out of the water anyway. Either way, the lobster trap interfering with forward motion was not helping the situation!

Eventually I looked, yet again, over the stern, and this time could see the line stretching down into the water, and the buoy pinned tightly to the lowest part of the far side of the rudder, where it had been well hidden from my vantage point on the other side of the boat. Five minutes later the buoy and its line were popped loose with a boat hook, and the boat was free, though it was still a bit of a project to get to the upwind corner of the harbor where I had planned to anchor.

During the worst of this whole production, the wind on the handheld anemometer registered gusts of 22 knots, and sustained wind of 18 knots. Heaven only knows why, with all that going on, one of my priorities was holding that gauge up in the air for its little propeller to catch the wind! Though it can be comforting, because though the numbers are somewhat high, you would swear that the wind was something like 35 or 40, and of course it wasn’t. Seeing those objective figures helps with relaxing about the whole situation. A gauge mounted at the top of the mast probably would have read about 5 knots higher, based on my experience with wind speeds reported by NOAA, but the handheld one is in the ballpark.

The biggest question, analyzing this experience after the fact, had to do with whether the lobster trap was the primary cause of the problem, or if the high gusts coming from such different directions would have created all that trouble by themselves. I was happy to live in suspense about this, rather than repeating those particular conditions. There were whitecaps everywhere, in spite of the wind only having a couple of hundred yards of fetch as it came off the land onto the water, and it wasn’t a storm. Sheesh.

As it turned out, a few weeks later, again in Penobscot Bay but this time at Holbrook Island, there was enough wind, shifting and gusting, to try it again. Too bad! But it was fascinating. This time there was definitely no lobster trap, and the wind was not quite as strong, but I unfortunately started out with a full sail, with no reefs. Gusts registered 16 to 18 knots on the same meter, but like the previous time, their direction was shifting dramatically, and in between the gusts the wind was barely blowing. In the same way as before, the boat would have no speed, because of the lull between the gusts, and then blam, we would be a whisker away from taking water over the side.

On a boat with more average topsides, meaning the part of the hull between the waterline and the gunwale, taking a little water over the rail happens a lot more often, because the boat does not need to be over nearly so far before the rail is dipping into the water’s surface. Because of the design of the Peep Hen, this is not true on this boat – taking water over the side means that your other biggest concern is keeping yourself from falling right out, because the boat is over so far. Though the tiller makes an outstanding handhold.

At any rate, during this new rendition of the same test, the original goal was to move across the relatively small, enclosed harbor from the visitor float on the public access island, to my destination of a particularly well-protected anchoring spot a few hundred yards upwind. The breeze had come up quite a bit while the boat was at the float, and although there were no whitecaps the gusts were strong, and shifting dramatically. Setting out from the float it seemed sensible to keep some sail area, in hopes of making progress in tacking upwind to the anchoring spot. Reefing ahead of time would have been better!

As it was, once again the boat was being instantly flattened in the giant gusts. Releasing the sheet helped, but because the boat was getting no speed in between being pushed over, it did, indeed, not work to turn into the wind to relieve the strain of the gusts. Extraordinary.

This all went on for close to an hour, this second time around, and included putting in a reef and eventually inching up the inside of the island to my anchoring destination. The effort was successful, but not pleasant. I missed AUKLET, both for the junk rig which is so easily reefed, and for the better behavior of the larger boat in this sort of wind.

In hindsight, I’ve learned quite a bit, both about how to read the conditions, and what to expect from the Peep Hen based on what I am seeing, as well as about how to judge the options of a particular moment, in order to stay out of this kind of situation in the first place. That’s all to the good, and in fact I’m happy to have had the opportunity to learn all of this. There were many, many sailing days this summer and fall, and only a small part of two of those included this kind of unpleasantness. In both of those problematic situations it would have been possible to make other choices and to have avoided those experiences entirely, if I had known what I was getting myself in for. Now I know!

The takeaway from all of this is that strong wind in this boat is okay if it’s something like consistent, allowing the boat to be up to speed for handling gusts. Trying to sail upwind in strongly gusting harbor wind, with dramatic shifts in direction and minimal wind between the gusts, is a recipe for a good bit of difficulty. It’s not likely to be nice in pretty much any boat when that sort of thing is going on, but it’s a real hazard in the Peep Hen. In the future I will sit tight, not pulling up the anchor if those conditions are going on or forecast, and will modify destinations if I’m already out, so as to sail across the wind. Further, if need be I will accept a perhaps rolling anchorage rather than insisting on an upwind attempt at that time. It’s much clearer to me now, where the hazards lie, and as a result those hazards are much more avoidable.

The boat is still great. It is after all 14 feet long, and there are limits. It’s good to know more about where those limits are!


Note: complications with lobster trap lines are also mostly unnecessary, for this style of sailboat, with the addition of a small piece of material at the back of the keel: a section of sail batten or similar plastic, or metal bar, which is fastened to the underside of the keel, and will guide lines harmlessly across the gap between keel and rudder. This is in the works for SERENITY, now that the boat is up on its trailer.

Peep Hen Capabilities and Limits, part one: Tacking

photo-credit-sarah-bliven-xl[photo credit: Sarah Bliven]

The Peep Hen is, after all, quite a small boat; it was interesting, this summer and fall, to find out a little bit more about what works, and where the limits start to show, for this design. SERENITY is out of the water now (photos from the nice day we had hauling it are coming sometime soon) and I’ve been reflecting on what I learned in these last months.

In average conditions, the Peep Hen does fine. It is sturdier than most boats its size, because of the ballasted keel, and is very dry, and generally a lot of fun.

Then there are the considerations that come up when the wind and/or water are something other than average. There are three main categories for the new information gained: tacking in less than ideal conditions; strong wind that is gusting and shifting; and drying out on soft surfaces. This post will address tacking, with each of the other issues appearing in their own blog entries over the next few days.


Learning to tack this boat reliably has been fascinating. Many thanks to folks on the Hensnest Yahoo group (, who offered crucial advice after a day when I had troubles in stronger wind and a steep chop, finding it impossible to get the boat to go about. This was only sorted out by turning all the way around in a circle and jibing; the boat was on thin ice as far as its happy home, by the end of that experience. But as so often, this had more to do with the operator than the boat. imgp1581

There are several strategies which help with tacking that I was already using: watching the waves for the least disruptive moment to turn; picking up speed before going about; and shifting weight across the boat to leeward as the turn is being made. Additionally, in general it’s a good idea to put the tiller only partway over, letting the rudder do the job of turning without being far enough to the side to act as a brake; I was doing that gentle turning too.

Having one sail and a centerboard has been new for me, and this is both a big source of the problem, and where all that good advice has been particularly helpful. I have now learned that, first off, letting the centerboard all the way down provides a better pivot point for the boat, which helps it to turn. Second, when the sail is sheeted in tight it will help the wind to push the back end of the boat around. The nuances of this second adjustment only became clear gradually.

The Peep Hen has a boom gallows, that wooden bar above the back end of the cockpit, supported by a couple of poles and some bracing. (On my boat this is lowered to match the original drawing – on most production Peep Hens it’s taller, which might or might not interfere with the boom coming across the cockpit. It’s also pretty much wrapped up in the stowed green cockpit awning, in the photo below.) One of the bonus advantages of either version of this gallows arrangement is that it provides a very accurate reference point for the position of the boom relative to the centerline of the boat. imgp1579Ordinarily, when sailing upwind it is my habit to keep the boom adjusted 3 or 4 inches to the outside of the gallows. If you sheet the sail in too tight, the sail looks great, but boat speed is seriously diminished. The outside position seems to work as the best compromise for upwind progress.

After receiving all the great advice from the Hensnest folks, a few days later I was again out in windy and choppy conditions, sailing upwind and needing to tack. I put the centerboard all the way down, and was delighted to find that tacking worked like a charm, every time. This was vastly different from the previous round, and led me to believe that the centerboard position was doing the whole job. Because I was sailing alone and it seemed like a lot to manage, I did not try pulling in the sheet as I was going about, and was quite happy to see the whole business work without that extra step, repeatedly.

Some time later, different day, more wind, more waves, I confidently made sure that the centerboard was all the way down, went to tack, and failed, falling back on the original tack. Fortunately this was not a problem, with the shore at a good distance. Three more tries, still no successful tack. The waves were fairly large, and chaotic, in the oversize tide rip that happens at the north end of Penobscot Bay between Stockton Springs and Castine, with a good strong wind of 15 to 20 knots, against the tide. Not that I would do that twice!

As this non-tacking was going on I was reflecting on those various bits of Hensnest advice, and eventually realized that because of the hefty wind, I was sailing with the sail adjusted farther out than normal, so that it would be luffing a little bit. There was already one reef in, and that bit of luffing made the boat more manageable, especially in the gusts. The sail was out about 6 inches farther than usual, which in the grand scheme of things is not that much. Still, adjusting it closer in was worth a try. In came the sheet, bringing the boom to its more customary position, and next try the boat turned through the wind as if it always did that. And every time after, in that same chaotic wind and waves. Just a few inches of adjustment made all the difference in the maneuver working or not.

Since that time I have discovered that for extra push, as the boat goes around it’s not too hard to grab one line of the sheet where it runs between the block on the boom and the one on the back end of the tiller, and to just pull on that line sideways as one moves across the boat during the tack. It sounds awful, but it’s really not so hard, and it draws the sail in tight without any other adjustments. Then you just let go once the boat starts to come across the wind. (The main sheet on SERENITY is typically cleated – more on this in the section on large gusts.)

With all of these strategies, the Peep Hen has become a boat that tacks reliably. I’m delighted to not be using the motor to assist with failed tacks, which is what I used to do in those trips a few years ago. Even the designer has been quoted as saying that it’s good to keep the motor running for sailing upwind in this boat. Having to do that was going to be a dealbreaker these days, perhaps sending the boat to a new home, and I’m very happy to find that it doesn’t have to be the case.

Originally, in taking the Peep Hen out I missed having a second sail, whether jib or mizzen, particularly for making turns. Over these last months it feels like I’ve become a better sailor, understanding more clearly what drives the boat; I’m looking forward to seeing how this new understanding opens up possibilities for more nuanced sailhandling, when next I’m out in a boat with more than one sail!


Motorless at Last

imgp3804 [photo credit: Suzanne Jean]

Earlier this summer the motor finally came off the boat. “Motorless in training” was a long-term process, involving gradually less and less use of one or another small electric motor, on one or another of the various boats. With the launch of the Peep Hen this summer, the motor was tried for the short trip from the boat ramp to our float. However, the wind was strong, and clumps of rockweed found their way into the propeller in fairly short order, completely stopping progress, and leaving the boat vulnerable to being blown into the shore. In the end it was more effective to anchor, shut off the motor, and finish rigging the sail, in order to go the rest of the mile or so across the Bay. As it worked out, that was the last time that the motor was turned on. After sailing around and about in Joy Bay and Gouldsboro Bay, and then a month of sailing to Penobscot Bay and back, all without further use of the motor, it seemed doable to simply take it off the boat.

What a relief that was, coming home and putting the motor on the dock! No more snagging lines, and the boat sailed better, without that 30 pounds perched right on the transom. Even better, nobody expects you to use your motor if you don’t have one. A real transition came, in the “motorless in training” process, when I found myself using the motor only because I felt like other people might be aggravated if I didn’t.

This was in contrast to many previous rounds of cranking up the electric propulsion, when I would use the motor because it would get me out of a situation that was less than ideal. With each time that happened, there was an opportunity to think through how to avoid that series of events in the future, and gradually those motor uses became less and less frequent. There was left only convenience, and usually somebody else’s.

As this came about, I realized two things: The “graduate level” of motorless in training is how to sail motorless without inconveniencing other people. And the point where the only reason for running the motor is convenience means that one has made some headway in learning to manage the boat by relying on sails, current, and human propulsion of one sort or another. With those thoughts in mind, it felt reasonable to take the leap.

Not that this wasn’t a little bit nerve-racking! There’s comfort in having a motor available for just in case, even if you never use it. But it was also fascinating.

A couple of weeks after getting home from that first long trip, and then taking the motor off the boat, there was a good weather opportunity for making a trip back to Penobscot Bay. East wind is a special thing in this area in the summer, and it was forecast to go on for days. In that previous trip I never did get to Belfast, in the northwest corner of Penobscot Bay, and I was sad to have missed visiting there. That east wind was an opportunity to jump on the metaphorical bus. Three days later I was at Holbrook Island, and the day after that made the relatively short hop across to Belfast. Just as fast, the wind went the other way, and after a number of lovely visits, folded like origami into a very short time, it was back toward home.

The return trip happened in record time, thanks to an ideal wind, combined with the turning of the various tides coming at just the right moments to make it all possible. Eight days after leaving home, I was back at the float in Joy Bay. All of this with no motor, even as decoration.

What I learned while covering all that territory was that taking the motor off the boat actually made me a more careful sailor. I had already tended toward caution, and I had already thought that having a motor on the boat was a bit of a false security – motors that don’t start, or quit when one was hoping they wouldn’t, are after all a fact of mechanical life. Boat motors that quit when they shouldn’t have caused all manner of problems, probably since they were first invented, and some of those problems have involved very sad endings. Still, and even knowing that, sailing with the motor clamped onto the boat does make one think that one can try things, on the theory that if that slightly uncautious idea doesn’t work out you can always turn on the motor to (figuratively) bail yourself out.

For example, there is the combination of current and dying wind, or traffic and dying wind, or rocks, and waves, and you guessed it, dying wind… Take the motor off the boat, and each one of those possible events should rightfully make your stomach skip, and inspire decisions that will keep yourself and the boat out of harms way, including if the wind quits. Really, it’s not a bad idea to sail in that way even if you do have a motor, but if the motor works almost all the time it can be easy to bet the house on it, becoming a certain kind of complacent.

On AUKLET there is the yuloh (Chinese sculling oar), and on the Peep Hen, SERENITY, one can scull fairly effectively with the rudder, pushing the tiller back and forth repeatedly, to drive the boat forward. Both approaches are very useful when the wind dies, but there is a limit to how much current they can overcome. It’s important to think ahead, starting to scull away – or across the current – from a hazard well before it is close enough to be actual trouble. If there is a motor on the boat, one might wait, thinking something along the lines of “well, if this maneuver doesn’t work I’ll just turn on the motor, which has plenty of power to do the job.” Take the motor off the boat, and that kind of procrastination looks a lot less appealing!

All in all, sailing motorless is incredibly engaging. I hope to be able to do it well. There has now been another trip, of about a week, in and out of various bays and harbors over toward Jonesport, some ways east of here. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover, with a small boat and a bit of sail. I never really believe it’s possible – it’s as if all the time that the motor was sitting there on the stern, doing absolutely nothing, it was actually involved in propelling the boat. Sailing without it, covering 50 or 100 miles or much, much more, feels like perfect magic, in the literal sense. On a puff of wind, that you can’t even see! Extraordinary.


Peep Hen Summer


A few days ago I returned from being out in the Peep Hen, SERENITY, for almost a month. This trip unfolded gradually – when I left, I told Suzanne “I might be back for supper.” In the end, it worked out to go all the way to the far southwest corner of Penobscot Bay, and to give the boat a proper, full-scale test. Along with the sailing, and quiet harbors, the best part of the trip was wonderful visiting, all along the way. One of the more common questions I was asked, by folks familiar with both AUKLET and now this boat, was “which one do I prefer.” I’m continuing to think on that subject.

The first thing one notices about this boat is that it is little. Compact, but including all the basic necessities for a substantial excursion. The picture at the top of this post was drawn by Julia Lorenz, my friend Kent’s granddaughter, who turned six this summer. She did this on their chalkboard, from memory, after our first meeting from Kent’s Peapod. I love the drawing, and the critical points that caught her attention. The little peep on the sail, the electric outboard, out of the water off the stern, the dodger, and the red of the canvas. It pretty much says it all.

Here’s what the boat looks like, from a more photographic perspective, sailing in Mackerel Cove at Swans Island (with thanks to Kent Mullikin for the great photo.)

SERENITY came to live with me in something like 2006, around the time that I sold the Falmouth cutter, NEW SALT. One can’t, after all, be without a boat! We sailed on the Connecticut River in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and then over the next couple of years made some more substantial trips, myself and an assortment of crew, along the southern New England coast. The building of AUKLET was begun during that time, and after AUKLET arrived in the driveway in late 2008, SERENITY spent a very long hiatus in the garage, waiting for whatever would happen next.

Moving to Maine last fall opened up the opportunity for this boat to come into its own. It is shallow draft (10 inches), and when the tide goes out over a nice mudflat or sandbar it will sit flat, within easy reach of stepping right off the boat. At 14 feet long it is easy to store, and relatively polite when it comes to visiting dinghy docks directly from this, one’s primary vessel. It sails surprisingly well, especially as one gets used to the nuances of the off-centerboard, which drops down alongside the broad box keel. In heavier seas those high topsides deflect the spray, and the boat rises easily over the waves. Loaded for cruising its motion improves, losing the bit of a snap that the flat bottom and ballasted keel contribute to in waves and changing wind when the boat is mostly empty.

Inside, there’s room to sleep, to sit, and to carry a good supply of food and water, and bits of equipment. Mostly, I have stuffed the bow and extra space under the cockpit benches with various kinds of flotation. Inflatable flotation bags are strapped in, and an assortment of old throwable cushions and faded orange PFDs, squeezed into available corners, are tied one way and another so that they will stay useful in the event of the boat becoming it’s own lifeboat (we hope to never test this). There’s a workable composting head arrangement, that deserves its own post, an adaptation of the system that has done so well for AUKLET.

Still, it’s snug. The first time I spent a night scrambling in and out of that little berth, I marveled at the fortitude of the friends who came to sail with me years ago, myself sleeping in the cockpit. The inside berth was the “cushier” quarters, and it is quite comfortable and fairly roomy once you are in there, but the scramble involved for a relatively tall person to get in and out is significant. Kate Fahey, I salute you! And each of the women who so generously came with me to make those trips possible.

Getting in and out of that berth does get easier, with practice, and I appreciate the security, especially in rolling waves, once in. The second night on the boat I carefully arranged the cockpit for sleeping – awning, mosquito netting, blankets, etc. – went to bed in my old spot from all those years ago, and within a half an hour started to think about that maybe that interior berth wasn’t so bad after all. By another half an hour later, I had decamped to the inside, and that’s where I slept for the rest of the trip. Grumbling, now and then, that AUKLET is a heck of a lot more comfortable, but appreciating the cozy sense that one could neither fall out of the boat, nor be thrown by waves, and that if there was surprise rain there would be no struggle with SERENITY’s cockpit side awnings and flaps, and inevitably moist blankets and occasionally downright wet feet.

Other comparisons with AUKLET come up too. More overall comfort in the bigger boat is an ongoing theme, as is the sturdier sailing in more boisterous conditions, and the much improved motion, compared to SERENITY, in a rolling anchorage. The ability to get completely out of the weather in that big cabin, including while under sail, and the self steering that so often works well, are like a beacon, making me ever so happy that the boat is only as far away as getting pulled out of the boat shed and put in the water.

SERENITY has the advantage of drying out flat, and going far into the well-protected back corners of so many harbors. But I measure this against the comfort of AUKLET: what is the balance point, between the bottom of the tide over at 25°, in a substantial cabin that is so comfortable the rest of the time, and flat all the way through the tide, but perpetually scrambling? Between nights in deeper water, to stay upright, and those hidden coves, that dry with the tide? Or the ease with which this boat is towed, by a ROWBOAT, when the wind dies? IMGP1965

AUKLET has all that lovely interior light, room for plants, and most importantly when the colder weather comes, heat, both passive solar and charcoal-driven. These are serious advantages. On the other hand, from that berth in SERENITY you can reach just about everything, from all the charts on the boat to dinner and dental care. The boat is easy to launch, easy to retrieve, and stores in a smidgen of space. Raising the mast does not require special volunteers with exceptional strength and spar-balancing abilities. Sitting at our half-tide float, SERENITY goes up and down with no complaints whatsoever, resting on mud, floating on water, and resting on mud again, while we leave the boat alone, or climb all over it doing projects, or scramble into that berth for naps, with mud or water making no difference. The boat suits our little dock exceptionally well.

Hands down, AUKLET is better for setting off across the Gulf of Maine – this is something that I would not do in SERENITY. But for closer to shore it’s a very evenly balanced toss-up. The little backpacking boat has held its own quite nicely in the face of some very stiff competition, and I’m looking forward to sailing it some more. With luck, AUKLET will be back in the water next spring. In the meantime, the Peep Hen and I are having quite a lovely summer.


Junk Rig Glossary

For the last couple of years, I’ve been part of a team within the Junk Rig Association that has been working on a glossary of junk rig terms, for everything from parts of the rig and types of junk rigs, to terminology related to sailing them. Others had been working on this for quite some time before I was invited to join the effort. It’s been a great project, and I’m delighted to say that the JRA Junk Rig Glossary is now available to the public! It can be found (for free – all 56 pages!), in the public section of the Junk Rig Association website:

This link is also included in the “Glossary” tab here at the top of this blog, for easy reference. The glossary itself is a PDF, and can be downloaded from the JRA site for printing or more convenient use. Comments and feedback are most welcome; on behalf of everybody on the JRG editorial team, we hope that you enjoy it, and find it useful!

Portland Pudgy


Now that there’s a mooring, and a place to live by the water, the next question has been how to get back and forth in a reasonably stable way, good for those who are not necessarily water rats, like some of us. Quite a bit of pondering has gone on, and then recently the sale of the old place in Holyoke went through. That did it – now we have the new tiny rowing/sailboat.


The Portland Pudgy came along as an idea a number of years ago, when I first read about it in one of the boat magazines, though at that time you still couldn’t get one. It’s been on my mind ever since, and then last year in Belfast a couple of folks were rowing by in one and stopped to talk, on the way back out to their sailboat. The Pudgy looked even better in person than it had in all the literature and articles, and the occupants were very happy with it.

This boat is specially designed as a rowing and sailing dinghy at the same time as being able to be converted into a lifeboat, out at sea. A tremendous amount of thoughtful detail has gone into all of its various aspects – it is sturdy, and surprisingly stable; it rows well, is self bailing when unloaded, and it has a sailing rig. Made of roto-molded polyethylene, the same stuff used for plastic kayaks, it’s tough enough to be bumped around and not care. Self-bailing counts for a lot – left at the float in the rain, the boat will not be half sunk when you come back three days later. Bailing after every rain is a task I have been particularly opposed to adding to our boat fun. If you were to tow it, there would also be no worries about filling with water in the waves.

It’s not actually in my plan to tow this dinghy in back of AUKLET. The inflatable packraft is good enough, and stows easily, deflated and rolled up. I find it much too nerve-wracking to have a dinghy in back of the sailboat when the weather gets interesting, and AUKLET is much too small to carry one on board. But this new little boat is going to be great for going back and forth between the mooring and the shore. Even better, it’s perfectly lovely to sail by itself, for the pure fun of tooling around the Bay, when most other sensible boats are still snug in a boat shed, or under a tarp. The Pudgy can come out to play for the odd warm day, with very little fuss at all, and is secure enough to make one feel that the idea is not utterly ludicrous from a safety perspective.

This boat is also double hulled, with flotation between the sole and the outer hull. When I read about this, thoughts of the insulating value of that arrangement came to mind, as I contemplated sailing on a warm day on otherwise very cold winter water – and it’s true! When we launched the boat this morning, actually taking it sailing wasn’t first in mind. But it became so easy that shortly after the boat was floating, the sailing rig was on, and off we went. More of a jacket would have been nice, but the warm spot was down in the boat, even though the water temperature is something like 40° F at the moment. You can see the gray closed cell foam that we also put in, to keep from getting wet with water in the channels – I’m sure that helped too, but regardless of where I touched the plastic, there was never that “bare feet touching freezing cold surface” feeling that is so familiar from other boats on cold water. I’m a happy camper.


The sailing rig that comes with the boat is nice in many ways, including that it can be stowed in a compartment within the hull, accessible through the transom. The only tricky thing is that the sail is held up by a sleeve that goes over the top of the mast and gaff. Having no halyard, the sail cannot be lowered in a pinch. Reefing is done by either raising the bottom of the sail or shortening the mast with a telescoping adjustment, and gathering the lower part of the sail. The rig moves the boat quite nicely, and I might very well get the hang of furling the sail up against the mast without standing (which is a pretty unstable thing to do, right up there in the bow), but it’s not simple.

Regular readers of this blog will already have an idea where this is headed… And somebody has already done it! Junk rig on a Portland Pudgy! Here’s a link to a blog post by Annie Hill that includes discussion of PUGWASH, a junk rigged Portland Pudgy that is regularly found sailing together with the bigger junk rig boats in New Zealand. This could happen here…

So that’s the latest. AUKLET and SERENITY (the Peep Hen) are snug in the boat shed, with thoughts percolating for sometime soon. In the meantime, hooray for sailing!


[As always, I am not receiving anything for talking about particular companies’ stuff – including the Portland Pudgy – on this blog. For anybody who’d like to see more about this boat, the website for it can be found here: ]

Many thanks to Suzanne Jean for all of the photos in this post, except for the one of PUGWASH, which I have taken the liberty of lifting from the Internet.

Safety Tethers Update

The bear is clowning around, but the issues are serious.

Some time back, I put a post on this blog about safety tethers and harnesses ( ). Following is an update on what I actually did, after all that pondering, and how it has worked out so far.

As far as the harness question, in the end I settled on a two-part approach. For time in the cockpit in rough weather, an upper body harness marketed to sailors has felt the most doable. For going forward in the kind of conditions that feel truly worrisome, I have started carrying a climbers full body harness on the boat. I chose this one, for being relatively lightweight, and for the good support across one’s back: (yup, it costs a fortune, and no, I’m not getting anything for including the link. But I do like this store, and they had a significant sale that took about $70 off the price.) Trying this harness on, it does indeed feel like one is extremely well supported, and much less likely to be injured by falling into it. If I were to do this again, I would get the optional opening leg straps. This would make it much easier to get into the harness while wearing foul weather gear. I had chosen not to get the opening straps because of possible added weight, added complexity, and more bits that could catch along the way on the boat; in practice, it feels like the benefits of those opening straps would outweigh the downsides. Either way, it’s a workable piece of equipment that packs relatively small, and it’s been relaxing to have it on the boat.

On the tether subject, I made up two adjustable Purcell prusik tethers (see previous post on this, linked above), one somewhat shorter, one somewhat longer, out of 7/16″ braided nylon. The shorter one adjusts between about 18″ and 28″ long, and the longer one adjusts between about 22″ and 38″ long.
IMGP0367 (2)

IMGP0366 (2)

Clipped onto a dedicated pad eye low in the cockpit, whichever one I’m using can be adjusted for wherever I will be working or resting, such that it is not possible to move beyond the edge of the boat. The longer tether has gotten more use in the cockpit, and the shorter one for trips forward, clipped to the jackline over the cabin. Technically, 7/16″ braided nylon does not have the breaking strength that one is supposed to have for this job. Thicker line seemed unwieldy, and the 7/16″ line feels strong; using it is a chance I’m willing to take, especially given that the entire point is to NOT fall a distance, creating those high loads.

After spending some time fiddling with attachment hardware marketed to sailors for tethers, it seemed that climbers’ aluminum locking carabiners would be more workable. The sailboat tether clips were incredibly stiff to open, and required a good bit of combined strength and dexterity in order to operate the double latch. Aluminum carabiners with a threaded locking collar, on the other hand, have been much easier, and are lightweight, and strong. Though I had been concerned about possible difficulties opening these, so far they have not been a problem – the threads are very smooth, and they work easily, including in the cold. Carrying a survival-style knife is my escape-strategy, since a carabiner can be impossible to unclip under load. Testing the halyard-clip style of tether attachment, generally used at the harness connection for release under load, it felt like it was perfectly possible that it would not open either, because of having such stiff action, and in an emergency I’d be back to the knife anyway. Here’s an example of the carabiners (nope, not receiving anything):
In this picture, you can see the very clear red stripe that shows when the lock is not fastened, and that disappears when the lock is completely closed.IMGP0370 (2)

In thinking about the elasticity question, I looked into shock absorbers used by climbers, but when deployed in a fall, all of the ones that I found extend to at least 42 inches. On my boat, this would put me over the side, and is thus not workable. For now I’m counting on the nylon for a little bit of stretch, and am paying very close attention to adjusting the tether length for only a few inches distance-of-fall. I would like to be able to add something like a rubber connector, that would provide stretch but would be too strong to break. This could perhaps be combined with climbers’ webbing, so that after full extension and a good bit of shock-absorption, if the rubber did break the webbing would be the backup. I hope to be able to figure this out in the future.

As described in the original post, the jackline is run down the top of the cabin, slightly to the starboard side, which is the side of the boat that I use for going forward. So far, this line has been rope. I never walk on the cabin top when the boat is in the water, so rolling underfoot is not an issue; otherwise, webbing would be important. I’ve been using polyester, to avoid stretch when it’s not wanted, but I’d feel better about this if I already had the stretchy section for the tether itself worked out.

In actual practice, after experimenting with being tethered in more moderate conditions, I felt very aware that psychologically it contributed to “losing my edge” as far as vigilance about not falling off the boat. It actually felt safer to not use the tether in moderate conditions, and so to keep that full-time vigilance properly in order. In the end I opted for using the harness and tether only when conditions were such that I felt there was a danger of being thrown off the boat even though I was vigilant, because of wave action. Further, in those kind of more feisty conditions, it could be possible that a wave could sweep across the cockpit. In that case the tether would be far stronger than any grip one might have on the boat, and the possibility of that kind of wave became my other criterion for using a harness in the cockpit.

It’s extremely rare that I go forward while underway in this boat; all the normal tasks of sailing are set up to be managed from the cockpit. But it does happen occasionally, and I’ve been quite happy to have the harness/tether arrangement in better order. It’s far more common that I am in the cockpit, and in more boisterous weather I’ve been very happy to have a workable tether that adjusts snugly to wherever I am.


Recent references on the subject of tethers include the following very sad story, and resulting efforts to test tethering arrangements and retrieval of crew who are overboard while on a tether. Adjustable tethers are not mentioned; it is my fervent hope that the sailing community will start to consider adjustable tethers, inboard jacklines, and appropriately supportive harnesses.

Is it safe to use a tether?

Through the Magic Window: Sailing As Meditation

A funny thing happens, off sailing for days, or in the intensity of one long day with an assortment of conditions. For a while I thought that this was all about fatigue, that odd experience of being much, much less connected to the necessities of daily routines. Small mistakes, or details overlooked, and a focus that feels dreamy, rather than the usual, grounded, routines of the day. After those long two or three day passages – of which there have now been four, this year – it happened again that it was the day after, even after having had a good night’s sleep, that I was prone to those odd mistakes. This year I became especially aware of the feeling of dreamy, altered reality that went with it all. As the year has gone on, I’ve found this happening even after long single days of major effort, with no overnight sailing at all.

Often, those extended, hard-push days come because of a schedule that involves trying to visit with somebody, who will not be available a day or three later, after the amount of time that would be involved if the sailing schedule were more relaxed. So after having sailed hard, on what would normally be a rest day, I find myself in to a dock, and visiting. Oddly again, by part way through the day of activity and interaction at the dock, rather than being more tired, and more affected by fatigue, instead I am back into that “normal” place. No more unobservant mistakes, no more sense of dreamy unreality to the tasks of the day. If it’s time to sail away later, to someplace for the night, that goes forward with the usual grounded routines solidly in place.

Meanwhile, there is this: sailing, for me, and single-handing, particularly, have that quality of “I just have to do this.” A pull, that when honored feels exactly right. When neglected, there is the feeling that I am missing something vitally important. All these years, I could not have told anybody more than this: that I simply am drawn to doing this, with a sense of both urgency and deep desire.

Along the way, time in the boat has contributed to increasing strength, well-being, and overall health. Through the long winters ashore these have often slipped, but have returned again with a good long dose of boat time. Once again oddly, if I hang around on the boat for too long in one place, with friends, enjoying the fun of life near town, that magic shift begins to lose traction. I’ve begun to think that oh well, just being on the boat is not the magic cure.

Then for whatever reason, it’s time to be off to sea again. Sitting with exhaustion, and those long, long days that unfold themselves when the weather is just right to sail, and just right the next day, and the one after that. With a destination in mind, it makes no sense to decline a good wind; doing so can mean an extra week, and/or long slogs upwind, or worse, without wind at all, floating in place for half a day or more, if one has the poor judgment to raise the anchor in the first place (nevermind that the weather report said that there would be a breeze). So in those times that are just right, it’s off to sea again, communing with the wind, and the tide, and the long, long days, sometimes into nights.

Surprisingly, in those long runs strength returns. Along with that dreamy feeling, somehow interwoven with fatigue, but I am learning that although they are interwoven, that dreamy feeling and fatigue are not the same thing. The dreamy feeling has complications: it can feel like loss of cognitive ability – and in some ways, it is. Although mistakes are not catastrophic, they can be pesky.

In a conversation about all this a few weeks ago, I talked about concerns of losing mental capabilities, and fears of something along the lines of dementia. But I got an interesting response back (thank you, Lori): that when one is doing deep inner work, in a big way, sometimes one ends up in an altered state that is something like meditation, and in that place, the normal everyday stuff can slip away. I heard this and thought, yes, that feels right, somehow true to my experience. This was relaxing – I mostly stopped worrying about dementia – and it was illuminating, especially in relation to sailing, and that dreamy state. As in, sailing off for days or weeks at a time is an entry into a different kind of awareness. Sailing requires focus, and at the same time, that very focus can be the pathway to disengaging from the concerns and cares of one’s land-bound life. Rather like meditation.

This connection between sailing and a meditation-like state, and the experience of healing, goes together with the material that is taught by the brain retraining folks, particularly in the work by Ashok Gupta. Gupta focuses quite a bit on stillness meditation as a primary tool for recovery from chronic illness that is related to limbic system issues. (See previous posts, linked below, for more on this.) Myself, I don’t ordinarily consider myself somebody who is good at meditation. In brain retraining, I have been more drawn to the techniques offered by Annie Hopper (also referenced in those same links), which do not particularly emphasize stillness meditation. And yet, here is sailing, and this meditative-like state, and my experience of improved well-being, if I spend enough time in that place. It’s not just being on the boat; the kind of sailing matters. Off, and alone, with enough time to be totally immersed.

This is the kind of sailing, and boat time overall, that lets one press into that place of somewhat altered reality. Partly fatigue, but partly something else. It’s liberating to go to sea, any way around. That it has this aspect that is something like meditation is not something that I’ve thought about before. I’ve just known that whatever that feeling is, I want it. And it feels deeply important, far beyond the glitter of an interesting toy. Come to find out, the mechanics of this healing are becoming perceptible.

So this is what I’ve learned: the motion of the boat is good, and I’ve known for a long time that it works rather like passive range of motion exercises. Muscles, joints, and everything else, that are over-tight, or strained, loosen in the process of relaxing into the gentle shifts of a small boat. Not so much in snappy, uncomfortable waves, but with attention and some luck one can mostly avoid those. The less obvious benefits of the sailboat process come from that state of meditation, that arrives without fanfare, often completely invisible as it interweaves with fatigue. As I’m learning to recognize that meditative feeling, I’m hoping to become more fluent in working with it. I am told that as it becomes more familiar, it’s easier to move in and out of a place of meditation, shifting between that dreamy state, and the requirements of everyday life, with more fluidity and ease. It’s the jarring of the transitions that I think contributes to the odd mistakes, especially when one has no idea what’s happening in the first place. Recognizing the process should go a long way toward helping with that.

The other obvious question, having come this far, is whether once recognizing and becoming familiar with that state of meditation, it can then become possible to move into it regardless of outside surroundings. As in, do I have to go sailing to find that place? I like sailing anyway, for all the many reasons: the water, the motion, the intriguing challenges of rigging, wind, and current. The absolute, extraordinary beauty of light on water, clouds and sky, and wild shorelines of all varieties. But sailing having shown the way, having opened the window, perhaps it is also possible to enter the feeling of that place, from anywhere at all. And by entering the feeling of that place, to have access to the healing that comes of residing within it. It’s a long way around, compared to basic brain retraining protocols. Heaven knows that making this boat project happen has been a vast undertaking. But sometimes the long way around, with all its depth and richness, is just the perfect thing. So I’m paying attention, feeling the perfect gift of the opportunity to watch how the entire process unfolds.

In the meantime, there is more sailing this fall, with a plan to haul the boat in a few weeks in Gouldsboro, and to settle in for the winter there in the new house. Presently I’m in Smith Cove, outside of Castine, watching the rain. It’s a snug place to be, with gale warnings on the radio, and time to sit still, and write.

[mostly written in September, 2015]

Previous posts on brain retraining: (skip to bottom for resource links)

Ashore for the Winter

Just over a week ago both the boat and I came off the water for the winter. The timing was good – a few days later a storm came by that blew at about 40 knots, not all that far out to sea from here. It was lovely to watch the rain, and the wind in the trees, from the snug side of a cozy window on land.

The boat was also snug,IMGP3271
happily inside the mostly-completed boat shed, entirely out of the weather for the first time since it left the shipyard where it was built, in 2008. It’s feeling very luxurious to not have to worry about the PVC frame and tarp process. It’s feeling even more luxurious to be able to climb into the boat without wriggling around under the driveway winter arrangement just to make a foray into the cabin.

Hauling the boat out of the water was interesting, in this new and different location. The ramp that was nicely out of the wind and waves, just a mile by water from the new house, is not as steep as the ones we’ve used before (steep is good, when it comes to ramps for boats with keels). There aren’t photos of how this went, as every single person was completely involved in trying to make things work, but we’ll try for that next time. For years a webbing tow strap has been part of the boat towing kit that has ridden around in the van, with all the other boat hauling paraphernalia, from hitch balls to tiedowns and wheel chocks. The tow strap was still in its wrapper, up until this past week. Finally it got put to use.

This tow strap procedure was quite theoretical, being something that I had read about and thought through, but never tried. When a ramp is too gradual to allow the trailer into water deep enough to float the boat without dousing the tow vehicle, it’s possible to unhitch the trailer from the vehicle (with the little jack wheel on the trailer tongue in its down, load-bearing position), attach the tow strap to the trailer hitch, and let the trailer farther down into the water. It helps to take a turn with the tow strap around the hitch ball on the vehicle, so the trailer doesn’t just pull the person holding the tow strap right into the drink along with the trailer. Once the trailer is in far enough for the boat to float onto it, the wheels are chocked; somebody has to do some rather serious wading to manage this. Melissa brought her wetsuit, which was a good thing because there was frost on everything the morning of the day we did this maneuver, and we were out there at about 8 AM to catch the tide.IMGP9575IMGP9580

(Getting back to the story… )
Once the trailer is securely chocked and the boat pulled into place and secured on the trailer, then the tow strap can be hooked onto the tow vehicle, and up you come, out of the water. We had some suspense about the plastic chocks, and what would happen to them next when the trailer wasn’t there anymore, but they floated neatly up to the surface and were easily retrieved. Once out of the water, the trailer is chocked again, and then reattached to the tow vehicle.

In a more orderly world, meaning one in which you had not first tried to get the boat onto the trailer without this process, with various complications related to falling tide and a boat half on the trailer, it would make more sense to chock the trailer before it’s in the water. Then you could unhitch, hook the tow strap onto the trailer, move the tow vehicle farther up the ramp, hook the other end of the tow strap to the vehicle, and let the vehicle ease the trailer into the deeper water, where it would be chocked again. Next time! That could’ve been done this time also, if we had thought it up, but as it was things worked out okay regardless, thanks largely to the seriously-strong member of our boat-hauling team, Richard (seen this past spring). IMGP8339

The AUKLET trailer also has a telescoping tongue extension, and at steeper ramps that’s enough to do the trick for floating the boat on or off, even with the long shallow keel that requires somewhat deeper water. It’s nice to know that the tow strap arrangement actually works, for when the tongue extension is not enough to keep the tow vehicle’s wheels out of the water. Tires in the water are okay, but nobody wanted to see the hubs and brakes of a good truck down there in the salt.

The concrete ramp that we used, at the head of Joy Bay in Steuben, has narrow horizontal grooves for traction. The small trailer jack wheel rolled over these grooves easily. Some concrete ramps, such as the nice new one on the Connecticut River in Holyoke, Mass, are made of individual concrete slabs with a more substantial horizontal gap between the concrete sections. I would have concern in trying this tow strap arrangement on that ramp, probably wanting something to put under that small tongue-jack wheel as a runway across those gaps. Otherwise, if the wheel were to turn sideways and fall in a gap while the tow vehicle and trailer were still moving, that could be the end of the tongue jack, with much breaking, falling and scraping and difficulty getting the tongue both up the ramp and lifted back onto the tow hitch. It was with great relief that I first saw our concrete ramp on Joy Bay with its narrow indented traction grooves, when I went to look a couple of days ahead of time. I’m not perfectly sure what I would use, on the other kind of concrete ramp. A simple board, plywood or one by something, would want to float rather than stay in place. A couple of convenient pieces of stiff sheet metal, leapfrogging one in front of the other, might be nice, or perhaps a weighted board… If anybody has experience with this and would like to comment, I’d love to hear.

As it was, the trailer cooperated nicely, the boat came out of the water, the rig came down (okay, that took a little while), and off we went. It was a treat to go only 3 miles or so by road from the ramp to the house, rather than the long drive from somewhere near the ocean back to Holyoke. Moving to Maine is lovely on so many levels.IMGP3243

Many thanks to everybody who made this haul-out work: Melissa and Richard, again with their truck, Suzanne, who does so much to organize the land side of this whole operation, and our new neighbor in Gouldsboro, Chubba, who came out so early in the morning to help.

This all took place on Saturday, October 24, somewhat more than 5 1/2 months after the spring launch, on May 2, in the Connecticut River. During these months I was on shore in the new house for a total of nine nights, over three different visits; all those other nights, and most of those days, I was aboard AUKLET. It’s a special thing to live on the boat for so many months, and it’s special again to move back onto land. Many thanks, once more, to everybody who helped to make all of this possible.

Under Full Sail


IMG_4950 [both photos above: WR Cheney]

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of sailing alongside two friends who came out under sail to meet me, when I was on the way to the island where they live. Both took pictures, and I am delighted to be able to share these photos of AUKLET under full sail, with the new junk rig.

Now getting toward the end of October, with many months, and hundreds of miles, of travel under sail I can say wholeheartedly that the junk rig is a complete success. True to what everybody says about the more traditional versions of this rig, sailing upwind is not it’s greatest strength. Regardless, I have sailed many miles upwind, including entertaining myself by tacking into or out of narrow harbor entrances against a bit of tide. Going with the tide is of course better, but it was comforting to know that with flat water (and a tremendous amount of tacking), it could be done the other way. Against the tide and with a chop, one might as well not bother to try, but this can be easily overcome with planning and/or patience (the tide always changes!) Though I sure do wish for detailed tide charts for the coast of Maine, like there are for some areas farther south.

On those long runs across open water, sailing upwind in 5 to 10 knots is ideal, and upwind is actually preferable, as the boat will steer itself with sails set and tiller fastened, with the boat adjusting its heading on its own for minor changes in wind direction. The boat will steer itself in stronger winds too, but bashing along into the waves isn’t so much fun, and there’s less windward progress as the boat is thrown back by the waves. The junk rig makes it perfectly easy to adjust the amount of sail area on each sail, and to tinker with the position of each sail forward or aft on its mast, in order to move the center of effort one way or the other. The boat responds to that, and it’s been fun.

All other points of sail are a perfect joy, as far as progress. As mentioned everywhere in discussions of junk rig, reefing is especially easy. Ironically, I’ve found that the effect of such easy reefing is that I don’t reef as early as I used to. Nowadays I reduce sail based on the angle of heel of the boat, or when going downwind, in response to difficulty steering, as well as for overall boat balance. In the past, with other rigs, I reefed based on those considerations, but even more, based on how difficult it was going to be to carry out the reefing procedure as the wind got stronger. I hadn’t realized just how much that last consideration was playing into those decisions until it became a non-issue. Lately I’ve been having quite a bit of fun sailing with more sail area than I used to for a given amount of wind.

Connected to the above, I’ve been learning that the boat makes much better progress upwind with extra sail area. Because it’s so easy to change the amount of reefing, it’s been easy to compare the effects of one amount of sail area or another – reefing because it seems sensible, observing the poorer upwind progress, and putting that sail area back up, having the opportunity to see the boat make noticeably better headway toward the wind.

On the subject of sail area, it’s been just wonderful having these enormous sails. It had been a question during the rig change, whether or not to go with larger sail area, and I debated it both ways for a long time. It was really a coin toss at the end, and I am now very, very happy that the final decision was to go large. The progress in low wind conditions is significant, showing forward motion when there is hardly a sign of a ripple on the water.

The problems I had in the Connecticut River with steering issues, related to the large sail area in following current and shifting, minimal wind, have come up two or three times since then, but not nearly so much as I would have thought. Primarily this occurs when the current is both following and changeable, with eddies and/or shear. The boat will still do pirouettes in very light winds under full sail in these conditions, and it is still true that the problem can be resolved, counterintuitively but completely effectively, by reducing sail area. Under most low-wind conditions, the boat simply sails, with the full sail area, and maintains easy steering. It’s a delight.

One of the more unique arrangements for this version of the Reddish-style junk rig on AUKLET is the ability to let each sail swing substantially forward relative to the mast.
This works using a running tack hauling parrel, a running luff hauling parrel, and standing batten parrels that attach farther aft than normal on each batten so as to allow for this movement. This is described as moving the sails forward for convenience in understanding, but the practical use for this maneuver is when sailing downwind, so that the sails are actually moved across the masts side-to-side, ending up almost centered on the masts in an arrangement a little more like a square rigger.

Ordinarily, in sailing downwind with any given sail sheeted out perpendicular to the centerline of the boat, the center of effort for the sail ends up far off to the side, beyond the outside edge of the hull. The effect of this is to make the boat want to turn, pivoting from that pressure off to the side, and this is felt as weather helm, the boat wanting to turn toward the wind. Having one sail out to each side can help to counteract this, but if the sails are radically different in area it’s not a perfect solution. Steering is more difficult under these conditions, and this is particularly noticeable when it comes to using an autopilot, which will typically veer wildly to one side and then to the other of the intended heading.

Adjusting the sails across the masts makes a huge difference in this issue. It’s extraordinary to feel the weather helm go away in that one moment, as the sail is eased across the mast by letting out the tack hauling parrel (the luff hauling parrel is left loose beforehand, though it can be adjusted later to take away wrinkles). The autopilot is the most sensitive measure of getting this right. By tinkering with sail area on each sail (reefing), position of each sail across its mast (tack hauling parrel), and the angle of each sail relative to the wind (sheet) it is almost always possible, in a relatively steady wind, to get the boat, at least this one, to steer reasonably straight on the autopilot while going downwind. For somebody who travels distances, particularly single-handing, this is huge. Prior to this rig, on this boat it was almost never possible.

In planning for this maneuver, I had originally guessed wrong on the appropriate position for the “windows” in the batten pockets on each sail, that allow for fastening the aft ends of the standing batten parrels to the battens; the standing batten parrels did not allow the sails to come across the masts nearly far enough. This became obvious during sea trials in the fall of 2014, and over the winter we put in new windows and made longer standing batten parrels. The new fastening positions were defined by the position of the attachment for the inner lazy jack on the boom, which it didn’t make sense to cross. This meant that the standing batten parrel on the boom came something fairly close to one half of the length of the boom. The yard does not change position relative to the mast when you move the sail across like this, so the line of windows angles up toward the halyard attachment, from that deep position on the boom.
IMG_4967 [photo: WR Cheney]

When this arrangement is put to use, the sail swings across the mast, with the clew dipping toward the water, and the tack rising. It’s extremely helpful to have lazy jacks that adjust from the cockpit, so that the clew can be easily raised away from the waves. I originally thought that having both port and starboard lazy jacks led to the cockpit was a little much, and that one would do the job, with the other fastened. In use, however, it’s been extremely helpful to have both (which I had, thankfully, put in after all).

On AUKLET, the original mizzen mast was tall for the size of the new junk mizzen sail, so lazy jack adjustments are not needed when letting the mizzen sail come across the mast. The sail is simply hauled high on the mast with the halyard, and the boom angle is not problematic, being well above both the water and the deck.

It’s been interesting to note that when it’s time to jibe the mainsail, one might first think to haul in the lazy jacks to raise the clew. If this has already been done because of waves, then everything is fine and it’s not a question. But in very light winds, when one wants every bit of sail area available, it can be advantageous to leave the clew low, thereby keeping the lowest panels of the sail completely extended. It turns out that it’s much easier to simply haul in the tack hauling parrel temporarily (which raises the clew), bring the sail across to the other side, and then let the tack hauling parrel out again after the jibe is complete. On a boat with a sufficiently high mainmast this would not be an issue, as the sail could be raised high enough on the mast to clear the cabin regardless. In the interest of passing beneath low bridges, the new mainmast on AUKLET was cut to the bare minimum length/height. I would not do this again – an extra 2 feet of height would not have made a difference with the crucial bridges (which, alas, still do not clear), and the additional mast height would have helped enormously for the size of this sail. Still, it all works, if with a bit of fiddling.

All in all, the new junk rig has been fantastic. It took quite a while to come upon the opportunity for underway photos of the new rig with sails completely raised, and I’ve been perfectly delighted to see them. Many thanks to Bill Cheney and to Kent Mullikin for the photos, and for the fun we had sailing around alongside each other!


IMG_4966 [photo: WR Cheney]

DSCN3882 [photo: Kent Mullikin]