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In Greenland

Iron Bark

Iron Bark
Under full sail


At Russell Boating Club's Tall Ships Regatta

Blue Water Medal

Blue Water Medal
Blue Water Medal

Books By Annie Hill

  • Brazil and Beyond
  • Voyaging on a Small Income

16 June, 2011

The Transformation of "Joshua"

Since that unhappy day when Badger sailed out of my life, I have missed sailing with junk rig.  I am, I suspect, the world’s laziest sailor.  I enjoy the way of a boat under sail; manoeuvring the boat in close quarters; even steering when day sailing, as long as the boat is going more or less in the right direction and there’s lots to look at.  What I don’t enjoy is fiddling with bits of string or physically handling sails.  I get frightened on the foredeck and a flogging sail turns my knees to jelly.  In truth, I’m not really much of a sailor.  My pleasure comes from pilotage, from living on board, from ‘nice’ maintenance tasks such as varnishing or whipping a rope’s end, from sitting in the cockpit with the self-steering nodding away and the boat bounding along in the right direction while I do nothing but enjoy it.  I fear readers will be very disappointed to hear this, but it will explain why someone such as myself, who prefers sloth to activity and is far from being even a competent woodworker would go to so much trouble – and not a little expense – to transform a ‘perfectly good’ Bermudian sloop into a little junk.

Even during my first small adventure with Joshua I had condemned her rig and was contemplating the alternative.  I had Practical Junk Rig, written by Jock McLeod and Blondie Hasler  and considered ‘The Bible’ in the world of junks, and this I studied.  I generally kept the idea to myself, knowing what most people would think, but I mentioned it to a friend who is also a junkie.  (An apt word as proponents of the rig tend to get addicted to it).  David although in N Island (NZ) at the time, was eager to help and it’s amazing what can be done with a little email and a lot of text messaging.  I sent David a drawing of the hull and rig.  Text messages followed: ‘How far stmhd 2 fwd bnk blkhd?’  “How far can mst stp b frm bnk blkhd?’  While David pondered, I, with pencil, rule and eraser (much of the latter), toiled away at my drawings.  But one morning I opened my Inbox and there was a PDF document with a perfectly executed sail plan.  (David understands CAD programs.) 

I had intended to ‘do everything myself’, but am not so foolish as to turn down the best of help for the worst of reasons.

Now it so happened that David was visiting another junkie, Paul, who is in the midst of refitting a 32 ft steel ketch he built in S Africa.  She was, of course, to be junk rigged.  Their joint enthusiasm led to momentary madness when Paul e-mailed me saying that he had a good sewing machine, a large table and some ‘spare’ sailcloth, which should be about enough for me to build the sail that David had designed.  What could I say but ‘thank you’ and from toying with a long-term plan, I was suddenly committed to an imminent project.

Consoling myself with the thought that I would be able to sell the extant rig for what a new one should cost, a few weeks later, I packed a bag and got a cheap flight to Auckland.  Paul and his wife met me and we returned to their flat behind a factory, alongside which lay La Chica, under plastic and obviously in the middle of major work.

Paul has a superb workshop in the factory, which included the large table on which I could lay out fabric.  However, the first hitch in my project came when I realised that the table was insufficiently long for me to cut full length panels from the sailcloth (in fact a polyester awning material, called Odyssey).  There was not going to be a lot of fabric to spare, so I wanted to waste as little as possible.  David had by now left for Oz, Paul was busy with work and boat renovations so I had to try and sort this out myself.  I concluded that the best thing would be to ‘make the material’ to make the panels.  Paul reckoned he could knock out patterns for this, using his computer, to minimise waste.  This he did and I got out the scissors and started cutting and sewing.  This was fairly straightforward and now that I was handling the material, I could start planning the sailmaking itself.

I am not good at planning too many steps at a time when making things.  This occasionally results in my having got so far and being unable to see where to go next.  However, I am stuck with the brain I was given, so have to live with it.  So having started cutting material, I still didn’t know exactly how I was going to get to the end result: a sail. But once the material for the panels had been sewn together, I could begin to see the whole process.  The latest thinking, in the junk rig world, is that it is both possible and beneficial to put camber in the sail itself, thus avoiding the weaknesses that have always plagued the flexible battens that people have used towards this goal.  But being junk rig, things are not as you might expect: instead of the camber being along the height of the sail, it is along its length, between the battens.  There are several ways of doing this: I used a method whereby one cuts out lens shaped pieces of fabric and sews these to the straight edges of the generally-assymetric panels. 

The lenses, which decrease in size as they go up the sail, required some fairly basic lofting techniques.  The panels were more demanding, so I started with the lenses to get the feel of things.

This seemed to go well, so I started to loft and cut the panels themselves.  To do this I needed to measure the diagonals and as the sail is some 5 metres long from leach to luff, this was not straightforward on my own.  However, I found a couple of lead weights and with these weighed down one end of the tape measure while moving the other end.

As I cut them, I marked top, bottom luff and leach and, for good measure, such things as ‘to lens no 4).  I can be remarkably stupid at sewing up a simple frock, so I tried everything I could think of to make sure nothing went wrong with the assembly.  Odyssey is coated on one side, so that one side is shiny and the other matt: this also had to be taken into account.  In fact I only had to undo one seam: a batten pocket that I did sew on wrong side up.  All the graffiti paid off.  The final cutting job was the batten pockets.

Once my pile of pieces was cut out I was ready to begin sewing.  Although I have been involved in making junk sails before, my role has invariably been that of assistant, but when I started sewing I was amazed by how much had sunk in.  I started from the top, because these panels were smaller and easier to handle.  The plan was to sew panel to lens, sew on next panel and then to sew a batten pocket over middle of the lens.  This way I was always working on (more or less) the edge of the sail.  It all went surprisingly smoothly, although my stitching was far from straight or regular.  For several panels I rolled the sail that I had already made, into a tube, thinking this would be easier to push along the table, but it was reluctant to slide.  Eventually I just shoved mountains of material back and forth.  This did allow the machine’s foot to do its thing and feed the fabric through, but it was still far from perfect.  However, the stitching does the job it is meant to do, even if its not exactly of professional quality.  Rough chipboard is rather different from the varnished floor of the average sail loft.

The foot and head of the sail had boltrope attached to fit in the slots on the yard and boom; I sewed a webbing boltrope on the luff and leach.  Then I reinforced the corners and cut off all the long ends.  The sail was finished.  I called Paul in to admire my handiwork and we hoisted it up on its boom: it looked almost like a sail.

I should have added eyes above and below each batten in order to lace them together should a batten break or a panel tear, but I had none to hand and put it off for another day.

Back in Nelson I started thinking about the mast.  I investigated timber, new and second-hand, alloy poles of various shapes and sizes and even fibreglass.  A neighbour, clearing out under his house, presented me with a broken Douglas fir mast and a large baulk of the same timber, about a metre and half long.  This gift eventually decided me to go for a ‘hybrid’ mast, with alloy base and wooden top – not a revolutionary idea, but one suggested in Practical Junk Rig.  The longest length of 152 mm tubing I could buy was 6 m.  I needed to end up with a 9.5 m mast and the topmast would need a bury of some 400 mm.  I reckoned I had just about enough wood.

The local boatyard kindly let me use their big shed to build in and I got them to cut the old timber into more-or-less the right size.  I went over each piece with infinite care because Danny had made it quite clear that if he damaged his saw blade or planer, I would have to pay for the resharpening, or replacement of a tooth.  Once sawn, we were all impressed with the quality of the wood.

I scarfed the shorter lengths of wood together and glued them into two long lengths.  These were then glued to the two lengths I had had sawn from the old mast.

The next stage was to pull out the screws, fill in the holes and then sand the whole thing down.  Next I had to shape the mast, which was a barely-tapered square section.  Because of the way I had put it together, there was plenty of wood at the top, so I could remove  weight up here and create a pleasing taper.  Then I worked down the mast planing off more wood as I turned the sharp edges into well-rounded corners, ensuring that there was still adequate thickness of wood to maintain the integrity of the spar.

I now had a square-based mast and a round hole to put it in.  So I filled out around the base to create an almost-circular section.  I fitted pieces of wood roughly to size and then filled in the gaps with thickened epoxy.  The whole butt was then sanded.  I had bought an offcut of alloy tubing of similar dimensions to my mast and used this to ensure a good fit.

I then filled screw holes and various imperfections in the second-hand timber and coated the glass with epoxy.  The old wood soaked up plenty.  Once it was well-coated, I sanded it all down and then covered it with a layer of glass and epoxy.  This makes a very hard finish and should be impervious to the sawing back and forth of the batten parrels.

The next stage was to make a shoulder for the topmast, so that it would rest securely on the alloy tube.  Offcuts created when I scarfed the wood came in useful here.  This was then planed, filled, sanded and glassed. 

I put a couple of wires up the mast: one for a tricolour light and one for an all-round steaming lightthen painted the mast with pigmented epoxy, slightly thickened with silica, as an undercoat.

Instead of making a masthead fitting, I glued some large hex bolts into the top, head down (I had left extra wood here for this purpose) and a large eyebolt for the halliard.  Stainless steel eyes were screwed to the bolts.  A certain amount of tooth-sucking from various parties has resulted from this, with dire warnings of fatigue because the eyes are not meant to be used in this way.  But they’re very big!  Finally, I used the said eyes to suspend the mast while I painted it my favourite shade of turquoise, which colour I intend to use on my boat when I repaint her.

While waiting for glue to dry, etc, I had prepared the old rig to be removed.  New Zealand yacht clubs and marinas rarely have their own mast cranes and masts are left in boats for decades at a time, apparently without problem.  The usual route for me to have taken would have been to hire a crane, but this was going to cost several hundred dollars and I don’t have many.  Instead I consulted with my friend Dick, on Irene, one of the most competent sailors it has been my good fortune to meet.  Brought up around smacks and Thames barges, Dick knows how to use low cunning instead of raw power.  We arranged to bring Joshua alongside his Irene – a large gaff ketch – and use her gear for pulling out the mast.  My friend Ulla assisted, Pat took photos and provided tea and the whole thing went like clockwork, as anyone who knows Dick would have anticipated.

That done, I now had to reinforce the deck, make a large hole in it and line said hole with substantial partners.  I then had to fit a mast step at the correct angle and distance so that the mast would go in as planned, with a forward rake of 6º.  This rake is for two reasons: the first was to keep the mast out of my bed, the second to assist the sail to hang out when running in very light winds, in a slop.  I tend to emphasise the latter reason when asked about my forward leaning mast!

Had I made the mast and partners out of wood, I should have ended up with overly large structures, so I bit the bullet and asked a local metalworker to make them for me out of stainless steel.  Galvanised would have been as good, but they would have to be sent to Christchurch to be galvanised (assuming the works had survived the earthquakes) which I reckoned would cost almost as much as the extra expense of stainless.  When Bob presented me with the heart-stopping bill, explaining how much welding gas he had needed, I wondered if I had made the correct decision!  Still and all, they are very well built and robust.  So with plenty of what the Kiwis refer to as bog, plywood on deck and a hefty piece of mahogany below, I fitted the partners.

Now I had to line up the step.  I dithered and measured and worried and fretted.  Finally I got the whole stub of the main mast and stepped it through the partners and marked as well as I could where the step should go.  The mast seemed to have an excessive forward rake, but I took photos and measured the angle and it seemed to be about 6º.  With a bit of help from a neighbour, I got the heavy tube out again and started another round of fretting and worrying: the marks I’d made didn’t match up with my measurements.  I faffed about for another couple of days before forcing myself to get on with it and bolt the step down.  This, in itself, was a bit of a mission, because a previous owner had added some trimming ballast just where I wanted to fit my step and these random-shaped pieces of lead were very firmly secured with Sikaflex.  Eventually, I filled in the gaps with (huge amounts of) epoxy until I had a solid layer to set bolts into.  Using the Gougeon Bros methods, I then drilled oversized holes and set greased bolts into these, held in place by the step itself (also greased).  When the glue set, I backed the bolts out and cleaned up the step.  Then I spread Simson’s Marine Glue and stuck the step down, replacing the bolts.

This done, I brought the topmast out of the shed and spread generous amounts of Simsons over the butt.  Using a couple of pieces of copper tubing as a roller, I moved it into the alloy base, wedged securely on the pontoon.  In order not to upset the Management I had to get it into the boat quickly.  By this time Dick had left for Australia, so once again I roped in the neighbouring boat owner and several other of my strong and/or willing friends.  Bruce moved his boat alongside Joshua, and we used his halliard to get things started.  
As La Racina is considerably smaller than Irene, we needed far more brute force and bad language, but at last we had the heel of the mast over the hole and quickly slacked away a little on the halliard.  More pushing and pulling on deck and then Bruce and I went below to haul the heel back, that was inclined to sit on my bunk.  Once it was past the half bulkhead, it gave up the fight and as it was slowly lowered, moved gradually down and into its step.  To my profound astonishment, I might add.  To the sound of much rejoicing, we released all the lines, I tapped in some temporary wedges and we all stood back to admire The New Mast.  I was rather proud of it.

Now we came to the really exciting bit – bending on the sail.  A friend came by as I was feeding battens into their pockets and offered to help.  He was amused by my refusal and explanation that I was really enjoying doing it all on my own.  I had a lot of fun playing with new rope, knotting and whipping.  There is plenty of string on a junk and my cambered sail required some lines I hadn’t used before.  There was a natural tendency for the folds to hang in diagonal creases and it took a fair bit of time to remove these.  But finally I felt all was ready for a trial sail.

On a calm morning in early April, I started the motor, cast off the lines and chugged out of my marina berth.  I turned up the harbour and with the last of the land breeze, shut off the engine and hoisted sail, ghosting through the marina and its rows of silent boats.  Once in the Haven we were heading into the little breeze and the boat seemed to take herself to windward quite satisfactorily.  We went through the entrance and out into Tasman Bay where the new sea breeze greeted us.  As she lifted to the swell coming down from Cook Strait and heeled to the increasing wind I looked up at the lovely sail, thrilled at what I had created.  I tacked and gybed, with nothing to do but move the tiller across.  I dropped reefs and shook them out again.  I felt in control and confident.  I was ecstatic.  The great fan rose above me and her new name was obvious: like a little bird, she ducked and swooped over the water.  The transformation was complete and Joshua had become Fantail.