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Gaff Rig Take II

reef1The winds at the Pennsylvania lake where I sail are always unpredictable just by the nature of the high mountains that surround it, but when you add storm fronts moving through, it becomes that much more uncertain. Saturday was no exception. We had storms coming in from the west but I had a job to do, and that was to get this sail rig tuned in. Saturday we had gusts probably from 25 to 30 mph so I reefed the sail. You can see in the first picture that I have about one third of the sail tied fast to the boom. If I’d have gone full sail that day, I’d have been knocked down several times for sure. Even with the sail reefed, there were times I reached 8 to 10 mph. I had re-laced the top of the sail to the upper boom and was able to get that dreaded wrinkle out from the week before. She sailed beautifully and I honestly couldn’t have been more pleased. She sailed fine on a reach, a broad reach and windward as well. I am very happy with my new homemade gaff rig.

full-frontSunday came and the wind died down a bit. I was able to raise full sail. The winds died down from the day before to about 8 to 10 knots I’d say, but they weren’t steady. A puff here, a blow there. It was nice though, because I’m still learning how to raise and adjust this thing. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about sailing this new rig while I had the wind, but it only lasted about 2 hours and then it died. It didn’t really break my heart though, because I had one more test to prove. I had to see if I could fit under the bridge. After all, that’s what started this whole project.

I lowered the sail and tied it off. One pull fires up the mighty Johnson 4. At 3/4 throttle she purrs about 4mph. Good enough. I made it down to the bridges and under the first one easily with about four feet of clearance. Fifty feet away is the railroad bridge. As I got closer, I started to worry. It was looking like it was going to be a tight fit. I got within a few feet and kicked the boat sideways and went parallel with the bridge and looking up, could see that I was probably going to clear it but it would be close. I swung the rudder and under I went. I have about a foot of clearance. Much closer than I thought I’d be but it’s in a no wake zone so there’s rarely any waves there. It’ll work just fine. I turned her around and back under the bridges I went, proudly back to the dock.

She passed all of the tests. Now, it’s all up to me to learn and tune this new rig. Sailing is going to be great this year.

The new sail rig’s maiden voyage

left-rearI was all excited last week. I thought the lake would be full and we could put our docks and boats in for the season. I left work an hour early only on Friday only to get up there and find out that it was still down about 2 feet. Bummer. We drank a bunch of beer Friday night, all of us, disappointed about the lack of water in the drink.

Saturday morning I woke up and got to work on rigging the boat. Lines here, ropes there. A little adjusting on this and tweak that. It was getting really windy so I just buttoned up the sail and put on the sail cover. I was done by about two o’clock. We all took the dogs down to the boat ramp and let them swim for a few hours. While we were there a guy backed down the ramp with an inboard/outboard runabout. He splashed it in and took off. Even though he kept his trim up, he took off! It was burning in my soul then. If he has enough water, I got enough water for the Compac. So I dunked it. I started off with the Johnson 4. It fired right up and purred out into the middle of the lake. Test number one, successful.

This was really not the optimal day to test drive the new sail rig. The wind was swirling and gusting to about 30 knots at times, changing direction about every 5 minutes. I got out into the deeper water and raised her up. It passed a few tests. The main one being, I know that the mast is sturdy enough the way I have it built and mounted now. I got hit with a few nasty gusts that nearly put the rub rail in the water and she held tight and sound. The sail both raised and doused quickly and smoothly. Those are the good things.

The sail grabbed wind and sailed nice, but I was only getting good wind in 2/3 of the sail. Even under those circumstances, it felt like more power than the original rig, but that could have just been the gusty conditions deceiving me. If you look in the picture you’ll see a crease where the sail is tight from the back of the lower boom to the second grommet from the mast of the top boom. From there down, she worked great but the top rear third of the sail was slack and spilling wind. Also, it was flapping badly. I sailed in all directions and even though I only had 2/3 sail working, it performed about as well as I had hoped, and I had high expectations. She sails as easy as a dinghy now, only having to worry about one sail. Very nice.

Not wanting to press my luck, since I was only one of two boats on the entire lake, I dropped the sail and headed back to my buddy’s dock under iron wind.

I got a lot of advice from a few drunken, onlooking arm chair engineers about repositioning pullies and leverage points and so forth but I think it’s going to be a lot easier than that. I think it’ll be as easy as re-tying the sail to the upper boom. I think if I tie each grommet individually, starting loose (about 2 or 3 inches loose) at the one closest to the mast, and gradually tie it tighter at the end of the boom, that it’ll take out that wrinkle and give me full sail.

Well, that’s plan A. If that fails, I’ll start considering other alternatives like re-engineering the gaff. I can’t wait for Saturday. I’d love to have about a 7 knot steady wind to dial this thing in.