Friday, 20 December 2013

Happy Crimbo

This salty treat is for every reader of the Creeksailor site.The six oysters with shallot vinegar and lemon slices are sitting on the table in Mehalah's in East Mersea. Be my guest and choose your own tipple to wash them down with... 
  I washed mine down with a bottle of Island Mud.. Thanks for all your emails and support over the last year, I hope I've been able to support you in return.
 Good sailing in the New Year. TS

Friday, 13 December 2013

Sailing with Gaff Cutter Rig



 Getting To Know your boat and how best she sails can take many hours, months or even years of trial and error. I was developing my sailing skills with gaff cutter rig during my time with Huffler but over the last three years with Shoal Waters my knowledge and experience of the rig have increased tenfold. This is due to the volume of quality time I’ve spent on the water actually sailing the boat. Before I go any further I should point out that in my understanding of the fore-and-aft sailing rig when the word jib is used on a sloop rig vessel it is done so incorrectly as if the sail is set from the forestay of the boat it is more accurately called the staysail or to be completely pedantic the forestaysail and this sail can also be refrered to as the foresail or headsail. You may understand it differently so at this point I shall put my crash helmet on and stand to be corrected! These minor matters only become more obvious when sailing with the cutter rig which has a bowsprit as the staysail is definitely not the jib and vice-verse. 
 Gaff Cutter Rig
  The origins of the cutter rig lie with the Dutch but the rig has been in use in England since the early 18th century when it was used by revenue men in the prevention of smuggling. The rig has a long association with working boats and became without doubt the most English of rigs as it was used by fishermen in smacks and bawleys and by ship pilots in pilot cutters and ultimately, as the new "gentlemans" leisure activity of yachting came about the rig would naturally go on to drive these boats to. The rig can generally be distinguished from a sloop by its extended bowsprit and the setting of an extra headsail called a jib.
 Nuances
  Of all the little nuances one comes across when sailing a new, to them, boat I was finding that sailing close-hauled under full sail the first sail to start luffing would be the staysail - never the jib or mainsail, always the staysail. I paced the decks in search of a reason.  I loosened sheets and tightened sheets. I checked the tension of the halyards as these can work loose, and, in the past if I had lowered the mast to shoot bridges I may not have tightened the halyard enough. I also found that sweating either of the headsail halyards too tight and the Wykham Martin furling gear becomes stiff and the sails will not furl completely. I spoke to other wooden boat owners who would agree there will always be an amount of flexing in the rigging of a wooden boat with wooden spars. And anyway, gaffers sail loose - we don’t sail to windward? In an ideal world this would be true perhaps but the reality for anyone who moves around from one river system to another on a regular basis covering a lot of miles as I do knows that to wait in port for ideal weather you could be waiting all year therefore its quite possible to find yourself in the middle of a channel such as the Wallet for instance with a belting headwind and when as much weatherly performance as your boat can achieve is more than helpful unless you don't mind turning back around. 
 Hoisting Sail 
 Setting Shoal Waters sails I start with the mainsail, then the jib, and finally set the staysail but I don’t think it really matters as long as you know when and at what position your sails are set correctly. As with any activity where skill is involved, one of the benefits of increased volume is a heightened sense of awareness; you loose that ring-rust and just know when things are not right, or as they should be.   
  Sailing 
Shoal Waters cutter rig in perfect "tune" drives us down the Wallet
 Off the wind Shoal Waters will happily sail under mainsail alone or with just both headsails. Sailing her with the mainsail only and when having to tack she may stall passing through as she is a heavy old bird therefore it’s ships practice to bear away first to give plenty of “way”. Off the wind she will keep up with any normal boat and to windward her pointing ability still amazes me when I  realize I'm keeping up with Bermudan rig vessels. Her maximum speed in ideal conditions is 4.5/5 knots but we rarely sail at this pace, more like 3 knots or less, and it is a Jubilee celebration when with a fair wind and tide she has shown some thigh doing 6.5 to 7 knots.
 The jib and staysail on Shoal Waters are very small but either sail set alone will slowly drive her if the wind is aft of the beam but together and with the mainsail and at all points of sail it is quite considerable the amount of sureness in the drive they give. The jib is also vital for creek sailing, canal or broads sailing where narrow, winding waterways demand decisive going about. I like the short aspect the gaff rig allows. This means a shorter, more manageable mast. The sail is forgiving in gusts and when one lowers the gaff, a hell of a lot of sail can come down quickly.
 She has an amount of weather helm that if left to her own devices she will round up into the wind nicely which is comforting to know for a single-handed sailor. Who knows how many sailors have disappeared through falling overboard while standing at the lee shroud using natures facilities and the boat has sailed blindly on regardless?Its an awful thought but a very real danger. Be careful out there.
 Taking on board new information and"The One Word Concept" 
 “I’ve eased as much as nine inches from a smacks jib sheet” These words were said to me while sat bows-in-mud chatting to a well-known East Coast sailmaker. They reverberated in my innards as I set Shoal Waters small blade-of-a-jib during one of our early cruises of 2012. Out of interest I’d asked the question what sail you would start with when setting a cutter rig. Just those few words in answer reinforced that maybe I did need to look more carefully at balance tuning the rig. I had already played around with the sheets of course but I did find I could ease the jib by as little as half an inch and the staysail would resist luffing just that bit more. I admit there is more to tuning my particular boat though as she has lanyards on the shrouds and if these loosen the mast rake changes so there has to be a constant, methodical checking of all these contact points throughout the cruising year. I could go on and describe sailing Shoal Waters off the leach as well which is something that I've had to do a couple of times but if I can forget about sailing the boat for a minute I'd like to focus on what intrigues me about this type of learning situation in the hope it may ring bells for others.
 What is this One Word Concept 
  Many years ago now, in another life it seems, I was an instructor of physical exercise. Anyone who has been an instructor will know that imparting your knowledge in a one to one situation or onto a class of students takes a variety of methods. This is because we all learn things in different ways. For instance some of us can read a book and memorize it word for word and then go away and implement it, while others will have to physically practice something to memorize it. If only I knew this as a kid….  "Whats all this cobble got to do with sailing"?  I hear you ask. Bare with me.. 
  During this time an instructor shows you hundreds, possibly thousands of techniques. They pass on their psychology, wisdom, and experience. Some of it you take in, some of it goes straight over your head and then suddenly the instructor drops one word, or it might be a sentence, that hits you like a bolt of lightning and everything falls into place. For the lucky few this word may happen on their first days training but this is rare as an understanding of the “whole” is needed to appreciate what is actually being passed on. Therefore, for the mere mortals among us, this learning process can go on for many years, in fact a lifetime if we continually place ourselves in a learning environment, as we take on new information and as our minds and bodies try to make sense of it. Fortunately we get good at spitting out what is of no use to us and retaining what is.  I try and apply this concept of the one word or sentence in every learning situation as I just love learning new things, and consciously search for it when reading or in conversations with anyone I class as knowledgeable in a particular subject. I did this with the above question to the sailmaker whose short sentence I’m going to leave you with, as, put simply, within it holds the key to enjoyable sailing with gaff cutter rig.
Good Sailing, TS

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Hythe Quay Maldon

 Hythe Quay at Maldon as it looked last weekend after the initial movement

The Hythe yesterday (Sat) after the tidal surge

  Lets hope any more of the quay doesn't suffer the same fate and that something can be done about the Hythe sooner rather than later.
  At the moment the visitors pontoon is not affected and although a boat drawing as much as six feet or more could reach right up to Fullbridge, from my observations and without physically sounding the depth with my trusty cane, that same craft would not be able to visit here as a lot of silt has built near it  barring access to deeper draft vessels who otherwise might like to come alongside.

  PS: On a positive note if you get a chance do visit the Hythe as sailing barge Hydrogen is open as a cafe barge throughout the winter months.  Tea or coffee with home made cakes etc are now available onboard in this unique setting.
Good sailing, TS