Fan up preventer line – does it work?

Last autumn I attached a fan up preventer line as designed and promoted by junk-rig Arne from Stavenger Norway. Having had problem with fan up on a few occasions I thought it would be worth the effort.

I discussed fan up and examined Arne’s preventer line in this post: the-dreaded-junk-rig-fan-up/

So, how did it work in practice?

There was only one occasion when I sailed deeply reefed in brisk winds where the fan up preventer line would have potentially prevented a fan up. It was sailing out of Campbelltown harbour on the Kintyre peninsular on my way to the Isle of Bute.

As the winds picked up I reefed down. I then went to tighten the preventer line for it to work and discovered it had become buried in the folds of the sail, unable to budge.

The only way to activate it would have been to raise the sail again and this time pull the preventer line in as the sail is lowered – which would have required 3 hands – one to let down the halyard, one to bring in the sheets as they slacked, and one to keep the preventer line taunt as the sail was furled.

If I didn’t have wind vane steering that would have required 4 hands.

So I can’t say it wouldn’t work if there was a 3 handed co-ordinated lowering of the sail, but the fact that the preventer line gets  trapped in the furled sail renders it useless if you opt for a quicker furling in demanding conditions.

I still think it is a useful extra line to have but requires some forethought and co-ordination in using. I’d like to say that I will be more thoughtful and organised next time I reef the sail in strong winds, but I know I can’t be sure of it. Handling a rig in rough conditions can be more gut-based than rational.

I’m currently finishing a new gallows for the foresail. This one will be slopped and rounded enabling fore sheets slip up and over the gallows when slack sheets come up against it in a gybe. Taking it up to Bute next week to mount it. I will take a picture of it and post it later so you can see what I’m talking about.

Below is a short clip of our sail from Port Ellen, Islay, down around the Mull of Kintyre, up to Campbelltown and then off to Bute for the winter.

I took clips of the reefed main. If you pause the video at seconds 31 to 34 you can maybe make out the preventer line starting at batten 2 going down the leech into the furled folds.

It comes with a soundtrack from an old Newfie sailing song, Up She Rises,  by Bob Porter. Either that or silence, as I don’t have a specialized mike to block out ‘wind thunder’.

Yes this post is 6 months after the date. What a procrastinator!!

reefed junk rig sailing in Scotland from Simon Foster on Vimeo.

New aluminium masts

A new year and time for new junk-rig masts

Goodbye to 350kg of steel

Goodbye to 350kg of steel

Although I replaced my broken Red pine mainmast with a steel pole back in 2013, I have never been very satisfied with it. The 350 kg steel tube was within acceptable limits for the boat, not making it too tender (prone to excessive heeling) – but it had a few drawbacks.

One drawback being its excessive diameter below, taking up too much living space (approx 9″ at the partners increasing to 10.5″ diameter at the step).

Another drawback was its weight – reducing the amount of extra weight that would be reasonable to load on for long distance cruising.

mainmast partner hole

Then there was the nagging worry that so much steel wagging about in big seas would be too much strain on the structural integrity of the hull and deck. This may not have been a strictly rational concern – but it was an emotive one.

And we sail to enjoy, not worry, right?

Another factor in prompting me to install new masts was the fact that I sourced a supplier of aluminium poles only an hours walk over the mountain from where I live. The company, ALC, import aluminium poles from the Netherlands mainly for street lighting uses but were willing to both source and do some custom welding on the poles for me before delivering them to Lawrenny Yacht Station – where the boat is currently moored.

look at all those potential masts at ALC!

The main mast pole weighs in at 87kg with an 8 inch  (199mm) diameter and a wall thickness of 3.5mm. You can view the blueprint for this pole here.

What’s interesting about this pole is that the 8 inch diameter remains constant for the first 18 feet and only then tapers to 76mm at the top.  This means that it provides significant strength and resistance when reefed down in heavy weather. It also has the benefit of not unnecessarily increasing in size between partner and step leaving it easier to accommodate down below.

The same is true for the 6 inch diameter foremast pole. It only begins to taper after approximately 9 feet down to a top diameter of 76mm. Wall thickness 3mm. You can view the blueprint if the foremast pole here.

foremast crane

For the masthead cranes I modified an idea forwarded to me via the Junk Rig Association forum. I fabricated two circular discs of 50mm thickness.

The bottom plate had a hole cut out of the center approximately the size of the pole’s top diameter – to allow for wires to be passed up through.

The top plate had a small hole just to let the navigation light wires (mainmast) and VHF cable (foremast) to exit.

The two plates were then bolted together with stainless steel U-bolts from which the masthead lines and blocks were attached.

For extra strength, 6  triangular (10mm thickness) buttresses were welded to the pole and plate. If that sounds all confusing take a look at the picture above of the foremast crane. (I was planning to take more detailed pictures of the design but got too involved in doing it to remember to get the camera.)

mainmast wooden plug being loaded for transport to Lawrenny (Wales)

old, new and wooded plugs

Having ordered these poles I was a little concerned that the bare poles by themselves may not provide sufficient strength in extreme conditions – conditions one has to face occasionally when sailing long distance. To assuage this worry I designed and built solid wooden plugs that could be inserted into the poles to extend well above the partners.

The design is based on the fact that given enough force the place where standing masts will buckle (assuming no internal defect in the pole) is at the place of maximum resistance – at the partners where the mast exits the coach roof.

pulling the mainmast plug in with the aid of block and tackle

The plugs themselves completely fill the lower internal cavity of the of the poles and then are increasingly reduced in bulk for a further few feet until it is only a 2 inch thick cross contacting the internal pole walls before coming to an end.

The reduction in bulk is to allow a degree of bending of the plugs themselves and mitigate against buckling of the pole at the place of maximum resistance – which would be at the top of the wooden plug – if they remained solid and came to an abrupt stop some 8 feet above the partners.

This design is meant to produce free-standing masts that are a reasonable in size and weight while ensuring sufficient strength and flexibility in the most demanding conditions. Should work ;).

The mainmast now weighs approximately 300lbs (140kg) and the foremast 150lbs (70kg) – including weight of wooden plugs. A reduction of over 450lbs (200kg) of mast weight. The waterline has dropped an inch or more.

main mast being lifted – notice the wooden insert has been squared off to fit neatly into the remade main mast step

fitting in the main mast (with a little help from a crane)

The sails and rigging are now refitted with only a few remaining tasks to be completed before sailing off for the summer.

We were originally planning to sail to Lofoten, Norway but time is slipping by and the weather has turned a bit more unfriendly for a spell – so we’ll just have to see how it goes …

Watch this space.


The dreaded junk rig fan up

junk rig sailing brae shetland

sailing south from Brae, Shetland back to the Scottish mainland summer 2015

After sailing back to Lochinver from the Shetlands in July, we stayed put until the end of August when a high pressure locked in with brisk northerly winds. Like migrating birds we sailed south to Ireland for the winter.

First landfall was on Tory Island of the north coast of Republican Ulster. After a night at anchor off the harbour pier we sailed down to Arranmore island on the NW coast of Donegal and anchored off the beach past the hook on the south coast.

By this time the northerlies were starting to fade so the next day we made one last push south and by the next day, in light breezes, made our way into the “best natural harbour in Ireland”, Inisbofin.

inishbofin harbour

“best natural harbour in Eire”, Inishbofin

After waiting a week in Inisbofin for favourable winds we pushed off southwards again.

broken main yard


Just south-west of Slyne Head the main yard suffered a catastrophic failure due to the de-lamination leading to it cracking in half. With no more working main we made the decision to head south-east to head to Kilronan harbour on Inishmore island in the Galway Bay.

moored in Kilronan

hanging out in Kilronan, Inismore

Within a few days we had repaired the main yard with a metal bar lashed to the break but the winds to sail out of Galway Bay and down the south-western corner of Eire were no longer in our favour. With no good forecast in the horizon we decided to take the ferry to Galway and the bus back home to Wales for rest. At this point Alison when up to Scotland for a writing course and within two weeks I was back in Kilronan with a good fair north-easterly breeze.

Great Skellig Little Skellig

Sailing past Great Skellig and Little Skellig, SW Eire

The next few days I sailed around to Cork harbour stopping one night Glandore bay by Union Hall  and the next night anchored of the beach just south of Courtmacsherry before heading into my winter mooring in Drake’s Pool upriver from Crosshaven.

junk rig fan up problem

Yard and top batten snagged after fan up

The sail from Glandore to Courtmacsherry was a particularly brisk one with 20+ knots from the south-west. This made for a fast sail with a reefed main but as can happen in these conditions the main yard and top batten got caught up on the wrong side of the topping lift and mast lift due to a ‘fan up’ when gybing.

This is not as dire as it may sound. Even with a sail hung up on the topping lifts you can sail for many miles and directions without issue. To get the sail untangled you have to come to a stop tho and let the sail weathercock. At that time you have to go up on deck and get the yard and/or batten back into its rightful crib – usually accomplished by a long pole.

fan up junk sail

lower view of fan up snag

Although not debilitating to the sailing ability of the boat, having your sail jammed after a fan up gybe is somewhat disconcerting and should be avoided if possible.

It was not until reading a article by Arne ‘cambered sails’ Kverneland (Stavenger, Norway) in October’s Junk Rig Association magazine that I fully grasped the dynamics that leads to fan ups and jammed yards and battens on the wrong side of the topping lift.

The strong wind (.. a fan-up is a strong wind
phenomenon…) may be enough to grab the upper panels and force the top section and yard over, …   Fan up preventer,  JRA magazine, issue 69

junj rig fan up preventer line

Arne’s fan up preventer line plan

Having experienced two other fan up jams last summer, one from sailing back to Lochinver from Mull in 20+ knots and another when sailing down to Tory island in September, I was getting perturbed by the events and am now planning to incorporate Arne’s fan up preventer (FUP) line.

Having brought both sails back home in December for repairs and strengthening, it is an ideal time to incorporate this preventer line. As much as I dislike adding too many running lines into the rig, this one extra seems worth it.

The solution lies in tightening up the fan up prevention line when reefed so the sail cannot ‘fan up’ without taking the entire sail bundle with it. This should prevent fan ups in everything but hurricane force winds. Or so I hope. I be able to report on its effectiveness when I go out sailing in stiff breezes this summer.

Many thanks to Arne for sharing his ideas (although I’m still sticking to flat sails!)

Back from the Shetlands

The plan was to sail up the coast of Norway this summer into the Arctic Circle and explore the remote coastline and fiords in 24 hr sunshine … but … the most miserable and cold summer weather in living memory dampened our initial enthusiasm and we ended up staying a few weeks in the Shetland Islands before returning back to Lochinver at the end of the month.

After a couple of days of exploring the west coast of the mainland we found ourselves in thick fog, little or no breeze, and a contrary current off Papa Stour, so raised the Iron Jib (started the engine). After about an hour of motoring the propeller started making the most horrible sound compelling us to shut the engine down. Fortunately a breeze came along and we sailed up to Hillswick and dropped anchor. A couple of days later a diver went down to inspect. He reported that the shaft was oddly loose.

We then sailed down to Delting Boat Club in Brae where we let it dry out enough to inspect. The cutless bearing had lost all its inner rubber lining (for unknown reasons) and had to be replaced. Given the fact that there is only a small tidal range in the Shetlands (around 1.5 m) and there was only a ramp rather than a tidal grid to dry out on, it resulted in a startling but harmless angle to the boat when the tide was at its lowest. See pictures.

delting boat club brae shetland ramp

drying out on the Delting Boat Club ramp – look s bit dire from this angle!

It’s not the first time I’ve sailed without any working engine / propeller alternative and every time it happens I thank Neptune she’s junk-rigged. Not that I couldn’t manage with the more commonplace triangular sail rigs, but just how much safer, easier and more seaworthy the junk rig is.  No engine? no worries, when you sail a junk!

drying out ramp delting boat club

Speaking of the rig, the central theme of this blog, other than maintenance and upgrades, it has caused me little concern. The upgrades this year have consisted of changing the running ropes from three-strand to braided polyester. The result has been a smoother, less kinky, experience. The only downside is that the braid is more slippery and requires a bit more attention when hauling and tying off.

The dimensions I have used are the following :

main (400 sq ft) halyard – 12 mm

fore (200 sq ft) halyard  – 10 mm

main yard hauling parrel – 10 mm

fore yard hauling parrel – 8 mm

main luff hauling parrel – 8 mm

fore luff parrel (now standing) – 6 mm

all batten parrels – 6 mm

Future plans

  1. Experiment with alternate sheeting arrangements to reduce or eliminate twist when reefed. Up till now I have applied the KISS (keep it simple stupid) formula to sheeting which keeps the sheet power to each batten essentially the same avoiding undue twist when full. However, when reefed the sheet power increases substantially on the lower bundle introducing excessive twist in the leech. This is not really a big problem as it sails well regardless but I believe it is possible to create a more balanced sheeting arrangement, even when deeply reefed, if one incorporates euphroes (wooden blocks with holes through them) into the mechanics.  Experimental stuff.
  2. Source two grown Douglas fir poles to replace main and fore masts. I understand there may be some suitable poles to be harvested around Perth. To be confirmed.
  3. Make a new foresail to replace the thinning and much patched current foresail.

In the nearer future I’m looking around for a place to take the boat for the winter as it’s just too far and the weather is too brutal up in Lochinver. Unless I can find a suitable place here in south Wales / Bristol channel, I may go back to my old bolt hole in Crosshaven (Cork, Eire).

Back in action

After a few months of rebuilding the Kubota diesel engine in a friend’s garage over the winter, Ara’ Deg is re-powered and ready for action. So Alison and I went on a small sailing expedition around the west coast of Scotland.

junk rig Scotland

Drying out in Acairseid Mhor so I can cut the prop loose.

We hardly used the rebuilt engine at all and when we once did, shifting anchor spot in the small anchorage Acairseid Mhor in north-west Gometra, we backed over the anchor trip line wrapping it securely around the prop shaft stalling the engine, whoops!, requiring a partial dry-out in the shallow section to get access to the prop and cut it out.

Engines can be more of a curse than blessing at times but it feels good to have it there – in case our patience runs out faster than the wind can return on a calm day.

As you can see from the video clip below, the foresail has had many repair patches sown on – not from hard sailing – but simply from the rough treatment it received in Lochinver harbour this winter – one of the stormiest winters in memory. Stout sail covers are now higher up in the list!

The list? The list of things to do, modify, test, etc. The list never ends. You can only hope that things are being crossed off at roughly the same pace as new things are being added on. Reminds me of the saying – if you dislike someone leave them your boat in your will.

We’re still planning a sail to Norway north of the Arctic circle in a few weeks and will be replacing much of the running rigging currently employing three strand with more supple braided polyester of slightly smaller dimensions – 8mm for the fore sheets and halyard and 6mm for the yard, luff and batten parrels.

We found the 3/8 three strand to be getting increasingly stiffer with a tendency to kink and twist. We are hoping the braided line should make for some much smoother action.

Below is a clip of our journey out and back. The trip down to Barra was very pleasant – but the trip back, in rain and a fresh breeze (20 to 25 knots south-westerly) was .. less pleasant. The Minch has a reputation of getting very lumpy and lived up to its reputation. But I only vomited once (strong black coffee on an empty stomach is no way to start a lumpy sail I discovered) and Alison was only thrown out of her bunk onto the floor once. No bruises 🙂 .

Weather and related sea state is everything when sailing. It completely dominates your world and state of mind. I picked sound tracks for the sail down and back that reflect that fact.

P.S. Since posting this video I have been informed that Barra is spelt with two r’s.  Whoops!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A recent comment on the web-log reminded me that I have been neglecting it for close to a year. I suppose I have been waiting for positive sailing news but the truth is I’m still farting around with the engine and propeller.

The Good – Junk Rig

The actual junk-rig itself is in sound condition and is really ready to go. A few small sticky sail-repair patches on small holes here and there should keep in good condition for the coming year.

junk rig bosons chair

The Good – halyard renewal

Another issue is the main halyard. No matter how careful we handle it it always seems to take on some annoying twisting over time, although careful coiling (figure of eight) and storage does keep it to a minimum. We also found that the weathered part of the halyard was getting rather stiff / less pliable so we switched it around, end to end. Being a four part purchase meant that the  becket end of the halyard was secured to the block at the top of the mast – requiring someone to be hoisted up to untie it, tie on the opposite end, and then thread it through the sheeves. Alison volunteered and was hoisted up on a Bosun’s Chair. Very brave!

The halyard is now in good nick for another season or two, although we are wondering if the three strand 3/8 nylon line we are using couldn’t be improved by switching to a double braided (inner and outer) line of the same diameter.

I have to admit that I have not developed a fond relationship with the steel pole main mast which we dressed and stepped last year in Wales. It just feels too clunky and heavy and out of place. So I been having wooden main mast fantasies again and am currently seeking a good tree to fell this Autumn and season and shape for stepping next year some time. There’s a good stand of Sitka spruce not far from here I’m going to scout in a few days. There’s also some good old Larch stands around, which may make an even better grown mast, (depending on the knot arrangements). But for now, the steel pole will do. I’m such a fussy bugger!

The Bad and Ugly – Propellers & Engines

I’m not going to spend much time writing about this because 1. I have spent enough time on it already, and 2. it doesn’t really fit into the theme of this web-log, the Junk rig. Yes I’m talking about the devil himself – fossil fuel engines and related paraphernalia.

propeller shaft hole

The Bad – waiting for a new propeller and shaft

This winter a leak developed via the propeller shaft while I was 600 miles away at home in Wales. By the time harbour staff noticed it and pumped it out enough water had leaked in to submerge the engine.

We hauled the boat out in June to see what the problem was and indeed the whole shaft/propeller set up was clearly micky mouse and had to be replaced. So we’ve got a brand spanking new propeller and shaft … but the engine has yet to show a spark of life.

kubota v505

The Ugly – Kubota V1505

So I have been working on the engine for the past month. It takes so long here because we are a three hour drive from the nearest viable chandlery (stupid name for a place that stocks boat stuff) in Inverness and even then most parts have to be ordered in via mail. However, I’m confident that the engine will be up and running, complete with new controls, and ready to roll, before the end of the month.

There now that I’ve written it down I have a commitment and deadline. I needed that 😉 .

Next post will be a post-sailing post, I hope 🙂


Sailing naked (without engine power)

Over the past two months Alison and I have been sailing the west coast of Scotland using wind power alone as a series of mechanical failures and errors have rendered Ara’ Deg without a propeller that revolves when the engine runs. This new reality has turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.

The curse has been our reluctance to explore the deep long lochs where fickle winds and strong tidal currents may live.

The blessing has been an enhanced sense of self-reliance and independence from the global fossil fuel system (and a heightened sense of adventure).

Our northern passage under sail power alone has taken us from Tobermory, Mull to Castlebay, Bara to Loch Poolteil, Skye to Scalpay, Harris to The Shiants to Lochinver on the mainland where we are now berthed on the floating docks contemplating making this her winter home (given that the season has turned and the cool damp weather of autumn is lapping at our feet and my warm dry home in Wales is beckoning).

The junk rig’s ability to maneuver virtually anywhere in tight and demanding circumstances under sail power alone is no longer a theory but now an established fact (in my mind). But it is an on-going learning experience, such as:

When sailing in less than, say, 12/13 knot winds, it is difficult to completely take the wind out of the sails by releasing the sheets. The friction imposed by 7 part sheets including 6 blocks means the sails won’t completely weathercock and the boat cannot be stopped from its forward locomotion.

One solution is to point more into the wind until the sails weathercock – achievable when anchoring or picking up a mooring buoy – but not an option when coming alongside a dock with a beam wind.

One solution would be to go on deck and physically push the sails out until they weathercock. Another way is to release the halyards resulting in the full sails falling into neat bundles in the topping lifts within a couple of seconds (thanks to substantial yards and gravity).

Up till now we have used the second option as it can be accomplished in seconds from the comfort of the cockpit, requiring no deck work.

So far so good but it’s still a learning experience. For example, coming into the docks at Lochinver the other day from a snug anchorage a mile or so up the coast we happily sailed into the harbour under a 7/8 knot breeze with only three of four panels hoisted on the main and foresail. Everything was fine until we attempted to land sailing upwind to the dock. The first two attempts to reach the dock failed as we appeared to be sliding sideways too much and the dock remained tantalizingly close but still too far upwind to reach, forcing us to pull off, circle around, and try again. The third attempt was a bit more ‘mercenary’, starting from a more upwind position, charging the dock without reserve, landing surprisingly smoothly without scrape or bump :).

At the time we surmised that we were dealing with a contrary current but on reflection I think the the simple fact was that we had failed to hoist enough sail to give us the drive needed to maintain a straight course when sailing upwind. I believe under full sail we could have reached the dock first attempt.

Lesson learnt: The name of the boat, Ara’ Deg (Easy Does It), isn’t applicable when sailing in tight corners where complete control and accuracy is needed. Junks really need to be sailed ‘full on’. No half measures.

– – –

I have made no changes to the rig apart from changing the sheeting order of the mainsail from first-pull-from-the-bottom to first-pull-from-the-top, as the foresail was already sheeted. I did this to help eliminate leech twist when under sail and the new arrangement seems to be an improvement (not that the twist was ever excessive). I took a short clip of the new arrangement sailing downwind under a light 3/4 knot breeze (see below). The ‘snaking’ of the leech is simply the boat rocking in the swells, not any sheet bias, as far as I can tell.

junk sail leech twist from Simon Foster on Vimeo.

I believe I failed to mention that I did not re-instate the six downhauls (three on fore, three on main) when I re-rigged her in the Spring. Apart from achieving a somewhat better sail shape when partially furled in heavy weather, I can see little use for them and am glad to be rid of the extra complication and lines.

Following the previous post one person had a single word comment response – “yawn”, which made me laugh. I can fully understand how someone seeking a sailing adventure story could find a yawn hard to suppress when reading about the principles, mechanics, performance and issues of adapting junk rigs to western hulls. I believe it is a subject that is of interest to fellow ‘junkers’ and those sailors interested in alternate rigs, but few else :D.

Something for everyone? Alison’s blog: