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.
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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: aradeg.tumblr.com