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:

5 responses to “Sailing naked (without engine power)

  1. Hi, randomly came across your blog whilst investigating West COast moorings (planning a trip from N Wales in our boat soon.) I can sympathise with your lack of brakes in a beam wind – we had exactly the same problem with a gaff rig boat in the Norfolk Broads. Beam winds in tight spaces seem to be the name of the game there and there is often no space to turn into the wind in the narrow channels before you hit the dock. This lead us to learn a technique virtually unused in Bermuda rig circles – scandalising the main. In the case of a gaff rig, one drops the aft end of the gaff to destroy the shape of the main;. Although the windage is still an issue, it strikingly kills the forward motive force of the sail and you stop quite nicely. I imagine the solution to your problems might be to scandalise your rig in a similar manner – although being totally unfamiliar with junk rigs I don’t know how you’d do that.

  2. Hi

    Very interesting to read your blog. I’ll have to try and see where you are at the moment.

    I’m wondering if you’ve ever considered splitting your mainsheet(s) in two. It drives me mad not to be able to pull in the top part of the sail, but if it had its own sheet, maybe it would be possible. I expect you’ll say, Not more rope!



  3. Enjoying your story, where are you now? I’m rerigging my 37′ Gaffer as a junk ketch in Florida, and planning much the same voyage, Newfoundland to Ireland and onwards. Looking forward to more posts.
    One thing I’m wondering: I’ve heard before that winging out the foresail doesn’t always work well at sea. Do you think increasing the forward rake of the foremast might help?
    I was delighted to hear that your junk rig behaves so well in calms at sea. That was my main complaint about the gaff rig with its 21 foot boom and 17 foot gaff. Absolutely beastly in big swells and no wind.

    • Hi Bob, Yes I’ve been slack on updating – perhaps because I’ve been stuck in the bowels of the engine compartment this summer and my plans to sail up the Norwegian coast into the Arctic Circle have been postponed.

      Increasing the forward rake of masts definitely helps the sail to set better when sailing downwind in a light breeze with a swell due to the force of gravity helping to keep the sails out.

      The other three reasons I have a forward rake on my foremast 1. it puts the center of effort more forward (which is okay with this particular sail plan); 2. it allows me greater sail area all-around; 3. allows a better sheeting angle for the foresail.

      I can’t think of any negatives to a forward rake – other than it looks a little odd to the Western seaman’s eye and I invariable get comments like “Were you drunk when you stepped the mast?”

      As for waiting out dead calms in ocean swells, the junk rig is the best. Simply keep sails fully hosted and the sails sheeted tight amidships. The wind resistance of the sails stops the rolling and you can get a good nights sleep 😉 .

      Your project sound interesting. If you have anything on-line about, please send in some links.

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