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:

Islay to Colonsay and alterations

While anchored in Port Ellen, Islay I managed to finish a few alterations to the rig.

junk main sheet

first pull from the bottom twist

Regarding the main leech twist I reversed the order of the main sheet so that now the fist pull is from the top, not the bottom. As far as I can observe, this new arrangement has reduced the incidence of twist if not completely eliminated it yet. I have tried to unearth photographic evidence of this but have yet to get a good shot of the new arrangement. I did manage to discover a shot of the old first-pull-from-the-bottom sheeting arrangement and concomitant leech twist. I will attempt to capture photographic ‘proof’ of reduced twist with the new first-pull-from-the-top arrangement next time I sail off the wind to a sufficient degree.

Two improvements has been made to the foresail sheeting arrangement:

fore-sheet blocks junk

spaced fore-sheet blocks

First, I have separated the three deck sheet blocks from around one inch apart to around two inches apart. This new arrangement is to avoid the sheet parts getting tangled and locked up – particularly when the the sheet went slack during reefing and jybing (or jibing, or jibbing – not sure how to spell it – and automated spell checkers don’t comprehend sailing terminology ;)). The larger spacing seems to have worked and I have not experienced any jamming so far :).

fore-sail gallows

foresail gallows sheet deflector

The second improvement was introducing a fore-sheet gallows deflector so the sheets wouldn’t get stuck on the side of the fore gallows when jybing. I have observed from pictures of Jock MacLeod’s Ron Glas that half circle hoops were placed between leech and blocks to enable the sheet to slide from one side to the other without snagging on anything (like my neck, which I experienced when coming over from the Republic of Newfoundland last year).

I’m not sure what the hoops were constructed from but I think half inch pvc pipe would work well. Not having any plastic piping of sufficient length at and I have set up a “temporary” fix – fixing a line from the gunnels outside the life lines to the top of the gallows and then back down to the gunnels on the other side. Cheap, easy, fast – just like me. So far it actually seems to be working with no snags to report. (By the way, I place ‘temporary’ on quotation marks because some of my temporary fixes have been known to stay in situ for years ;).)

– – –

With the current addition of Caer Edin born Alison Roe to the journeys of Ara’ Deg, I acknowledge that the readership of this online chronicle may be expanding beyond Junk rig enthusiasts and those seeking information on the evolving technology of adapting Junk rigs to Western hulls – to include Alison’s North Atlantic fan base.

Accordingly, with the help of Alison I hope to expand the scope of this web log to include some info on our travels around the west coast of Scotland and increase its general ‘human interest’ aspect.

Tying it all together is the fact that the modern use and development of the Junk rig got its start in Scotland some 50 years ago with the pioneering efforts of Jock MacLeod and Blondie Hassler cumulating in their definitive work on the subject in 1987 – Practical Junk Rig. There is probably no more appropriate place in the world for a modern Junk-rigged schooner like Ara’ Deg to hang out. I’ve yet to observe another Junk-rig here but it’s still early days.

Port Askaig

Port Askaig





Port Ellen Islay Scotland

port ellen

Port Ellen rest stop

After a brisk sail north from Port Erin, Isle of Man, we arrived in Port Ellen, Islay, early afternoon 15 June. After passing Mull of Kintyre late in the evening on the 14 June we decided to hove to in the increasing southerly blow so we could enter Port Ellen the next morning in light and more favourable conditions.

As is often the case when the rig is still undergoing modifications and sea trials, a long list of ‘to dos’ was complied en route including:

  • get sufficient wedges in the mast step to eliminate the disconcerting creaking of the mast as it shifted in its base (only a fraction of a millimetre but causing gut-wrenching sounds when it did so).
  • re-tying a fore parrel that had come loose
  • reversing the fore frayed luff hauling parrel and placing shackles between the blocks and battens to increase allowable movement and eliminate chafing.
  • spacing fore sheet deck blocks to avoid jamming

I would also like to build some kind of fore sheet deflection so the fore sheets don’t get stuck on the side of the gallows when jibbing. Not sure if I have the materials at hand here but I’ll look around. I believe thin pvc piping bent in an arc would be suitable but might have to wait till we get to a more central town to purchase them. In the meantime I will simply have to be mindful when jibbing and prepared to go up to the fore deck to disentangle the fore sheet if they get jammed on the side of the gallows.

Regarding the main sail, it has a considerable amount of twist at the leech despite an even distribution of force. (You can view the twist in the video short embedded below – although it seems more acute in real life than on film.) The lower sheet parrel seems to exert the most force making the foot of the sail too far inboard, (or the top of the sail too far outboard), when the sheet is eased. Currently the first pull is from the bottom and I have reversed that order to the top. We’ll have to see if that helps reduce leech twist on our sail north tomorrow.

The island of Islay is charming with low hills and an abundance of wild flowers. Unfortunately the harbour of Port Ellen is less accommodating and scammy, such as:

  • The best natural anchoring spot in the harbour, probably used for over a few thousand years, has now been taken over my a dubious “not-for-profit” oufit (see malinwaters and portofellen) who has installed a small pontoon marina over it charging extortionate rates for a berth for very little service in return.
  • We initially anchored in off to the side of the channel but were later approached by a ferry official saying that there was no anchoring allowed in the area as we would be in the way of ferry manoeuvres. As far as I can gather it was a lie based on the obsessive need to control others – a common trait of a petty bureaucratic mind, but not wanting to get in a hassle we picked up our anchor and moved to the north side of the pier and haven’t been bothered since.
  • There is a laundry here but they won’t let you wash your own clothes and charge £10 to do it for you. No thanks :(. Hand washing in buckets is far more preferable :).
  • Internet café charges £1 for each half an hour you access their connection – on your own laptop! They charge even more if you want to use one of their computers. Thankfully we have mobile dongles that can connect ;).

All in all, Port Ellen would suit the weekend yachty types but for serious travelling sailors the place is bit of an unfriendly rip-off and I probably won’t be coming back any time soon. (Having said that, locals we’ve encountered on the streets seem to be pretty friendly.)

Planning to head off tomorrow morning and go northbound up the Islay / Jura channel up to the delightful (hopefully) island of Colonsay.

Port Erin Isle of Man

Chicken Rock Isle of Man

Passing Chicken Rock approach to Isle of Man

Early morning Monday 10 June we set off from Dunmore East County Waterford and motor-sailed  against a fresh southerly around Hook Lighthouse to follow the southern coast of Eire before turning NE into St. George’s Strait and into the Irish Sea.

Shortly after departing Dunmore East the bottom most sheet span attachment to the mainsail boom severed itself causing the span block to become detached and its adjoining sheet block to become jammed into the main sheet blocks on deck by the transom. I tied back the blocks to the wind vane assemblage to allow the sheet to run freely again and lowered the main sail by two panels to regain full control.

Southern tip of Isle of Man

Southern tip of Isle of Man

I contemplated re-attaching the lower sheet span at sea but then decided against it as the fuss and risk involved in working on a rig while under way didn’t seem worth the gain so we continued to sail NNE towards the Isle of Man with a full fore sail and a two panel reefed  main.

We made good passage under a fresh SW breeze and arrived in Port Erin Isle of Man early in the afternoon of Tuesday 11 June covering a distance of around 135 nautical miles in around 30 hours.

port of erin

Moored in Port of Erin

Once tied up to a secure visitor’s mooring buoy in Port Erin harbour I re-attached the lower sheet span to the boom with ease. The line had chafed itself against the steel track used to secure the sail. My new arrangement avoids that from happening.

Ara’Deg seems to be taking well to its new steel mast despite its formidable 350 kg weight. All in all the boat remains well balanced without being too tender. I am both pleased and relieved by its performance so far.

alison roeMy sailing partner Alison still suffered bouts of seasickness on this latest passage but not nearly as severe as the initial journey from  Wales to Eire – which indicates to me that her ‘sealegs’ are starting to grow :).

Our next planned excursion will be a 105 nautical mile journey from here, the Isle of Man, to Port Ellen on the Scottish island of Islay.  Assuming that wind predictions remain consistent, we will be off early Friday morning 14 June with a ETA of around 24 hours.

Rest stop in Dunmore Ireland

lawrenny junk rig dry outGiven the enormous tides of the Bristol Channel, we decided to dry Ara’ Deg out and give her a clean up before heading off on our passage up north. The bottom was pleasantly clean with only a green slime that needed to be scrubbed off – not a big task.

Thankfully no mussel beds from the Maritimes were attached.

The lack of growth underneath is a testament to the less tenacious sea-life of the higher latitudes.

Lawrenny junk rigI remember hauling out in Trinidad after spending a month in the Caribbean and a month in west Africa before that. One could hardly see the bottom paint for the encrusted life forms clinging on. After much hard scraping we removed 6 or more 5 gallon buckets completely filled with barnacles – which makes me think there is no bottom paint poisonous enough for those latitudes.

alber 37 junk rig drying outThis time around a fast scrub did the trick. I decided not to give it yet another coat of bottom paint as giving it a scrub re-activates the old bottom paint and given these high latitudes and lack of voracious sea-life should prove sufficient for the rest of the summer / autumn (or I least I tell myself that saving me £100+ in bottom paint and mess :)).

Other improvements include a new main gallows with partial 45 degree sides built from the finest old-growth Yellow Cedar I brought myself from Vancouver Island British Columbia. It needs ‘finishing’ but is currently in use.

The foremast partner / boot is still causing us some grief allowing a small but irritating amount of water to find itself down into the fore cabin getting the cushions wet. Alison is going to attack it with a sealing gun this afternoon which will hopefully sort it out for good. Or so we tell ourselves ;).

The foresail topping lift has been re-rigged so as to make it running and also pull the cradle forward a little. No more getting the yard snagged on the wrong side of the lifts this time around – I hope.

I have also raised the foresail topping lifts and mast-lift a foot so that it can no longer get snagged the bow pulpit which resulted in a broken boom and batten last year when sailing to Ireland in some awful weather.

So …

dunmore east alberg junk

Moored in Dunmore East Ireland

After a 24 hour journey from Lawrenny Pembrokeshire Wales, we decided to take shelter in Dunmore East fishing harbour near Waterford Ireland.

Northerly winds and uncomfortable lumpy seas in St George’s channel convinced us it would be better to wait a spell in southern Ireland before catching southerlies to Scotland tomorrow.

So far her new mast is working as it should. The boat is not as tender as I had feared it would be and it handled 15+ knot headwinds without excessive heel – around 8 to 12%. It will be interesting to see how much it rolls when sailing downwind to Scotland over the next couple of days. Alison asks me how it compares to the previous mainmast and I honestly can’t recall much difference.

When I was sailing up the Avalon peninsula to St. John’s Newfoundland last year I recall the boat suffering (or me suffering) excessive roll when sailing downwind under foresail only and that it calmed down considerably when hoisting and employing the main.

The next few days are calling for 10 to 20 knot southerlies and it will be a good chance to test out the downwind sailing abilities of the new rig as well as scoot up to the west coast of Scotland in good time.

Although I will try different combinations I suspect that sailing under mainsail only may be the best approach for simplicity and carefree sailing.  I have tried goose-winging but given the shadowing effect of the mainsail along with the often fish-tailing effect when surfing down overtaking waves,  the foresail would often become blanketed and become unstable experiencing random gibes.

Still working towards that Junk-rig ideal of a completely carefree sailing experience where one never has to leave the cockpit to sort something out – like snagged lines, etc. Getting closer to that ideal all the time.

But the real question is, given the increased mass of the mainmast, will the downwind roll factor be increased or decreased. Theoretically, given the increased inertia against rolling that weight aloft should bring, the downwind roll should be dampened, not increased.

But then there’s theory and reality – not always compatible.  I’ll report my finding next time I catch an Internet connection in Scotland.