Sunday, January 1, 2012
Questions About Dories, Junk Rigs and Stormy Weather
We've had some questions about the details of the way the dory design of Easy Go performed in storm conditions. We use some time tested techniques in heavy weather but it really just comes down to three techniques that have always worked well for us. For winds that come up on the nose and we don't want to lose ground we take down the head sail and lash it to center to keep it from flopping around. The main sail is left up with two panels and sheeted to center. The boat comes up into the wind with the helm lashed to the lee. I prefer not to lash it all the way over as it becomes a drag rather than a steering device placing more loads on the rudder. The flat bottomed dory design will fall off slightly at between one and two knots typically. She creates a slick to windward that breaks most of the waves making the ride much calmer and stable. The boat will heal a bit, about ten degrees and the crew gets a good rest. For downwind running in a gale and more we utilize two techniques. Reggy, our wind vane self steering decides when it can no longer cope with the heavy wind by taking up the stretch in the nylon control cables to the tiller and simply laying over to the lee side. When this happens we have two options. For running down the wind we lash the tiller to center and put warps out the stern under bare poles. The warps are 100 yards of anchor cable and mooring lines with one of our large orange fisherman float/fenders attached to the end. This rig passes through one or two waves behind us and provides a good breaking action when the boat is pushed forwards on the face of a wave. The second warp is our 10 kilo Bruce anchor on 75 feet of ¼ inch chain and a bit more anchor rode. This sinks down and does not tangle with the floating warp. Typically it trails at about 20 degrees and provides great stability and a slowing action. Even with all this dragging in the water we have seen speeds up to four knots running down the wind. The boat does not go straight down the wind but tends to be about 20 degrees off to one side allowing the waves to pass diagonally past the stern. The occasional wave will break over the stern but the Griffith hatches that we installed work very well at keeping the insides dry.. Our second method of running down the wind is to take down the sails and lash the tiller to lee as though we are heaving to. We leave a warp out the stern. This increases the angle to the waves to about forty degrees and the keel creates a very strong turbulence to windward breaking virtually all the waves. Without the drag the boat will heave to but does not create as effective a slick. Both bare pole techniques give great stability to the boat. When the boat starts to roll a bit it is time to change techniques to a straight downwind run. Reggy comes into play here and will steer the boat quite well as the wind starts to decrease. He lets us know when it is time by standing back up a bit as the wind decreases pressure. We put a panel or two of the head sail up to assist Reggy with going straight downwind and to help prevent a broach. The floating drag is left out during this phase. When the winds drop a bit further we start putting up the mainsail to get fully under sail. Easy Go lets us know when we need more sail as she tends to get a little rolly. Put up another panel of sail and she is stable and moving forward efficiently. Having sailed conventional and junk rigs I would prefer to have the junk rig for really serious heavy weather. While one can carry a large inventory of sails for a conventional rig when they blow out they are finished. With our junk rig sails, which on this most recent trip were decidedly tired an well past their expiry date, we were able to make our destination with sails that were only 80 percent remaining and sailed over 1000 NM in this shape to get us to the end. We do have strategies. We left the bottom three panels reefed when the winds rose to ensure we had something to sail with after the storms subsided. The top panel of the head sail was entirely gone. Nothing but a few ribbon left on the yard. Lashing the battens and yards together to retain the shape of the sail allowed remain portions to work well. Grommets on the both leech and luff pulled out taking large chunks of sail with them. I sewed the sails directly to the battens and while not really pretty they did work well. The Junk sails allow for a minimum of deck work and repairs can usually be left until sea conditions are safe and suitable for the repairs needed. We carry large pieces of light canvas drop cloths typically used by painters as a form of patching that we can do underway. While we have not had to utilize them yet it gives us confidence that we could fashion a workable sail at sea if we needed to. We didn't need to lash the sails down during storm conditions but simply sheeted them as close to center as we could. We did put small pieces of rope around the sail bundles to keep them from fluttering in the wind and this keep damage to a minimum. We had the main sail lazy jack fail at the end of one storm where the brand new line chafed through on the eye under the boom. We were able to repair this at night in fairly rough conditions. And keep from damaging the rig much more. The sails was torn by the lazy jack when it failed but the tear did not grow larger over the following weeks of sailing. Our new waterproof headlights, normally used by climbers, proved the worth with the night work we had to do this trip. We lash our sheets directly to the battens. We have had bad experiences with the use of webbing directly to the sail. We had observed that the edge of the sail abraded with the webbing and have had no problems at all with the batten attachment. Sail cloth is always a great point of discussion. Kathy made the set of sails that we are now replacing in 2005. Made of 5 oz cloth as per recommendations from a number of sources it has given us many miles of use. We always felt it was a little light and required many repairs over its lifetime. In discussions with the sail loft where our new sails will come to life we were informed that the material we had used in the first set was an inferior cloth that had a loose weave that was resin filled. It has a short life and breaks down from UV quickly. The sail maker was surprised with amount of travel we have done with them and the lack of reinforcements. These sails were truly finished as they fell apart as we were laying them out at the loft. The new sails will be in 7.5 oz polyester cloth with a dense weave and little resin. While we know a lot about sailing we admit that the technicalities of sailcloth are beyond our expertise. Niice to speak with someone who knows the ins and outs of the materials themselves. This trip saw the top two sheeted battens of the main sail take a bend of about six inches although they did not kink. This is the first time this has happened since we built the boat. I straightened them our with a piece of wood for a fulcrum and lashing to a deck cleat. Working them slowly and a little at a time they are almost back to normal. They will be placed in the lower sections of the new sail in a less stressed position while taking the undamaged battens and rotating them into the top part of the sail We have yet to kink or break a batten and are pleased with their performance. Now to the dory. I am decidedly biased when it comes to the dory shape. Being Canadian, the dory is almost as much a Canadian marine icon as the canoe. They proved themselves time and again in the historic Grand Banks fishery. Easy Go has never had her masts touch the water although they were close once on a breaking wave on a bank in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Our recent storm experience had us concerned for a few hours of hurricane force winds. The sea was entirely foam and moving horizontally across its surface. We were definitely at the mercy of the elements and closed all the hatches, including our round hurricane hatch, and just rolled along. We never went more than thirty degrees over even with large waves breaking against the hull. Once conditions eased we opened the hurricane hatch and started using the pram hood once again. We seldom have ever closed the hurricane hatch and prefer having the pram hood for sail adjustments and looking around. The rear deck hatch is only opened for the rare occasion where I need to go on deck, such as when setting warps. I've had the rear deck hatch open doing some job only to find myself in spray or in one occasion to find the deck under a foot of water. The raised design of the Griffith hatch keeps the majority of the water out. We have put lifelines around the deck recently and feel far more secure. When going forward and often even on the back deck I'll put on a harness connected to a central lifeline to stay on the boat.