Last year, we were approached by the management of a 1930’s classic wooden yacht about building sails for the boat. This lovely old classic was about to undergo a massive restoration for the new owner.
The boat was to be rebuilt to a very high level and so all the supplementary equipment including, of course, the sails had to match the required high level of finish and detailing. HOOD won the order, and so, we started a file on the project.
There were to be two sets of sails; one for cruising and one for racing. For the cruising sails, we used the unique Vektron material pioneered by HOOD over 20 years ago. Since the boat is also to compete in the classic wooden boat regattas, the ‘race’ sails needed to be all polyester (Dacron).
In keeping with the classic style of the boat, we were able put to good use many of the classic details we save for such projects. One particularly attractive detail is the leather covers over the rings in the corners of the headsails.
The boat, of course, has wooden spars, varnished to within an inch of their lives, and the metal rings used in the corners, commonly bang on the spar and mar the varnish as well as ding the wood. To get around this, we installed a lovely reddish/brown colored vegetable tanned leather over the clew rings. The hand stitching is a truly remarkable bit of artwork done by our service manager, Tom Braisted.
The leather covers what are called T rings, seen below. These accept soft eyes spliced into the end of the sheets, again making it easier and faster to change headsails. This technique also eliminates the bulk of the knot created when tying bowlines in the sheets. A common method, but one prone to cause the sheets to hang up on the shrouds when tacking. In the case of a cutter, the bulk of the bowlines also get hung up on the forestay, making tacks slow and requiring lots of grinding.
The leather covered T rings are much smoother than the bowlines typically used to secure headsail sheets.
Today, most headsails have stainless steel ‘O’ rings secured to the head and tack or more likely spectra webbing. The latter is easy on the metal parts of the furling equipment. In order to match the traditional look of the boat, we drew upon years of the sailmaking art to finish the head and tack in a manner befitting the yacht. We used bronze thimbles and spliced the luff rope around the thimble. This was then secured with heavy-duty waxed polyester hand-stitching thread, again hand-stitched.
The cruising sails, needing to be handled by fewer crewmembers had hanks on the jib luffs. This makes it much easier, faster to change sails. The race sails gave a nod to technology and had soft hanks made from spectra webbing and Velcro. This style of securing the sail to the stay is much lighter (the 26 Bronze ones used on the cruising yankee weighed close to 4 pounds…). Soft hanks provide less obstacles for the racing genoa and sheets to foul and less windage, but they take longer to put on and take off.
The bronze hanks shown below, were seized onto the sail with waxed polyester hand-stitching thread. Underneath the hanks on the sail, there is nylon reinforcing/chafe protection sewn down to the sail, too. This extra thickness where the grommet is pressed in gives it more ‘bite’.
The ‘hanks’ for the racing sails are made from spectra webbing, secured on one side of the sail.
In the pictures below, the white rod on the left is set up so the ‘offset’ for each hank is the same. The webbing has Velcro sewn to it, and after being passed through the ring, passes around the stay again and secures to Velcro on the other side of the sail.
Yankees are typically used in conjunction with a staysail, defining the classic cutter rig. As such, yankees are defined partially by having a high clew, as on the sail plan for the boat shown below. This is so the staysail that is set underneath it will work properly.
The height of the clew means that adjusting the jib’s leech line at the clew is not an option. To address this, we built in an overhead leech line. As the name implies, this style of leech line installation is secured at the clew, travels up the leech inside the leech tape and passes through blocks at the head of the sail. There is sometimes a purchase on the head of the sail to make it easier to adjust the line, and then the tail travels down a dedicated tunnel made from fabric ‘tape’ at the luff and exits at the tack where it is possible to adjust the line.
In the picture below, of the overhead leech line in the mainsail, you can see the leech line come up the leech, attach to a small tackle and then descend down the luff. The piece of fabric on the right is the cover flap that is secured over the tackle.
The leech line exits at each reef position on the luff. In the picture below, you can see the reef patch including the floppy rings, the exposed leech line and the cleats. We also installed leather chafe protection where the reef ring will bear near the mast and reefing gear. Visible also in the image are the custom cast bronze luff slides the boat sourced from a foundry in the Pacific Northwest.
Seen below in close up, these polished slides are secured to the sail with nylon webbing, again hand-stitched with the polyester, waxed twine used elsewhere for hand-stitching. The small patch and grommet also seen in this picture to the upper left is one of the reef points in the body of the sail. A short length of light line is passed through the grommet and around the foot of the sail to secure the bunt of the sail when reefed.
I often think the range of mental pictures sailors have when the word ‘sailmaker’ is uttered covers the gamut between a Norman Rockwell picture of an old bloke with a flannel shirt and Pinze-Nez glasses, sitting on a wooden bench and hand-sewing a sail all the way to gantries with guys in harnesses doing heroic things with exotic fibers.
The truth today is that sailmaking covers both ends of this spectrum and everything in between. One thing is for sure though and that is it takes truly dedicated, really skilled, career sailmakers to finish sails to the degree equal to the high levels required by this boat. This artesian end of the spectrum was one of the principle reasons why HOOD was selected to build sails for this classic yacht. Sixty years on, HOOD Sailmakers is still the most trusted name in sailmaking.