Dear George: lazy jacks 2

Dear George

Back to lazy jacks. You say you want lots of detail, so this is what I do on Blue Mistress to lower and stow the sails before returning to the mooring where I would restow everything that needed restowing.

On the radio the other day, I heard Colin Dexter, who wrote the Inspector Morse series for television, say that, when writing a book, he definitely knew the beginning and the end of the story but the middle was always a muddle. Manoeuvres on the boat are the same – they have a beginning, a muddle and an end. It’s your job to manage the muddle – and to do that, you need to think your moves through first:

    • Put on your life-jacket and/or tether if you aren’t wearing one or the other already. The rule is: if the situation is such that you are beginning to wonder whether you should wear them – put them on. Many people wear them all the time.
    • Make sure you are out of the main fairway, and any traffic. Avoid the racing fleets. They appear en masse from nowhere. You need enough sea-room to drift downwind. It takes longer by yourself – (not always true, ed.). Keep an eye out for where the boat is and other boats are nearby.
    • Set the self-steering – by the time we get to downing sails, the self-steering gear on Blue Mistress has been stowed. I have a short line with heavy bungee loops at either end. The loops slip easily over the quarter cleats and and three or four coils of the line on the tiller will hold her on course for as long as it takes to go forward and return to the cockpit. The long keel helps.
    • Check that the way forward is clear – particularly the step onto the coach roof. One of the reasons for the upright ‘come-in’ on Blue Mistress rather than a wider sprayhood is that it makes it easy to step from the cockpit to the coachroof. Being older and less athletic, I need all the help I can get.
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    • If the lazy jacks have been stowed against the mast as in the image below, you will have to free them from around the mast cleat and reset them. So, first, you have to free the lazy jack lines from the jamming cleat next to the cockpit clutches.
    • Now let go the fore-sheet and free the foresail halyard.
    • Attach the tether to the jack-line (if appropriate), and go forward to catch the foresail, securing it against the safety lines. You will already have three lengths of shot-chord attached to the safety line. It takes a moment to secure the sail. (I use the port safety lines – perhaps because I am left-handed). By the way, if I’d known I was going to use this image for a demo, I’d have secured the genoa neatly. Here we have just left the mooring and the lazy jacks are stowed against the mast (see part three)
    • Image
    • Back to the cockpit. As you do so, check the lazy jacks are not caught up on the sail or boom.
    • Tighten the port fore-sheet to secure the clew of the foresail.
    • Then tighten the topping lift, lifting the boom so that it will clear the sprayhood. This may mean releasing the vang and the mainsheet if close-hauled.
    • Tighten the lazy jack lines as far as they will go, slipping them into the appropriate jamming cleats. The lines on the lee side of the sail will tend to flatten it. You may not be able to tighten these perfectly – meaning they will be loose when you drop the sail. This shouldn’t be a problem. They will hold the sail anyway.
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    • Collect the sail ties from the locker and disentangle them. If you stuff them in your pocket, pulling one out is likely to pull the whole lot out leading to a mad scrabble on the deck to stop them going over the side. And threading them through your belt can result in two or three coming out at once. Work out how you’re going to use them.
    • To drop the mainsail on Blue Mistress, the boat has to be headed into the wind. At anything over five degrees or so off the wind the sail slides will jam against the mast and the sail will be caught partly down. As the bow falls further off the wind, so the sail will start to drive the boat forward, jamming the slides even more. There is no choice but to return to the helm to bring it back into the wind.
    • At this stage, I let the traveller out as far as it will go. This allows more space on the coachroof to furl the sail. (I hadn’t thought about until now, but I tend to come up into the wind on a port tack, which leaves the boom out to starboard. I find it easier to stow the sail from this side of the boom – perhaps because I’m left-handed. I don’t know what other people do.)
    • When the boat has been turned into the wind, leave the helm and tighten the mainsheet to prevent the boom swinging uncontrollably while on the coach-roof. The boat will come up into the wind and the sail will start to flap. (If you assume that you will be on the windward side of the boom and that it will not try to sweep you overboard, then eight times out of ten you will be right . . .)
    • Move to the forward end of the cockpit, release the clutch holding the main halyard and let the sail start to drop.
    • Attach the tether to the jack line, step onto the coach roof and go forward to the mast. This reduces the chance of the boom knocking you over but also, as mentioned above, the sail needs to be pulled down the mast in a hurry before the slides jam. You will feel the bow begin to fall away as the boat slows to a stop and the wind catches it. The trick is to get the sail down and under control before the bow starts to fall away.
    • The lazy jacks are there to hold the bulk of the sail close to the boom. Without them the folds of sail will tend to blow over the side and, in a blow, it can be difficult for one person to bring it back under control. It’s not impossible, it’s just easier and safer with the lazy jacks when single-handed. (By the way, the sail battens will not necessarily fall evenly and they will need to be aligned with the boom fairly swiftly).

At this stage, the boat should be lying quietly and the sail can be carefully furled. Make sure the sail folds of the sail formed by the slides are all on the same side, then, working from the mast along the length of the boom, take a two foot wide section of the foot of the sail – (hammock-like), and fold it over the bulk of the sail, aligning the battens and tucking the reefing lines into the folds as you go. The sail ties are turned round the bundle with the loose-end tucked under the turn so that they can be easily released if the engine fails and you need to sail again before you get to the mooring. It also leaves them ready for the next time you sail.

And all the above assumes that you know the engine is going to start so that you can motor back to the mooring. The one time I didn’t check before stowing the sails, the engine refused to start . . . that’s another story.

That’s all there is to it, George. If your eyes have glazed over, I’m sorry, but you did ask for detail. Have I got images of each stage? You’ve got to be joking!

I’ll tell you the few problems I have had next time.

To be continued . . .

After the race

I used this first picture on a ‘Dear George’ post the other day. I had forgotten the series I took of the Fastnet boats after they finished in Plymouth back in August.






I like the images. They say something about this race – the yachts involved, the numbers of crew,  the conditions.

On being left-handed

On being left-handed

Have you ever been shown how to tie a knot by a right-handed person? “The end goes round this, over that, round again and under the other.OK? . . . Now you do it.”  Good teaching, useful learning – if you’re right-handed.

But it can be a real trial if you’re left-handed. A left-hander will pick up the rope and find that what s/he sees in front of him/her is different from the demonstration. It’s not necessarily the fault of the teacher, from the start it just doesn’t “look right”. S/he has to think it through again. Sometimes this takes time and the student appears slow, sometimes not.

I have spent most of my life bemused by the gap between how I am told I should be doing this or that task and how I end up doing it. I have driven several severely right-handed teachers wild with frustration. Older now and hopefully a little wiser, I am still left-handed and that gap between theory and action has not diminished.

In fact, I have come to enjoy it. Within what I always think of as a deceptively slow approach, life neither follows a straight line nor flashes by in black and white. There is an opportunity to stand back and observe. And there is an opportunity to be creative.

On the boat, it is not the left or right hand that is so important, it is the wish to observe, and, from that, the desire to create.



The Eye of the Beholder

Thank you, Max, for your comment. I have taken it on board. This is for you.

I stopped writing the blog for a while because the rest of life took over. Now I’m looking back again and wondering where the cumulative experience lies – what am I learning? Hence the following:


I slipped the mooring and motored the mile down to the Citadel. There was no wind, and very few boats out this early. I had Plymouth Sound more or less to myself.

With sails set – mainsail and genoa, we barely made headway, the tide doing most of the work. I poured a coffee from the flask and found a biscuit. Time to enjoy the moment. Time to reflect.

Two or three fishing boats emerged from Sutton Harbour, hustling their separate ways past me and out to the open sea.

This one caught my eye.


They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, there is beauty here but not necessarily the beauty of lines and colour, not in the magazine-image sense anyway. The beauty here comes from all that has gone before and all that is to come from this boat. It’s not so very different from the Ceres that I have posted on a number of times. We do like her lines but, in reality, she was a Westcountry trading ketch – it was the work she did that made her. (Tugster will understand this).

Passing in front of me now was someone’s livelihood – with all the political, economic, environmental, maritime safety, health and safety, technology and science issues that surround it. Those same issues that are increasingly pressing on you and me.

But, even in the face of all that, there were still elegant lines. For this one moment, for me only, this slightly ungainly metal workshop had created an almost perfect wave in an otherwise table-flat sea. And it was beautiful.

It’s those moments that I go to sea for – not to forget all the other stuff, (how can we?), but to add to the total experience of life.

On sailing a Folksong – Self-steering gear

Earlier in the year, Seb (Mischief) asked about self-steering gear on a Folksong. He was interested in a bracket to carry it.

I know he has now fitted a Hasler gear and has since sailed from the Tamar to Portsmouth with it, so I hope to hear how he got on.

In the meantime, this is the gear I picked for Blue Mistress – the Windpilot Pacific Light.

One of the reasons I like the Folksong is that there are no predetermined class rules. You have to make up your own mind. So, having  decided which self-steering would suit me, then comes the problem of how to mount it on the stern with a rudder post that stretches as far aft of the transom as that on the Folksong?

This is what we eventually decided:

The Pacific Light is relatively simple to fit on most boats and Peter Foerthman of Windpilot is immensely helpful. However, there are always problems to overcome in any project like this. If anyone with a Folksong would like more detail, let me know.

There is a learning curve. I have already discovered a great deal about sail balance using the gear . . . but there is a long way to go, and, as only way to learn  is to get out there and do it, I am going to keep Blue Mistress in the water through the winter and stick at it.

On sailing a Folksong – A ‘come-in’ for Blue Mistress

I have had a small ‘come-in’ fitted on Blue Mistress.

This is not the large, curved, ‘extra-room’ spray-hood seen on most modern cruising yachts but a small, upright pram hood over the companionway. I believe this design is called a racing spray-hood, but I prefer ‘come-in’ – (a description I came across in a book written in the 1950’s),  for the comfort of the name.

I can now sit in my favourite spot out of the weather – on the companion way sill with my feet on the engine housing and a good view forward.

The frame is well-constructed and robust (Dicky B Marine). It is designed to fold flat onto the deck with an angle to clear the wooden bar at the front end of the hatch. In the upright position, it is secured firmly onto the bulkhead either side of the companionway with straps.

The canvas zips onto the frame and is attached to the aforementioned bar with studs – it can be shipped in a trice. The original design had the attachment further forward to give it an elegant slope and also create some room to stow a camera etc. This would have involved fitting a new batten across the hatch housing. However, bolts through the deck here would have stopped the hatch sliding forward. In the event,  it has been kept as small as possible.

The opening is just too small for me to enter and leave without having to push the trailing edge forward about six inches. Initially that meant lowering it completely every time I went below. The problem has been solved with two short lengths of shock cord stretched from the angle at the bottom of the frame to the point where the retaining straps are fastened. These straps are very secure but it is fiddly to keep releasing and tightening them. The shock cord does the job perfectly.

I particularly like this design because it leaves the winches and lines clear. I can go forward easily without tripping over it.

Also, the window is big enough not to block the view forward from the tiller.

. . . I’ve yet to trial it in a gale

. . . and get used to the interruption to the lines of the boat!

From Steeple Point – coincidence

This afternoon I finished reading John Howlett’s book – ‘ Mostly About Boats’.

In the last chapter, acknowledging the experience at his disposal – (a lifetime sailing and having designed a number of his own boats), he describes the boat that he would now build for himself. One that he could sail single-handed if need be.

Remember, he was writing in 1956, when he was in his sixties.

He gives a sail plan:

I looked at the plan and thought, *Surely, I’ve seen a boat with a sail plan like that recently. . .”

From Steeple Point – character and individuality

I found John Howlett’s book in my favourite second-hand bookshop – Books by the Sea in Bude.

‘Mostly About Boats’ could have been the title of this blog.

Three pages in: “We are so controlled and directed and generally bedevilled from the cradle to the grave, that any activity engendering personal initiative and self-reliance – qualities in serious danger of extinction, is surely laudable in itself . . .”

I’m beginning to like this man.

Talking of a trip to Flushing and the Scheldt, “. . . we were so fortunate as to see a Schevingen Bom. Nearly as broad as she was long and completely rectangular, save that the angles were rounded off, she was immensely strong, and was built to run in anywhere on the sands, where she was loaded or unloaded from carts at low water. Like so many things of character and individuality, they are now extinct.

. . . and about cruising: “Escapism? Well, that is an easy taunt to throw at those who ignore the values of the herd; but if we seek contentment and, perhaps, some enlightenment on those same values, here is a road for those who will take it.”

. . . and then a sentence that resonates: “The flood of man’s ingenuity has overwhelmed his power to create beauty.”

I looked at the short biography of the author on the cover – Mr Howlett, the Editor of the Cruising Association Bulletin, who calls his book a “hydrobiograpy” . . .

The date of publication? – 1956.

He must have been more or less the same age as I am now.

What would he think of 2010?