On sailing a Folksong – companionway cover

When I bought Blue Mistress, she had a spray hood.

Unfortunately, it got in the way every time I wanted to go below or when going forward, so I spent most of the time with it folded down.

Folded down, it still got in the way when I went forward as I tended to trip over it.

It did, however, protect the sliding hatch from leaking rainwater.

Nevertheless, I removed it at the first refit and haven’t really missed it.

The only difficulty now was that there was no protection from rainwater getting in around the edges of the sliding hatch.

So, at the last refit, Richard produced this cover.

This has almost solved the problem and I am very pleased with it.

It is held on with popper studs and rolls back neatly with a couple of strips of velcro. It can be removed easily.

If it comes on to rain, or there is spray, the hatch slides over and the cover unrolled very simply, rather than having to go below for the drop boards.

When below, it can be rolled down to allow privacy without closing off the companionway entirely.

I say almost solved the problem.

The next design will include narrow side panels to protect the sides of the hatch. We have had some torrential downpours here this summer and occasionally water has got in, particularly on the port side. Not nearly as much as before. (Of course, this also says something about the  original hatch design).

Side panels will effect the way it is rolled back, but I am sure this can be overcome.

On sailing a Folksong – those lazy jacks again

Saturday morning around 0930, heading towards Mount Batten Pier with a following wind.

All morning, Plymouth Longroom has been delivering a Mariners Notice of an impending powerboat race in Plymouth Sound, warning other boats to stay clear. There are few boats out. I am heading towards Mount Batten pier, preparing to downsails in the spot I usually use when solo so that I can motor back to the mooring.

I start to wonder if today woould be a good day to sail the nautical mile, if not onto the mooring, at least close to it. Could I sail single-handed in restricted waters without making a complete scallops of it?

This is a 25 foot boat with just me on board. There is a wide S bend to negotiate but enough width in a river that takes commercial shipping. The wind is southerly but will differ in the river. It will be heading me as I turn towards the Yacht Haven and it will be gusting in the river. The tide is still be dropping, and is towards the end of its run.  There’s certainly enough wind tot take me over it. Depth may or may not be an issue. The traffic is minimal . . .  And I would like the experience.

There would have been a time when I would have done it without asking the questions. The trouble is, the more I know . . .

So, now, decision taken, I am almost too far to the right of the end of the pier, the foresail is goosewinged and a gybe looks likely before I clear it. But as we get closer, the wind backs slightly, blowing along the pier, and we slip round the end with at least thirty yards to spare.

There are three or four boats emerging from Sutton Harbour and a racing yacht circling as the crew work on the mainsail.There’s is plenty of room for Blue Mistress if we keep to the right of the fairway.

The wind is now blowing downriver, more south easterly, with enough south in it to keep me outside the line of mooring buoys. Round the green fairway buoy, hardening onto the wind towards Victoria Wharves. A large yacht – (white, tall sides) is motoring downstream, passing swiftly astern. A fishing boat, closer to the Plymouth side, looks concerned, slows, turns to head us, (perhaps thinking I may tack early), realises I won’t, then passes well astern.

By now, I am adjacent to the entrance to the Wharves, and the wall is coming up. Still plenty of water below us. A glimpse of a man above, hosing equipment. Foresheet to hand, tiller hard over, Blue Mistress comes about, sails flap, I drop the port foresheet, haul in the starboard one quickly before the wind fills the sail . . . and we are bounding up and across river. I ease the foresheet slightly to give more belly. Hauling the sheet  in  just before the sail fills is very easy but, in my enthusiasm, I tend to flatten the sail.

The wind is coming in gusts now and we dinghy-sail, bringing her head up when the strength of the wind allows and noting the slight variations in direction. It comes across the Yacht Haven straight down this section of the river, and then begins to back a little as it draws across Turnchapel. We’re heading towards the moorings of boats of a similar size to Blue Mistress. There is plenty of depth of water here but I don’t want to get in among the moorings.

A strong gust, we heel, head up, and then go about. This time I am more gentle on the helm, deciding not to push it hard over but to see whether being less forceful will still bring her about but keep momentum up. It seems to work and Blue Mistress moves smoothly onto the next tack. Despite my concerns about the rudder, it does the job.

This is the narrowest section. We are head on to a corner of the river wall. It is approaching swiftly. At low springs, there is a rocky reef exposed off this point so, although there is probably enough water, I give it room, go about and head up towards what the chart designates as a ‘turning area’  for the larger commercial ships. Now Blue Mistress and I have navigated the S-bend in the river and have opened up the stretch towards Oreston and beyond.

In towards the seaward end of the Yacht Haven, and we are headed upstream, slowing as we head into a more sheltered stretch. It seems the tide is running a little stronger here.

When I put my head out of the hatch just after 0600 this morning, ‘Stability’ was docking at Cattedown Wharf. We pass along her starboard side.

I bring Blue Mistress head to wind. . .

and, just as I let go of the main, we get caught by a heavy shower of rain.

Roundly cursing having to stow wet sails, I notice the lazy jacks are still led forward. Not only are the sails wet and slippery, but the mainsail is now in an untidy heap. I have sail ties in my pocket, but, by the time I have gathered it into a fairly neat bundle, tied it, let the foresail drop to the deck, and stowed it (wet) into its bag through the forehatch, the tide has taken us back down the river the whole length of ‘Stability’. Engine on, motor back to where we were and finish cleaning up.

Then back to the mooring to complete the task.

Single-handed, a lot more forethought is needed – forethought comes from experience.

The lazy jacks should have been put back before we rounded Mount Batten Pier. I won’t forget again.

On sailing a Folksong – Lazy Jacks

Lyme Regis to Lands End including the Isles of Scilly
Outlook: Southwesterly 3 or 4 becoming variable 3, then southeasterly 4 or 5 later in west. Smooth or slight. Mainly fair. Moderate or good.

I think I’ve solved my lazy jacks problem.

I was pleased they were already fitted when I bought Blue Mistress.

They do have certain advantages:

  • when lowering the main, the sail folds relatively neatly onto the boom.
  • this is good when single-handed or with inexperienced crew. I can drop the sail without having to grab hold and furl it immediately.
  • also, when slab reefing, the loose sail is contained and need not necessarily be controlled with reef points.

But they have disadvantages too:

  • the primary one being that, with a battened mainsail, the first and often the second batten get caught during hoisting, especially in a hatful of wind. This means lowering the sail slightly to free it and start again. Single-handed this is very frustrating.
  • also, they have to be loosened after the sail is set and the topping lift released to a) allow the leach to take the weight of the sail and b) to release the full belly of the sail.
  • this means leaving the helm, going forward and making adjustments both sides of the mast.
  • and this means that they are loose and untidy during sailing.

To solve the problem, I have previously:

  • juggled with the wind and the heading of the boat, using the auto pilot to keep her head to wind. This gave only limited success. It kept the boat head to wind, but required more speed to do so, which, in turn increased the apparent wind, which, in turn, increased the sail flapping.
  • turned to head into the wind, to combine it with the boat almost stopped. Limited success again, needing a very swift hoist. If this failed, the half raised sail would allow the head to fall off the wind and jam the sail part way up. Back to the engine.
  • shortened the lazy jack lines, which had the effect of bringing the the blocks forward as well as  lowering their position. The idea here was to allow the battens to clear the confines of the lines lower in the hoist. This works better in light winds, but not in heavy ones.

The week before last I struggled for ten minutes or so to get the sail up and finally decided that I would get rid of them altogether if I couldn’t come up with a better solution.

I spent Friday night on the boat again and wanted to rig a stretch of canvas over the boom to make a tent over the companion way. The lazy jacks were in the way, so I loosened them off and led them to the mast, hooking them around their respective cleats before tightening the lines again – instant solution to the tent problem and instant solution to the sail raising problem.

In the clip above you can just make out the port lazy jack lines leading along the bottom of the boom and around the cleat.

On Saturday morning, the mainsail went up in one steady haul, the engine was stopped and we were sailing.

The next decision has to be taken at the end of a day’s sailing as to when to reinstate the lines.

On sailing a Folksong – update

Blue Mistress has twenty lockers with removable lids, twelve of them in the bunks. Laid out across a worktop and painted white, the lids looked surreal – bright islands in a dark sea.

There is a new folding lid across the stove as well as one above the portable loo. (Before, both these lids were a little tight to remove. There was a trick to it –  meaning that I could manage them fine because I knew how to do it, but the occasional crew didn’t. Therefore, they found the loo difficult to use . . . and said so.)

The varnished trim around the bunks has been matched along both sides, but is yet to be fitted.

The chart table has been revamped.  The old one was slightly too big to keep shipped all the time, although it was a very good dining table. Unfortunately, it also had a split in it. So it has been shortened, reworked with fiddles and, although still removable, will be fitted securely across-ships.

There is a concern that giving. the main cabin an eggshell white finish makes it look clinical. Well, not with all the gear I put in it it won’t! At the moment it looks stark but the cushions and trim will soften it. It’s a boat with a parlour in it, not a parlour with a boat around it.

But it is a boat of just under 26 foot with less than five foot headroom in the main cabin. We are not talking ‘large yacht’ we are talking ‘making a small space as comfortable as possible in circumstances that can be quite uncomfortable’.

Therefore, the art of stowage is magnified here. I have only a hazy idea how the long distance voyagers manage their stowage in boats of this size. A lot of gear must be piled on spare bunks, every nook and cranny filled. Single-handed, it must be tight; two of you must be very tight.

Stowage is not a static art – hiding things away in the bowels of the boat. It’s a dynamic art. Everything has to be accessible, able to be reached when needed and moved to wherever it’s used – sometimes in a hurry.  It’s about lockers that open easily (but not too easily in a sea). It’s about knowing where everything is, and having an instinctive ability to move around the boat to reach it.

It’s about establishing regular habits to be able to give measured responses to irregular events.

It’s about seamanship – handling yourself, handling the boat, handling the gear.


This week, I have noticed a sea-change in my thinking.

For the past four years, I have been concerned about the fabric of the boat – “should we do this or that, change this or that, keep this or that the same, or what?”  Each year, I have concentrated on one part of it. Each year I have taken countless images and studied them for this or that reason. I have sometimes followed outside advice, and sometimes followed my own intuition  and, with the help of Richard Banks at DickyB Marine, we have progressed.

There’s plenty still to do – it’s a boat, there’s always plenty to do . . . and even more to learn.

But the major work is over. From now on, “it is what it is – get on with it”.

I am looking to get Blue Mistress  back in the water and go sailing.