Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spar Thoughts

Mast, boo and gaff
Complicated intersection
Spar making is an art. There is so much more to it beyond whittling a square piece of stock into a round stick. Spars are the parts that hold the sails and rigging that propel a boat forward. They can be simple, such as those found in working boats like our indigenous sharpies. Or they can be very complex like the rig on the catboat Sarah or the Sparkman Stephens schooner Brilliant. Whatever the rig or vessel, things don’t work if they are not properly conceived and constructed. That has been our
focus: build the best spars and rig the boat properly. The outcome should be well executed, functional, safe, smart, and sail well!

Looking back at the history of sailing rigs, one gains an appreciation of the form/function principle: the smaller the vessel the simpler the rig. The obvious function of the spars was to hold the sail in place. Another very important function was to balance the boat. Many of our working boats developed their rigs by trial and error and we have benefited from this rich history so that today, most of the innovation with spars and rigging has more to do with materials than design. In fact some of the world class racing sleds are resorting to a semi gaff headed sail! That may be a broad generalization but the concept is pretty accurate.

Baybird fore deck
Baybird Foredeck
Spars are the basis for rigging. Rigging is not only functional but beautiful if thought out carefully and executed with an eye to detail. The rigger’s job can be very complex, and if the craftsmanship of the splices or bending on of the sails or serving of the standing rigging is not done well, then the entire ship is at risk. This holds true for any vessel large or small. Lines unravel if they’re not whipped. Knots come loose if they’re not properly tied. And if you choose the wrong knot for the job then that could haunt you later.

56 foot mast for 41 foot ketch Leah
Mastheads are the pinnacle of rigging: everything meets at the top. The mast on the left is 56 feet, so everything had better work. A fractional rig is so dependant on standing rigging and all the accompanying hardware, most of which must be fabricated to fit properly. The box section itself is not strong enough to carry the load of a full mainsail and jib. Internal blocking must be carefully conceived, and properly shaped.

Glue up of box section mast
Once the box is assembled and glued, there is no chance of making adjustments. All the standing and running rigging issues need to be  addressed beforehand. Any elecrical plans should be drawn out on paper then installed before assembly. The fractional rig offers so may challenges but the catboat rig is by far our favorite, offering its own set of critera and problems to solve.
Perhaps its the appearance of simplicity that draws boat owners to this very American rig. To the spar maker, the challenge is in making it perform well but safely. With new fibers on the market we can now rig these boats using some time worn traditions, such as strops in place of through bolts. 
Two Classic Ca catboats under sail
 What a sight to see beautifully rigged boats tracking on course, sails trimmed right, spars shapely and strong, but not too heavy. Proportions are just right. All the rigging works as it should. The sail goes up and down with ease and sheets nicely too. Speed and the ablilty to point well were never atributable to catboats but that has all changed today. Boats can be built to high performance standards without looking too modern. Just look at these two!


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