Monthly: May 2010

26 May


Montgomery 15 Gaff Cutter Conversion


by Doug Kelch

I have always admired traditional rigs with a special place in my heart for the gaff cutter rig. I cam close to buying one on several occasions, but they were always wooden boats that were older and larger than I wanted. In reading a number of books on traditional rigs that implied a traditional rig on a modern hull could be very effective, and reading about the amazing accomplishments of Charles Stock (70,000 nm in a 16-foot gaff cutter), I decided to convert my Montgomery 15 to a gaff cutter.

I hoped the conversion would result in a more versatile sail configuration without giving up too much of the nice performance of the Montgomery 15 Bermuda sloop rig. Charles Stock’s analysis made me nervous as he predicted as much as a 10 degree loss in pointing ability. If this turned out to be the case the conversion would be a nice exercise, and would satisfy my curiosity, but would not be retained for any length of time.

I needed a new set up sails so I bit the bullet and did the design work using a combination of technical information, advice from knowledgeable people ( John Harris @ Chesapeake Light Craft, Jerry Montgomery, and Douglas Fowler Sailmaker), rules of thumb, and cosmetics. I patterned the overall sail plan after Charles Stock’s boat and went with a low to moderate peaked gaff with two nearly evenly divided foresails.

The results?

Outstanding! I don’t believe I lost more than 1 – 3 degrees in pointing ability but, with the increased power in the lower sail area, the velocity made good to weather is at least as good as the Bermuda sloop rig. The boat gets up to hull speed in a lower wind range than before and yet does not require a reef until 3 – 5 kts more wind than the original sail configuration.

At the Lake Havasu poker run there were very few boats who showed the ability to move in the light air as easily as the gaff cutter.

With the lower center of effort the gusts do not affect the boat as quickly as before and sailing range of wind speeds seems much broader. The first day of sea trials it was gusting near 30 mph and handled well without a reef. The boat heels less quickly in the gusts which makes the gusts seem less powerful.

Another M15 sailor invited me out to play in a wind forecast of 28 mph gusting to 40 so off we went. I was a bit later into the water than the other boat so we did not have any time to do a side by side comparison. However with just the small staysail and a double reefed main I was able to punch through the waves on Lake Pleasant, AZ ( 2 – 4 ft) and keep the boat speed between 4 and 4.5 kts. The local weather recording systems confirmed that the steady winds were 28 mph but only recorded gusts to 33 mph. It was so much fun that I sailed the 10 miles to the end of the lake and spent the night on board.

I attribute much of the performance to an excellent set of sails by Douglas Fowler.

Concerns? No concerns about sailing ability or cruising, but is does take longer to rig and get into the water. It has a removable bowsprit that cannot be mounted while on the trailer. The lower, spread out sail plan increases the turning resistance and she is slower through a tack.
I am very very happy with the rig and look forward to the opportunity to cruise or race with other M15 s to complete the comparison.

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24 May


My First Knockdown


I finally got out to the lake after several months of family stuff, work stuff, honeydo stuff, and all-around-too-lazy-to-get-off-my-ass stuff that precluded any sailing adventures other than of the armchair variety. It was reading about Tony Bigras’ adventures with Miss Cindy in the last issue of SCA that finally got me off my butt and making the trip to the lake. In fact, as I begin this post, I’m there right now– At anchor in Why Cove, tapping away on my Macbook Pro. Here’s a self-portrait:

I’m quite a handsome fellow, as I’m sure you will agree.  (I’m taken. ladies, thank you very much.)

I almost didn’t launch today. The wind was picking up as I arrived at the boat, and for a moment, the former pilot in me cleared his throat and made rude gestures, trying to get my attention,  before I swatted him into the background.  Failure was not an option: I had already purchased  a substantial pile of fattening, salt-encrusted munchies and cheap red wine to provision for this trip, and if I returned home with too much evidence of my seagoing gluttony, the Admiral would surely have me keelhauled. No, I had the food, and the booze, I had to go out there on the water and consume it.  So I launched.

The sail to Why Cove was mostly uneventful. The wind was behind me, and running before it, I was wondering why I had the jitters earlier. It was quiet, the breeze was just enough to keep me cool, and other than the fact that the wind kept shifting as I rounded Windy Hill, life was good. There were two other sailboats out on the lake– One was a pretty large boat beating towards me under genoa alone, a sight which I found kind of odd.  As I watched, the other boat got laid over by a gust and rounded up, genoa flapping madly.  He got it sorted out quickly and resumed his course. I kept watching as we passed, wondering if he’d get pushed over again, but he did not.  I shrugged.  One of those AZ gusts. A few minutes later, the other  sailboat, this time some species of open cat boat about 18′ long, came around Windy Hill under a deeply reefed sail. We waved as we passed, and I rolled in my genoa bit as the wind became a bit gusty.

The wind was pretty fluky. It kept changing direction and intensity. I rolled in genoa, I rolled out genoa. I jibed about 20 times. All this goofing around with sails was interfering  with some quality munchie eating time, but I persevered,  and ran the entire distance, dripping with pickle juice,  stepping on spilled goldfish crackers, to a waypoint I had made that marked a good approach into the cove. My brilliant plan was  to attempt my first anchoring under sail alone. When I hit the waypoint, I hove to and prepared the anchor and rode for my imminent arrival. Once I was hove too, I realized that the wind was gusting pretty good– But I did not reduce sail,  anticipating less wind once inside the cove. 

I fetched the anchor off its bracket on the pulpit and brought it back to the cockpit, leading the rode outside of the shrouds. I fed the 10 feet of chain into a 5 gallon bucket, and positioned the anchor for a quick deployment from the cockpit.  Then I set course into Why Cove.  I noticed a large party barge anchored inside the cove, and several jet skis were blasting about inside. Plus I could see a couple of bass boats.  Why Cove was busier than I had ever seen.  I was a bit nervous about all the traffic interfering with my planned anchoring adventure, but pressed on.

Right about then, I got hit by a serious gust of wind that flattened the boat.  She went over much faster than I had ever experienced, and was in seconds  shipping water over the cockpit gunwales.  I watched the sails slap the water as the wind sang in my ears.  Through the open companionway, I saw the Stuff Stowed To Starboard make a graceful flight to to kiss the Stuff Stowed To Port. All of this occurred in slow motion, of course, and I was kind of surprised to find myself analytically estimating how likely I was to start shipping water in the cabin as I hung on for dear life. Eventually I remembered to cast loose the sheets, and the boat popped right back up, none the worse for wear, though El Capitan was having mild Heart Palpitations.

I quickly got the boat hove to and dropped all sail.  To hell with this anchoring under sail crap.  I’m firing up Mr. Tohatsu and getting out of this screwy wind.  We chugged past the houseboat and jet skis and made our way into Why Cove without further drama.

Once I got to my anchoring spot, I dropped the hook and let out a generous scope. Dinner and Cocktail Hour went as planned.  Soon it was bedtime. As I drifted off to sleep, I reflected on what had happened.  In retrospect, my mistakes were obvious:

  • I should have paid a bit more attention to my inner voice when contemplating whether or not to launch.
  • When running, it never seems as windy as it actually is. I sailed along blissfully, shoveling trail mix into my gaping maw, without a clue how strong the wind actually was.
  • Seeing the other boats rounding up, and under seriously reduced sail, should have given me a clue, but it did not– I was too busy stuffing my face with a large (and vexingly drippy) sandwich.
  • I always wear a harness when I am sailing with the kids, and when I’m moving about on the deck.  I wasn’t snapped in when I got knocked down, despite the obviously flaky conditions.  I should have been– If I had fallen overboard, I would have been blown offshore, and it was a long way to the other side of the lake. As soon as it became apparent that the wind was stronger than I expected, I should have snapped in.
  • I left the companionway open.  Should have closed it, no matter how much that would have interfered with fetching various food items.
  • As is my usual custom, I did not fasten the latches to hold the daggerboard in place.  If we had gone much past 90 degrees in the knockdown, the daggerboard could have slid up into the cabin.  That would adversely impact the righting moment, (ya think?).  I believe I will fasten the holddowns every time from now on.  It only takes a minute, and might preclude having to explain to Sweetie why I made the kids swim across the lake after the boat sank halfway across.

Nonetheless, nautical catastrophe was averted, no thanks to the idiot-in-command.  Next time I’ll be more careful.

Here’s some pictures of the non-gnarly part of the sailing adventure, starting with the world’s finest computer desk:

A peaceful Arizona anchorage, with bonus saguaros:

To the bottom right of the above picture is the nook that Felicidade & I stuffed ourselves into as recounted in a recent SCA article. Bessie the Lake Kraaken was perched on the hill on the right side of the picture.  I braved cow poop and spiky things to climb to the top of the hill  to get cell phone coverage and report in to the Admiral. 

The lake is so high, it’s overflowing.  A lot of formerly dry stuff is now drowned, and eager to snatch any passing sailboats and send them to a watery doom. Here’s a rather creepy looking tree:

That’s all for now, the Honeydo list beckons.  Fair winds!

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