Thursday, May 24, 2018

Trim, Seamanship, and Small Boats



Hugh Blank purchased plans for First Mate in 2009, and after seven years of building (interrupted by a very heavy work schedule), launched the boat in 2016. Hugh is the man for whom the Bermudan and Balance Lug rigs were added to the plans.

I have received an interesting message from Hugh regarding certain observations he has made about using the boat, and he has agreed to me making his comments, and my reply, public. This is a good way for us all to benefit from the experiences of individual builders:-



I have sorted out how I use the standing lug rig for casual racing at my club, and also happy with the way the main can be used with the jib I have. Gives me plenty of options, depending on crew available.

The other day I had occasion to try the boat out in preparation for the other activity I built it for - cruising. I was planning to take a trip out to an island a couple of kilometres offshore, in some water that can get fairly boisterous. In preparation for this trip I took the boat down to the inner harbour at Porirua, one of two places I usually sail at - the other being the other arm of the same harbour. The wind was about 12 to 15 knots, with gusts up to about 25 knots - fairly much what you need to allow for around Wellington. There was a short little chop in the harbour, of about 1 to 2 feet.The main point of this exercise was to make sure I could raise and lower the (reefed) main in these conditions. Although there are a few small changes I am busy making to my set up - as a result of this little expedition - there are a couple of fundamental issues I came across for the first time in the boat: - When well forward in the boat - I was sailing on my own - I found that the boat pitched rather alarmingly while I was trying to manipulate the rigging. (And for that matter when dealing with the anchor at another stage.)- Part of the problem was probably caused by the fact that the centreboard case prevented my being able to balance the boat better by keeping central as much as possible. But I do also feel that there may be too little buoyancy in this part of the boat, to allow even my weight (about 72 kg) to be perched on one side of the centrecase, right forward by the mast. You may remember I asked you when building the boat about substituting a more conventional centreboard/centrecase arrangement. My original concern was the inconvenience (of the height) to any crew, and I have found this to be the case to some extent. I am now inclined to modify the arrangement for the original reason, plus the newly identified issue. Can you please comment - perhaps I am missing some points or barking up the wrong tree - has been known to happen! As for the buoyancy forward, I haven't seem a P3 in the flesh for a while, but looking at photos I just wonder if that version of the boat doesn't have just a bit more volume forward. I guess the advantage of slenderness in the bow is amply evident in the way the boat moves so nicely through the water. And I appreciate that every design is a compromise of the often conflicting forces of physics and desired outcomes. I would however appreciate your input concerning how to use the boat safely and effectively for the cruising activities I have in mind. I don't intend to go to mad places, but I want to be able to work with the rig in 1 metre+ seas. CheersHugh 22.05.18


This message brings up a number of issues, with the primary one being reserve buoyancy and stability when the centre-of-gravity of the boat and crew is moved too far forward. In a small boat, it is basic seamanship to keep weight out of the ends as much as possible, and keep weight as low as possible. Loss of stability is most pronounced when crew weight is moved to the bow - as Hugh has discovered! What he described is a very common phenomenon - even in boats with legendary seaworthiness. Phil Bolger's Gloucester Light Dory Type 6 is renowned for exceptional sea-kindliness, but even the designer stated that if you move too close to the bow, the boat will flick you overboard and come up laughing, without taking water.


I accept that a modified centreboard shape would allow a lower case, and perhaps one could stay on centreline while moving closer to the mast partner. But the distance from the point at which the existing centreboard case starts rising up (very close to the forward edge of the thwart) to the mast partner is only 3' 5" - well within reach of a person with arm extended while leaning the body forward. If I was intending to work on the mast partner, I would straddle the centreboard case on my feet, in a crouching position and lean forward. Better still, if conditions were bad, I would sit on the bottom of the boat on one or other side of the case. In my experience sailing First Mate I have not had a problem, but I do accept Hugh's comments.


If in doubt, head for a handy beach or sandbank when you decide to reef. It is much easier, and going ashore on a bank is fun in itself.


My idea is that as much boat work as possible should be done from the middle of the boat. Here are some photos of how I rigged the First Mate I built for my friend, Ian Hamilton.



Mast lashed into the partner. On the port side you can see the boom downhaul, and on the starboard side, the halyard. The down-haul is a double purchase and the halyard a single purchase. Both of these lines are the blue ones, and on the far starboard side you can see a Hemp-coloured line - that is the running yard parrel.



In this view you can see how the halyard and downhaul both run through the partner, through bull's-eye fairleads, and then back to belay on the side of the centreboard case, in easy reach of the helmsman. The lines could just as easily run through turning blocks on the upper side of the partner, but my method keeps the lines lower.



View from the port-side, showing the downhaul. The halyard and down-haul are the only lines which require frequent attention. Some people may say that V-jammers are not adequate for holding these lines securely - well, in that case use horn cleats instead.


I am not against the idea of a different centreboard and centreboard-case shape, but do keep in mind that the high case prevents water entry in rough conditions in a partially flooded boat - say, after a capsise. I have a number of drawings for higher aspect ratio boards with cases which are no higher than the thwart, but there are difficulties getting the required centreboard area without having the case extend aft of the thwart into the main cockpit area. If I thought that I really needed a lower case, I would use a daggerboard. Nothing is worse for the performance of a sailing dinghy than having a board which does not have enough area. Boat-speed is seriously compromised, and windward ability is degraded.


It is correct to say that First Mate (and Phoenix III) do not have a huge amount of reserve buoyancy forward. But all boat designs are made up of a long list of compromises, and my stated aims from the beginning included the ability to cut through a steep chop with minimal pounding and spray generation, plus a hull shape conducive to satisfying performance under oars. Both of these designs have proven to be unusually dry for their size and speed, as well as being pleasant to row.


Hugh has asked whether Phoenix III has more volume, relatively speaking, than First Mate in the forward sections. Both boats have the same designed displacement, and their centres-of-longitudinal displacement vary by only a tiny fraction over 1%! So as far as the numbers are concerned they are very, very close.However, Phoenix III may have a little more reserve buoyancy forward, as these sketches show (First Mate in black and Phoenix III in red).






As for working in 1 metre+ seas, First Mate has done this many times with ease.



Maybe not a metre, but a lumpy swell, none the less...



Leaping clear of a choppy wave...



Heading down below the chop-line.


On the day that the above photos were taken, the boat was being sailed by my son, David. He has the longitudinal trim just about perfect, sitting either on the bottom up against the main thwart, or on the side-deck in the same longitudinal position. Longitudinal trim is critical to efficient sailing. Note also that even though he is hard on the wind in the first two pictures, he has not over-sheeted the main, therefore giving the lugsail room to breath. The boat was sailing really nicely, and Dave said that not a drop of water came into the boat in all the time we were out there shooting photos and video.


When it comes to anchoring, it is best to have the anchor stowed low in the boat, preferably in the bin just in front of the centreboard case. If conditions are such that one cannot safely handle the anchor rode from a crouching position forward, I would start the trip with the anchor-rode made-off to the stem-eye (trailer winch attachment point) and lead aft to enter the boat over the side, to be coiled down in the anchor bin. It would be sensible to run it up over a bow-chock or similar to prevent it dragging in the water. Before deploying the anchor, clip a snap-shackle over the anchor-rode, attached to a two or three metre length of line leading into the boat near the thwart, and securely attached to a hard point. The anchor can then be lowered over the side from within the cockpit (never throw the anchor). The anchor-rode will then pull against the stem-eye, which is relatively low to the water. The separate snap-shackle and line will slide loosely on the anchor rode, until you want to retrieve the anchor. By hauling in on the short line with the snap-shackle, the anchor-rode will be brought back to your hands in the cockpit for retrieval. If caught out without a snap-shackle, a simple bowline in the end of the lanyard will do the job.


These are small boats, despite their 15 foot LOA, and need to sailed with understanding and the application of seamanship. Sailed within their natural limitations they will give reliable performance, and their light-weight will be of enormous benefit in the long-term.

2 comments:

  1. Ross,

    thanks for posting. It's interesting to read about people's concerns with unstability when they move forward to the mast. As you know, I've done a lot of cruising (solo and two-up) in my brother's Phoenix III and that has never been a problem. We have not felt any need to lead the halyard or downhaul aft, but always just move forward of the rowing thwart, on the starboard side, to raise or lower the sail.

    That makes me wonder: is First Mate perhaps a bit less stable initially? Or is it a case of how one perceives the stability? I've never felt any concern at all about being up there ahead of the rowing thwart in the Phoenix III--it's perfectly comfortable and doesn't feel tippy at all (I usually sit or kneel, but even standing it's not bad).

    I also REALLY like the shape of the centerboard case as designed. If I am ever in a capsize for real, the fact that the board case goes so high DRAMATICALLY increases the chances that I'll be able to bail out the boat without help. Not to mention the size of the board is essential for the Phoenix III's excellent windward performance. I think you got this aspect of the design (well, ALL the aspects, really) just right.

    One last comment: I've sailed in pretty windy conditions (25 knots, maybe more) with the (unreefed) balance lug rig and have never even felt the need to sit on the side deck. The Phoenix III is very stable in my experience.

    So again, I'm left wondering if the perception of unstability you mentioned might come from simply not being familiar with how it's supposed to feel?

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  2. I'll add I weigh 100 kg. Haven't noticed any tendency toward the boat pitching, either. Interesting that our experiences have been so different.

    I much prefer to avoid leading lines aft, as they tend to clutter the cockpit and invite entanglements.

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