Chapter 4: The Perfect Boat
Chapter 4 of The Voyage of The Aegre is all about how Julie and I acquired The Aegre, and our first few sails in her. The Notes on this chapter are about her origin and her standing lug rig. It goes into detail that may not interest everyone. If you think the difference between a dipping and a standing lug refers to a hearing problem, and a throat-tripping line is something a serial killer might use, then maybe this is not for you. Instead, wait for the Notes on Chapter 5 which I promise will be of wider interest.
Julie and I first sighted The Aegre in the small harbour at Scrabster, on the north coast of Scotland, near Thurso.
Andy Bryce had commissioned the building of The Aegre in 1966. See more information and photos.
Following the trial sail with owner Andy Bryce on Thurso Bay that I describe in the book, we agreed to buy her. We took everything removable from the boat back with us to the Adventure School on the west coast of Scotland, (not without incident), and Andy delivered the boat to us there a few weeks later.
The rig of The Aegre
Traditionally, a Shetland boat of the size of The Aegre would probably have been rigged with a single dipping lug sail. This comprises a boom-less sail whose yard is lowered or ‘dipped’ when tacking to bring the sail around to the leeward side of the mast see: https://www.shetland.org/blog/shetland-boats-heritage . However Andy Bryce rigged her with a tan dacron standing lug (main) sail and jib, probably for ease of handling.
The standing lugsail has a yard (or lug) that is shorter than that of a dipping lugsail, which overlaps the mast by a small amount (much less than that of a dipping lugsail). Aboard The Aegre, we raised the mainsail using a single halyard attached to a mast traveller with a metal hook over which was placed a carefully positioned rope eye itself attached to the yard. Standing lug sails are often loose-footed, but The Aegre had a boom to which the foot of the sail was attached at either end, not laced along its length. The forward end of the book had leather-served jaws that rested against the mast.
Confused? For more explanation and illustrations of how dipping and standing lug sails are different see https://www.diy-wood-boat.com/Lug-Rigs.html
For the best flow of wind across the mainsail and to minimise chafe between the lug and the mast, it’s desirable to have the lug on the leeward side of the mast so it’s blowing off the mast rather than onto it.
To ensure this, the yard must be moved to the other side of the mast when tacking through the wind.
With a standing lug sail, the yard does not need to be lowered to do this (as does a dipping lugsail), instead, as the boat comes into the wind, the mainsheet can be eased (loosened), and the throat tripping line (the line to dip the lug when turning across the wind, see diagram above) pulled to cause the forward end of the lug to dip astern of the mast so that as the boat takes up the new course, the lug is again on the leeward side of the mast, at which point the mainsheet is hardened again.
To achieve a quick tack and dip, I learnt that timing is crucial. There is a moment as the sail comes through the wind when the lug can be dipped and will swing effortlessly to the other side of the mast.
The standing lug rig on The Aegre initially seemed complicated and cumbersome to me, but as I became familiar with it, I realised it had excellent features, such as:
‘Automatic’ luff tension: The tack of the mainsail was attached to the forward end of the boom. The boom had leathered jaws that could easily slide up and down the mast. A downhaul was hooked to an eye on the underside of the boom to broadly control the tension of the luff. Aloft, the lug, being held by a single halyard, was as if balanced by the relative tension of the luff and leech of the sail.
So, the tension of the mainsheet, pulling partially down on the outboard end of the yard, affected the tension of the luff. This meant that when the boat was sailing off the wind, and the mainsheet was eased, so was the tension of the luff, allowing more shape in the sail, and the boat went faster.
When the boat was sailing close to the wind, the reverse happened. The tight mainsheet was reflected in a tight luff, enabling the boat to sail closer to the wind.
The boom beneath the sail was only attached at the tack and clew, not laced to the boom. This allowed the sail shape to be more easily controlled, as above.
Sailing-setting purists are probably horrified by the crudeness of the above, but it worked. Little could go wrong,
The mainsail had two sets of reef points. The sail could be most easily reefed by lowering it completely into the boat, pulling down the tack and clew to their new positions and tying in the reefs.
A disadvantage of the sail was that when fully reefed, the same yard still had to be aloft (albeit lower), which affected stability and increased windage. As I write in the book, this did not seem a good rig for strong winds at sea that could persist for days, which ultimately led to the idea of a separate set of storm sails. I’ll write about them in the Notes on Chapter 6 or 7.
On the positive side, when lowered, the whole sail, including the lug and boom, could be removed from the mast by unhooking the yard from the mast traveller and the boom from the downhaul. The yard, boom and whole sail could then be flaked and lashed down on deck out of the way on one side of the boat, presenting minimal windage and no hazard to the crew.
Forward of the mast, The Aegre carried a dacron jib which was hanked to the forestay.
With the full mainsail and jib set, the rig and hull seemed beautifully balanced, requiring just a touch of weather helm to hold a steady course going to windward only varying a little on other points of sail.
Andy also gave us a white dacron ‘flying jib’ that he said he had set on a temporary bowsprit with good effect in light winds.
Our sailing ambition at the time we bought The Aegre, was to sail south down the coast of Britain, sort of camping at sea, choosing the weather carefully, and for this, the rig seemed fine, able to make good speed close to the wind, while off the wind the big rectangular lug mainsail was like a barn door and she flew.
At anchor or in harbour, the boom, just having wooden jaws to fit around the mast, could be set at any height, enabling it to be used as a ridge pole for a tent.
I came to think the standing lugsail and jib were an eminently practical rig and just right for what we wanted to do in that midsummer of 1972.
In the book and in later Chapter Notes I write about how it went in practice sailing across the Atlantic and Pacific.
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