The Aegre Voyage: Chapter 7 Notes

Chapter 7: Sea Trials

This chapter covers the time between launching The Aegre after she was decked in Scourie through to our departure for Madeira.

Photos that didn’t make it into Chapter 7 in the book:

More about the rig:

Sailing boat
The Aegre as found August 1972
  1. The mast: Above deck level, Andy Bryce (who had commissioned the building of The Aegre in 1966) had used epoxy resin and glass matt to reinforce the sections of the mast where the lug spar passed across it for each of the three reef points, and where the boom jaws pressed against it. At the top of the mast were five blocks: one for the jib, one for the large mainsail and the throat of the gaff stormsail, a third for the peak of the gaff stormsail, a fourth for a flying jib and a fifth to carry a radar reflector. In addition, we had flag halyards on a sidestay on each side.
  2. Setting the full-sized (standing lug) mainsail: A strop on the lug (yard) attached to a metal hook/ring (a traveller around the mast), which was hauled up the mast by the main halyard. When fully raised, a short section of the spar crossed the mast (preferably to leeward) while the foot of the sail was attached at the clew and leech to the boom, another lovely, varnished Oregon spar with leather served jaws at the forward end that sat against the mast. A downhaul attached to the deck, hooked to the underside of the boom jaws, and when tensioned, tightened the luff (the leading edge of the mainsail), pulling down the forward end of the lug. The lug pivoted on the mast traveller hook, so as the luff was tightened, the outer end of the yard lifted, and the leech of the sail was given some tension. It was a clever rig. For instance, as the mainsheet (attached to the outer end of the boom) was tightened when close-hauled, so the tension in the mainsail luff increased, which helped windward performance.
  3. ‘Dipping’ the standing lug sail: The lug of a standing lugsail crosses the mast, extending forward of it by a foot or two. The sail’s tack is secured just aft of the mast (see the diagram above). On our first trial sail with first owner Andy Bryce, he demonstrated how he used a line attached to the throat of the sail (the forward end of the lug in this case) to dip the lug astern of the mast when going about so that on each tack the lug was on the leeward side of the mast and blowing off it, rather than on to it, and the luff of the sail set smoothly rather than pressed onto and around the mast. It was easy to dip it around the mast with a quick pull once the timing was learnt. I have subsequently seen debate about whether this is necessary, with some aficionados of the rig claiming the manoeuvre has no value, and they never bother. This may be the case for a short sail, but when sailing for thousands of miles on The Aegre, I did everything possible to reduce chafe in the rig, and this was an easy one. Apart from reducing the friction of the lug on the mast, it also saved the sail from rubbing on the mast, and to my eyes, the sail set better.
  4. A standing lug sail may or may not have a boom. Andy Bryce had set The Aegre’s mainsail up with a boom but only attached the sail to it at the tack and clew. Booms can get in the way, but I kept it because it enabled me to sheet the mainsail appropriately when close hauled (see diagram above) and when running before the wind. In the latter case, I would set up a guy from the outer end of the boom, running forward outside the standing rigging, to a block on the bow, and so back to the cockpit. I could then lock the boom in place with the tension of the mainsheet and the opposing boom guy. This was extremely important in lighter winds but bigger seas when the boat might be rolling and the wind could be thrown out of the sail, leading to lots of crashing and banging as the mainsail flopped around, possibly damaging itself something else.
  5. Setting the storm jib: The tiny storm jib was set flying, so changing from the other rig was easy. It just required swapping the jib sheets and halyard from one sail to the other.
  6. The storm mainsail had its own short permanently attached gaff at its head, so the main halyard had to be swapped to this, it became the throat halyard, a second halyard attached to the peak, and the boom switched from the large mainsail to the storm mainsail.
  7. In the Atlantic, the storm mainsail became a squaresail. I’ll explain how I set this up in the Notes for Chapter 11: Transatlantic passage
  8. All the halyards were routed aft through blocks on the deck around the mast, to large oak cleats on either side of the hatch so that the sails could be raised, lowered and reefed from the hatchway.
  9. All the blocks on the boat were browny/red Tufnol and performed faultlessly.

Was the wind vane self-steering system too fragile?

Servicing the self steering system on The Aegre
Servicing the self steering system at sea

On our first venture out into heavy weather off Handa Island, a wave broke over the top of the wind vane and broke it in half.

(For more about the wind vane self-steering system, see Notes on Chapter 5)

Back ashore, Bob Macinnes was unsurprised. He’d been saying it was too light from the beginning. I disagreed, explaining that we hadn’t actually been using the wind vane system at the time, and (unthinkingly) I’d tied off its lines, locking the vane in a vertical position.

The wind and seas off Handa that day were pretty wild, with the tide against wind and a shoaling bottom creating large breaking waves in all directions. No sane person would have gone out, but how else to trial the boat in severe conditions? Even so, I was a bit surprised when a big crest astern actually broke right across the top of the van. Locked in place, with nowhere to go, the quarter inch ply vane shattered in half.

If the vane had been in use and linked to the tiller, or the tiller lines had been simply loose, the vane would have dipped under the force of the wave, spilling the water and pressure, the only resistance being the lead counterweight, or the tiller (reflecting the water pressure on the rudder).

Either way I was sure the vane wouldn’t have been broken. Bob wasn’t so sure, shaking his head and muttering to himself as I sorted out a ply offcut to replace it with. It was up to me, it wouldn’t be him steering by hand for weeks if it broke at sea.

Despite my own rhetoric, I think I made two new ones and tucked the spare away on the boat. But I was right, and we never broke another vane at sea, (windsurfers breaking it by capsizing on top of it in harbour don’t count).

Why was our departure delayed while waiting for charts?

In the book, I write about how we ended up waiting for our sea charts to be delivered to Scourie.

Why didn’t we just order them well in advance? Well, back in 1973, twenty years before any form of electronic sea charts would become available, we were reliant on sea charts printed on large sheets of quite thick paper.

After printing and before sale, these charts were kept updated, with changes to lights, buoys, new wrecks, sea lane information, and other hazards such as newly discovered rocks and islands (continents?). This updating was done by hand. So mariners were advised to delay their purchase of charts until the last minute to ensure they were up to date. Which is what we did. In hindsight, I smile at myself, thinking about how over-cautious we were. Twelve months later, we were navigating around Hiva Oa in the Marquesas with a chart published in 1882!

For more on the use of sea charts aboard The Aegre, see

Trial Sails

If we were to leave in midsummer 1973, and not wait another year, we only had six weeks after launching for trial sails, and we were working full time. I describe in the book how we tried to make the most of it. The red dotted line shows our approximate course to Lewis and back from Scourie, about forty miles each way. The blue dotted line shows the area we sailed in often, out from Scourie, around Handa Island to Loch Laxford and Ardmore.

The Minch
The Minch

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