News From The Loft

18th Century Sailmaking

Periodically along comes a client who thirsts for the look and feel of old time sailmaking. In this case one who acquired his tastes from what he calls his “formative years” crewing aboard, and becoming an officer of, the 1989 replica of the Brig Lady Washington, the first American vessel to round Cape Horn and visit the West Coast. Her sails, of course, featured all the techniques of the day – the 1760’s. The 20th century replica incorporates many of those old-time techniques, though in latter day materials. So the Bermudan main and gaff fores’l of his Wm. Garden 19 ft cat schooner, scheduled for launch spring of 2021, will feature faux-hemp bolt ropes ending in traditional rat tails, and no less than a dozen hand-sewn brass rings with brass liners. Cloth is to be 5 oz white woven polyester, with the softest “hand” we can procure. Garden’s detailed sail plan fairly oozes charm, and will set the tone for our work. This commission, for delivery in March ’21, seems a good place to pause in accepting any new ones. That is already pretty far out in these uncertain times. We’ll continue to be wary of the virus, and take a new look at everything later this year. Meanwhile, the docket is crowded with all those interesting commissions enumerated below. (10/20/20)


A nice variety of sails are on our schedule for the 4th quarter of 2020 and a month or so beyond: A pair of sprits’ls, 53 sq ft for Iain Oughtred’s 15-ft double-ended faering Elf, and 63 sq ft for Joel White’s 12’ 8” Catspaw dinghy; 131 sq ft Breton style lugs’l (misainier) for Francois Vivier’s 14’ 6” ILUR; 152 sq ft sail for another Joel White design, his 15’ gaff rigged Marsh Cat; 63 sq ft Gunter sail for John Brooks 12’ Ellen dinghy; 70 sq ft of sprit-boomed leg-o-mutton for Karl Stambaugh’s Windward 15 skiff; A pair of lugs’ls totaling 139 sq ft for Arch Davis’ schooner-rigged Penobscot 17; and a 90 sq ft gaff sail for Marc Barto’s 16-ft Melonseed gunning skiff. About half of these sails to be in white cloth, half in tanbark. All but one, the Elf, are boats for which we have made sails before, in several cases 3 or 4 times before. Beautiful small craft with a variety of rigs – lugs’ls, sprits’ls, Gunter, gaff, and leg-o-mutton – who could ask for anything more. The photo shows a Dabbler Marsh Cat gaff sail. The one on our schedule will be in tanbark cloth. It will be the third we have made for this popular boat. (10/9/20)

When Low on Logos

Our dabbler duck, taking flight straight up off the water, was styled by my wife when we opened our loft in 1991. An artist friend made the silk screen in the hinged frame. Periodically we get out the screen, the ink, and the squeegee for swiping the ink through the screen. We print on squares of 4 or 5 oz cream Dacron remnants – good way to use up leftovers. When the ink dries and they have been ironed to set the ink, they must be cut out on the encircling line with a heat knife. We need two per sail, one for the port side near the tack (if on starboard side poor duck would be flying aft), and one for the bag. Since 1991, we have printed about 3,000 logos. (9/10/2020)

Tack Tension

To "peak up" a lug sail -- to haul down the tack so as to raise the angle of the yard -- is basic to controlling the shape of lugs'ls. The fulcrum, or pivot point, is the position on yard where the halyard is attached. The lever arm is the portion of the yard below the pivot point, typically the lower third of the yard. Hauling down on the luff cranks up the head of the yard (the boltrope takes the strain); easing the downhaul tension lets the head of the yard drop. The rule for lugs'ls, as well as sprit and gaff-headed sails, for getting good aerodynamic shape is "peak up when close hauled and in stronger winds, ease off when off the wind or in lighter winds." Watch the sail as you do so, and it will become apparent what this is all about -- clean sail shape. Wrinkles from throat to clew mean peak up, wrinkles from peak to tack mean ease off on the tack downhaul. A new breed of boomless lugs'ls, sized so the clew reaches almost to the stern, popularized by French naval architect and small-boat designer Francois Vivier, have big areas relative to boat size. They require powerful tack downhauls to successfully shape the sail under all conditions. The photos show one of these "misainiers", as M. Vivier styles them, and the downhaul tackle used to tame it. The boat is Patrick Haslett's Vivier design 18' 8" Youkou Lili. He sailed her for 14 years under a sprits'l and jib, which we made for him in 2006. Then, earlier this year he ordered the 105 sq ft misainier in the photo. To get the necessary tack downhaul power he fashioned the four-part tackle seen forward of the bow thwart. After passing through two double blocks, the fall comes aft through a jam cleat on the centerboard trunk handy to the helmsman. Since making their debut a couple of years ago, these mega boomless lugs’ls have seduced quite a few of our customers. We have made three 133 sq ft misainiers for Viver’s 14’ 8” ILUR, as well as similar sails for several other small craft. Yet another for an ILUR is scheduled to be delivered in September. The word “misainier” remains a little mysterious. Our old French-English dictionary gives, for “misaine, Nau: (voile de) misaine, (square) foresail." ??? (8/21/20)


Builders of small craft seem often tempted to deviate from the designers' plans. Maybe a trifle longer, or beamier, or maybe add a plank for more freeboard, or paste a mizzen on the transom and make her a little yawl. Or how about a 20% bigger sail for those light airs where she’ll be sailing. Or put a completely different rig on her, a lugs’l instead of the sprits’l the designer shows. Currently shaping up in the loft are a gaff main and masthead jib for an L. Francis Herreshoff designed Buzzards Bay 14, an enlargement of his father Nathaniel Herreshoff's 12 1/2 footer (those are waterline lengths). L. Francis gave her a Bermudan rig. The builder, infatuated with the look of gaff rig, asked us for such to suit his BB 14. But no published plan for a gaff-rigged BB 14 exists. We found photos of three different gaff-rigged BB 14s online, and got a hint from a sailmaker who had over the years outfitted several gaff-rigged BB 14s. With dimensions he provided as a starting point, we drew the sails shown in blue, juggling the shapes a little to get the combined center of effort exactly over that marked on LFH’s Bermudan plan, an exercise in graphic geometry with a sharp pencil. While the sails are being made in a 5 oz cream Dacron, our customer is shaping up the necessary gaff. (8/3/20)


An American naval architect, presently retired on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario, sails a little boat he designed some years ago as a pedal boat, which in his retirement he repurposed into a daysailer. He recently commissioned a new lugsail to replace the eight-year-old original. (Scroll down a couple of posts to see that.) He has since provided some feedback. “I couldn’t be more pleased. The shape of the sail appears perfect and it is considerably more powerful than the sail I have been using. Boat feels like it is going 20-30% faster on all points of sail. In a lifetime of sailing, in many different boats, I have had sails from many of the major sailmakers . . . and your sail is the most beautifully detailed construction I have ever seen." (7/13/20)

Not Yet

A rumor to the effect the sole prop had retired spread from a well-meaning but erroneous comment on the website of a noted small-craft designer, who was showing off a couple of his boats wearing Dabbler Sails. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the news of my retirement was greatly exaggerated. (He was responding to rumors of his death!) Being an octogenarian, however, I have allowed myself to slow down and limit the workload. Here I’m cutting curves on panels for the “light weather” lugs’l referenced in the post below. It is Dabbler sail number 1,395. (We made a few dozen before starting to number them.) 2021 will mark 30 years for our small one-man loft. We hope to continue this happy work as long as we can split the pencil line with that heat knife. (6/29/20)


When the corona virus pandemic established itself in the U.S. in February Dabbler Sails had commissions filling up the months ‘til midsummer: Among others, a boomless lugs’l customer wants to try on his Francois Vivier design Youkou Lili, for which we had made a sprits’l and jib about 10 years ago (see Gallery); gaff main and jib for Ross Lillistone’s 14'9" skiff Flint; custom lugs’l for a Pete Culler 16-ft Whitehall; a new lugs’l for the slippery boat in the photo, originally designed as a pedal boat by it’s naval architect builder, to replace the aging one shown. When the severity of the pandemic became evident the sole prop, being in a high-risk category (age), sent each of those customers checks in the amount of their deposits, which were made long before COVID 19 was on the horizon, with these options: "1) Cash the check and indicate you wish to cancel your order. 2) Cash the check and indicate you wish to keep your place in the loft schedule, to be contacted when your sail is next in line, and to then make the deposit again. 3) Hold the check (it's valid for six months) and return it when your sail is next in line." They all replied they would just put their check in a drawer, and looked forward to receiving their sails in due course. So we look forward to working in our remote one-man loft for months to come, even though we are not an essential business. Currently we are finishing up the three sails for the restored 20-foot antique below. Major suppliers of sailcloth and associated hardware are now temporarily closed, but the loft has sufficient inventory of everything to fill the outstanding orders. Meanwhile, we won't entertain any new commissions until the dust settles. (4/10/20)

Plenty of (Ship's) Canvas

This fetching sailplan is next on our list of commissions, and we have set aside several weeks during which to savor such interesting work. The boat, an 18.5-ft design by French naval architect Francois Vivier, is currently abuilding in an old barn near London, Ontario, Canada, destined to sail in Georgian Bay. The builder has a strong prejudice against ordinary Dacron sailcloth, so we discussed Oceanus Ship’s Cloth, which simulates the soft “hand” of the cotton canvas of yesteryear, for the working sails. (The tops'l will be in a lightweight tanbark.) My client was not certain the Oceanus sample sent him was soft enough to suit his taste – so I pointed out that as it comes from the mill, Oceanus has a light sizing which slightly stiffens and stabilizes the cloth to facilitate the sailmaking -- lofting, assembly, sewing, etc. To evaluate what Oceanus will feel like after a little use shakes out that sizing, I suggested tossing his sample into a tumble dryer for a few minutes. That did the trick, and at this writing the 168 sq ft gaff main is starting to take shape in the loft. The stays'l and jib will add 83 sq ft, and with the 41 sq ft tops'l set the total will be 292 sq ft.

A Handfull

This Francois Vivier 14’ 8” ILUR is wearing a 133 sq ft sail the designer calls a “misainier” -- a Breton-style boomless lugsail, tacked near the bow and sheeted to horn cleats on the quarters. One big, efficient sail, if you can handle it. Ron Mueller, a seasoned sailor and boat builder from Bellingham, Washington, launched her in time for the 2018 Palooza Crooza regatta in Puget Sound (see, and reports that the ILUR outperformed all the 35 other sailboats, ranging up to 22’. One long leg of the three-day event was up a narrow passage in very light headwinds, requiring many, many short tacks. For Ron that meant lifting the sheet tackle off the leeward cleat while steering through the eye of the wind, and getting it on the old windward cleat before the sail filled. In spite of that he reports “I outsailed them all thanks to your handiwork.” The photo tells us the designed sheeting point is correct for the all-important close-hauled work. Leave it to M. Vivier. The sail is 4 oz Challenge tanbark, a nice relatively-soft cloth we stocked up on a few years ago, slit down to 27” panels. It’s rigged for brailing up, but Ron didn’t reeve the brailing line for the rally. This was the third of these “misainiers” we've made, and the first for which we have any feedback. We wondered about man-handling the sail in heavier winds. Ron says he's comfortable with whole sail up to 10 mph when alone, up to 15 with crew. Takes all three reefs when wind tops 20. He's currently practicing with a crew to compete in the forthcoming Barefoot Raid in the Straight of Georgia, British Columbia. (See ILUR can also be rigged as a lug sloop, or with a boomed balanced lugs’l. At least one is rigged as a lug yawl. Scroll down to find that version, reefed in heavy weather. Photo by Palooza Crooza organizer Marty Loken / Small Craft Advisor

Adventure Cruiser

We made this 85 sq ft boomless lug sail late last year for adventurer and author (Jagular Goes Everywhere) Tom Pamperin. He recently finished his new boat, an 18’ “Alaska” beach cruiser designed by Don Kurylko, and took a short trial cruise. (The design calls for a ketch rig, but Tom elected to start with just the main in an alternate step.) This rig is a big jump up from the Jagular, a flat-bottom skiff home built with cheap plywood, a 2 x 4 for a mast, closet rod for a boom, and a sail made out of a plastic tarp. Alaska was specifically designed for long-distance cruising under sail and oar, and is a serious piece of boatbuilding. The lugs’l is 5 oz cream Dacron, with one more reef than shown on the plans. Because the sail is used without a boom, there will be considerable strain on the new foot for each reef, thus the continuous reef bands instead of individual reef point patches. When we saw this photo, we suggested the possibility of a vinyl window so Tom can see where he's going (he replied he has raised the sail a little and can peek under it), and mentioned the idea of brailing, to make way for rowing in a calm without dropping the sail.

Force 5

Wow! Double reefed in force 5, and making to windward against a lumpy chop on Lake Champlain. Hats off to Dr. John Hartman for having his Francois Vivier Ilur ”Waxwing” perfectly set up for the conditions. Hats off to the designer for drawing such a powerful, seaworthy row-sail beach cruiser. Hats off to the skipper of an Iain Oughtred Ness Yawl who snatched this frame out of a video he shot, catching the precise moment the hull destroys that wave -- you can almost hear the “Pow!” Modesty forbids the sailmaker from doffing his hat to himself, but he confesses feeling lucky that Dr. John, Monsieur Viver, and the videographer have conspired to make his sails look pretty good. They are deployed and trimmed beautifully, and that double-reefed main looks very tidy, no dribs and drabs sticking out here and there. Although only 14' 8" long, the little yawl has a very generous sail area of 134 sq ft. Plenty for light airs, you might think, but in fact the Waxwing’s skipper recently commissioned a bit of spinnaker cloth to bring the total to 174 sq ft. See below.

Staysail Power

A few years ago we made the lug main and mizzen for "Waxwing," the Francois Vivier designed ILUR seen above, and since then she has done quite a bit of sailing in Vermont and on the coast of Main, frequently encountering very light winds. Because the ILUR is a row-or-sail boat (no outboard clamped on the transom), the owner imagined more sail area, in the form of a handy, easy to set and strike mizzen staysail, and queried us for an opinion. As it happens all of our personal boats have had mizzen stays’ls -- a 30 ft ketch, a 40 ft cat ketch, and two catboats converted to yawls – sails we deployed whenever the occasion presented. We agreed such a sail might prove particularly useful on a row/sail beach cruiser like the ILUR – might often make the difference between having to row for the next campsite or not. On receipt of a few measurements, we drew a 40 sq ft sail to be tacked on the weather rail forward and sheeted to the leeward rail aft. We cut it rather flat from 3-oz polyester (instead of nylon) “storm spinnaker” cloth, in the hope it will prove useful even with the wind a little forward of the beam, and keep its shape in slightly stronger winds.

Tom Cats

West Coast naval architect William Garden designed this 12-ft Tom Cat catboat for his own use, basing her on the general aspects of the popular East Coast Beetle Cat class. WoodenBoat Magazine featured her in 2004, and several have been built since. Last year we made the 120 sq ft sail for two California customers, both of whom chose 7 oz Oceanus Ship’s cloth, with custom handwork – rat-tailed boltropes and hand sewn rings. This one, undergoing sea trials near San Diego, has no reef, usually considered obligatory for gaff cats, because the client wanted the purity of a sail without one. (He may be counting on scandalizing the gaff if overblown.) The other California boat will be sailing near Los Angeles. Early in 2016 we delivered a third Tom Cat sail to a Long Island, N.Y. client. Based on day sailing in Long Island Sound's usually light summer winds, he chose 4 oz cream cloth from Contender Sailcloth, but specified TWO reefs instead of the single reef shown on Garden’s plan. Different strokes . . .