News From The Loft

Variations on a Theme

Currently underway in the loft are two lugs’ls for an Apple 16 ft lug yawl designed by Thomas Dunderdale of Campion Sail and Design in the U.K. Following which we will be making three sails for an 18 ft Myst lug yawl designed by Canadian Don Kurylko. Though both lug yawls, the details of the rigs and sails could hardly be more different. The Apple plan (upper, not to scale) shows crosscut balanced lugs’ls with normal booms, short battens in leech of main and full battens in the little mizzen. Notable is the use of battens without extending the leeches to gain extra area. Those in the main are strictly to mitigate leech flutter, those in the mizzen only for controlling shape (keeping sail flatter) and eliminating flutter (as when left standing at anchor or to dampen roll when rowing). Total area is about 115 sq ft, and the relatively light hull is reportedly able get up and plane. The heavier Myst adds a miter-cut jib to the two vertical-cut sprit-boomed standing lugs’ls for a total sail area of 180 sq ft. Being without battens, as is routine for traditional work-boat derived sails, controlling Myst's leeches is left to the sailmaker, who will subtly hollow them, in spite of their being drawn rounded. The Apple sails, for a customer in New England, are 5 oz cream. Those for the Myst are for a client in Switzerland, and will be in 5 oz tanbark. Just two examples of the endless variety of rigs for today’s proliferating fleets of traditional small sailing craft. (6/18/21)

New Sail for Polly

“I would like the sail to be as close to the original as possible, understanding that materials have changed,” said the client. We have the 4 oz cotton sail from his 1938 Peterborough sailing canoe in the loft – a wonder of craftsmanship. The hemp boltrope that fits into the grooved spars was hand stitched to the sail by a real pro. The tiny zig/zag machine sewing is perfect, even the logo and number having been cut out of colored cloth and sewn on with precision. The batten pockets were sized to fit shortened wooden yard sticks, available free from hardware stores back then. The little lateen sail came from the Manhattan loft of Louis J. Larson, where, according to a 1940’s New Yorker Magazine item, a canoe sail “can be run up by one man in a day, & costs only $15.” (See the rest of the story at The sole prop spent several days on the replica in 4 oz cream Dacron, and charged quite a bit more than mister Larsen. This tiddly job was sandwiched between 133 sq ft lugs’ls for two Francois Vivier ILUR row-sail dinghies. Upcoming after the second of those are sails for Ross Lillistone’s Phoenix III, for the Campion Apple II lug yawl, for Don Kurylko’s lug yawl w/jib Myst, and for an antique 17’ Norwegian clinker-built sloop. (4/19/21)

Curious Standng Lugs'l

Currently being assembled in the loft is a lugs'l of a slightly different sort. The sail plan furnished by the client, who is building a C. D. Mower 12' Snow Bird frostbite dinghy from plans in an old Rudder publication, "How to Build 20 Boats", did not look quite right, the sail barely projecting ahead of the mast, and with halyard picking up the yard by it's middle instead of the routine 1/3 up from butt. But a little detective work on the internet quickly discovered this circa 1932 photo in the archives of Mystic Seaport Museum, of the Mower Snow Bird design, with the sail hung exactly as in the client's plan. The same Google search brought up a facsimile page from the April 10, 1932 New York Times, with an article about that season's frostbite races on Long Island Sound headlined "Mower Sails Craft to Three Triumphs" referring to this design. Suddenly the curiously deployed lugs'l looks more than quite alright. (3/23/21)

Crotch Island Pinky

This 1895 Maine-coast 20-foot double ender, of a type locally called Crotch Island Pinkies, appears in Howard I. Chapelle's American Small Sailing Craft. The rig was two sprits’ls, the main being boomless with a clubbed clew that had to be dragged around the mizzen mast on changing tacks. Why did they club the clew? Chapelle speculates it was "to make the sail stand smoothly". He describes the local way of handling the sprits: “The usual small-boat practice with the spritsail – of first hoisting sail and then shipping the sprit . . . would have been very difficult in these boats in rough water (so) the Maine fishermen did not unship the sprit except when unrigging.” Instead, to row or when upon the fishing grounds, they peaked up the sprits (and the mizzen boom) against the masts and furled the sails around both mast and spars, thus clearing the deck. My client, however, will lower and stow the sails between use, but will be able to brail up the main to clear the for’d half of boat to row -- or fish. Might even brail up briefly at moment of tacking to get that club across without touching the mizzenmast. The main is 90 sq ft, the mizzen 60. We are using 5+ oz cream Dacron cloth and faux-hemp boltropes to simulate how she might have looked way back then. (2/23/21)

Kiwi Commission

A-building in Auckland, New Zealand is this Truant dinghy from the drawing board of New Zealand small-craft designer John Welsford. The builder stretched her a foot to 12’ 6”, and designed a boomless lugsail to replace the original rig, a balanced lugs’l. To guide him he consulted David L. Nichols’ “Working Guide to Traditional Small-Boat Sails”, a book the Sole Prop reviewed when it as published in 2006 (See Appendices page of this website.) We couldn’t find anything amiss with his sail’s shape or details, so are lofting it exactly as he drew it. (1/18/21)

Helping Hook

With a bunch of these hand-sewn rings to put into the main and fores’l of a 19-ft William Garden cat schooner, the sole prop has to baby that left hand, which got broke a few years ago and was never quite the same after. The bench hook doing all the work of holding the ring while each stitch is hove taught is historically part of the sailmaker’s equipment. Its main use in the days of canvas sails and hemp boltropes was to hook onto the sail (with a sharpened point) to hold it taught while sewing on the boltrope. The lanyard for this one comes up through a hole near the left end of the bench, and is held below by a jam cleat so the position of the hook can be adjusted to suit. The point has been filed round. Sees little or no use until we get a commission with this kind of custom hand work. After the sewing is complete a brass liner will be pressed in place to protect the stitches. The cut edge of the corner then gets leathered. (1/4/21)


This 12'6" William Garden Tomcat is nearing completion and will be ready for an early spring launch. The 120 sq ft sail was delivered way back in 2018, and has been in the bag since. What better way to spend a cold fall day than a little anticipatory dry sailing – working out the details of lacings, outhauls and downhauls. A chance to handle the sail and enjoy it’s custom embellishments: faux-hemp three strand boltrope, a half-dozen hand-sewn brass rings (corners and reef ), and fabric fairleads along the foot for carrying the leech reef pendant forward to a cleat on the boom. (See Appendices article for explanation of that.) The 5 oz tanbark is from Contender Sailcloth. (11/14/20)

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 cream 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)

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)

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.