News From The Loft

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)

Busy Year

The loft turned out to be a much busier place in 2020 than anticipated. Bowing to advanced age, the plan was for a relaxed work pace, entertaining about a customer a month. In spite of the Covid pandemic, things got a little out of hand, and we wound up departing from the plan and making 30 sails for 21 clients. The breakdown was 10 lugs’ls, 6 sprits’ls, 6 gaff, 4 jibs, 2 leg-o-mutton (Bermudan), and 2 Gunter. The last invoice for the year was for sail number 1,410, making an average of 48.5 sails per year since hanging out our virtual shingle in 1991. We had interesting conversations with small-boat builders all over the US, in England, and Canada. We currently have 12 sails scheduled for delivery in the first six months of 2021. The Sole Prop looks forward with pleasure to making those sails --he just got his first Covid 19 vaccine shot (second one scheduled for mid February), and is rarin’ to go. Age has it's privileges. (1/26/21)

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)

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