Twisting In The Wind
Because my mother farmed me out in my early childhood, to those already caring for their own children, so she could get on with other matters, I grew up with some extra 'family' connections. One of these was Barbara, a few months my junior, tall, blonde and an organiser, even at age five. She grew up to become a teacher, and to marry Ben, a regular soldier, radical, innovative, staunch, and eventually a life-long friend for me and my family.
Ben and Barbara spent a number of years in Dunedin when Ben was posted to the garrison there, and our two families spent many happy times together. My gardening business was developing well, and Ben would help me out in many ways. I used to cultivate the back section at his home, in which he ran a small market garden, producing for his family with a useful surplus which he sold at the local market. Eventually, in the usual army way, he was transferred, and again, and eventually relocated to Invercargill, two or three hours drive away.
In the meantime my wife and I parted, sold up the family home and divided the proceeds. I used my half as the deposit on a small nursery and glasshouse, complete with caretaker's cottage, converted one room into an office, and set myself up for several years. The business ran itself to some extent, and I found myself with the occasional novelty of time to spare, but no family, either my own or Ben's, to spend it with. Dunedin being then mainly a university town, graduates rarely stayed and so most of those friends of mine had moved away, too.
But Dunedin is built at the head of Otago Harbour, which has excellent small boat sailing, and a friend of a friend, who was a boat chandler and knew I had sailed as a youth, found me a small, cheap, single or double-handed centre-board boat, much smaller than the Idle-along Barbara and I had learnt to sail in, on Lyttleton Harbour, as children. This boat, 'Seaway', a Dolphin class sailing dinghy, designed locally, with its small main and minuscule jib, and light enough for me to trail and launch unaided, was ideally to suited to my needs. It lived, initially around the back of my glasshouses, later in the shed at the local yacht club, and every week or so I would go and blow out my cobwebs, hammering it up and down the harbour in the fresh breezes of the '40's, which blew reliably, though with varying intensity, the year round.
Eventually I sold the gardening business and returned to academia, completed my degree, moved to Port Chalmers, also on Otago Harbour, about halfway between Dunedin and the heads, married, bought a house, and took up a professional life. The Dolphin was moved from Dunedin to Port Chalmers yacht club, and continued to get regular use.
One day I got a call from Ben and Barbara, then in Invercargill. They had heard of a small keeler, locally built they thought, languishing in an estuary on Bluff Harbour, about half an hour from their home, and probably for sale. Barbara, of course, knew my sailing skills, not brilliant but generally capable, and thought this would be an interesting project. Would I like to come down and stay with them, and go and have a look it?
And so we made the drive, and found a peeling, non-descript, foundering hull, stern-down, wallowing out beyond the mud-flats on a grey Bluff day. In the first photograph, (photo 1) taken from shore when we first saw her, it looks as though she is about to sink by the stern. In a borrowed dinghy we rowed out and wary of the limited free-board, I climbed onto her. In the cramped shelter, water way above the sole, I found the old, iron petrol pump serving as a bilge pump, almost seized with rust, and freed it enough to get the seeping water down to a safe level, before continuing with an 'inspection'.
As far as we could tell, the general lines were those of the famous English 'Dragon' class, but the dimensions were far too small, and the proportions didn't seem quite right, either. But it looked as though she had grown knees and perhaps mahogany planking, and Oregon spars. All of which meant there was a good foundation to work on, and some sort of restoration or rectification could be worth considering. The owner was no longer able to sail or care for the boat, and was asking an almost ridiculously low price. But the reality was that this was one of the farthest points of the globe, the boat was far too light for the storm-tossed conditions of the region, and even if that were not so it was far too run-down to be sailed to anywhere with proper facilities for its care. It would have to be lifted out of the water and trucked north, to where the necessary, extensive work could be done. No wonder she was cheap. You would almost have to pay to get her taken off your hands, in that condition, way down there.
Commercial cartage would not be feasible, but we could afford to hire a low-load trailer. From the dimensions of the boat we estimated its mass, and it seemed likely that the all-up weight would not be too much for a heavy car to tow. My friend Martin, with his big Rover, was willing to provide that part of the project. We could lay hands on winches, tractor tyres for packing supports, and tie-down strapping, and there were many friends and acquaintances who thought it would be great fun to help. So we put in our offer, which was accepted, and drove from Dunedin to Invercargill the very next weekend, before she filled again and sank. There we met up with Ben and Barbara and the other members of the 'recovery team', then as high tide approached we all drove on down to Bluff and took a borrowed dinghy out to our new possession.
Stopping only to pump our new boat out, we rowed across the harbour, towing her from the dinghy, to a concrete launching ramp. There, using simple grunt, we lifted the mast through the deck from its socket on the keel, just forward of the little, squarish cubby (photo 2), lost our footing as the deck heaved with our efforts, and dropped the whole rigging unceremoniously into the tide, barely avoiding serious injury as it fell.
The big trailer was backed into the water, and we set about winching the yacht up onto the flat bed, readying tie-downs to hold it level on its keel when we began the tow up out of the water.
Big mistake! We had assumed that, like the larger but similar Dragon class, and indeed almost all keel-boats, this boat too would have a keel foot on which she could be stood, for maintenance or transport. Wrong! Her lead keel began at about the mast step, immediately under the hull, with no deadwood at all, and sloped down to its greatest depth, aft, at the forward (lower) pintle of the plain, full-depth, keel-hung rudder. There was no way this boat could be stood up, but as we began hauling her from the water we did not yet know that, and our attempts to brace her non-existent foot on the flat-bed continued to fail, and she swayed and swung dangerously, half supported still by the water, as we struggled to work out what we were doing wrong. She was slimy and ponderous, heavy and awkward, and more than once slipped or banged us around, at one point trapping Barbara's leg painfully. But we were able to extricate her without any permanent injury, either to boat or to Barbara.
In reality, we were not sufficiently prepared for the problem we faced. We did not know enough about the boat's underwater lines. Had we done so, we could have prepared a suspension rig, as we did for all subsequent slipping, and recovered and towed her much more easily using that. The photo of the Rover and trailer (photo 3) clearly shows the triangular nature of the keel, and the way she was moved, lashed on her side onto a bed of tractor tyres.
On the long tow back to Dunedin we discussed how to go about dealing with the clearly revealed problem that we had purchased.
Really, there were only two options: immediate modification, for we were sure that with the keel lines we had just discovered, this boat could never be handy; or basic preparations for a season of sailing, in the vain hope that we were wrong and that she would actually sail quite well. The cheapest and easiest course was just to get her caulked and painted, a cheap wardrobe of basic sails, and see how she went. It would also allow us to set up some base-line performance measures, so we could tell, if and when we did modifications, how effective they had been.
And so it was. We dropped her into the water of Otago Harbour, floating her easily off the trailer. Stepped her mast with the help of the yacht club gantry, then pulled her out on one of the fitting yard trolleys and patched and painted her hull, even as she lay at an angle, stitched up the existing sails, and got her sailing.
With friends lined up for the laugh, with cameras, buckets of food and bottles of wine, our first sailing season in the new boat began.
It was an unmitigated disaster! Fun, yes, but from a sailing viewpoint, absolutely hopeless. She was tender as a virgin, laying over in every puff of wind, sliding down-wind like a dinghy with its centre-board up. Her beam end jointing, where the edge of the deck meets the gunwales, was non-existent. Every time she laid over, which of course was often, water poured in below decks like a shower-bath. Her pump, which we had dismantled, cleaned, greased and rejointed, was never intended for such use, and could hardly cope.
Back to the docks, caulked the beam end joints, which we should not have overlooked in the first place, and installed a proper, high capacity, self priming, marine bilge pump, which we set so that it could be worked from on deck, and not require diving down into and feeling around in the slosh as the old placement had done.
Then back out into the harbour, this time with a few heavy bodies as live ballast, she sailed way down at the stern, even with a nominal crew of only two, and with another body as live ballast up forward to give more bow weight. You can see that clearly in one of the old photcopies. Despite her bum-down stance we plugged on, intent on making her show her best.
But her best was not good enough. When we stood her up to the wind with enough bodies to windward (see photo 4) she would now fall off in every gust, with such force that it stalled her rudder, and she would show her stern to the wind so fast is was like a wild horse spinning to kick you. And kick you she did, with an immediate jibe, generally fouling the boom on the backstay into the bargain (all of which is revealed in photo 5). With the boom hung up, the broach was magnified and she continued to spin, her smooth, flat counter and the pointed foot of her keel offering no resistance to the rotation. Then, as her sails filled, she got up way again, and you got her heading again, only for the same thing to happen with the next gust. There was only one name for this boat, and at it was adopted immediately, by acclamation.
So, we pulled the jib off Pirouette's forestay and set a smaller one on an inner forestay, no higher than the spreaders. A little handkerchief of a sail. That helped a little, but not much.
Obviously the centre of lateral pressure (CLP) was too far forward, of the centre of lateral resistance (CLR) was too far aft. Of course, with her underwater lines as they were, the CLR just had to be too far back, somewhere under the hatch opening, well back of the centre point of the sails, where the CLP lies. And she still rode bow high, unless you had bodies jammed up in the tiny bow-space under the foredeck, or taking up windage on the foredeck. The centre of gravity (COG) was also too far aft. And we knew that she was tender. Her metacentric height (MCH), the difference between the forces knocking her down and those pushing her back upright, was far too small. She needed more ballast, or lower ballast, or both. And the extra ballast had to be further forward, and there had to be some more fin area further forward, too.
All those technical terms. At the time, we neither knew they existed, and if we had, we certainly would not have known how to interpret or use them. That came somewhat later.
The changes we expected to make would have been trivial for a fin keeler, but much more serious for a deep drawn cruising hull, as this one was, though only partially, and it was that partial, half-pie sort of hull that was really the source of our problems. We had to plan for some major changes, but before making them, we had some homework to do.
The very first thing we did was to get hold of a book of naval architecture. I would like to be able to quote the title of the text we were recommended, for we found it excellent, but that is now lost in the mists of time. I suspect we borrowed it from library of the local yacht club, probably the Otago Cruising Yacht Club or some such name. The title may have been written in the working papers we then developed, but I don't have them any more. We probably passed them on with the yacht when it was eventually sold, but that was many years ago now, while I was out of the country, so I don't know about that for sure, either.
Anyhow, the book that we used described how you go about hull design, keel design, mast placement and the general principles of sail design. how to take into account the live load that will be carried, and where that load might move about, and so on.
Of course, we already had our hull, so we worked backwards at that point. Instead of drawing the lines and then transferring the values off the plan onto the structure of the boat as it was built, we took detailed measurements of the boat. Using strings, levels, plumb-bobs and measuring tapes, we took offset readings from the hull to the grid of fixed strings, and from those measurements we drafted the lines onto graph paper, thus getting us to the end point of the first, and major step of the designer's tasks, had this been a new design.
Indeed, as we had never seen anything like this boat, before or since, I guess it really was a new design.
Once we had the lines drawn, we were able to address the question that had so intrigued us when first we saw the boat, down under the grey Bluff skies. Was this a Dragon derivative?
In the yacht club library we were able to find a History of the Dragon Class (though I don't think that was actually the title), which included a fold-out illustration of the plans for the hull, spars, rigging and sails. We took a photo-copy (for the purposes of research - thus not breaching copyright) and compared it with the lines we had drawn for Pirouette. They looked passingly similar, but not at all like a scaled down version. The curves, and how they faired into one another, seemed all wrong. Not so smooth. Lumpier.
Then we had a break-through. What if the amateur builder had a copy of the Dragon plans, and to make a smaller boat had attempted the hard task of scaling down all the dimensions (and found that you can't just do that, for complex reasons to do with Froud Numbers, and strengths of materials, and so on) and finally just cut a chunk out of the middle of the dragon plans, and shifted the bow and stern plans closer together, glued them like that, to make a shorter boat? And then sliced the mid-line the same way, moving the sides together to make the boat narrower, so to keep the proportions. Would anyone actually think that would work?
Well, we used our photo-copier again to make some differently scaled copies of the Dragon plans, and tried the experiment. And voila! We were able to take one of the scaled Dragon plans, fold out part of the length, then part of the width, and what we saw was Pirouette, apart from some smoothing of the curves where the cut bits of plan didn't quite line up.
And what about the peculiar keel line? Yes, that was fully explained. As you go aft, the fore-part of the Dragon keel slopes steadily deeper into the water, making a lovely smooth entrance for the deepest part of the hull, until it reaches the full depth of the keel, where it levels out into a long, level foot, at the aft of which the rudder pintles are bolted. And if you cut out the middle of the Dragon plan? Why, then, you cut the level foot out of the keel, and are left with only the sloping fore-part, and the rudder pintles. Exactly, completely, line for line what we had drawn up from our hull measurements of Pirouette!
Our amateur builder had only done the simple first step of modifying that miraculous Dragon hull. The second part, checking the amended design to be sure that cutting out a chunk of plan hadn't also cut out the brilliant handling, why, that clearly hadn't been done. For the brilliant handling was all too obviously entirely missing. Maybe that was why the boat hadn't got much use, and had been so cheaply for sale.
But now we had the chance to check the amended design, and modify it to restore the handling. And we had the benefit of our experience sailing the 'raw amendments', to reinforce the theoretical considerations that we were then only barely coming to understand, as we read, and re-read, about naval architecture. And looked at the lines of the Dragon. And again and again, compared them to Pirouette's.
Fine, we said. What sort of boat do we want to create on these basic hull lines?
Well, we had some fundamental constraints. Safety, obviously. Able to be rigged and sailed by one person, but to perform best with two. And we wanted to be able to take out friends, so that meant capacity for four and perhaps a couple of youngsters as well.
Safety meant that she shouldn't founder. Short of a failed hull, that happens from cockpit swamping or from knock-downs. So, a small, high cockpit, with too little capacity to be heavy, even when full of water, and a sea-cock connection big enough to drain it in a reasonable time. Also, narrow hatches, opening high above the deck, and on the centre-line. Then adjust the keel weight and position so that even if the mast-head is pulled down hard to the water, the hatch coamings stay well above the water line. Only if the boat is rolled right over should the hatches go under water, and then the trapped air will keep most of the water out, even if the hatches are open. Recent rescues from the Southern Oceans show that this is not just theoretical nonsense - it really does work that way. And the proportions of the existing hatches were just about right, except the main hatch, which should be a little further off the deck. Excellent!
Safety also meant stability. She rode very high for her size, which helps speed, but not if the hull is too tender to carry a full sail, and too likely to knock down - however well you may plan for this not to cause a sinking, it's still not something you want to do routinely! So more ballast was needed, and much further under the water. We knew from our earlier live load tests that she could easily carry eight people, and sail quite well if they were properly placed - forward and windward - but then did look a little too low in the water. Six, with her original keel, was probably the best load compromise. We wanted to carry four at most, and two as the ideal. We assumed about 150 pounds per live ballast person. With a new load limit of four, we could add 600 pounds to the keel, but she would look a little low.
At 300 pounds extra, one would sail as if with two extra on board. We could even have six on board without much risk, four would be fine, and with two she would still ride high enough for speed - provided we could get the extra weight forward, and well to windward. That meant low under the water, so it would pendulum to windward as she leaned in the wind. Of course, there was nothing low under the water, and forward, to bolt the extra weight onto.
And how would the crew be accommodated? The old cubby was low, and tight - hopeless. We needed more room, and, the hatch had to be raised. So that meant a new cubby design.
What about the rigging plan? A boat that size really should carry its canvas higher, above the surface eddies. And we wanted to move the boom higher, for it was originally low enough to brain you even when you were seated. We wanted to use the existing spars, so the answer was to set the whole mast higher. The easiest option would be stepping it on deck, or, better still, on the cubby roof. That had a number of major benefits. Firstly, it would take the pressure off the floors. Whenever the wind forces the mast over, the side stays go into tension and protect the mast from whipping sideways and snapping. That tension pulls the mast down, hard, onto its step. If that step happens to be on a floor (the joint between the ribs and the keel), the keel gets forced down from the rest of the hull, generally resulting in mast-step leaks where the timbers work under these strains. And we did indeed have that problem. quite seriously, in fact. A lot became clear as we worked our way through that naval architecture book!
That book was not only a mine of information, it also included the methods of calculation, and examples of how to do those calculations. We had initially expected that we would have to use a computer - still room-sized things at that time - to do all manner of complex calculations. Not so. Using the methods in the book we were able to set up simple tabulations and work every formula that was needed, using nothing more complicated than ordinary multiplication, division, addition and subtraction. The original tables of offsets, when we had measured up the hull, were the starting point, and all the rest followed very easily. Those calculations, in hindsight, were the simplest part of the exercise, and were probably completed in only a few evenings, spread out through the project of course, as the need for each became apparent.
One of the calculations was the torsional force of the mast and rigging, when the boat heels. Ideally, when the wind on the sails blows the mast off the vertical, nearly all the strains should be taken up in a rigid torsional structure that includes the keel and acts like a pendulum, ever swinging back upright, having great structural integrity, able to take all the wind and pendulum stresses internally, and only carrying the rest of the hull along, more or less as a passenger. Modern performance boats are designed that way. The older type of design attempts, with varying degrees of compromise, to use the hull as the stressed member, generally resulting in working seams, failed joints, and the occasional sinking when a mast punches its way out through the bottom of a boat. We didn't want that to happen. So we wanted our design to include a torsional structure. A marine-ply bulkhead, rigidly fastened to the ribs alongside the chainplates, incorporating a deepened deck-beam and a knee to the cubby roof, where the mast would be stepped, would do the job well, and be easy to construct and install. The new cubby would have sloped sides to increase the sense of space, and reduce deck windage. We figured that even though it was higher it would actually have less sailing resistance than the original.
For really easy rigging, the mast would be stepped in a deck pivot, so that it could be winched upright with a simple helper strut, and not depend on a shore crane every time the sensitive mast-head gear needed attention. Clearly the cubby-top step would support that. We were getting closer.
The remaining details came together fairly easily. We made a jointed cardboard mannequin to the same scale as the plans, and using that, we completed the cubby lines to give reasonable human access below.
The keel gave no problems, either. Guided by the Dragon lines we drew a new keel shape, with a long, stable, maintenance foot. At the front it was slightly lower than at the stern, to give the lower rudder pintle some protection from impact in the event of a grounding - not too unlikely in the shallow tidal waters where most day-sailing is done. Of course, this change alone would lower the centre of gravity of the existing lead, and improve stability immediately. But beyond that we reshaped the lines of the lead keel, giving it more of a dolphin shape, slightly larger at the bow, and tapering back to the stern. This would get the weight further forward, which we needed, and to the lowest part of the keel, further aiding the stability. We also allowed for adding extra lead, up to the figure we had calculated from the live load tests.
We wanted to be able to carry a masthead, forestay Genoa, because of its good performance in all winds. The lateral pressure diagram told us where the under-water area of the boat needed to be, for that to be a stable rig under heavy airs, and if anything round up into irons, rather than jibing, under the force of knock-down gusts. We needed more wet area forward. By then we knew where the ballast keel needed to be, and you can imagine our pleasure when we found the figures all came out right, as we recalculated the centre of lateral resistance based on a deadwood (a packing fin, between the lead keel and the bottom of the hull) drawn simply to house the new, longer bolts that would be needed for the new ballast design. Well, not exactly right. About an inch out. But that could easily be adjusted in the design, or the mast raked a little more fore or aft to fine tune the running during final trials when (and if) we ever got the practical part of the project under way.
Now there was nothing stopping us except cash and resolve. The main costs would be marine ply, extra lead, and the new, long, bronze bolts for the new position of the keel. And, of course, marine glue, bronze fastenings, and marine paints. As it turned out, the little items added up to be the main cost. The big items were oncers. but for little things I had my hand in my pocket all the time.
So we hauled her out of the water on a club trolley, leaning at her usual ungainly angle (photo 6), bought some tree trunks and built the sort of gantry and sling you would use to hold a horse with a broken leg, hoisted Pirouette up into it, chopped off the rot-suspect old cubby top (photo 7), unbolted her keel, and started the reconstruction.
Additional laminated ribs were made to double any (and there were many) that showed the stress fractures our research had predicted. They were steamed in individual layers, and bronze-nailed and laminated piece by piece in situ. That technique at least assured us of freedom from fitting problems. The roof beams for the new cubby were steamed and laminated on a shaped jig, and built into the new cubby as it was assembled onto the deck with its integral roof-top pivoting mast-step, finally adding the original hatch, cover and slides. We left all the deck beams and stringers intact to avoid reducing the existing deck structure integrity, and expected to use the old deck surface, running around the walls within the cubby, as small storage space (which was woefully lacking, previously). We built a couple of splash-proof ventilators to a design we had seen in one of the books, and screwed and glued in the new, smaller, stronger, better drained cockpit. That pretty much completed the upper works. We left niceties such as windows for later - they were not essentials, and we were concerned not to do too much more until we had confirmed that we had got it right enough, so far.
The old mast foot was cut off, and a new one shaped, drilled and radiused so that the mast could hinge down on a pivot, and when upright bear down firmly onto the foot of the mast-step box on the cubby roof. When we did that, we chose the new length so that the final mast height would be the one we had taken as the basis for all the calculations. We also added extenders to all the stays, to allow for the increased distance between the mast head and the chain plates.
The torsional structure, of screwed and glued bulkhead, beams, laminated doubler ribs and strengthened cubby front, all went together very nicely, and in addition, gave us the opportunity, if we felt it necessary, to put in a watertight door and have a collision bulkhead. With that shut she would probably have floated even if the forepart was holed in a collision. I had not worked the numbers for that, however, so I could not be certain. But it seemed likely, and would have been something I would have got on to if we had reached the point of considering any offshore sailing.
The deadwood was built up of sandwiches of, as I recall, Rimu, layered in marine glue between marine ply sheets. They would act as binding layers to protect the large timber slabs from splitting as the sea gradually soaked into them. There was no way of avoiding that soaking, however well they were subsequently painted. The slabs were also heavily treated with anti-fungicide and after they were assembled and shaped they were soaked in anti-fouling primers. Finally the deadwood was lined up with strings and levels, and the holes drilled down through it for the bronze bolts.
The lead ballast keel was poured in a sand mould. The treated foundry sand had been pounded into place around a polished and waxed shape made of timber and steamed hardboard, to the calculated shape of the keel, plus a percentage to allow for shrinkage of the lead as it contracted, in cooling, after it solidified. The extra lead, to increase the ballast weight, was provided by our plumber friend Jim, who had collected scraps, surplus from various jobs, over many months for the extra mass needed by the new design. Jim also provided the expertise needed to get this big pour done, melted down the old keel for us, added the additional lead, and made sure we took all the proper steps, in the right order, and safely, to achieve the lovely torpedo that finally appeared as we broke the sand away and admired the result.
After some light filing to smooth the surface, and drilling the holes for the attachment bolts, the new lead keel was ready for fastening. The big, bronze bolts were all loosely fitted, with hardly any of the holes requiring reaming to overcome alignment faults, and then all removed again, ready for final assembly. All the mating faces between the deadwood, keel, hull and bronze nut seatings were quickly coated with an 'approved marine sealant' (I really cannot remember which one, probably silicone based) and the bolts quickly tightened up, then torqued down, in order, several times, to the figure we had calculated, using the huge socket and the torque wrench we had bought for the purpose.
Finally, we sealed the big nuts in their sockets under the keel, primed and anti-fouled the keel and hull, and let Pirouette down off her slings to stand on her own foot. Then we backed her trolley down the ramp and floated her off.
Setting up the rigging was no problem. Using the pivot system we had designed it was supposed to be possible for one, so it was a piece of cake for two. The mast was rigged with the spreader stays, the ones that go just half-way up the mast, to the sides, to the chainplates in line with the mast. The top stays, the ones that go over the spreaders, we took to the aft chainplates. This was the way she had been rigged when we took delivery (photo 2), but when we restepped the mast after the trip from Invercargill, someone (me, I guess) had reversed their positions (photo 8). The winds during those early trials had not be strong, so it is unlikely that the switch did any harm, but we did want to avoid a recurrance of that error.
Why was it important to correct that error? To improve heavy-weather response. The most strain is usually on the spreader stays, that go only halfway up the mast, and if they pull from the aft chainplates, under heavy wind the mast has a bend pulled backward in it, halfway up, which allows the sail to belly more - just the opposite of what is needed in heavy winds.
If, instead, the spreader stays go straight out sideways, to the chainplates in line with the mast, that does not happen. Being in line they pull the mast neither forward, nor back. The top stays, however, then must be the ones that go to the aft chainplates, over the spreaders. And when the wind gets heavy enough for combined sideways pressure of the jib and the top half of the sail to stress up the topstays, the rearward facing spreaders put pressure on the mast, and may bow its middle forwards - which is what we want to flatten the sail in heavy weather.
We borrowed a good large Genoa from another club member, laid out the sheets and fastened sheet tracks and eye runners to give good leads for the sheets.
A single winch, centrally placed, would serve for sailing on either hand, with pulleys to bring the sheets fairly to it, and make the winch self laying. We didn't bother with a self-tailing winch. These were small sails by cruising standards. Even the winch itself would be an over-kill except in very heavy weather.
This is a very short chapter. She sailed magnificently. The rudder was almost neutral in all winds and all points of sailing. It was slightly self-centring downwind, and when pointing she would ease up slightly into the wind with the heaviest gusts. In moderate to strong airs she could be put on a tack and then left to steer herself, for minutes at a time, without even having to lash the tiller. The book I bought on self-steering gear was read and re-read, but in the end it was never needed.
She was so forgiving that you could put a novice at the helm, with enough clear water around, of course, and leave them to follow the wind. She came around steadily, maintaining way nicely, and took up the new tack without fuss. We were ecstatic.
The final step, before we could be really comfortable with the results, was to check the adequacy of the torsional arrangements. It should be possible to pull the mast-head down to the water without anything breaking, and with the hatches all still well out of the water.
The day before the local regatta, which we were working hard to be ready for, was the fateful day. We moored to the club punt, ran a cable from the main halyard down to water-level on a nearby pile, and began winching the halyard down, laying the yacht ever further over.
Just before the mast was down to the horizontal, with the hatches well above water, there was a loud crunching sound, and the hull sprang back upright, but not the mast. It was left behind, on the water, in pieces, in a tangle of rigging.
We quickly inspected the damage. A spreader, placed under increasing compression by the strain, had split, slackening the top-stay and thus suddenly placing on the mast all the bending strain, which the stays had until then protected it from. The result was inevitable.
Well, I said, almost weeping, that's what we wanted to know, here in harbour, rather than at sea, and set to work to repair the damage.
The fix was very easy. Only Oregon parts had been damaged, and they had split and fractured cleanly. Bronze screws and quick-set, high strength marine glue were applied as needed, and a few hours later she was ready to be re-rigged. The spreaders were boosted with screws and fittings to prevent a recurrence of the fatal splitting, and we were ready to go again, in time for the regatta.
The worst part of that episode was having to finish the job, in the evening, right outside the clubhouse where everyone else was at the a pre-race party, and, fairly enough, laughing at my predicament. What a place, and what a time, and how publicly, to have an almost intentional gear failure - and so obvious and colourful a one, at that.
In the years that followed, Pirouette, her name now longer said with a curse, provided many happy hours and days for family and friends. We took the dog with us, went fishing, visited friends across the harbour, taught children to sail. On occasion we got becalmed and came in late at night instead of dusk, for apart from an unreliable little old outboard we used when lifting the mooring, there was no requirement for a motor. She was too light, and too responsive, to need one. You could sail her off and onto moorings, among any number of other boats, at any turn of the tide, if there was any wind at all. She sailed marvellously, with no vices, and gave us a great deal of fun.
Our professional workloads inevitably increased, and, in time, Pirouette became somewhat neglected, but we would never have wished for her what finally happened. She, along with the majority of boats in the same bay, was torn from her moorings by a freak storm, hurled on the rocks, holed and sunk. When the weather abated we hired a crane and flat-bed, mounted her in her cradle, and towed her away for land storage, shrouded in tarpaulins. We were too busy to repeat the restoration exercise, even to think about getting her repaired professionally, though looking back I think we should have got quotes and had someone do that for her.
In the end, Ben, who had found her for us, all those years previously, gave her a home on blocks at his new farmlet near Dunsandel, in Canterbury, when he retired from the army. There she sat until one day we heard of someone looking for such a boat, and prepared to do some repairs or restoration, and we passed her on. With pride at what we had achieved, for sure, but with regrets, too, that we had not been, ourselves, able to keep her up to that early restored promise.
And what about the plans, lines and calculations? Those, I think, we passed on to the new owner, along with the power planer and other specialised tools we had bought for the work. Where are they now? Perhaps with that owner?
Subsequently she was sold again, perhaps more than once, ending up with a Mr Gary Leahy. He has her now in Lyttleton, where my own sailing history began fifty years ago. That's fitting. If boats can think, or pick up the feelings of their owners, I believe Pirouette would like that. I certainly do.
Copyright © 1998 Peter Leon Collins