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September 1, 2000 Issue


September 15, 2000 Issue




September 1, 2000

Dream Boats

The Splendidly Simple & Versatile (And very much misunderstood) Split-lug

Reading "Sailing on the Cheap", by Charles Mantis, I was surprised to team that Phil Bolger, "disparages a split-lug". To him it seems that the split-lug solution was designed in an office. An office maybe, but cer-tainly not in a present day office, as Chapman already uses it to rig his Finnish Archipelago fleet. Although Nathaniel Herreshoff actually used a lug mainsail (standing hig), I have seen pictures of it (and I was surprised), on one of his racing designs, to my knowledge he used it only once. The people who sailed those gorgeous but huge yachts, certainly would have felt at home in any office, complete with office mind, I am speaking of the owners and their cronies, not the crew, but as the experiment was not repeated, I suppose the message fell on deaf ears and blind minds.

In 1937, Colonel Koolhaas, old seadog, square-rigger captain, and instructor for seamanship for the Dutch Navy's naval officers school, told us that "nobody today knows how to handle or understands the the square-sail or the lug-sail". Even the most fertile imagination, in an ultrasupreme effort, could not have conjured up the image of this man having an "office mind". He was an absolutely practical, hands-on seaman, as no-nonsense as they come, and afraid of neither God nor devil (or the admiral himself). But it was for the very reason "they don't know how to handle it", that he chose the split-lug for the navy's life-boats, And in my opinion, I think that Chapman chose it for the Finnish Archipelago Fleet for the identical reason.

There is something in our west-European white American mental makeup that balks at the handling of the lug. I am reminded of Magellan's story that certain islanders actually "could not see his ship". We are accustomed to believe that what we see is objectively what is there. Just listen to eyewitnesses in a court case. Their stories do not agree, and if you were there yourself, you find yourselves disagreeing with all of them. You see what your mind tells you what you see. If your mind has no reference, it cannot explain it, and you do not see it.

This was the case when I was first anchored in Alexandria, during WWII, and looked at all those harborcraft around me, all under sail, no motors, and all tacking back and forth with their Arabian lugs. I was most in-terested to learn how they did it, but, no matter how long I looked, and although they performed right in front of my very nose, I could not see it! Shades of Magellan and his invisible ship.

Finally I sat down and tried to make sense out of what I was observing. This led to me mentally concluding as to what most likely was going on. After some more observation, which seemed to bear out my mental rumina-tions, I chartered one of these craft, My hands-on experience proved me right, single-handing a thirty footer and putting it thru every possible maneuver, was a blast, or rather a breeze. I found the boat most responsive, the rig highly efficient, and the combination an utter delight.

By the time this took place, I had already handled the split-lug on several types of vessels and in various combinations. But handling the split-lug had given me absolutely no clue as to how to handle the lug which was then (twenties, early thirties) still being used on commercial small craft, but fast disappearing.

Far from looking for the origins of the lug-sail in northwestern Europe, its origin is much more likely have been in the Mideast, the East, and the Pacific. There the way the lug should be handled when tacking is obviously common knowledge on a multitude of sail and boat types, it is an eastern, not a western, mindset. It probably came to northwestern Europe during the crusades. The participation of people from the Dutch archipelago, the province of Zeeland, has been documented. It is interesting to note that the shape of some of the native craft is strongly reminiscent of the boom, the ubiquitous trading vessel in the mideast and on the Indian ocean.

The author on a book on dhows, shows the structural resemblance of the kog, or koggeship, with the boom. The kog appeared suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, on the Dutch and surrounding coasts. The British and Scandinavians stuck to their Viking type craft, yet the Flemish kogge seems to have dominated even the trade in the Baltic Sea. There is again the suggestion that the Dutch/Flemish picked it up during the Crusades, The lug never appealed to the highbrow mind, and it could only be the hands-on acquaintance of the crews who did the actual shiphandling that possibly could have brought the lug to north-western Europe. It is rised that handling the lug in tacking never was understood nor did it appeal to the western nidnd. Its use hung around the lowest regions, like fishermen and small-boat men. When those regions eagerly adopted the engine, the lug simply disappeared. The split-lug was thus rather the on-the-spot solution of an NCO commanding a longboat, totally frustrated with the intractability of his green pressganged crew, who took his knife, cut the lug along the mast and attached a sheet to the forward piece and a downhaul to the tack of the aft piece, finding to his surprise that this worked very well, thank you. I know very well how he felt. I have tried to explain the tacking of the lug by word of mouth, and in print or drawing, and the glassy eyes tell me that noone ever really gets it. The simple soluti . on simply boggles the western MiDd. After the invention of the split-lug, which turned out to work very well indeed when tacking into the wind, modifications followed which almost automatically led to the stoop rig and the cutter rig. The gaff was what was left of the split-lug yard, and indeed it was originally held from sagging by stays on each side of the end.

However, if it comes to "produced by the office mind", the prime example must be the modem high-peaked rig, especially those used on racers. The entire world of deep keels and towering rigs was certainly never produced by fisherfolk and other boatmen, who needed to be able to run their craft on the beach; those rigs are total officebrain (and mentality) pro-duced, inefficient, elaborate, high-cost produc-tions of "the Mirld that knows it all", The higriggers, who were the crews for those big yachts in the off-season, never fell for it, and went straight for the more practical engine, having had enough of rocking for hours at the oars.

Think it over!

[Images from top to bottom: Original high northern lug with short yard; NCO commanding longboat, frustrated with his green, pressganged crew, cuts sail at mast and improvises first split-lug; The finished product: Cut has been edged, brails added for control, loops added to keep luff to mast. This is exactly the way the ones looked which I used in my youth; and birth of sloop and cutter rigs. The cumbersome forepart has been cut off. The triangular foresail is no longer attached to the main. The gaff is permanently fixed to the mast and held by stays.]


September 15, 2000

Helpful Tips For Amateur Builders

By Jim Betts

Everything Has Flotation

We all know that foam flotation gives you about 59 pounds per cubic foot of buoancy. But keep in mind that it must be below water to give you anything.

At the other end of the scale, how much flotation does lead give you? What? Well, lead weighs 7 10 pounds per cubic foot and that dis-places one cubic foot of water, which weighs 62 pounds per cubic foot. This doesn't seem like much until the water is up to your lower lip.

Everything is "flotation" to some degree. Let's look at a few items:

Material - Lbs./CF

  • Lead -- 710
  • Steel -- 490
  • Aluminum -- 170
  • Fiberglass -- 95
  • Water -- 62
  • Teak -- 60
  • Diesel Fuel -- 53
  • White Oak -- 52
  • Gasoline -- 45
  • Mahogany Pine -- 36
  • Plywood -- 34
  • Fir -- 32
  • Cedar -- 21
  • Cork -- 15
  • Balsa -- 10
  • Foam -- 3
  • Air -- 0
A few other numbers may be of interest: One gallon of (fresh) water equals 0. 134 cubic feet and weighs 8.34 pounds. One cubic foot of any liquid (fuel or water) equals 7.48 gallons. Gasoline and diesel fuel weigh 6 pounds. per gallon.
Jim Betts, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ
Away back in 1967, I founded the International Amateur Boat Building Society and published Amateur Boat Building magazine. All this lasted about five years. During that time, I was in constant touch with some 6,000 backyard boat builders throughout the world. All of the stories I heard (both successful and sad) can about be boiled down into a few simple pieces of advice. In addition, I have built 5 of the 11 boats I have owned, two to my own design. (Speaking of designs, see two that I have done recently with Ted Brewer, GP-16 and SO-DO-IT!, on website . See also my site, , which has to do with my organization of the first around-the-world race in motorboats)

But, on to the Helpful Tips:

Now, for the bad news. Yes, you may build your own boat and save half the price of a ~;irnilar production boat, but I assume you are building in wood and wooden boats are not easy to sell. Never build a boat that you can't simply throw away after five years. That's cruel, but it is true. Building a boat is a labor of love. You have the dream, do the work and enjoy the results; that's your reward. It should be enough. How many people can say they have had a similar reward?

Note: Those who wish to comment on this story may reach me at PO Box 1309, Point Pleasant Beach NJ 08742-1309. No phone calls and no e-mail.


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