Archive for October, 2011

Pete Culler

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

To be successful at sea we must keep things simple.

Captain R. D. ‘Pete’ Culler was an American naval architect. He designed a wide range of vessels, as the contents of John Burke’s book, Peter Culler’s Boats: The Complete Design Catalog show:
* Round -Bilged Open Craft for Sail and Oar
* Vee-and Flat-Bottomed Open Boats for Sail and Oar
* Power, Inboard and Outboard
* Cutters, Sloops, Yawls
* Ketches
* Schooners

Pete Culler also wrote about his design work in Skiffs and Schooners and Boats, Oars and Rowing. These two books were combined by John Burke into Pete Culler on Wooden Boats: The Master Craftsman’s Collected Teachings on Boat Design, Building, Repair, and Use.

R. Tucker Thompson, designed by Pete Culler

R. Tucker Thompson (photo courtesy Miso Beno)


Culler also wrote The Spray: Building and Sailing a Replica of Joshua Slocum’s Famous Vessel.

One of the schooners designed by Culler is the R. Tucker Thompson, a traditional gaff-rigged schooner owned and operated by the R. Tucker Thompson Sail Training Trust. She (it seems odd to call a ship a ‘she’ when it carries a male name, says Annie!) carries passengers for day sails and longer voyages, taking in New Zealand’s beautiful Bay of Islands.

A sad ending

Culler also designed several schooners for the Concordia Company of Massachusetts. Sadly, one, an 83 tonner named the John F. Leavitt, sank on her maiden voyage. She was built for Ned Ackerman and launched in 1979 – the first wind-powered cargo vessel built in the USA for 40 years. 97 ft long, with a shallow draft of just six and a half feet, she was designed to carry 6,441 sq ft of sail.

Fully laden with lumber and canning chemicals, the John F. Leavitt set sail for Haiti. During a heavy winter three-day gale near the Gulf Stream the cargo broke free and damaged the hull. She sank on 29 December 1979 and, fortunately, her crew were all rescued by helicopter.

Among the crew of nine was Jon Craig Cloutier, a filmmaker who had recorded the progress of the ship’s building over four years. He was lucky to rescue from the foundering vessel 3,600 ft of film taken of the voyage although was unable to save another US$50,000 worth of camera equipment that was on board. In 1981 he released a film, Coaster: The Adventures of the John F. Leavitt. It had been edited from over 100,000 ft of film into a 90 minute documentary feature.

The ship was planned as the first of three and wholly financed by Ned Ackerman. She was valued at US$350,000. Her loss was the end of the project.

You can read more about the John F. Leavitt in a Time magazine article from Sept 1979, In Maine: A Bold Launching into the Past and a report of the rescue.

Tacking – 8 steps to perfect your tack

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Yachts sailing to windwardThe way to develop the proper timing when tacking your boat is to practise. At first, start each phase slowly. You will be surprised how soon it becomes a slick operation. 

Here’s what you need to do:

1. While sailing upwind, the boat should always be ready to tack.

Why? Because at any time you may need to avoid other boats, ferries or shipping.

What does this mean? For the headsail, being ready to tack means that:

  • the lazy sheet has at least one turn around the winch
  • the working sheet is securely held with three or more turns around the winch and ready to be uncleated, its tail ready to run freely
  • any crew on the rail are ready to move across the boat, out of the way of the tacking headsail

For the main, being ready to tack means that:

  • the mainsheet is cleated and the traveller can be quickly pinned
  • the mainsheet trimmer is ready to move the traveller into position for the new tack

2. Helmsman should keep sailing close-hauled right up to the point of tacking

What I mean here is that while deciding when to tack – e.g. looking around for good, clean air, avoiding close encounters with other boats – don’t allow the boat to drop off the breeze on to a close reach. And don’t let yourself be distracted by crew preparations.

3. Helmsman decides to tack and calls ‘ready about’

Crew prepare for the tack:

The headsail trimmer takes sheet out of the cleat or self-tailer but ensures that trim is maintained without any easing. As already mentioned, the leeward sheet must be free to run when required.

Mainsheet hand ensures the traveller is locked and stands by ready to adjust the traveller for the new tack.

Crew call ‘ready’.

4. Helmsman calls ‘helm to lee’ or ‘tacking’ and turns the boat slowly, keeping as much speed as possible through the tack. If you turn too fast you will lose boat speed, if too slow you will lose momentum. If you lose too much momentum you may end up in irons (stalled).

5. As the headsail starts to back, the headsail trimmer releases the leeward sheet quickly so that the wind carries the sail across the foredeck in a single smooth motion.

6. Pull in new sheet hand over hand and then trim on using the winch handle, with a second crew member tailing to make it more efficient and prevent over-rides. (Make sure the new lazy sheet is free enough to allow this to be done without hindrance.)

7. Crew change sides of the boat.

8. Prepare the lazy headsail sheet for the next tack by reloading the winch with two turns – spinning the winch to ensure the turns are the right way around. Make sure there is no pressure on the sheet that could affect the shape of the headsail.

When you’re safely on the new tack, give the crew feedback and talk about how to improve the next tack. This instant replaying of the manoeuvre is a good way of developing your team. It’s a far better way of learning than having a chat back on the mooring at the end of the sail, when everyone is keen to get ashore.