Roller furling headsail opened by strong winds.

One morning a few days ago, I looked across the creek and saw the above. It was a miserable day, weather-wise – rain and strong winds all day. I mentioned to Ruth that I hoped someone in the marina would help that boat owner and go re-furl his headsail. Obviously, I don’t live far from this marina, and was considering going over there myself to do it.  Several minutes later, I noticed that it had been rolled up. Good on several levels: 1) there were live-aboards in that marina (I knew there were) who were looking out for other boat owners, and 2) I didn’t have to go out in the rain and wind and do it myself :-).

Last week, when sailing by myself, I realized I didn’t miss or regret giving up my roller furling. I know most people love their roller furling sails, and that’s great. I liked mine too, when I had it. But I was always a bit anxious about a problem with rolling up, or unrolling. There was always the possibility of something going amiss, and then I would really be in trouble, especially if alone. So now I keep my headsail in a deck bag, and hanked onto the fore stay. I have absolutely no trouble with it, even if it takes a few minutes more to stow at the end of a sail. And best of all, I don’t worry about it coming unfurled if the wind blows hard and long, and I’m not there to take care of it. I always tied a piece of line around the furled sail as far up as I could reach, but that’s not too far up – there was a lot of sail left unsecured above my head.

Here’s a link to the post where I discuss my decision to switch from roller to hank-on:

Anyway, still happy with my decision to switch to a bare stay and hanked on sail.


Although the holiday busyness has put a temporary hold on exploring Rockhold Creek, I did get out on the water earlier in the month, pushing northward on the creek farther than I’ve ever been. It was a beautiful cloudless day with barely a stir in the air, yet it was enough to ghost along for a little while. After half a mile I had to brail up the sail and row, but it was fun, and good excercise too.


Dinghy rig waiting to set up.


Ready to launch.

To brail up the sail, the mast-ends of the sprit and boom fold in opposite directions: the sprit drops down parallel to the leach, and the boom swings up parallel to the leach. Then the two spars are rolled into the sail until they are rolled up next to the mast. I lash them together with the  sheet. It takes about 2 minutes to stow the sail and unship the rudder and centerboard. But. . . I have to move carefully. I keep as much of my weight towards the center of the boat as possible. It would not be difficult to ship water over the transoms by moving all my weight into the ends.

I screwed down a length of firehose over the edge of pier where the dinghy slides into the water to protect the bottom paint from scrapes and gouges. I’ve used various materials through years in different places where we’ve used the dink – an old piece of carpet, or a scrap of foam – but the fire hose permanently installed in this manner is the best.


Sailing rig stowed, ready for rowing.

I safely transitioned from pier to dinghy (hardest part of the whole operation) and glided out of the slip powered by a light breeze.


Looking back over the transom at the launching area in my slip. My house in the background.

Out into the creek, I was the only vessel under way. We headed north toward the bridge, and passed underneath with no problems! When the mast is only 5′ tall, a bridge is never an obstacle. And under the bridge is where sailing ended, as we passed into a more sheltered part of the creek.


Looking back on the bridge.


Bridge resident. I didn’t see any trolls!

I rowed in a leisurely fashion for another 20 minutes, passing under another bridge and a large power-boat marina – boats that moor here are low enough to pass under the bridge, eliminating all but the smallest sailboats, and most of the larger motor yachts.

I finally reached the edge of an area devoid of houses, and really wanted to explore further into the marshy area beyond, but I had evening commitments and had to turn around. I reluctantly spun around and pulled steadily towards home for a solid 30 minutes. By this time I had stripped off my sweatshirt and soaked through my shirt with the effort.

Unrigged, Sea Minor upended on the pier, I carried the sailing rig back to the house, moving on to the next thing in the evening.

No narrative this time, just a few photos from two recent daysails: one with my wife, and one with her dad.

Dad's a great shipmate and helmsman, and loves being on the water.

Dad’s a great shipmate and helmsman, and loves being on the water.

The two osprey on the left are fledglings. The whole family will leave soon, and we'll have empty nests until March next year.

The two osprey on the left are fledglings. The whole family will leave soon, and we’ll have empty nests until March next year.


Lord of all he surveys.

I can hear him now - "Whadda YOU lookin' at?"

I can hear him now – “Whadda YOU lookin’ at?”


Probably classified as a yawl, this classic plastic moors across the creek from me. Yawl and ketch are terms that are a bit fluid with respect to definition. Yawl generally refer to smaller mizzen sail than would a ketch.

Here's the yawl again, striking sail in preparation for motoring home.

Here’s the yawl again, striking sail in preparation for motoring home.

When the boat yard stepped my mast a couple of weeks ago, they just connected the rigging components and made sure nothing fell down. That’s fine – that’s all I expected them to do. Like any other normal people, they wanted to make sure that all was well and secure, so they tightened the rigging wire pretty tight. This isn’t necessarily an optimal set-up, so I did a bit of research on tuning the rig, and today put my knowledge into practice. My on-line reference is found here:

Tools required.  Simple mechanics:  lightly hold the shroud above the turnbuckle with the locking pliers, turn the adjuster with the screw driver.

Simple mechanics: lightly hold the shroud above the turnbuckle with the locking pliers, turn the adjuster with the screw driver.

First of all, I was surprised with how easy this is. It’s not complicated. The basics are this:

  • Get the mast perpendicular to the deck
  • Get the mast straight from bottom to top (“In column”)
  • Tension port and starboard cap shrouds so that the mast stays in column and perpendicular
  • Tension lower shrouds evenly from port to starboard, ensuring that they don’t induce bend in the middle of the spar
    • lowers should not be as tight as cap shrouds
    • lowers should just tight enough to not be slack and floppy when they are the lee shrouds
  • Tighten forestay and backstay, inducing as much rake or bend desirable
  • Generally, forward rake adds lee helm, aft rake adds weather helm
  • Because Watkins 27s have a fair amount of weather helm with any significant degree of heeling, it may be best to keep the mast perpendicular or even forward of perpendicular

So the first step is to establish a port-starboard reference, then loosen all the wires so that they are noticeably floppy. I did this by measuring three feet up from the deck at the cap shrouds and marking with masking tape. I marked where the jib halyard landed at that reference on the starboard side, then compared it to the port side.  The marks were within an inch of each other. I pulled the rig slightly to port, then tightened p&s cap shrouds evenly after that, sighting up the mast track frequently to check the column.

High-tech method: port and starboard shrouds measured and marked with masking tape.

High-tech method: port and starboard shrouds measured and marked with masking tape. A sharpie mark would work just as well.

After the initial tensioning, I found that the very top of the spar bent off to starboard ever so slightly. I corrected this with more starboard shroud tension, then checked in-column status again, and found that there was no mid-spar bulge.  That meant that I could continue tensioning the lowers evenly. Once done, I moved to the fore- and back-stays, and attempted to simply keep the mast perpendicular to the deck. This something I’ll have to check at anchor, as there is a great deal of visual interference at the pier. Finally, a sailing expedition in moderate winds will be necessary to fine-tune tune the rig and confirm proper tension on the lowers.

This was remarkably easy (I’ve always thought it would be difficult. . . ) and I found that the forces involved were very logical and straightforward. All in all, it took about an hour, or slightly less to do this.

And she's ready for the fine tuning  under way.

And she’s ready for the fine tuning under way.

We escaped for an hour and a half, cast off the lines, and headed out to the bay. As usual this time of year, comfortable in the creek means chilly on the bay, so we wore jackets and sweaters. I enjoyed that clean-bottom hull speed while the engine pushed us almost to cruising speed while turning 2k rpm.

Once on the bay, we began setting sail, and discovered the processes and cautions are now a bit different with all the extra line in the cockpit. Without roller furling, I have another halyard to manage and a downhaul for when we strike sail. I also have new lines for all the running rigging and they are not optimal length yet (read they are still too long). Keeping lines out of the water and away from the prop is a big concern with a new set of lines/lengths to get used to.

With the wind 10 -12 knots, we set both sails. I was very pleased with the set of the new headsail, although I had to drop the main after five minutes of being over-powered.  I could have reefed the main, but wanted to see how the headsail did on its own. It performed so well. . .  our old sail just wouldn’t pull very well by itself, especially in windy conditions.  It was just too old, and didn’t set smoothly on the foil. The luff was very soft, and I’m sure the sail was just blown out. By contrast, the new sail alone pulled like a champ in these conditions, very close-winded, and perfectly shaped.

Here she is, a few small stains, but generally very good condition.

Here she is, a few small stains, but generally very good condition.

I forgot to close the mast gate after sliding the slugs on, so when I dropped the sail I kept coming up with extra material. I was confused until Ruth pointed what had happened. These are the little kinks that we have to work out after unrigging/rerigging the boat. I still need to adjust all the running line lengths and work out the system for keeping the cockpit organized when managing sail.  It also took me 10 minutes to remember how to stow the headsail in its deck bag.  I kept getting little things wrong (it won’t close if it’s inside-out; the forward zipper has to go around the tack – how many times do I have to get the same things wrong with one stowing. . . ?). It will take a bit of time to learn how to manage all the changed lines efficiently. Also, the boat yard guys set up the rig really tight so I need to retune all the wires.

5.6 nautical miles today – about a half-hour of sailing and a half-hour of motoring in and out the creek. That was enough for the first time out with a new rig. A couple more days of organizing and sorting out little issues, and we’ll be ready for cruising.

I did an image search with a couple variables for search words and came up with the Forespar Mast Light Guard. It serves the same function as the lamp guard I fabricated and installed two days ago. Here’s an image from

Forespar Mast Light Guard

Forespar Mast Light Guard

I like the design, and I like the fact that it’s one piece. I think halyards will role right off of it with no problems. However, I don’t like the $46 price tag. Of course, it’s stainless where mine is aluminum, but I’m having a difficult time understanding how this will do a better job than what I fabricated. I’m happy with my $10 steaming lamp/deck lamp guard.


Finally, I’m not susceptible to 2nd thoughts.  No, I’m often overwhelmed by them. 3rd, 4th, and 5th thoughts as well.  So when my wife mentioned my last use of zip ties in rigging (click here to read) and it’s failure to stand the test of time and UV exposure, I said yeah. . . think I’ll go tie them together with stainless wire.  While I was doing that, I also put a flat and split washer underneath each screw head on the port-starboard oriented rod.  Now if there is any movement up and down, it won’t work the screws loose. This is the place that I appreciate the one-piece construction of the Forespar product – it won’t move under the fasteners, and of course, there is no need for a link to hold elements together.

Here you can see the stainless wire in lieu of the zip tie.  Note also the washers under the screw at the bottom of the photo.

Here you can see the stainless wire in lieu of the zip tie. Note also the washers under the screw at the bottom of the photo.

Okay, I’ll admit that I don’t know exactly what to call this thing, but I know what I want it to do – what I hope it will do, if it is robust enough to do so. First, some background:

Two years ago my deck lamp was knocked out of the fixture, including the lens (I think), by an errant halyard slap in high winds. Well, that wouldn’t be too bad, except that I had just replaced it. It’s one of those two-pronged halogen 20 watt lamps, and they are sort of pricey. Not only that, but I hate going up the mast. Now I’d have to do it again! There has to be a better system. I imagined then, that some sort of cage of rods would be an adequate protection against another halyard slap. I’ve seen them on other boats, but I’ve never seen one advertised for sale, so I have no idea of availability or price. But how hard can it be to make something like that? While the mast is still horizontal and I have time before launch, I thought I would give it a try. I should be able to come up with something.

I went to the hardware store today to look for materials, and came home with 36″ of 1/8″ aluminum rod, eight stainless #6 screws, and a drill bit and tap for #6 screws.

Back in the shop I cut the rod in half and flattened the ends of the two pieces with a 3-pound maul against my closed vice, then drilled holes in the ends for the screws. I used a mill file to clean up the sharp edges.

Back at the boat, I estimated the lengths, attachments points, and the approximate locations of the bends. Without a vice on site, I found convenient places to capture one end of the rod while bending the appropriate place against a leverage point. This is what I came up with:

I managed to get one leg of the smaller piece longer than the other.  Doesn't really make a difference.  It attached to the mast without complication.

I managed to get one leg of the smaller piece longer than the other. Doesn’t really make a difference. It attached to the mast without complication, but it does bother me that the legs are not exactly the same length. . .

I located the larger piece on the mast first and marked the attachment points. Using a steel punch, I made a small divot point in the mast at each screw hole location to get a clean start with the drill bit. Carefully locating the drill bit, I used significant pressure and slow speed to start the hole (the mast is a curved section, remember? Hard to drill a hole in something like that without having the bit walk all over the place). Each hole started and finished cleanly. I cut threads into each hole with the tap, then ran a screw into it to ensure clean threads. If you never tapped a hole, it’s an interesting process. Everything is extremely low tech, except for the tap itself – which is hardened steel, tapered at the point, with the cutting threads beginning immediately. I use a small adjustable wrench to turn the tap a quarter turn at a time as I guide it into the hole as perfectly perpendicular as possible. It’s helpful to back the tap out a quarter turn after every complete turn or so, to clean the metal debris from the cutting threads.

I marked, drilled, and tapped for the second (port-starboard) piece next, then mounted both pieces with screws well bedded in TefGel. TefGel is a non-conductive corrosion inhibitor, and it allows me to use stainless fasteners into an aluminum mast without threat of galvanic corrosion. Every place I’ve used it on the mast has been completely corrosion-free since I refit the mast eight years ago.

In case you’re wondering, sheet metal screws, or self-tapping screws are an inappropriate fastener for this application. In fact, anything screwed into the mast should be done with machine screws. They have much finer thread than self-tapping screws, and hold much more securely. I like what Don Casey says about sheet metal screws in a mast: “I’ve never seen a sheet metal mast . . . ”  Point taken.

After fitting both pieces, I linked them with a zip tie, reasoning that having them linked together would give them a bit more rigidity (4 attachment points, vs 2).  Here’s the finished product:




Nice rounded features should allow halyards to slide right off and past the light. Cost? About $10, including the drill bit/tap set. We’ll see if it does what I hope it will. Although the rod is quite bend-resistant, the fasteners could be the weak point. As long as they don’t get wobbly, I think it will be fine. They are torqued as tight a I dare and seem quite sturdy, although it may be smart to install lock washers under the fastener heads. Any opinions out there about this?

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