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On Boat Names and Faking Sails

Posted by Tom Benedict on 31/03/2012

The wind here is still insanely high. Too high to fly a kite. Certainly too high to raise a sail on a boat that’s still tied to a trailer. At some point I need to start checking out line lengths on my mainsheet, and I need to thread up the jib sheet to a good workable length. This is easiest to do with sails up. But that’s simply out of the question. My plan, at the moment, is to fake the sails.

Faking a mainsail is easy. Most main halyards are long enough for you to clip them to the outer end of the boom and use them as a topping lift. (A topping lift is a line that runs from the masthead to the outer end of the boom on a large sailboat. When the mainsail is down, it holds the boom up off the deck. When the mainsail is up, you can use the topping lift to set how much curve you want in leech of the sail (its trailing edge).) If the main halyard isn’t long enough, it’s a simple matter to tie a bit of line to the end and use that as an extension. In the end you get a boom set at about the same height as if the sail was actually there.

Faking a foresail is only a little more involved: Lay the sail on the ground and use some scrap line to duplicate the outer edges of the sail. Tie loops in the corners so it can be rigged in place of the foresail. Voila: faked out foresail with no real sail area. It’s a lot floppier than a real sail, but with a little creativity you can still use it.

Once the boat is rigged with fake sails, you can attach the sheets. This lets you work out how long the sheets should be and will let you see how they’ll lie on deck when tacking or jibing. If a sheet is too short, you won’t get the full range of motion you might want. Too long and it leaves a tangle of line on deck that’s prone to fouling or being swept overboard. The trick is to strike a good balance.

It’s also a good way to introduce new crew to some of the concepts of sailing before they get wet and cold. Since this will be the first time any of my kids have been out on a sailboat, this is one of the things I’m planning to do with them. With the fake sails up, we can show them how to come up on the wind before a tack, how to sheet in the traveler during a jibe to reduce the forces on the boat, etc. And with a little practice we won’t have them cracking each other’s heads as they dive across deck during a tack.

Speaking of the kids, the boat’s name is still up in the air and they’re still coming up with more good ones every day. My wife, on the other hand, is starting to shoot some of them down. Two of my favorites, Millennium Falcon, and Serenity, were among the first to be nixed. Here’s her logic:

One of the defining characteristics of both the Millennium Falcon and Serenity is that they’re in a constant state of disrepair. This was used to comic effect in both Star Wars and Firefly. It played a major plot role in both as well (the broken-down Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back, and Serenity in Out of Gas). Naming a boat after one of these is kind of like tattooing wings on your back if you’re a sky diver. It’s just asking for trouble, in her opinion.

I’m not sure I agree 100% since both the Millennium Falcon and Serenity had other qualities that endeared them to viewers and crew alike. They’re desirable despite their flaws. In some ways it’s because of them.

But she does have a point. “… despite their flaws” is the operative phrase there. I think we can make this boat desirable by the time we’re done. And yes, it will have flaws. But one of the things I don’t want to do is to wind up with a boat that is in constant need of real hard-core repair. I want to hook up the trailer, take it to the water, rig it, and sail it. I know that every boat on the planet is in constant state of requiring maintenance. But I don’t want to worry about blowing a compression coil or losing my hyperdrive each time I set foot on it. Maybe those names really do summon trouble.

There’s another class of names we may or may not go with, depending on how some of the repairs go over the next few weeks. “Ugly Cat” “Bad Kitty” and “Calico Cat” fall into these. I’m driving into Kona today to pick up supplies for repairing the gel coat on the lower hulls and the rudder blades. The blades are no problem. They’re white. But the hulls are this odd faded off-white that was clearly popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s when the boat was made. Color matching it now might prove more trouble than it’s worth.

The hulls have impact dings and scratch marks all over them. It’s going to require many many repair sessions before I trust it in the water. Depending on how my color matching goes, “calico” may be a kind description of its new color scheme. But if I find a good match and can replicate it from session to session, the hulls may wind up with a mirror-smooth finish that looks factory original. (Hey, I can dream!) Then that whole bunch of names won’t apply, either.

Which makes our list pretty short. My son threw in the name “The Bunny”. He likes rabbits. Who knows? It may stick.

– Tom


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