Sailing a Trawler

SOUND: Four bells and a jingle.

RON: Greetings, mariners and thank you for your response on the last program, especially for the requests of additional advice on fire prevention and equipment. I am collecting other data on the subject, much of it from your letters, and checking it over with underwriters and other authorities and at some later broadcast will again take the subject in tow.

My interest, however, is at present caught with a query received yesterday on a subject which is very close to my affections, sail.

A fisherman at Craig wrote as follows:

"I always was told that if I put a sail up on my trolling mast, when I ran into a rough sea it would steady me and keep my boat from rolling. She rolls pretty badly and, the first few times I used the sail, it steadied the boat. But off Chacon recently I ran into a blow and the sail just about foundered me. Here is the drawing to show what kind of a sail it is. Maybe if I rigged it differently it wouldn’t do that. I don’t know about sails and would appreciate some advice on the subject."

He shares his lack of knowledge with most of the fleet on the subject of sail for it has been thirty-five or forty years since sail was extensively employed in fishing and despite the fact that gas-boats, even now, break down, only these balancing sails seem to be employed. This would seem to me to be an oversight on the part of those skippers who cruise offshore.

Sail, like a gas engine, is motive power. It possesses certain attributes which a gas engine does not, just as a gas engine possesses attributes which a sail does not.

Sails are of no use when there is no wind and engines are of no use when they either break down or run out of gas. The sail is the best possible motive power in a bad sea for it will drive and steady a boat when a screw would thresh wildly, a third of the time out of water. Neither means of driving a boat is, in my opinion, is satisfactory in itself. Sails were once helped by engines and now engines can be helped by sail.

Lying out in a wild sea with the wind yowling, many a gas-boat has had engine failure. Water, long untroublesome in the [fuel] tanks, will accumulate in earnest when the tanks are sloshing and the result is a dead engine. Cleaning out filters and carburetors while a boat is lying in the trough of a bad sea is a risky business. Exhaust pipes are usually still hot and many a sailor has gotten a bad burn while undertaking this simple repair under unfavorable conditions.

A cruiser, crewed by some fellows of my acquaintance, once had this happen in the Straits of Georgia and the task of clearing out the water was so difficult it had to be abandoned. One broken head and one sprained wrist dissuaded further effort. The cruiser, the Tanus lay out all night, drifting perilously close to a reef, thrown about in a sea which broke continually over the pilot house. The Coast Guard saved the Tanus only by accident for a patrol plane, off its course, passed over and sighted them at dawn.

A sail could have given the Tanus enough way to have brought her into port early in the evening, waves or no waves and yet not so much as a tarp was aboard and her crew, products of a gas-boat age, could not have rigged it had they had it. That experience almost cost them their boat and perhaps their lives but the Tanus has yet to be equipped with any kind of sail.

But, to return to our fisherman at Craig, a poorly rigged sail can be as much a liability as a help. I see by his sketch that his sail, a small triangle of rigidly secured canvas, is much too high. Its foot is well above his pilot house. Now the way the wind comes whooping around some of these points, thus redoubling its velocity, a high sail may resist [the wind] sufficiently to overturn the boat. Ballast of course, can help this but we will take up ballast at some future date. The point here is, the fisherman’s sail, if it can be called that, is no more than a fin.

Sails, as carried by most trolling boats, are useless. The center of gravity of the boat is so high that the arc of swing is slight and the steadying effect scarcely noticeable unless the fisherman has a good imagination. However, if the boom or after corner – the clew – of the sail could be controlled, the vessel could be made to run and reach across the wind and materially aid the engine.

All the fisherman has to do is put a sheet to the clew of his sail, thus controlling his boom, and his sail will get down and slave for him.

The power which can be gained from a sail like this, even if small, will sometimes put two and three knots on a boat’s speed and will allow her to be sailed, even against the wind, to port should a beakdown occur. Because the sail is small, a boat could troll with it, engine off, when on the fishing grounds thus saving considerable money in gasoline.

There’s little excuse for a boat to fail to take advantage of a following wind to or from the grounds for again this means dollars saved. A little experimenting and an eye on the tachometer will teach a fisherman about sail in a surprisingly short time.

There is no reason to pay any large sum for a sail for a man handy with needle and palm can make one without much work, work which might eventually save his life and which will undoubtedly save him dollars in fuel consumption.

A few yards of canvas, can be gotten cheaply at the marine supply store along with fittings. A coil of three-eighths inch cordage and three blocks will complete the rig. Even if one has a sail made at the sailmakers, it is best to purchase the canvas and gear for it, for only in that way can one be sure of high quality fittings. The practice of putting leather around grommets is not safe, for leather in Alaska rots quickly.

Because sail would get little attention on a fishing boat the best precaution is to have it mildew proofed. Otherwise a sail will only last a very short time.

A walk through Thomas Basin ought to prove to a man that it is good policy to take care of his canvas by carefully drying them and stowing them each time they aren’t in use for there isn’t a square foot of fishing boat canvas down there which would stand up to a sneeze unless somebody has bought a new sail since I was last there yesterday.

A sail is horsepower in reserve. Your tank can be empty, your crankshaft broken and your engineer drunk and you can still get home.

And, as for our fisherman at Craig, unless you make some provision for handling that sail of yours, you had better save it to wrap fish in for it’s a menace. Either a sail is there for work or it’s not there at all and there’s no halfway point whatever.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you Captain Hubbard.

Send in your questions and problems to the “Mail Buoy” and they will be answered free of charge if accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The foremost marine architects and authorities will be consulted. Comment and criticism is invited.

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