For the past few weeks, Bosun School students have been focused on sailmaking. It’s a good skill for a bosun to have – by making a sail, you understand how it works, why each part is the way it is, how to use it and how to look after it. There aren’t very many sailing ships making their own sails aboard anymore (Picton Castle is one of the only ones), but the understanding of how it’s done makes you a better mariner.
Captain Moreland demonstrates patching techniques
Repairing sails is a skill a mariner is much more likely to use on a sailing ship. From time to time, sails rip. Catching it early and repairing it properly extends the life of the sail. As Captain Moreland explained when he was introducing sailmaking to the students, there are times when different kinds of repairs need to be done. Sometimes you need the perfect repair, done so well you’d hardly know it wasn’t part of the original sail. Sometimes you need a quick and dirty five-minute job that will hold for a few hours or a few days so the sail can be set again immediately. Sometimes you need something in between.
Ashling sews in a window patch
Throughout this unit of study, Bosun School students have had the chance to practice all kinds of repairs. They have sewn in lovely window patches, they have also done ugly-but-effective rubber cement patches on a synthetic fabric sail.
Anne-Laure working on the sewing machine
Bosun School students have also been involved in making some new sails. They did some hand seaming on a new main topmast staysail to prepare it for a second layout. We also have a main deck awning that was ready for a second layout. And we wanted to do a first layout of a sail with the Bosun School, so we chose to lay out an outer jib.
Kimba put a corner patch on the new outer jib
For two afternoons last week, we used the gym floor at the Lunenburg Community Centre for laying out sails. We’re not the first people to use the community centre gym for this purpose – Michele Stevens Sailloft laid out the sails for the schooner Columbia there. The space is so large that we were able to lay all three out at once.
Liz and the main topmast staysail
laying out sails at the Lunenburg Community Centre
Both the main deck awning and the main topmast staysail were laid out for the second time. On the second layout, we even out the edges of the canvas, cut off the outside edge to be used as the material for the tabling (which we accounted for on the first layout) and make sure the shape of the sail is as we want it.
To do the first layout of the outer jib, we marked the dimensions of the sail plus the part we would later cut away in green masking tape on the floor, then rolled out the canvas over top of the shape and cut the cloths to the appropriate lengths, then marked them in the correct order. To give the Bosun School students some experience with machine sewing, we did the seaming for this sail with our big industrial Singer sewing machine.
Ashling, Polina, Liz & Kimba seam the outer jib
Kimba, Anne Laure, Ashling, Fiji & Aaron seam sails on the Singer
Once a sail is sewn together, there is still a lot of work to do, and most of it is by hand. The tabling, which is an extra layer of canvas that sandwiches the outside edge of the sail, is sewn on by hand, as are corner patches and any other patches the sail needs (bunt patches, reef patches, sun patches, etc). Canvas sails are then roped, meaning a rope is sewn around the outside of the sail to help strengthen it and ropes are often covered with canvas or leather rope coverings. Grommets need to be sewn in to any point where the sail needs to be attached to the yard, the stay or any running rigging.
Sewing grommets into the luff of the new outer jib