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Captain’s Log – Sailmaking

By Purser Allison Steele

Today as we make our way to Norris Point, Newfoundland, Captain Sikkema led a workshop on sail making.  PICTON CASTLE is one of the few ships left that still sews her own sails on board and often by hand, as opposed to sending them out to be made in a sail loft. Occasionally we take over a parking lot or a gymnasium to stretch some of the larger canvas out but for the most part, it is done on either the quarterdeck of the ship or in the hold when the weather is less favourable.

PICTON CASTLE uses only canvas for sails as opposed to the newer synthetic materials and travels with at least one extra full set as well as another set in production. A sailmaker’s job is never ending as there are always maintenance projects to keep current sails in good working order as well as creating new ones. Sometimes an awning, net or bag is required and with help from the crew, it is a sailmaker’s responsibility to create!

A detailed record of all sails is kept as they are not all uniform in shape and size. All waters in the world have varying types and strengths of wind that are typical for that area and a good ship knows how to take advantage of this variance by adjusting the complement of their canvas, using their lighter sails in the trade winds or other places with more favourable conditions and switching them out for the tougher, heavier sails in places where gales or strong gusts are more likely.

The history of sail making has been an important consideration when designing today’s sails. Although materials have changed and technology has streamlined many aspects of the industry, there are hundreds of years of experience and knowledge to rely on in modern sail making. Contrary to many layman’s beliefs, sails are not, in fact, flat but are curved in specific ways depending on the configuration of the ship but one constant is that they are designed to take full advantage of every breath of wind. There is a considerable amount of pride to look up into the rigging and see something that you helped to create and knowing that for years to come, others will rely on this creation to take them around the world.

 

Sailmaking on Picton Castle

 

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