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Bosun School Learns Sailmaking

For the past week or so, Bosun School students have been focused on learning sail making. Picton Castle is fairly unique in that we make all of our own sails on board the ship, so depending on which vessels our Bosun School students work aboard in the future, they may or may not have the opportunity to apply the skills of making a whole sail. But it’s important to learn the parts of a sail and how they’re constructed in order to better understand how they work, and also how to maintain and repair them as necessary.

Before working on any actual sails, the Bosun School students learned the basic hand skills of sail making by first making ditty bags. Ditty bags are canvas bags carried by sailors to keep their tools in. As a beginning sailmaker, a ditty bag is a great project because it contains all the fundamental skills required to make a sail, in a small, compact size. First the canvas is measured and cut, then edges are flattened and pressed, seams are sewn, the tabling on the top is folded over, grommets are made to fit and sewn in, and even the rope handle with its splices and servings replicate sail making skills.

Now that all of the students have ditty bags, they’ve moved on to learning repair techniques. They’ve learned different types of stitching, window patches, glue-on patches, replacing rope coverings, replacing seizings, and replacing grommets. They have put this knowledge to the test by making repairs on sails made of both natural fibres and synthetic fibres.

The students have also been working on some new sails. There is one we laid out in Cape Town back in 2015, a royal, that had the canvas cloths stitched together, but only with one seam. Using the big sailmakers’ sewing machine, the students have put additional rows of stitches on the seams, learning how to work together to get the big canvas sail through the machine in a coordinated way.


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