Westward Bound

Bending Sail in Fiji

By Kate “Bob” Addison

July 11, 2014

Friday came in bright and clear aboard Picton Castle as we are lying here at anchor in Fiji waters. Another dry day, perfect for bending on more sail! Bending sail is an exciting moment in a voyage – one more step away from shipyard mode and towards being ready to hoist the anchor and set sail on our next voyage: this time our voyage is Westward Bound, a year at sea and half way round the world to sail.

Looking up from the main deck and seeing the white cotton sails neatly furled along each yard is a very visual reminder that this floating home of ours was not built to rest at anchor, but to open her canvas wings and fly across the open ocean.

It’s also the first work aloft for most of our crew, and it’s great to watch them grow in confidence as they work side-by-side with our professional crew, braced between feet on wire foot-ropes and hips leaning on the yard. They are well balanced like this with their hands free to work. Clipped in too of course, why would you not wear a seat belt?

We spent most of yesterday bending on the main lower topsail – as Captain said, he could have bent it himself in an hour with one other hand, but the point now is to teach to as many as possible and explain how it should be done, as much as to get the sail aloft and neatly lashed to the yard. Starting with explanations on a whiteboard and looking at the sail and rig, Captain talked us through the essential points common to all ships, and also the finer details, some of which can be done just as well several different ways depending on the tradition of the specific ship, or the preference of the master.

There are a few steps to sending up a square sail: the sail is brought up onto the main hatch and arranged so it’s ready to go aloft, and as easy as possible to handle when it’s up there. We use robands to lash the head of the sail onto the yard; you could just as well use marlin or any small stuff, but we use robands and they work just fine, so first of all they need to be made by pulling the individual strands out from lengths of manilla rope. These strands are used as temporary lashings to keep the sail tidy as it’s hoisted aloft, so they are passed through grommets and fairleads, head-earrings and clew cringles. Then a gantline is rove from deck up to a block above the yard and then back down on deck where it is tied in a bowline around the bunt or middle of the sail. By hauling away on the gantline the whole sail is lifted up aloft ’til its level with the yard.

Now the crew run up aloft, and with someone smart at either yard arm and hands spaced all along the yard they stretch out the head of the sail so it is tight and even along the yard: the centre lined up with the mast as it should be and the earrings lashed fast to the yard arm. Then each grommet along the head of the sail is lashed to the jack stay, which is a narrow steel rod welded onto the top of each yard for this purpose.

All fast and it’s time to lay back down to deck for the moment of truth: setting the sail to see that all is well, and check to see if there are any foul leads, twists or any other problems. It’s pretty cool seeing a square sail set for the first time, especially with the Fijian tropical sunshine behind making the sail semi-transparent like a paper kite.

Then once all is well we haul away the gear to strike the sail again, and the final step is to run back up aloft to stow the sail. Stowing sail is a first for our new trainee crew, but something they will get lots of practice at over the weeks and months of the voyage. They probably won’t believe me if I say so today, but very soon running aloft and stowing a topsail will be an easy job.

Chris, Joe, Vai and Murray shift the foresail to the focsle head compressed
Chris, Joe, Vai and Murray shift the foresail to the foc’sle head so it can be bent on

Allafia, Aaron, Bruce, Rob and Gabe bend the foresail compressed

Allafia, Bruce, Rob, Aaron and Gabe bend on the foresail

Stowing the foresail compressed

Crew lay out on the yard to stow the foresail