Jump to content

Sail design for 18th-century longboat?

Recommended Posts

I'm working on the Model Shipways 18th Century Longboat, and would like to model it with sails raised (no sails are included or discussed in the kit). I can find lots of references to sail patterns and structures for ship sails, but less for smaller boats of this period.


Milton Roth's "Ship modelling from stem to stern" has a very nice diagram of a gaff sail and jib, but I assume from context that it's for a ship, not a small boat. For example, would a longboat gaff sail really need three different bands of reef points? And would the sails be attached to the boom/gaff/stays the same as on a ship?




What would I need to do, or where should I look, to create a reasonably authentic sail design for this model? Is anyone aware of images that would help me get these sails right, including their proper attachment? I've tried searching various terms in this forum without success, so if this has already been addressed, I apologize for missing it and would appreciate direction to the existing guidance. Here's the model as she stands now, for context:




The sort of sailplan I'm going for can be seen in the second image here:







Link to comment
Share on other sites

So I've been experimenting with sail layout for this longboat, and a significant question arises right away. Here is a simplified rigging layout, traced directly from the plans, assuming a gaff sail (red), stay sail (green), and jib (blue) arranged within the dimensions of the rigging as shown in the plans.




First question is, do these sail shapes and layout seem about right? I assume I need a line from the clew of both stay sail and jib, belayed to something (drawn in color)?


Bigger question, am I missing something on the stay sail and jib rigging?


The plans refer to the lines drawn in green and blue as the sail halyards, and I assume these are what the stay sail and jib are bent to. The plans say to seize one end of these to the mast, run them down through a block, back up to a sheave, then down to belaying pins. Yet this arrangement doesn't allow these lines to move, only to be tensioned like a stay; if you pull on the belayed end, nothing will happen because the other end is seized to the masthead. So how can the sails be bent to them if the lines can't move? Doesn't there have to be either another block, or another entire set of lines to raise and lower the sails? Are these lines actually stays, rather than halyards?


The gaff sail arrangement makes sense, but the fore sails don't. Am I missing something?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The classic work on early fore and aft rigs, The Fore And Aft Rig in America says that there were two varieties of gaff rigs- a short gaff and a long gaff. The excellent book The Boats of Men-of-War by W. E. May includes a detailed admiralty draught with sail plan of a mid 18th Century Royal Navy longboat and it is a short gaff.


I am building a 1: 32 model of this boat of this boat and I intend to rig it in accordance with the drawing. In my opinion, the small gaff sail makes a lot more sense than the long gaff sail shown on the various kit models. With their bluff bows, necessary for providing buoyancy to lift heavy weights, these boats must have difficult to sail off the wind in heavy air. As the boat approached hull speed, it would be pushing a big bow wave and with that big mainsail would develop a strong weather helm. The boat would then "round up" and broach.


Modern keel sailboats will knockdown and recover because of their heavy keel but this longboat would flood and capsize. A amaller (short gaff) mainsail than a long gaff one seen on the recent kit models makes more sense to me.


Another example of a rigged longboat is the model in the Kregstein Collection. When they got the model it was unrigged, and they rigged it using spars that came with the model. It is a short gaff rig.


I think that the mainsail in your drawing should look more like a "shoulder of mutton sail" than the long gaff that you show. The sail should also be loose footed.


Roger Pellett

Link to comment
Share on other sites



You might find this information helpful. It is taken from the Admiralty draught that I am using.


Length of hull overall 32ft


Mast length, not including pole 28ft-3in

Boom Length 24 ft

Gaff length 6ft-6in

Length of main sail hoist 25 ft

Area of mainsail 381 square feet


As you can see, the gaff is very short relative to the boom


Regarding the headsails:


My interpretation is that the jib is a sail used when sailing in light air and particularly off the wind. First of all it is set flying, not hanked to a stay and the long bowsprit is quite flexible so there is no way to tighten the luff and a jib with a luff sagging to leeward doesn't work well. Second, that long unstayed bowsprit and the support that connects the butt of the bowsprit to the fore ward thwart would not hold up sailing upwind in a stiff breeze. My guess is that the sail functioned pretty much like the modern axysymmetric spinnaker with the bowsprit acting as pole used mainly for broad reaching and close reaching in light air.


The real workhorse in sloops is the fore stay sail with its luff hanked to a taught fore stay. You should therefore give some thought to how it gets belayed as li likes to be hauled in tight when working upwind. Some longboats featured an iron horse just forward of the mast and running clear across the boat. The sheet would be a three part purchase with its end belayed to an elongated pin through the block on the horse. This would allow the sail to be self tacking.


The main sheet traveler on your kit model must go over the tiller, not under it as shown to avoid excitement when coming about. Although you are never supposed to belay a main sheet in a small boat, my model will include a cleat as the sail is too big to handle without at least snubbing the sheet.


Roger Pellett

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Roger said: "The main sheet traveler on your kit model must go over the tiller, not under it as shown to avoid excitement when coming about."


Good Catch, Roger.  Even after reading your commment, I had to blow up the photo and look closely to see this.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

The traveller/tiller arrangement is addressed in the instructions, assuming you're referring to what the instructions call the horse: 


"Up to the mid 18th century, the horse was positioned as shown on the model...during the second half of the century, they started making the horse so it actually spanned over the tiller. You may opt to do so as well. But since this model is inspired by several contemporary longboat models in the NMM, it was created as shown on those models."


Along the same lines, much of what you say makes intuitive sense to me based on my own sailing experience growing up many years ago, but it's also the case (as quoted above) that this design is based on period models that were rigged as shown. So clearly there must have been a precedent and reason for having a large gaff sail, and the forward stay arrangements that are confusing me.


Regarding the arrangement of the stay sail you describe, how would such a sail be raised or lowered? The model rigging has a forestay (I didn't include it in the drawing for simplification) to which the sail could in theory be connected, but then what's the purpose of the fore halyard as shown, because with one end bent to the masthead it can't be used to raise or lower the sail unless I'm missing something.


And in the same way, even if the jib is set flying, how could it be raised or lowered without some kind of free-moving halyard? The jib halyard as shown in the kit doesn't really function as a stay, given the traveler on the bowsprit, but also not as a halyard, given that it's bent to the masthead and thus can't move.


I think I'll try to create another drawing implementing what you're suggesting, to see if it makes sense. I appreciate your willingness to talk through this with me. It's a fun mental puzzle to figure out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lots of confusing stuff.


I have'nt seen the instructions as I'm building my model from the admiralty draught in May's book, not from the kit. The lines were developed from the body plan and sheer elevation also on the draught. This sail/rigging plan shows several things that we might find unusual but my philosophy in building the model is that if shown on the drawing, model it. For example the mainsail topping lift, throat halyard, and peak halyard all lead through a treble block on the mast head pole. I am less inclined to pay attention to models as I have no idea when they were rigged. It is my understanding that the rigging on many Admiralty drawings is not original.


As far as the staysail is concerned it would be hanked to the stay and the halyard would pass from the mast head pole down to a single block on the head of the sail and then to a single also on the masthead pole and then down to the masthead thwart where it belays on a pin.


The jib would be set flying- not hanked to a stay. The tack of the sail hooks to traveling ring on the bowsprit. This is pulled along the bowsprit by a line through a sheave at the outboard end of the bowsprit The head of the sail is simply hooked to the halyard. The drawing that I am using leads this halyard through a cheek block also mounted on the mast head pole.


You show both foresail halyards hooked to the bowsprit. If these were hooked to the sails, your rig would work exactly as I am describing.


As far as the main sheet traveler or horse, if located below the tiller the block would slide over and take charge of the rudder capsizing the boat when tacking. I dumped a friend's Flying Scot in the Duluth Superior harbor by losing control of the tiller tacking in a gust. I agree that models including the Kregstein model show the traveler below the rudder.


Both the short gaff and the traveler or horse would reduce twist in the sail improving its efficiency. Large vessels were rigged with vangs to do this. But small boats didn't use these.

Roger Pellett

Edited by Roger Pellett
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Okay, here's an updated sail plan taking your advice into account. I'm including the original one (traced from the kit plan) to make comparisons easier. This arrangement seems more like something I could sail, compared to the original that I just couldn't figure out. I labelled changes on the diagram, and included a few questions for clarification. Most stays are left out for clarity, except for the forestay (which I left off the first diagram but should have included; same for the bowsprit traveller).


Original rigging plan:



New plan:



Other questions:


Do the foresail shapes & sizes look right?

Would there be any lines of reef points on the main sail, or telltales? If so, where?


Many, many thanks to Roger and anyone else who wants to weigh in. I'm really enjoying thinking through this problem.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

More important than the topping lift, the peak halyard now is more in line with the leach to help prevent it from sagging to leeward. I do not believe that the tack of the main sheet was belayed to the inner end of the boom. The boom's gooseneck on the drawing that I am using is a reader flimsy hook that would not withstand an upward force. The throat halyard pulling on the luff of the sail would pull the boom out of the fitting. On models that I have seen made from your kit, this fitting is similar. Rather I believe that the tack belayed further down the mast or to a ring bolt attached to the boat's keelson. The boom is then in compression acting as a pole to spread the sail's foot.


The dimension of the foot of the staysail Is set by the distance between the fore stay and the mast. Unfortunately, I am traveling so don't have access to my library to comment on other dimensions. I will look over my drawing when I return. The staysail should be hanked to the stay all along so the luff is supported by the stay.. The tack would be hooked to the stem head.


If you agree with my premise that the jib was intended for off the wind sailing, a single part halyard probably would be sufficient as there would be no need to be able to maintain a tight luff. Sheets could be belayed or snubbed to any convenient point within the boat.


Considering that it was necessary to rig the boat often I would suggest erring on the side of less is better and not providing down hauls for either of the headsails. The jib would normally be hauled in to the stem head using the traveler. Otherwise there would be a danger of the boat sailing over the dropped sail.


I believe that you're on the right track.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 7 months later...

After all that discussion, I never came back and shared how the sails turned out for this longboat. So here are four photos of the completed model; I think it turned out pretty well. Thanks to all who offered advice; hopefully this is useful for future builders who want to try adding sails.





Link to comment
Share on other sites

I too find the horse and tiller arrangement to be flawed. The point of the horse is to allow the sheet rigging to tack from one side to the other when going about, as the boat passes through the eye of the wind and comes onto the other tack, the sheet will slide across the horse to the other side. the arm of the tiller is clearly directly in the way of where the sheet will always be moving past.sure the arm of the tilller is removable, but on the short list of times where one CAN NOT remove the tiller would be while tacking. In my view this is an impossible arrangement. I did go over to the National Maritime Museum's online collection page and there you can see a model from their collection that has this exact same arrangement. I would really like to know more about this model in particular and this whole topic in general. I find this to have the potential to be a realy absorbing mystery and I hope more people will weigh in on this as I think it's a very worthwhile topic to ponder.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Frankie, Your comments are spot on. Allowing the main sheet to slide back and forth in the arrangement shown on the models is impossible. The main sheet horse must be above the tiller. The longboat model that I am building is based on the Admiralty drawing of a rigged longboat reproduced in May's Boats oh Men of War. Close examination of this drawing shows that the horse extended above rhe tiller.


Having just about finished the hull, I am impressed,with the size of these boats. My 32ft longboat looks massive- it's cubic dimensions (tonnage) produce a vessel larger than the 34ft sailboat that I used to crew on here in Duluth. The large full cut mainsail used would transmit large forces to the hull via the main sheet that would completely take charge of the tiller when tacking with the arrangement shown.


I believe that the rigging of the present kit model was based on the rigged "Medway" longboat in the NMM. I just bought a new book discussing the models built by the late English modeler Norman Ough. An appendix to the book briefly discusses restoration work done by him for the NMM. Apparently there is evidence that he restored the rigging of this model. Another example is the longboat model in the,Kregstein Collection. Again, the rigging is not original, the Kregsteins say that they commissioned a model builder to add it using parts received with the model. They also say that in rigging the model they made no irreversal changes. The main sheet horse, passes below the tiller.


The issue therefore remains a mystery.



Edited by Roger Pellett
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 months later...

Since this topic of "sheet-fouls-tiller" got onto my radar I'm seeing this problem on a LOT of models. The problem is always the same: the sheet is located in space in the same area through which the tiller will have to sweep, and vice versa. this is a sailing impossibly.  You can overcome the problem, obviously, by moving the sheet out of the way: locate it Forward of or Aft of the Rudder and tiller. This is a problem in small vessels since there isn't any room, everything is crammed all the way Aft. The most common solution is to have a two legged Sheet: there is a block on the boom but there are two blocks making up the rest of the tackle- one to Port one to Starboard- the sheet has two ends on deck and the fall of the tackle describes a triangle with the apex on the Boom and the other two corners as far off to either side as is possible,  under which this triangle the tiller is free to sweep.

Another solution is to have an offset tiller. A clever way to have your cake and eat it too. A very rare solution is to have the lower Sheet block fixed to the ruddder head itself. But you can't have a horse for the Sheet with any part of the tiller ABOVE IT. You can however certainly have a Tiller UNDER the Horse. Your tiller can be "U" shaped with the bow passing under the Horse. I dug up some photos off the internet: 








Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know it sounds impossible and by most modern standards and practice it is.   But that doesnt negate the fact that 90% of contemporary long boat models (some with original rigging like this one) show the sheet configured this way below.   There are fewer examples showing the horse over the tiller......but as far as historical accuracy,  this is not incorrect as it is a primary source.   I dont pretend to disagree for arguments sake but I have seen folks understandably realize the difficulty that Frank brings up.  BUT,  the contraptions and configurations the model builders then place on their 18th century long boats as a logical fix have no basis in historical fact.  In fact they are just plain wrong for the period.   To rig an 18th century long boat as described in the photos above would not at all be correct. This may not make sense to us as pictured below but it is very clear that this is indeed the way it was configured on many if not most occasions.






Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm sorry but must disagree with Chuck's comment above.  With the main sheet traveler located below the tiller it would be impossible to either tack or gybe the boat.  I do have primary source information of a longboat traveler located above the tiller- the Admiralty draught of the rigged longboat shown on page of 90 of W.E. May's Boats of Men of War.  I cannot explain the traveler arrangement on the period built rigged models cited, but real boats could not be sailed with this rig.





Link to comment
Share on other sites



There are exactly two contemporary models that show the horse over the tiller and that would certainly work.   I mention in the instructions that a model builder could always show it that way.  The horse is bent in a bell shape so it rises above the tiller and is a perfectly viable option as I mentioned above.   I have never said that configuration isnt viable.  You can see a wonderful drawing of that configuration in Lavery's Arming and Fitting on page 226 I believe.  I have also attached a drawing of that contemporary alternative below.   The other more widely seen contemporary option is shown on the contemporary model examples I posted in the previous post.  Their are dozens of examples shown that way including contemporary paintings and drawings and is more prevalent however.


Yes to all of us today it may seem illogical but there is so much proof available that it was indeed set up that way.   It is absolutely NOT wrong.   But even more problematic are the examples posted by Frank.  There is ZERO contemporary evidence that any of the modern configurations shown were ever used in the eighteenth century.  It is just plain wrong for the period.  However ... Based on all of the contemporary evidence the two other configurations are good to go.  The later is absolutely more prevalent although to us today very illogical.   But just because we dont understand it.....doesnt mean that using 19th or 20th century practices on an 18th century longboat is a better idea.  It is just all-together wrong and as mention there is ZERO evidence to support it..



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just my two cents in this matter, 

when building my long boat I opted to go with the tiller below the horse, right or wrong..... who can tell. 

For me it was more of an esthetic view, but also made sense.

At the time of years when longboats were built I just can imaging the variations that came out....... 

I don't think any were right or wrong......

Well, just my two cents

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm looking on the National Meritime Museum site but the only longboat model of the period I've been able to find on that Museums website is the one depicted above, object number SLR0330. http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/66291.html   Does anyone have a link or a photo or a contemporary two-dimensional artwork depicting other instances of the impossible Sheet/Tiller arangement? I would like to see other examples of this oddity. As it IS an impossible set up -the boat as rigged can not function as a sailing vessel- I'm finding it vary curious that there are apparently more examples of this configuration from contemporary models and artwork. What it suggests ( if these are not artifacts arising from folow-on restorations) is that contemporary models can't reliably be used as 100%faithful examples of actual contemporary practice. This would throw a great deal of rigging research under the bus.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have found three examples of models or drawings of rigged Royal Navy longboats from this era:. 


Rigged model in the NMM, the "Medway" model.  Evidence that it was restored by Norman Ough in the 1930's.  Traveler runs below tiller.


Rigged model in the Kreigstein collection. Rigging is not original.  Traveler runs below tiller.


Longboat drawing on page 126 of Lavery's Arming and Fitting apparently a redraw of Admiralty draught reproduced on page 90 of May's Boats of Men of War.  Rigging is highly detailed and shows traveler running OVER the tiller.


If anyone has found additional examples, I would appreciate knowing the details.


I will concede that someone making a model of a model as a work of art might wish to reproduce the NMM model, but would this would certainly not be a practical sailing arrangement.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

Gregory...because that was the way it was done.


Guys, my final word on this for those who are interested ....its just my opinion.  The horse above the tiller is also correct as I mentioned.   But having it below the tiller is very historically accurate for the period.


if you read Lavery in the same book Page 228, and this is very important. ... It becomes clear that this arrangement as well as the alternative I drew based on the same illustration in May's book are both correct.    You cannot dismiss the primary contemporary models.  Even if the rigging isnt original...the horses were.  Here is the quote from Lavery.  I posted it once before when folks insisted the illogical arrangement was somehow fabricated by uninformed restorations. Or that I just made a horrible error based on lack of knowledge.  But if you are building a mid eighteenth century longboat that is rigged,   inspired by a contemporary example....the sheet arrangement is correct for the period.  To alter it would mean you are correcting the problem, but this was a later development.


Lavery said "The sheet, which controlled the outer corner of the sail, presented a problem, for it had a tendency to get in the way of the tiller.  After the mid-eighteenth century this was solved by putting the horse across the transom to lift it clear, and allow the sheet to move from one side to the other without interruption."


Lavery clearly agrees that this arrangement I used on the longboat kit ....however illogical....was used, and corrected later.  Just as I do.  But hey,  its your model and you can always use a 20th century solution like the ones posted by Frank....or any others but that would just be a fanciful error based not on research but something else.  I dont know what that is....but I prefer to stick to the period as faithfully as possible and always use primary sources along with the opinions of noteworthy folks who have spent their lives studying this stuff.   You can always argue the dates....when did they make this switch-over?   Were both configurations used and for how long before the earlier was abandoned.  Lets examine the hard contemporary primary evidence.....or we could just make stuff up instead.


When Frank writes,  "What it suggests ( if these are not artifacts arising from folow-on restorations) is that contemporary models can't reliably be used as 100%faithful examples of actual contemporary practice."  


This might be true in a one-off incident but when you see something over and over again and then dismiss it readily,  I think it might be more about cherry picking the facts to support ones own false theory.  This is a dangerous road to go down in my opinion.


For example,  I am currently researching my next project (Chebacco Lion) and there are very few contemprary models of this early type of American fishing schooner.   The windlass on the three models known to exist and several half hulls of the period is placed on the fore side of the foremast.  There are also some drawings and paintings that show this detail.  This was later changed to abaft the fore mast as can be seen on schooners like Hannah and Sultana.   Rather than just dismiss this fact because as Howard Chapelle stated "the windlass would be very difficult to work and it isnt the best place for it".....I am going to place it where the contemporary evidence says it should be.  Chapelle came to the same conclusion as did william Baker.  Two very prominent naval architects and historians.  Or I could just say that all of those contemporary examples are somehow just wrong and instead make something up that sounds good.


Baker writes in his book about Colonial vessels and I find this particularly suitable for our conversation here  "I sometimes wonder about these early designs, many of the fittings, including those that serve the functionality of the rig seem to be contrary to effective and efficient sailing practices.  This can be seen in both the locations and materials used for them.  There ineffectiveness can certainly be determined by comparison to modern-day fishing schooners throughout New England.   The factual contemporary evidence however supports there widespread use despite the availability of better choices for material and examples of more effective designs predominant along the southern shores at the same time.  One can only conclude that  these practices were used because of local shipbuilder traditions and the willingness of these fisherman to faithfully follow regional customs and practice despite advancements elsewhere."




Link to comment
Share on other sites

That is correct.   It is a very faithful representation of the tiller horse arrangement but just a little later than the contemporary model I used as inspiration.  Both are correct.  I guess at some point they said to themselves...."this arrangement with the sheet and tiller is stupid.  Why do we insist on using it when all we have to do it make it go over the tiller"   One can only speculate why they used it in the first place and why for so long when it seems pretty clear it was in fact not a smart thing to do. :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...