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What holds the spanker or driver gaff up when sail is lowered?

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I'm rigging up the driver and spanker gaffs on my Bounty and I'm thinking that I want the sail to be furled with the gaff lowered.  I can't see anything in the plans that would hold the boom (gaff) up.  I've been looking for a 'topping lift' but don't see one.  Would the 'peak halyard' be enough to hold the boom in the lowered position and in conjunction with the vangs and sheets hold it stationery?

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Captain Al,


I'm not sure about this, but the gaff on the mizzen mast may have been left more or less permanently hoisted. Most of the illustrations I have seen of 18th/19th cent. men of war have them aloft when at anchor and the gaff sail was brailed into the mast, it being loose-footed along the boom. Since the Bounty was rerigged when she was purchased, I imagine she would have followed naval practice in this too.


The gaff probably had throat and peak halliards, but there may have been an extra span from the spar to the mast to take it's weight. The vangs would have secured the gaff from movement at its outer end. In passing, there would have been a topping lift to take the weight of the boom when the sail was not set, even though it is not shown on your plans. The peak halliard and vangs would only be of use when the gaff was in the hoisted position and would not have had any control of the boom, not being connected to it. I would think there was a crutch to hold the boom end, when the sail was not set.


Hope this helps, but I am sure someone else may have the definitive answer.





Current builds: Sherbourne (Caldercraft) scale – 1/64th;


Statsraad Lehmkuhl (half model) 1/8th" – 1'.


Victory Bow Section (Panart/Mantua) scale – 1/78th  (on hold).


Previous build: Bluenose ll (Billings) scale – 1/100th.

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Yes, both the explanation and photo are of great help.  I've seen lots of pix of the sail brailed but thought there might be an alternative.  There always is on a sail boat.  I learned that from experience.  The idea of a crutch also crossed my mind.  Of course there is no mention or pic of one on Bounty.  The dimension (length) of the lower boom (which is which? spanker or driver above?) given by the A.L. plans puts the boom way over the taffrail and is far longer than the real Bounty's (32' v. 22').  So A.L. could have included a crutch atop the flag locker -- if they'd provided space for a flag locker which they don't.  So with no flag locker, I can't use a crutch.  Moreover, with Bligh's boom only 22' it fits within the space between the mizzen and the flag locker, so Bounty did not employ a crutch.  Best thought is what you guys have suggested -- brail the sail mates and keep the boom aloft.   Thanks for your interest and replies.

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They did not begin to lower the gaff until some time in the 19th century. Certainly in the late 18th century, when Bounty sailed, the driver/spanker was brailed up and the gaff was not lowered.



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  • 1 year later...

The gaff would be lowered via throat and peak halyards. The topping lift would keep the outboard end of the boom in place. The gaff would be directly above the boom.



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I think the model's gaff, with all its gear, might surprise you. Keep in mind that the halyards are reduced in scale along with the gaff. It should not be that difficult to get them taut while the gaff is down.





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Alternately, pull them tightish... but not stretched and apply some starch or a mix (50-50) or white glue and water.  Stiffens the lines and they hold their straightness (in this case) or curve/arc in the case of lines running between mastts, etc.

"The shipwright is slow, but the wood is patient." - me

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  • 2 weeks later...

Captain Al's pic of the American Eagle shows several lines wrapped around the gaff and boom, holding the sail in place when the gaff is lowered. If those are utilized, then, as Russ points out, the peak and throats halyards can be pulled taught as if under strain from the weight of the gaff. 

Worked ok on my schooner model. 




"If they suspect me of intelligence, I am sure it will soon blow over, ha, ha, ha!"

-- Jack Aubrey



Yankee Hero, Fannie Gorham, We’re Here, Dapper Tom (x3), New Bedford Whaler, US Brig Lawrence (Niagara), Wyoming (half hull), Fra Berlanga (half hull), Gokstad Viking Ship, Kate Cory, Charles Morgan, Gjoa

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Greetings gentlemen;


Of some relevance here might well be the fact that quite a few draughts of various Royal Navy vessels,  and a contract I have a copy of,  for the building of a 74 gun ship,  all show or describe a crutch located on the taffrail,  which was for the securing of the boom when sail was furled. 


Whilst this is not perhaps for the gaff,  the gaff could then be supported simply by lowering it on top of the boom (the crutch,  by the way,  was not located centrally on the taff-rail,  but on the quarter.


All the best,


Mark P

Previously built models (long ago, aged 18-25ish) POB construction. 32 gun frigate, scratch-built sailing model, Underhill plans.

2 masted topsail schooner, Underhill plans.


Started at around that time, but unfinished: 74 gun ship 'Bellona' NMM plans. POB 


On the drawing board: POF model of Royal Caroline 1749, part-planked with interior details. My own plans, based on Admiralty draughts and archival research.


Always on the go: Research into Royal Navy sailing warship design, construction and use, from Tudor times to 1790. 


Member of NRG, SNR, NRS, SMS

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It's odd that in my copy of Anatomy of the Ship Bounty on page 100 is the comprehensive running rigging diagram and line number 215 is the Peak Halyard but I can't find an indication of the Throat Halyard anywhere. It's true it would be hard to see being located up tight under the top and up against the after part of the Mizzen, but there is no arrow pointing into that location. 

Peak and Throat Halyards are usually paired together, you can't have one without the other if they are to be used for lowering the Gaff. But I could imagine a Peak Halyard rigged alone on a Gaff fixed in position on the mast as lowering the Peak of a sparred Fore and Aft sail is a quick way of depowering the sail, it ruins the arodynamics of the sail simply by folding down the Peak and it allows you to turn away from the wind easier as it negates the weathervane effect the Spanker has on steering.

and on page 112, the key to the numbered lines from page 100, the Peak Halyard is there but no mention of Throat Halyard.

but what you do have is a three part listing for a line called "the Derrick" line number 214 consisting of the "Span, strapping and Lashing". Which almost sounds like it could be the Throat Halyard. BUT, I can't find the number 214 anywhere on the rigging diagram. Although there is a pin for it in the Starboard Mizzen rail in the Belaying plan on page 106.

In my mind, anything called a "Derric" is a crane for lifting stuff and I'd expect to see it where it could be positioned over the main hatch. But I could imagine someone thinking a Spanker Gaff could look like a Derrick as they would both be at a near 45 degree angle? 

anyway the brails for the spanker are clearly documented in the book so furling the sail would keep the Gaff aloft in position not lowered to the deck. 

But then how do you reef the sail? A reef band is clearly shown on the sail drawing of the Spanker. Nobody can reef the sail if you can't lower the entire Gaff suficently to allow access to the reef band from the deck.

Is this just ANOTHER example of poor documentation? I'm sure somewhere in the actual ships log there must be many notations of how this sail was handled bug I've not the time or patience to go digging!




 Niagara USS Constitution 


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