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I just finished reading this book.  Subtitled “Traditional Sailing Skills for Classic Boats,” it is actually an exposition of the author’s experiences sailing gaff rigged boats.  The book is loosely divided into four sections:  a general discussion of the gaff rig, details of the rig, sailing a gaff rigged vessel, and an appendix with useful bits of information and glossary.  To illustrate all of this, the author uses a cutter and in some cases one of the large schooners such as the Altair discussed on the forum’s scratch building section.  The author explains that in the context of the book the term “Cutter” applies to any single masted vessel with gaff main, staysail, and jib set from a movable bowsprit, regardless of hull form.  The book is a high quality paperback profusely illustrated with color sketches and the author’s own color photos.  The writing style is informal and is enhanced by the author’s understated humor.


So what does all of this have to do with ship modelling?  There are now two quality gaff rigged “Cutter” kits on the market and another on the way (Cutter Cheerful, 1:48 Royal Navy Longboat, and 1:24 Royal Navy Longboat).  While Steel has instructions for rigging single masted vessels, there is little or no explanation of why rigging is run the way it was.  Furthermore, few of us will have an opportunity to sail on a gaff rigged boat.  The author’s vast experience fills this gap even though the ships and boats that we are usually interested in building sailed 250 years or so before this book was written.  While today’s sailors have access to different materials, the mechanics of the gaff rig remains unchanged.


While this my not provide the modeler with an exact plan to rig his model it will provide an understanding of how the various lines worked to control the rig, the action and interaction of the various sails, and their contribution to the boat’s performance.


Highly recommended.





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His follow on book "Easy on the Helm" is also fun reading. I'm not sure of it's applicability to gaff cutter modeling, but it's interesting and insightful. I need to dig it out again.


Never sailed a gaffer? If you're ever in Seattle, drop me a line (I know a guy . . . .).


Seriously, one of the joys of sailing traditional rigs and building models of traditional rigs is the synergy it brings to both hobbies. I've had countless experiences on Amie that helped me build a better model, and countless times my (limited) ship model experience has helped me become a better sailor.


That's why I strongly recommend going aboard and (if possible) take a short sail on a traditional boat. I believe you can build and rig a better model because of it.




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  • 2 years later...

Tom's in a FB group for Mason Sailboat Owners. Tom owns a beautiful Mason 44 named Constance. He puts out regular videos about traditional seamanship, navigation and all things boating. He's got a sharp wit and a great understated sense of humour as Roger mentioned. He writes articles for sailing and yachting magazines as well. All round good guy to have access to if you're into boating. 

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Another great source for traditional rigs-- quite specific to smaller craft-- is Nichols' "The Working Guide to Traditional Small-Boat Sails."  It has sections on Gaff rigs as well as Spritsails and others.  It has been a big help with models as well as full-size craft for me. 



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