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Newbie from Ottawa


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Greetings all.


I'm more of a drone flyer, making aerial videos for the past five years.  Unfortunately drones are getting a bad name.  People used to ask me all sorts of enthusiastic questions like, "Where can I get one?"  Now it seems the first question is always, "Does that have a camera on it, and, are you spying on me?"


So, I'm moving to a more socially acceptable hobby!  I'm now into radio-controlled sailboats, and have recently completed the scratch build of an R/C gaff-rigged schooner built according to the "Irene" plans purchased from Gary Webb at Bearospace Industries.  See image below from an ambitious day of sailing on Lake Ontario earlier this summer.  Several videos of the boat in action are posted on my YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/user/Zbip57/videos


Gary's designs are simple and robust.  The long keel fin with 12-lbs of ballast bulb at the bottom make this a very stable boat.  It's currently just a 2-channel rig, one for the rudder, the other for the winch that controls all three sail sheets.  It is so stable that I've been toying with the idea of adding topmasts and more sails.  I'm fairly confident about adding overlapping flying jibs and another servo control for that.  But I've been wondering about gaff topsails and whether it's desirable, or even possible, to re-jig topsails whenever changing tack?  What about fitting a fisherman's staysail as well?  Can that be tacked?


I made up a couple of short videos with sketches (Vid-1 & Vid-2) of how tacking the topsails might be accomplished (in theory).  But I was wondering if anyone here has ever done this?  I did some searching through the unbelievably detailed models featured in some of the build logs here.  OMG!  There are some incredibly talented and meticulous people here!  But there don't seem to be all that many actually sailing their creations.  What's up with that?


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I think that many of us have no suitable place to actually put a model into the water.  The other thing is type of ships many of build.  Put 5 years into building something, you don't want to see it sink.  Or at least I don't.


I seriously had to look twice at your ship in the water. I thought I seeing a full sized ship until I read your post.   Wow!!!!

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Gidday Zbip and a warm welcome from the Land Downunder.

I thought I was looking at a full sized vessel.

Lovely work. 

You will find a lot of support and encouragement here.

As to sailing my models I have serious doubts about their seaworthiness.

I have a river near me but its a bloody big thing so echoing Mark Taylors comments: lack of suitable shallow water, to aid in salvage operation, is a problem.

All the best with your next build.


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7 hours ago, mtaylor said:

I think that many of us have no suitable place to actually put a model into the water.

  That's a valid point.  I'm very fortunate to have easy lake access, except it freezes over in the winter.


7 hours ago, mtaylor said:

Put 5 years into building something, you don't want to see it sink.

1 hour ago, pontiachedmark said:

As to sailing my models I have serious doubts about their seaworthiness.

I have a river near me but its a bloody big thing...

That's understandable as well.  Some of the models I've seen on here are worth a fortune!


This boat (first time building one) was constructed on our kitchen table (bless my wife for permitting that) over the one previous winter.  It's a very simple design.  The hull is just four pieces of plywood, or five counting the transom.  I don't have any fancy milling machines or a lathe, nor even a proper workshop yet.   So the incredible metalwork I've seen in all the beauties posted here is far, far, far beyond my abilities.  That's all in the realm of fantasy and dreams for me.  Nonetheless, I'd still be devastated to see her sink.


I first bought a cheap plastic ready-made Shunbo Monsoon just to experiment and see if I even enjoyed R/C sailing.  I found a support forum for that model and was alarmed to see the many dire warnings not to even consider for a moment putting the thing in the water until first going through this long checklist of items to ensure it wouldn't sink on its first sailing.  Sealing up all sorts of obscure bits that I would never have thought of on my own to prevent ingress of water, and packing every available space within the hull with styrofoam floatation.  Sheesh.  But, all good suggestions.  Having completed the checklist, I felt much more confident when eventually sailing the thing.


Having invested considerably more effort in constructing my schooner (not 5 years though), I approached the day of its first sailing with somewhat more trepidation.  I asked Gary, the designer, whether it's worth considering the addition of floatation foam inside the hull, or even a bilge pump.  He said as long as it's all sealed properly, he has never experience more than a few teaspoons of water in the bilge on his own boat.  Then laughingly, he added that the risk of an actual sinking contributes to the authenticity of the sailing experience.  Ha!


The first few times I sailed mine, I strapped a Getterback to the mast.  It pops a float to the surface on the end of 100-ft 10-lb fishing line.  It wouldn't be strong enough to haul my 25-lb boat from the bottom of the lake, but at least it would mark the spot where it sank until I could hire a scuba diver to retrieve it.  :)

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7 hours ago, Backer said:

At first sight, i thought you had taken a picture of a real ship with your drone.

Funny you should mention that.  What first got me hooked on the idea of building my own R/C model schooner was an invitation three years ago to fly my drone to record video of a friend's model schooner.  That outing very nearly ended in catastrophe for both of us, when I crashed my drone into his schooner!!  He didn't even have the hatch covers installed on his boat.  Had I capsized the boat, both the drone and schooner would have gone to the bottom of the lake.  Oops.


I momentarily lost orientation when switching my view back and forth from my video monitor to line-of-sight.  I thought the drone was going to pass behind his boat, when in fact it flew directly into his boat.  D'oh!


Check out the video: 


Edited by Zbip57
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7 hours ago, Backer said:

I thought you had taken a picture of a real ship with your drone.

Also check out my most recent video taken with a 360° spherical-view Insta360 One camera.


The image is digitally stabilized.  As the boat rocks and turns under it, the view stays level and fixed on one point on the horizon.  However, as it's playing, you can Click-and-Drag the video image to rotate the view to any desired angle.  How cool is that?


The camera is suspended on the end of a 6-inch long rod mounted on the gunwale railing.  The camera's software automatically deletes the camera itself and its mounting rod from the recorded image.  You can still see the shadow it casts though.


The effect is as if there is a drone flying alongside!



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Wow! I'm learning some stuff here. Very cool!


I had to laugh upon viewing that first video. It takes a brave (and humble) man to share such a near-disaster with us. Your videos show that there exists a lot of potential within this hobby beyond just gluing bits and pieces together. Thanks for sharing!

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1 hour ago, ccoyle said:

I had to laugh upon viewing that first video. It takes a brave (and humble) man to share such a near-disaster with us.

I've had plenty of near-disasters, even some actual disasters, when flying my drones.  On only its second ever flight, I dropped my brand new DJI Phantom-3 Pro into a river when I stupidly tangled with an overhanging tree branch.  Amazingly it's flown fine ever since, after a couple of weeks of letting it dry out.

16 hours ago, Zbip57 said:

Now it seems the first question is always, "Does that have a camera on it, and, are you spying on me?"

It's funny how people are totally unconcerned with the fact that everyone now carries a cellphone equipped with a powerful camera, and people are constantly snapping selfies and photos of everything and posting them on Facebook for the world to see.  Yet, if I fly a camera in the air on a drone, that's considered an invasion of privacy and I'm frequently accused of spying on people.


Now everyone on our lake knows that my model sailboat carries a camera and, so far, nobody has complained.  They've all seen my videos and think they're awesome.  But, strangely enough, nobody seems to be skinny dipping anymore...  👀

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Gidday Zbip.

Just a few thoughts.

A Mill or a Lathe are not necessary to accomplish good results. I often think of the Navy Board  Models of the 17th and 18th centuries. The results are astounding, no Mills or Lathes or electricity for that matter. Some models are made with basic tools a brain and a pair of hands.

All the best with your build.


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19 hours ago, pontiachedmark said:

A Mill or a Lathe are not necessary to accomplish good results.

True that.  Also, merely possessing such sophisticated machine tools is no guarantee of success.  One first needs a vision of what one is trying to achieve, and then possess the skill to actually use the required tools to produce the desired result.  I'm lacking in at least two out of three of those requirements.  I do have the occasional vague glimpse of what I'd like to achieve, but I'm not at all sure how to get there from here.


What led me to this forum was a search for the schooner Altair.  As I mentioned in my first post above, I'm interested in adding flying jibs and topsails, and possibly more sails, to my current R/C model gaff schooner.  The Altair certainly has plenty of sails.  I wondered if anyone had ever built a working RC model of her, and how they managed the sail controls.  A Google search landed me on Keith Aug's Altair build log here.  OMG!👁️👁️!!!


It would be a colossal understatement to say that, compared to me, Keith operates on a significantly higher plane of skill level.  More like a different planet!


After reading through all 30 pages of his build log, I'm stunned.  Early on he had intended to make this a working RC model.  But somehow it instead turned into a museum quality masterpiece and he (understandably) changed his mind about actually sailing it.


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So, back to the questions in my first post above.  I'm still wondering how one goes about re-positioning overlapping topsails on a gaff-schooner whenever changing tack?  Ultimately I'd like to have the capability to do this by remote control on my model, but I'm equally curious to know how it's done for real on an actual schooner.


I've been searching through many (far too many) YouTube videos of real schooners, and model schooners, and have yet to find a video demonstrating the process of tacking a gaff topsail.


First off, a little theory for y'all.  Take overlapping flying jibs for example.  You could simply rig a single very large jib, as is currently the case on my model schooner.  Or, you could rig three overlapping jibs, with each individual sail much smaller and easier to handle, but in total covering approximately the same sail area as a single large sail.  Yet the combination of the three overlapping sails produces significantly greater power than a single large sail.  Why is that?


Well, it's not merely a question of total sail area.  What matters is how the air flowing between the sails affects the total performance of the sail set.  It's like the difference between plain flaps or slotted flaps on an aircraft wing.  When the plain flaps (on the left) are lowered, it produces an increase in lift and drag.  The more efficient slotted flaps (on right) allow air to flow between the flap and trailing edge of the wing, accelerating over the top surface of the flap.  This produces even more lift, with less drag, allowing the aircraft to fly even slower before separation of flow over the top surfaces causes the wing to stall. 


So now have a look at this awesome video of the Pilot Cutter, Amelie Rose.  You can feel the strong pull on those beautifully overlapped jibs.



The jibs are perfect for sure, but what about that topsail?  If you stop the video at the overhead view at 0:38 seconds, you can see the perfect curved shape of the gaff topsail, and how the airflow streaming from it feeds nicely through the gap (just like slotted flaps) down the backside of the mainsail.  That aerial sequence gives me goosebumps!


But then at 1:30 you see this (below) instead, and it's all wrong.  Now the topsail is rigged on the wrong side.  Sure, it's still providing power because its area combined with the mainsail produces a larger sail area.  But in this configuration it's only acting like a plain flap, the slot between the two sails is closed.  Not only that, but the shape of the topsail is distorted while it's pressed against the peak halyard and blocks supporting the gaff.  Blech.


I guess it's acceptable to just leave it as-is if you're frequently tacking back and forth beating upwind in a narrow channel.  But that topsail is clearly not providing optimal performance if left set like this for longer duration.  In the video, and this image, you can see a crewman climbing the ratlines.  I was hoping to learn how he re-adjusts that topsail, but he's actually climbing down. So either he's already done whatever he needed to do up there, or he decided it's just too dangerous to be up there in these strong wind conditions.


More to come...

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Next I found this video of a gorgeous model of the Jolie Brise pilot cutter.


It appears to have only a single-channel rudder control, with no remote sail trimming control.  Nonetheless, it sails beautifully.  The sails are self-tacking with fixed length sheets, and the gaff topsail is fixed.  The topsail is nicely curved when the wind is coming from starboard, but is pressed against the gaff's peak halyard and blocks when the wind is coming from port.



Fixed topsails seem to be the accepted method for every gaff-rigged topsail model sailboat I've found on YouTube.


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It's not just model boats either.  Here are a couple of images taken from a sales video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmPXQ9EuYW8


In this first image, the topsail can be seen flying free and curved out behind the gaff halyard rigging.  It is perhaps flying a little too freely and loose.  The tack line could be pulled down tighter.


This second image shows the boat on the opposite tack and now the (much too loose) topsail is draped in wrinkles across the gaff peak halyard.




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In the absence of any actual demonstrations of how gaff topsails are tacked to the opposite side whenever required, I spent some time getting splinters in my fingers while scratching my head puzzling for hours over how it could be done.


The main topsail is tricky enough, but the fore topsail is particularly awkward.  When tacking, the foresail gaff can no longer swing freely under the stays joining the tops of the two mast if it is constrained by a topsail.   A fore topsail therefore cannot be left fixed in place when tacking, unless the stays are deleted, or unless the topsail is also tacked across to the other side each time.


I made this little video to illustrate how I think it can be accomplished (in theory):



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I just love the look of a gaff-rigged schooner.  And more and more, I've become obsessed with the look of a fully dressed schooner with flying jibs and topsails.  Like these... 


I've always found the music of Dexter Britain particularly inspiring, and have used his pieces in several of my drone videos.  But this schooner video really really turns my crank!



But check this out!  Beginning at 1:45 in the video, as the stunningly beautiful Eleonora slices by in foreground, look past her to the boat in the far background and freeze the video at 1:53 as the boat becomes visible off the stern of the Eleonora.


The fore topsail on that boat in the background has been furled using a clew line!  You can see it again at 2:36 in a brief closeup, with a crewman perched precariously in the rigging at the top of the foremast, as shown in this screengrab.


So that is how the topsail is brought across to the other side when tacking!  Eureka!


It looks like I'm on the right track now.  I've since found another photo from here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTb_Tdo9jzI


All that remains now (ha!), is to figure out how this process can be remotely accomplished on a radio-controlled model.  Either that, or how to hire suicidal miniature crewman willing to climb the rigging for me.  :)


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On 12/8/2018 at 3:04 PM, Zbip57 said:

What led me to this forum was a search for the schooner Altair.  As I mentioned in my first post above, I'm interested in adding flying jibs and topsails, and possibly more sails, to my current R/C model gaff schooner.  The Altair certainly has plenty of sails.

Hey, I found a video of an RC model Altair on its (unfortunately less than graceful) first introduction to water.  :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtS_SdAs4GQ  (see at 1:50 in the video.)


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For any potential first-time builders interested in RC sailing, here is a video recently posted by yet another new builder of the "Irene" schooner showing the build steps for this relatively simple plywood design.  The plans provide for two different sail layouts.  The original "Irene" designed by Gary Webb featured a Bermuda rigged mainsail, as was also chosen by this particular builder.  I went with the dual gaff-rigged layout for my Kamanik, which also sports a longer bowsprit.



And here is a detailed look at Gary Webb's original "Irene".



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  • 2 months later...

Well, in further news, I've finally decided to go ahead with my half-baked plans to add more sails to my model schooner.  The plans are now fully-baked and I've taken the first steps to implement the changes.


Here's what I have in mind with some, as yet, approximate dimensions.  Total sail area will be increased from the original 1015 sq-in 3-sail configuration to a nearly double 1800 sq-in 8-sail arrangement!


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Previously the whole thing was controlled with just a two-channel system, one servo for the rudder, and one winch servo to simultaneously trim all three sail sheets.


The new arrangement requires the addition of two more winch servos.  One to trim the flying jibs, and another to tack the gaff topsails and the fisherman's staysail.


Here's how the two new servos and winch lines were installed.  I haven't yet hooked up the new sheeting system.  That's still to come...








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Meanwhile, Phase-2 has now been completed.  I've added topmasts!  This has already completely changed the look of this ship.  It's much taller now.  I'm starting to wonder how it'll fit out the door when it's time to carry it down to the lake.


The topmasts are both removable. They slide down to seat snugly into a square socket on the masthead pedestals. The tension on the shrouds going down through the spreaders prevents the topmasts from coming out of their seats. Those shrouds are fastened to the rear quick-release pelican hooks which fasten the mast shrouds to the gunwale rail. Popping the pelican hooks loose relieves the tension on the shrouds, allowing either just the topmasts to be removed, or the complete masts with topmasts attached to be removed as one assembly.

The stays for the two flying jibs are in place now, but I have yet to add a shortened jib boom and another stay for the jib sail.

It's getting a little busy on the end of the bowsprit. smile.gif I'm considering beefing up the two blocks in the bobstay which holds down the bowsprit. There will be quite a bit more upward tension on that now.  There are no actual rolling sheaves in those blocks.  It's just a solid wooden block with a hole and couple of slots cut in it.  The little metal loop at the top of each block is a short length of wire glued into the block.  That wire is prone to pulling out if the block is over-stressed.  I'm thinking it'll require a strap around the entire block.

Next up I need to start sewing some new sails, making a few more rigging blocks, and figuring out the routing of all the control sheets...











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  • 1 month later...
On 2/19/2019 at 2:20 AM, mtaylor said:

I'd like to suggest that you move the relevant pics, etc. to the scratch build area [...]

Reaffirming my inept newbie status, I have to admit I don't know how to move pics from here to a different thread.  Are you saying I should start a new thread and cross-post the same images again there, and delete the ones here?  Confused. 


Meanwhile, here are the new sails rigged and ready to try out.  Unless something really embarrassing happens, like it immediately capsizes and sinks first time out, I might have some new sailing videos to post later.  I'm just waiting for the ice to melt off the lake.AllDressed.thumb.jpg.cba2ded1f25fc44b63403ee5d6795f74.jpg

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Interesting exercise!


However, you will probably find that your topmasts and topsails, as well as additional headsails, are going to overpower the sailing model and, with the additional weight aloft, cause her to be very "tender." In other words, a gust of wind would cause her to turn turtle. It's a matter of balance. In light air, it's not so much of a problem, but the "weight" of the air doesn't scale down proportionately. (This is why you have that long fin ballast keel on her.) You will require greater ballast, most likely. Keep in mind that you are adding a lot of sail area up high and that is going to significantly increase the overall center of effort of the entire sail plan. The higher the center of effort, the greater the leverage of the masts and the more the vessel is going to heel in the wind. It's really a lot more complicated exercise than just adding some topmasts to an existing rig. Everything has to be balanced. If you change one thing, there's usually three others that have to be changed to keep it all in balance.


As for tacking the topsails, in a simple rig, there are two topsail sheets. They pass over the gaff boom and whatever other top hamper is necessary, with the leeward sheet run down to belay at the foot of the mast, while the windward sheet is loose running over the top hamper. When tacking, the leeward sheet is cast free and the windward sheet is hauled down, pulling the tack of the topsail over the top hamper. The top hamper, primarily the gaff boom topping lift rigging, has to be simplified to accommodate this. If there are triatic stays between the mast tops, then a similar arrangement of lines have to be rigged so that the topsail clew can be brailed during the tack and hauled out again to the leeward side of the top mast stays.


It's complicated! That's why you don't see a lot of RC sailboat models with complicated rigs.

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  • 4 weeks later...

On 4/9/2019 at 7:17 PM, Bob Cleek said:


 ... you will probably find that your topmasts and topsails, as well as additional headsails, are going to overpower the sailing model and, with the additional weight aloft, cause her to be very "tender." In other words, a gust of wind would cause her to turn turtle.

Turning turtle would certainly be less than ideal...

I haven't had a chance to try it out yet.  The ice has finally melted off the lake, but we've had huge amounts of flooding in the region and there's still a raging torrent streaming past our dock.


Once the water warms up a bit I will do some stability tests to determine whether capsizing is likely.  I'm fairly confident it won't present too big a danger.  The headsails and additional weight aloft will surely cause the boat to be more tender than it was, but the 12-lb lead bulb at the bottom of her long aluminum keel fin gives the boat amazing stability.  Even in the strongest gusts, the previous 3-sail configuration only rarely ever caused her to momentarily dip her midship gunwale.


It's certainly something to be wary of, but I'm not too worried, um, yet...


It's complicated! That's why you don't see a lot of RC sailboat models with complicated rigs.

It surely is complicated.  But I was convinced I could get it to work.  Unfortunately, for the moment, I've had to concede defeat.


The three boom sheets are all controlled simultaneously by a single winch servo.  Tacking the flying jibs and the foot of the fisherman's staysail is successfully being accomplished with a second winch servo.  A third servo was going to handle tacking the topsails and passing the peak of the staysail down and under the triatic stays.


I had the rigging all figured out and, last step, only needed to drill some more holes through the deck to join the working lines to the winch line below deck.  But, before committing to drilling more holes, I first tried pulling the lines by hand and soon discovered it just wasn't going to work.


The problem is that my crude sails, cut from bedsheets, are simply too heavy.  They snag and bunch up as they're being pulled up and over the gaff peak halyards and triatic stays.  I suspect the winch servo is strong enough to pull those rigging lines apart.  That wouldn't be good.


This would probably work better with smoother lighter sail material, something like silk.  In the meantime, I'm just going to leave the topsails fixed in place and remove the triatic stays, keeping only a single stay joining the peaks of the topmasts.


Then again, the whole challenge of how to tack the topsails will become moot if the boat turns turtle and sinks the first time I sail it this year.  🙃



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