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Gaff topsail rig

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I am working on Model Shipways now-discontinued yacht America, to which I have decided to add sails. The gaff topsail rigging in the plans has me befuddled. It shows the sail attached to the topmast with “lacing”. If that means loosely tied, then I suppose the sail could be lowered as far as the point at which the mast and top mast overlap, but that wouldn’t be a very satisfactory way to douse sail in a sudden squall. The downhaul is shown as running from the clew up to a block at the heat of the sail and then down to the deck, and if the halyard was eased and the downhaul pulled tight, the clew and head would be bunched together at that point of mast overlap, but that still leaves a bunch of sail flapping in the wind, and the only way to get the whole sail down to the deck is to run someone up the mast in a bosun’s chair. Is that what was done? Alternatively, maybe the sail isn’t attached to the mast at all except at the halyard (contrary to the lacing shown in the plans), but I don’t see that working very well going to weather. But maybe this is a sail that is used only when r broad eaching or running?


I can’t think of anyone better equipped to provide some insight than the learned members of this forum.




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John Leather, in his book 'The Gaff Rig Handbook', states that hooped gaff topsails were once very popular - especially in large racing yachts. He states, "Their use requires work aloft when setting or taking in the topsail." And also, "If hoops are fitted the topsail must be stowed aloft, requiring going up the shrouds to gather, furl and stow the topsail to the masthead; an unpleasant task in a breeze or at night.'



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Smaller gaff topsails may not use hoops or any lacing. It took a while to figure it out, the boat I am building uses one. Leather does not mention it but Tom Cunliffe in "Hand Reef and Steer" has a small chapter on flying top sails.

There is also a You tube video hoisting such a top sail. I found somewhere on the net the following explanation which I saved:


"It's true that the side the sail went up on will need to be the side it comes down, but it's nice to have a free choise as to which side it goes up. The halyard is essentially either-ended anyway, what's the hoist one time can be the haul the next. The sheet cannot be two ended but if the bitter end is at the end of the boom, you can bring it forward on either side.

So you're free to set on starboard or port tack as is convenient, but at the end of the sail you must strike on the same tack you set on.

Halyard goes to a shackle at top of mast. When sail down, there are two ends on deck on either side of running rigging /boom/gaff,  so the sail can be tied to either end and hoisted on either side. There is a similar arrangement for mid sail to attach a second point to mast. The downhaul just goes straight down to deck. The tack goes to end of gaff, when not in use it is slack and tied to end of boom."




Although this does not apply to your boat Tomculb, there is little info on gaff top sails and this seems a good thread to add this little bit of info.

Edited by vaddoc
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  • 2 years later...

Bob: I totally forgot that I followed this topic.

I have a furled gaff topsail on my Independence.  If you find my log, go to page 4, entry #107 - # 110 and you will see my discussion.  For the actual rigging I used the source and diagram shown in your first entry.  You need a halyard, a sheet and tack (which extends below the gaff).  The sail is bent to the mast with a loose line.

Once I accepted the fact that the bundle wasn’t the best looking, I no problems.


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