A Scandal up the Mast…

According to the forecast, yesterday the wind was to blow from the SW at 10-20 Kts. In good weather these can be perfect conditions for a daysail-dash in the Ottawa River from the Nepean marina to Pinhey Point (about eight nautical miles away). In years past, the SunCat had been able to cruise this distance in a single beam-reach: port-tack going upriver, starboard-tack returning.

Undocking was at 9:30AM. Writer Carlos A. Torres was First Mate and Helmsman for most of the sail. Winds were light (5 Kts or less) from the NE (so much for the forecast…) and the sail was hoisted before reaching the junction marker at the end of the subsidiary channel. With winds this light, and since the idea was to reach Pinhey Point around noon, the 4HP Tohatsu was called into action and the boat motor-sailed in a starboard tack, at 3-4 Kts, pretty-much to its own wind. A few minutes past noon the SunCat was swinging at anchor at the center of the cove in Pinhey Point.

After a visit to the grounds (for which the tender “QRP” did the honours) and a sandwich and fruit lunch in the boat, the anchor was weighed a few minutes after 3:00 PM. Here are a couple of pics taken with the iphone: the view of the cove from up-hill and a wild bouquet of wild “Dame’s Rocket” (Hesperis matronalis):



With the wind finally blowing from the SW, the boat had to be motored to the center of the river to get enough room to face the wind and hoist sail. This done, she bore away to a starboard beam-reach/broad reach with the sail wide open and the boom-vang holding the boom down. The gusts were estimated at 15 knots, but soon some seemed to reach 20+ knots causing heavy weatherhelm. The centerboard was pulled up to reduce heeling. The waves kept building up to about two feet. The gusts could be easily predicted from the colour of the water and the crests on the waves. However, in one of the strongest gusts, with the double mainsheet sheeted all the way out, the boat was forced to head up in spite of the tiller being fully to windward. The boat was being overpowered. It was time to reef the sail, and, as it is usually the case, it was already a bit too late… This is the register of winds from the Nepean Sailing Club:

Winds on June 12 2018

In a Marconi two-sail rig this would have implied the furling or removal of the jib, or heaving-to to slab-reef the mainsail. But the SunCat, being a “cat”, has an extra trick up its rig, a trick well known to the fishermen who used to sail their cat-boats in the shallows of Chesapeake Bay two centuries ago: “scandalizing” the gaff: letting the gaff fall behind and ahead of the sail causing a fold in the sail to become the new leech of the sail. In the SunCat design this reduces the sail area to almost one half (the Sail Area in the SunCat is 150 sq. ft. and scandalizing the gaff reduces it to 86 sq. ft. or 57% of the full sail).

As performed yesterday, the manoeuvre immediately stabilized the boat even during the strongest gusts and once these past, the gaff was again lifted to return the sail to its full size. Also, in the Sun Cat, the gaff does not need to be hoisted to keep the boom above the level of the gallows and hence, while the gaff is scandalized, it is not critical to tighten the toping lift (actually, the SunCat design does not sport a topping lift – “Sassy” does, but this was a special request from her skipper). Hence, it should always be possible to readily tack or gybe the sail with the gaff scandalized provided that the gaff is lifted enough for it to pass ahead of the sail at each change of tack. However, at the onset of scandalizing the gaff, the top part of the sail luffs violently until it settles, and the fold of the sail that becomes the new leech puts a significant stress on the sail fabric. Hence, this is not a reefing technique to be indulged. However, it requires only one line to be adjusted (the gaff halyard) and can be a very effective “reefing” procedure when a sudden strong gust overpowers a cat-rigged boat while sailing full sail.

Past the K4 red marker and heading to the marina, the motor was again called into action to force the boat head-to-wind and douse the sail. The boat returned to her slip in the marina a few minutes before 5:00 PM. The entire 8 NM stretch was completed on sail in less than 2 hours, averaging over 4 Kts. (which includes the time for hoisting and dousing of the sail while upwind). Around 16:20 The GPS registered a maximum speed of 7.1 Knots (3 Kts, above the hull-speed of the SunCat).

Corolary: a “scandal” is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly when it happens up the mast in a gaff-rigged sailboat…