Here are some things we've learned from rowing and sailing in Splinters...


Overall Good Performer

I've been delighted from our first sail with the performance of the rig. My not-so-experienced guess is that 100 square feet is enough sail, but not as much as she could handle -- a taller rig with a higher pointing gaff and overlapping headsail would probably be exciting, but also would be more likely to dump us in the water... I have to say, designing a rig from scratch with no experience at all is not something I'd recommend to anybody. I had no right to expect it to turn out as well as it has.

She handles all points of sail comfortably. I haven't detected any sign of lee helm or even significant weather helm. She just goes where you point her. As an experiment, you can usually take your hand off the tiller and it'll just hang there for a few seconds before beginning to round up gradually. (More evidence, I think, that the sail plan is fairly conservative for the hull.)

She works fine under main only. The helm is not noticeably heavier. Adding in the headsail makes her faster and lets her point a bit higher. The jib usually luffs before the main when pointing, seeing as the shrouds prevent sheeting it in as close as you can the main.

It's hard to compare our performance with other boats. We seem to hold our own against boats that are near us in size and proportion. We're faster than some boats that are smaller or carry only a single sail, such as Sunfish. Obviously a longer boat with enough sail will beat us if sailed well. Of course you only have to see those sailboards and catamarans screaming across the lake at 20 miles per hour to know that this is not ever going to be the fastest boat on the water!

So far I've only seen her trundling along in displacement mode. We still have to try her in a stiff breeze with full sails, but I have my doubts that she'll be able to get on plane.

Balance & Trim for Sail

The Weekend Skiff has a 4' beam, hard chines, and a centerboard. Our boat is a bit heavier overall than the designers expected, plus we cast 12 pounds of lead into the lower part of the dagger board. With all that, she's quite stable in the conditions we've experienced so far.

In light air you'll normally split your crew between port and starboard seats, leaning to leeward in order to help heel the boat. Otherwise it'll sit flat and work less well to windward. It's probably easier for the helmsman to sit on the downwind side, as she can sit back comfortably with her head against the boom while the crew sits on the upwind seat with their weight toward the middle of the boat. This way the crew doesn't have to crouch awkwardly under the boom.

When the wind is better, you'll both end up on the upwind side. When the wind is good, you'll find yourselves leaning out to windward, sheeting in the main, and wishing there was a tiller extension!

As the wind picks up even more you'll be letting out the sheet to keep her from taking water over the lee rail. There's no deck, so it'll come right in if you let yourself be overpowered. So far we've only taken a few little slops of water into the boat, except for a power boat wake one time... Oh, and an unintentional jibe...

Handling With Reefed Main

We have one set of reefing points about 18" from the foot of the main sail. On the next set of sails, I'm going to see to it they're a few inches lower, as taking that much of a bite out seems to leave the boat underpowered.

On her first time out with main only, a reef in, and a really stiff breeze, my daughter was with another one of her friends. She was afraid to sheet in the sail enough to really get moving. When she tried to come around, the boat stalled, fell back, and whipped around into an uncontrolled jibe. This happened several times until I was able to hail her from shore and talk her in. We beeched, dumped a considerable amount of water out, and I took her sodden friend's place so we could do some coaching.

Once she started sheeting it in harder, the boat moved normally and would come about reasonably well, if the wind held steady and we moved smartly enough. Adding in the jib only helped the boat work better. So with the reef in you need to sheet the main aggressively. There's not enough sail to blow you over and you have to keep your hull speed up if you're going to get the nose through the wind to tack.

The next time we try tacking in a stiff breeze with a reefed main, I want to experiment with reversing the helm when the boat stalls, to see if we can force her around to the new tack without losing too much ground -- or jibing uncontrollably.

Balance & Trim for Rowing

One amazing experience we had early on was with rowing... Our very first outing, I had both Emily and Alegra aboard while I tried to row out, in a stiff breeze, with the sail furled and the boom raised on the topping lift. They were both sitting in the stern. Anybody who's ever tried to single-hand a canoe in a stiff breeze will be familiar with what I'm about to describe...

No matter what I did, I could not turn the bow into the wind for more than a second or two, before we were blown back around. Then we'd lose ground until I could get the boat moving again. At best, we could stumble along about broadside to the wind, losing ground steadily. With me not wanting to trust the untried sails, we finally beached the boat 300 yards downwind and gave up for the day.

Well, it wasn't until the trip home that I figured out what was wrong. Having both girls in the stern moved the center of bouyancy far enough back that it was aft of the aerodynamic center of effort of the hull and rig... This means, in essence, we were trying to balance a weather vane backwards to the wind! There was no way we were going to be able to fight all that windage trying to turn us away.

The next time out, even though the winds were more reasonable, I made sure that Alegra sat in the bow. This time, I could comfortably control our direction by the way I pulled on the oars, turning into the wind and maintaining headway without a problem. It was so obviously better that I'm convinced it would work even in the stronger breeze. We still have to test things with only two people aboard. Will we still want somebody in the bow? Would we need to lash the tiller somehow?

Setup and Takedown Time

As everybody with an opinion on the matter predicted, the gaff rig is time consuming to set up and take down. Working alone, you can expect to take a good half hour to get everything rigged. With everybody helping the best we've done is about 15 minutes.

I've designed the rigging to require the minimum of attachments between the hull and spars. Pretty much everything stays right with the mast. Headstay and shrouds, headsail tack and sheets, and the main sheet are all the lines that have to be rigged to the hull during setup.

Add to that, however, throat and tack shackles, peak and clew outhauls, head, luff and foot lashings, rigging the reefing pendants, hanking on the jib, shipping the rudder and attaching the dagger board lanyard, and you've got a lot of fiddling to do before you can put her in the water. Once you're out there, though, she's as simple to handle as any other sloop -- 3 sheets and a tiller.

One thing is for sure, a decent checklist will help you to remember everything!

The Rig Works

I'm happy to say that the rigging does work. Many helpful suggestions from folks at the WoodenBoat Forums let me refine the design of the rigging enough that it worked well from the very beginning.

The double ended main sheet running from the quarter knees to the end of the boom keeps the middle of the cockpit clear of lines. A small crosstree just above the gaff keeps the halyards and topping lift out of the jaws. Jam cleats for jib and main sheets are inexpensive and the simplest possible solution.

A pin rail at the bottom of the mast provides a place to tidy up the mess of halyards. The two part topping lift helps control the sail and gaff beautifully.

When the shroud attachment points I installed turned out to be too far aft, a good way to rig them, that also happened to move them foreward, came about by way of another fellow's recollection of the rigging on an old boat he used to have.

Apart from answering my many questions on materials and construction methods, it's hard to guess just how many rigging details were tweaked by suggestions from those kind souls. My hat's off to you, ladies and gentlemen. You have my deepest gratitude!