The Mains’l

Today I purchased my mainsail! 🙂 Last week, Michel gave me the tip that there was a ~17m² catamaran mainsail for sale on Ebay, which looked pretty good. The sail itself is from 2008 but in essentially unused condition. It features three full-length and two partial-length battens. Full-length battens (essentially long strips of flexible but somewhat stiff plastic placed inside batten pockets in the sail) are good for performance, especially when sailing upwind, since they help give the sail a better shape, with a smoother curve. I’d have preferred having all five battens in full length, but fair enough. 😉 It was on offer for 490€ but I got it for 300€. It seems like they had it lying around for a while. I’m not so surprised, it’s from some rather obscure class; no one whom I asked recognized the class symbol. Here’s some stats on the sail:

  • Luff length 7.55m
  • Foot length: 3.15m
  • Head length (it’s a squaretop): 1.30m
  • Sail area (approx.): 16.8m²
  • Sailmaker: Starvoiles

This sail also already features two rows of reef points (to reduce the sail area), which is really good, because it saves me a trip to the sailmaker to have them made (and about a hundred euros). With two rows of reef points, and a selection of jibs / genoas to choose from (I’m thinking roughly 5, 10, and 15m²), in addition to a gennaker, there will be plenty of options to adapt the amount of sail to the present weather conditions.

More after the jump…

 

The next step for the rig will be to start looking for a suitable beach catamaran mast (it has to sit on a ball joint so you can turn the mast around after all). A Formula 18 mast could be a good option. I also need to start keeping an eye open for a suitable boom. This sail has a pretty long foot, so I may have to opt for a boom from some monohull to get the required length, most beach cat booms are too short.

Having a somewhat lower aspect ratio sail (i.e. a longer foot but not as tall) decreases the upwind performance a bit. Like any wing, the lift-to-drag-ratio is dependent on the aspect ratio of the sail, and the L/D ratio is what gives you good upwind performance. A lower rig has its center of effort closer to the deck though (the lever arm for the force which is trying to knock your boat over is shorter), so you can carry a bit more sail. In the end it’ll be a slight loss when beating to windward, and a slight gain when reaching or running. Since proas tend to have rather low stability, and sloop-rigged pacific proas are exceptionally good at sailing upwind anyway, this was a tradeoff I was happy to make, especially with the sail in such good condition.

It Began by the Sea

In the morning hours of Wednesday, May 27th, I started making my way to Wilhelmshaven, Germany, to start construction of my boat. As usual for a trip, I was packing and preparing for most of the previous night. I had what felt like a ton of gear on me, two backpacks full of boatbuilding tools and materials, sailing gear, and I still had a couple of errands to run before making my way to the railway station. The relief was palpable when I finally got on the train, and with gentle thump-thump thump-thump, it left the station, heading for the sea. With a three hour night behind me, I soon drifted off to sleep.

I was to spend the next couple of days chiefly in the workshop of a friend of mine in Wilhelmshaven. I’d gotten to know Michel on proafile.com, a website (and formerly a forum) dedicated to proas. There are not too many proa aficionados around, so having someone to talk to, who lives in the same country, was a very good thing. We’d met up the previous year, and I got to sail with him briefly on two occasions. We’d had endless talks about all the little details of designing and building proas in the time since then. Now Michel, a boatbuilder by profession, had invited me to his place and his workshop for a week to start building the ama (the small hull) of my proa there. I was ecstatic about the opportunity to get to learn the basics from him, and about really getting started properly. Nothing would be worse than getting really stuck, right at the beginning. The first steps are always the hardest, so it’s great to have someone around to teach you the basics and help get you over the initial threshold. I hadn’t had any time to work on my ama design in the previous weeks, being in the process of finishing my bachelor’s thesis, but Michel had kindly offered to design the ama for me, and offer which I gladly took up, to start construction as soon as possible.

Around noon, the train arrived in Bremen, where we were to meet up. We still had some shopping to do, so we headed off to ‘Hansa Holz’ and ‘Georgius’ in Bremen, to get high quality wood for stringers and marine plywood respectively, and then drove from there to Wilhelmshaven. We unloaded everything, went regatta sailing for two hours, and called it a day.

Just about to cross the starting line. Frank and Michel gauging time on distance, with the spinnaker ready to go, the moment they are allowed to cross the line. I was manning the backstays. We eventually came in 2nd amongst the monohulls, beating out a number of much larger yachts in Michels Kaasknabbel, a Waarship 750.
Just about to cross the starting line. Michel (right) and crew, gauging time on distance. It’s a handicapped start, downwind. The spinnaker is ready to go, for the moment we are allowed to cross the line. I was manning the backstays, replacing a crew member who was ill that day. We came in 2nd amongst the monohulls, beating out a number of much larger yachts in Michel’s Waarschip 750.

I stayed in Wilhelmshaven until Saturday the 30th and then was there again from the 4th to the 10th of June. That time in Wilhelmshaven was comprised of long days in the workshop (as much as 15 hours on two occasions) and discussions about boat design going well into the night. It certainly wasn’t a picnic, but it was a great time, and we got a tremendous amount done! In the span of a little over a week, we went from a stack of raw materials to an almost complete ama, ready to be transported back to Brunswick for the remaining work. Below is a gallery documenting the build process pretty much step by step. I’m enormously thankful to Michael for giving me the opportunity and all the help that he did!

Next week we’re going to look at some of the design work behind my proa!

 

 

The Journey Thus Far

I first got my start in boatbuilding back in the autumn of 2012, when I decided to build a simple flat bottom plywood canoe. I had come across a blog of an undergraduate who had built a canoe in his spare time, using some free plans available online. It looked simple enough: buy some plywood, saw out the panels, laminate them together with fiberglass, epoxy-coat and paint the whole thing, and I’d have a little two-person canoe of my own. For a few hundred euros and a perhaps a few weekends of work, it sounded like a great way to get outdoors and on the water. As such things almost inevitably go, it took far longer than expected, longer than said undergrad in the blog. I guess I am a bit of a perfectionist, or maybe I am just slow, but in late 2012 I finally had the canoe finished in any case.

Canoe by the still frozen pond infront of the student dorm I live in.
Icebreaker.

Upon completion, it went straight into a garage unfortunately, but as winter drew to a close in 2013, I didn’t even wait for the ice to melt. As soon as the weather was warm and the ice on the pond by the student dorm was thin, I was out playing icebreaker, and learning to maneuver my canoe. A couple of weeks later, a friend and I went for our first tour with the canoe on a nearby river. Outdoors in the countryside, no phones, no computers, nowhere to rush off to. I knew right away that I had found something which I absolutely loved. Sundays became my canoe days; calm perfect summer days, with a little bit of adventure, and nothing but the passing of the sun by which to tell the time.

Me and my canoe by the river
Me and my canoe by the river.

Three years on, and while the canoe tours have become less regular, their appeal has become none the weaker. Almost invariably they still comprise some of the best days of any year. As great as they are, the yearning for even greater freedom however, had been kindled much earlier. As early as Jessica Watson’s circumnavigation in 2010-11, I had started reading and learning a little about sailboats and the sea. By the time I started getting my sailing license for lakes and rivers in 2014, I already had my sights firmly set on building a proa for sailing on the North Sea. Through a few matters of circumstance, and constant changes to my own design, I missed my opportunity to start building my proa that year. If I were to do it all again, I’d probably build something smaller first, using plans, to gain some more experience in boatbuilding, and importantly in the actual sailing handling of proas (which I still lack completely), but ultimately I got to where I am anyway. This project has been and will continue to be a lot of hard work, with many long days, but I now find myself in the midst of fulfilling a great dream, in the midst of building my own sailboat, right here, right now.

Now more than ever, is the time to make every day count.

My ama under construction in Wilhelmshaven.

Building a voyaging proa on a student's budget