" lang="en-US"> Diary of a Sailmaker’s Apprentice | vermicious

Diary of a Sailmaker’s Apprentice


March 18

A roller-furling Genoa with a foam luff stretched across the loft as I summited the worn wooden staircase.

I know what that is now.

For those who haven’t been training as a sailmaker’s apprentice for two weeks, or sailing modern boats lately, a Genoa is a large headsail. Headsails are forward of the foremost mast on a boat, close to the bow. Roller-furling devices allow a sailor to roll up canvas when he/she wants to take in sail (imagine a giant electric paper towel roll). The mechanism makes it easier to reef or stow a sail. Without the device, a sailor must drop the sail into a pile on the deck and clean it up from there, which can be difficult or even dangerous to do with a skeleton crew in challenging weather conditions. Strips of foam inserted along the luff edge of the sail helps the fabric form an even, tight roll as it feeds into the mechanism. The “foam luff” is a design add-on our loft strives to perfect.

Late last week, my co-worker introduced me to the steps necessary to construct that sail. As I lent a hand on the large Genoa, I also chipped away at the small roller-furling headsail I am constructing for the Wooden Boat Foundation. The spike of new information intake exhausted me just as if I had spent the day sailing. A sense of urgency also seems to heighten as more sun streams through our windows. High-season is at our doorstep.

Our schedule allows few opportunities to snap photos as we work. So, I snuck these shots as soon as I entered the loft yesterday. My co-workers have spent years building sails and, though laughter often drowns the sounds of the sewing machines, I imagine some of the magic of their work is lost for them as deadlines loom. To new eyes, however, their deft movements in the morning light was subject for awe.

0318bThe images here show my co-worker using a thick sewing needle to thread lengths of black yarn at intervals along the luff edge of the sail. She then sealed the ends of the yarn with paraffin wax. They are telltales, which flutter about in the breeze and so help sailors see how the wind is moving in the sail. That information aids in a sailor’s decision to take the sail in, let more sail out or to turn away from the direction of the wind or toward it.

Today promises more action and, if the day proves as exhausting as a day on the water well, at least I can take comfort in my landlubbery pleasures of fancy lattes and flush toilets. Time to climb the steps.


March 20

0320aClewmanship is not a word. Neither is clewology, but I’m learning it anyway. A clew is the name for a specific corner of a sail. That corner is on one end of the foot of a sail. The foot, as you may imagine, is the bottom edge of the sail, which is closest to the deck of the boat. The clew is nearest to the back, or stern of a vessel. It is also the corner that comes under the most strain.

The clew ring, pictured above, is fastened to the sail in several ways. First, we wrap strips of nylon webbing around the hardware and tack those down with the sewing machine in between layers of sail fabric. Then we hand-stitch the ring into place. There are many layers of fabric at that reinforced corner. So, before I hand-stitch, I use a Dremel to pre-drill holes around the ring. After I seize the ring into place with sail thread, I cover the area with a leather patch, which you can see in the photo below. A few hundred more like these and I just might master the tao of clew.

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