View Full Version : refitting gaff schooner

09-11-2010, 08:57 AM
Who has practical experience or other useful info about refitting a small gaff schooner with wooden masts with new aluminium booms and gaffs?

I have studied John Leather's Gaff Rigging Handbook but I have still questions mainly about most practical mast fitting (mastbands with sliding or fixed gooseneck? with ram's, norns for reefing etc?)

How best to manufacture a gaff from aluminium: jaws from stainless steel (insolated from the aluminium by sealant with a tumbler block from wood and protected against chafe with rope?

How at the same time efficiently reef and apply clew outhawl and cunningham control and a kicking strap etc on a loose footed mainsail?

Pictures and drawings most welcome!
All useful info about fitting mastbands for standing rigging also very welcome (size fitting by cramping only or also otherwise: srews, bolds or sealant?)

reason for this refit is that the main boom is broken and for the other spars to save weight.

Thanks a lot!


Peerie Maa
09-11-2010, 09:08 AM
For a start, a bit of weight in the boom helps the sail to set better, it will be easier to replace the broken boom in wood. As to the gaffs, this http://www.classicmarine.co.uk/images_products_large/380.jpg is a better way to go, from http://www.classicmarine.co.uk/product.asp?product=380&cat=95&ph=cat&keywords=&recor=&SearchFor=&PT_ID= or similar. Don't use rope to protect from chafe, greased leather is the proper way to do it

09-12-2010, 08:37 AM
There are a lot of us with gaff rigs here on the forum but I doubt you will fine any to agree with your plan to use aluminum for your boom and gaff. Sounds like you are trying to use modern marconi rig techology without learning the intricacies (sp) of a gaff rig. Give us some photos and more info on your boat. Also, research back issues of WOODENBOAT, it takes time but so does redoing a failed attempt at a "new, improved" gaff rig. Best of luck and waiting for photos :-)
Please update your profile so we know your location.

09-12-2010, 12:49 PM
Let me temper my advise by saying that I have , so far, successfully, managed to pretty well avoid much contact with gaffs.:D

That said, the mass of the spars seems to be "critical" to the sail shape on a gaffer.

I once delivered a gaff cutter up the west coast. I came into San Diego for a planned stopover with dry diesel tanks, so I sailed her into the customs dock. I then sailed her to the fuel dock before a short putt putt ride to my guest slip.

My crew and I were collapsed below, when we heard a knocking on the hull. I managed to poke my head up the companionway so that I could see that attached to that knock was a man of few words, and attached to him was a bottle of Jamaican rum. Permission to board was given immediately.

The Man of Few Words managed to find enough to convey to me the fact that he had just purchased a gaff rigged schooner. He was a pilot, so he knew what a foil should look like, but he just couldn't get his sails to look like mine. He offered me $100 if I could get his sails to right.

I had just finished with a couple of weeks at sea, and was looking forward to what would turn out to be another 4 before the boat was home. What else could I say.

The next day I was sailing on a production glass hull (I remember it as a Downeast 38) with a schooner rig. All spars were aluminum. I took the helm and let hem set the rig as he normally did. The main and fore really looked like bags.

I spent a few minutes messing with the peaks and the sheets and things looked much better. Without a word, The Man of Few Words reached into his pocket and offered me a lovely, hand engraved portrait of Ben Franklin. I told him that I wasn't done yet, and just like I was on a plastic racer, I ran around the boat, rigging and tweaking things like vangs, and preventers, and cunninghams, and flattening reefs, and ...

After accepting my booty, we turned and headed back to the harbor. I readjusted EVERYTHING for the new point of sail. It dawned on me that in the last couple of hours, I had done more rigging adjustment than I had in 2 weeks at sea. Without really saying it, I vocalized a thought that the rig seemed twitchier with the aluminum gaff and boom.

Some year or so later, I got mail from The Man of Few Words. No words, just a pic of the boat with its shiny new varnished gaffs and booms - and a check for $100!

Another year or so later, and more mail from TMOFW. Again, no words. This time the pic of the boat showed new wood masts, complete with topmasts, and topsails. This time the check for for $200.

I haven't heard from TMOFW for over 30 years. I'd love to know what happened to that schooner rigged production boat.

Peerie Maa
09-12-2010, 02:15 PM
You only have to climb an aluminium ladder (I was stripping Virginia creeper from the gable today on a two story house) to realise how bouncy aluminium is. Wood however is fairly stiff. Tends to stay put when you adjust it.

John B
09-12-2010, 05:01 PM
If you're fitting an ali gaff and boom, then its just like any other of many thousands of boats out there.. you can see them on any marina berth or haulout yard.
Mechanical fixings ie tabs welded on for vangs( or spans), stainless bails for mainsheet, some ali track for outhaul and some block and tackle (internal) for outhaul and or reefing.
or soft fittings eg a fabric saddle for your mainsheet and a velcro strop around the boom for your clew( plus an outhaul.) Spectra core for spans because its easy to splice and adjust without wire terminations.

My gaff saddle is stainless, it has some carpet tile glued to the inside of it and then the whole thing is covered with leather.The leather is greased every few sails with vaseline because tallow and grease stinks and eventually gets on the sail your clothes etc etc.

09-12-2010, 06:33 PM
Hello Arthurb

I don't like when I post a question and get them answered with a question, but as the owner of a gaff rigged schooner with wooden masts, gaffs and booms, so readily serviceable with common materials and tools, right down to the shoe leather that lines the throats. Why! Why go to aluminum, I'd just as soon sink the boat. The welding, the ugliness, the limited extrusion shapes, the screws tearing from the thin walls!


09-15-2010, 08:00 AM
I agree, weight in the booms can help. This is especially so for the foresail boom which needs all the help it can get to keep from lifting, turning the foresail into a bag, spoiling the flow over the mainsail etc.

There is some merit in aluminium gaffs; keeping weight aloft to a minimum. The down-side however is that you can loose one of the advantages of gaff rig; its willingness to come down smartly when the halliard is let go. A light aluminium gaff combined with over-powerful halyard tackle means you have to haul the sail down like one of those pointy-top jobs.

Nuffin better for the job than good ol' tree-wood.

wizbang 13
09-15-2010, 08:38 AM
I have spruce T spars with fir jaws for my 2 gaffs and 3 booms. (ketch) . 50,000 miles later ,I have never lusted for lighter spars. A cruising gaffer will only point "so" high, and no higher. The "performance" you can tweak out in a harbor or bay will be different at sea.
Cunningham ,kicking strap,SS saddle, mast bands ?... ferget about it.
My Brother sails an engineless 44' gaff sloop. Has for 35 years . (John Smith, Mermaid of Carriacou) .His 20' gaff , for lightness, is made of boxed ply with some graphite stuff. It's an old, broken , homemade catamarang mast.
You asked for practical experience, I cannot imagine a schooner rig being practical on a boat smaller than 15 tons.
(http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4065/4647810708_0fcf0e3f2e_z_d.jpg photo of my bits being primed.)Gaff jaws are not fastened, just glued and seized with nylon seine twine.

09-15-2010, 08:52 AM
It depends on whether you're more interested in sailing, or tinkering with the rig. If tinkering, greasing, seizing, whipping, sewing, etc are a pleasurable hobby, then there's no reason why really old-timey stuff won't work pretty well. Three years ago I had the very intimidating experience of sailing as master on a fairly authentic Baltiimore Clipper, the Amistad, including a three day autumn gale crossing the Bay of Biscay. Nothing broke, nobody got hurt, but I didn't sleep very well...
I've sailed on quite a few schooners, including some small ones, some almost painfully "historically correct" ones (Pride of Baltimore 1 and Amistad), some with steel masts, staysail schooners, marconi-main schooners, etc.
The thing that's really nice about metal masts is that you can mount a track that's strong enough to run the gaff and the sail's luff on it. At that point a gaff rig begins to go to windward quite well, thank you, and lots of chafe and fooling around disappear.
I've often thought of using aluminum seamless irrigation pipe for a gaff, topmast, or topsail club.
(Another advantage of using a metal mast is that it's possible to make a topmast that houses INSIDE the lower mast. Herreshoff did that one at least one schooner, I think.
As far as the main boom goes, weight isn't so critical there, and wood is easy to attach stuff to, looks nice, etc.
Whatever it's made of, I personally dearly despise the old timey rig of boom jaws with parrels and clapper/slider, the whole greasy mess lying on the roundhouse table that's bolted to the mast. I don't see the problem with either a fixed gooseneck, or maybe one on a slider. No chafe, no grease, and if you put it on a slider with a down haul tackle you can tighten or loosen the luff without fooling around with the throat and peak halyards.
I don't see any reason not to use wood gaff jaws, maybe with a strong flat aluminum landing welded to the gaff tube so that it's easy to bolt the jaws on. The leathered slider is typical and works well, but I sometimes wonder if some modern high density-low friction plastic wouldn't be able to substitute for the grease.
day autumn gale in the Bay of Biscay, as we were going from England to Portugal. We didn't break anything, but I can't say that I slept well.

donald branscom
09-15-2010, 09:11 AM
There are lots of good rigging books but each one has a different focus.

You are asking for a whole book of information that would require photos and drawings.
A gaff schooner should not have aluminum booms.
But at least you can start by painting the booms brown.

I think you need to decide it you want tradition l materials and methods OR if you want modern materials and methods.