View Full Version : Gaff-rig sailmakers

01-07-2015, 03:28 AM
we are in process of getting the sails on our boatproject we are building. any good saillofts around with experience in gaffsails.?


sailing the farm

Ian McColgin
01-07-2015, 07:47 AM
There are lots. It's best if you're near the loft so that the sailmaker can measure the spars and rig as it's actually set up as little deviations in rake, boom angle, gaff angle, lead of sheets et cetera can make sails that fit the plan not fit the actual rig quite so perfectly. Also, some owners thoughtfully provide dimensions that include their personal idea of how much the sails will stretch on bending. Very few things can as perfectly guarentee an unhappy result.

You can get thoughts and estimates from the full plans. You might even make a deal to pay for the sails, or at least pay enough, that the loft can buy the material at today's price and thus freeze the estimate. For sails that are right, get the sticks up and have the sailmaker measure.

So, figure out where you are and share that. Perhaps someone knows a loft near you.


01-07-2015, 10:38 AM
thanks. We are located close to Oslo, Norway. Whole south norway and partly south sweden should be possible then. We are in that lucky situation that we can alter the mast according to the sails since we havent got the mast yet. (we are working on this now)



01-07-2015, 12:45 PM
Ian and others,

I've got a pretty good grasp of geometry with a large dose of practical knowledge thrown in. What I don't have is a lot of sail experience so please excuse some naivety.

I don't get the need for the sailmaker to do actual boat/mast measurements. The way I see it: mast describes a line, the boom describes another and the gaff a third. The designer (at least in the case of the boat I'm building) gives sail area, angles, and pertinent lengths. If one sets the mast a few degrees off from plumb, or where ever the designer prescribes, the trapezoid (or triangle) created by leech, foot, luff, etc. still doesn't change. It simply is tilted a bit, in its entirety, fore and aft. So why is is so important that the sailmaker measure the rig? What will be revealed that isn't already known?

I will soon be following in zeyang's footsteps. If the sailmaking industry is anything like the rest of the universe, I will find shops that are first rate and some that are less so. I can easily imagine one telling me, "Nah, we don't need to measure the boat. Just send the sail plan. We'll know what to do." Given my less than sophisticated understanding of sail fit, I might easily agree with this hypothetical quote. I really want to know why one shouldn't. And why one should insist on a custom fitting.


Ian McColgin
01-07-2015, 01:02 PM
A sail is a three dimensional object. How you design the amount and the position of the draft depends upon a lot of dynamic shaping and you don't get those answers by length of luff, foot, leach, and head. Even if you add the diagonals, things can still be a bit rough. For example, the angle at the tack is almost never ninty degrees. One more-exact-than-reading-a-small-plan way to get the angle is to hang a plumb from the throat position and see just how far back along the foot it comes. A few inches? A foot?

I have done some work for a sailmaker and built (under good supervision) two largish sails. I've studied boat design enough to have a sense of how much sail goes with what hull and enough to have the sense to know I've not the training to correctly engineer it. Get in consultation with a sailmaker who is trained also in the engineering of rig design. Or seperate the jobs and have an NA design the rig, a sailmaker then develop the sails in that context. An advantage of that is you'll also be able to intelligently engineer the standing rigging - too many people just add weight aloft "over-building" which can actually lead to other systemic failures. Spend your time and money here to have a boat that's a pleasure to sail, not an awkward pain.


Todd Bradshaw
01-07-2015, 02:07 PM
A sail is a three dimensional object. How you design the amount and the position of the draft depends upon a lot of dynamic shaping and you don't get those answers by length of luff, foot, leach, and head. Even if you add the diagonals, things can still be a bit rough. For example, the angle at the tack is almost never ninty degrees. One more-exact-than-reading-a-small-plan way to get the angle is to hang a plumb from the throat position and see just how far back along the foot it comes. A few inches? A foot?

Ian, you're in over your head on this one.

We can most certainly design a sail without measuring the boat and get things like draft amount and location correct. These things are done with formulas, based on the sailplan's straight line measurements and modified as needed at times to account for spar bend, the potential sailing characteristics of the hull, typical sailing conditions and skipper's skill level. The main reasons that it is better when possible to measure the boat itself are to get the small fit details correct. These things may or may not be on the sailplan, and may or may not have been done by the builder to follow the plans. In some cases, they may have been modified by previous owners, and if so, we need to know about it. A small change in something like the tack or throat setback or mast attachment system can make a major difference in whether or not the sail sets properly and free of big nasty wrinkles or is a real mess.

The vast majority of boat owners aren't trained or qualified to make these measurements or decisions on their own. Neither are most boat designers, and since going in after the fact to fix problems on finished sails is an expensive pain in the ass for both the owner and saimaker, it is always best whenever possible for the sailmaker to get a chance to eyeball the actual boat and compare it to the sailplan before any fabric is cut. If this is not possible, then the sailmaker is likely to have some very specific questions and measurements for the owner to take before finalizing the design work and it is quite important that they are taken carefully and properly.

Ian McColgin
01-07-2015, 02:23 PM
I did not mean to overstate anything Todd and I don't think we are too far apart. Boats made to a clear design by professional builders will come out as spec'd and I've no doubt a sailmaker can go from well defined plans. It just looked to me like in this project there was enough chance of variation that it would be well to measure the thing itself.

I certainly agree that, "The vast majority of boat owners aren't trained or qualified to make these measurements or decisions on their own." [#6] An example of what can go wrong is: "Also, some owners thoughtfully provide dimensions that include their personal idea of how much the sails will stretch on bending. Very few things can as perfectly guarentee an unhappy result." [#2]

As you point out, fittings and such matter as well. The advantage of a local sailmaker looking at the actual boat is that all these details can be worked out correctly.

Finally, I am not bashful about my ignorance. There's nothing quite like fiddling with the sails a bit and then, once the basics are right, getting the sailmaker out to get the rig just right.

In any event, zeyang, in any difference of opinion, whether substantial or shading, between myself and Todd, pay heed to the real sailmaker.


wizbang 13
01-07-2015, 04:59 PM
Once again, I am in a slight disagreement with Todd. Sailmaking is not rocket science, unless one needs to win a race. World cruisers have been making their own gaff sails , re cutting old sails into gaff sails , and still sails many many thousands of miles with large money savings.how close to the wind do you expect your gaffer to point? Mine... Honestly.... In perfect conditions , 55 degrees. On the ocean .... 60. 120 between tacks. The power of a gaffer is to "crack off " a bit, not pinch. I amnot trying to make a stink here , just being practical.

Todd Bradshaw
01-07-2015, 05:13 PM
My point is not that sailmaking is rocket science, it is that sails have to fit properly to set properly, and the person cutting and sewing them needs to know what he or she is doing in some very specific spots in order for that to happen. I said nothing at all about tacking angles or pointing ability and it basically has nothing at all to do with the stuff we are discussing here. I have seen the photos of the sails you made and "re-cut". They tend to be awfully quick and dirty, with little or no base in sound construction practices, like most of the stuff you build. I'm glad you're happy with them. Most folks would not be. I still maintain that you can't build a good sail if you don't know how. Apparently you disagree.

George Ray
01-07-2015, 08:09 PM
From a 2011 posting:


Andy was recommended by Tom Colvin and made our sails.

Andy Soper of Kington Sail Loft has made several suits of Top Gun at clients request.
Andy made about 10% of the sails for the movie "Master and Commander".
Kingston Sail Loft Incorporated
Kingston Ontario, Canada
(1) Andrew Soper Sails
(2) JC Sails
60 Rideau Kingston, Ont. K7K 2Z7
E-mail: jcsails@kingston.net


Michele Stevens Sailloft Ltd
4th Generation Sailmaker
Makers of Mainsail for Famous Bluenose II
When Michele’s great grandfather Randolph built his sailloft at the end of Second Peninsula, near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, all “engines” were made of fabric, usually canvas. They had to be reliable! Although the canvas is usually Dacron now, some things have not changed in 96 years …same sailloft, same quality.
Box 507, Lunenburg, NS, B0J 2C0
1602 Second Peninsula Road
1-902-634-9338 phone
1-902-634-8665 fax
1-902-521-1193 cellular


George Ray
01-07-2015, 08:19 PM
Have a look here. Bit closer to home for you and there will certainly be lots of gaff experience for you to draw upon.


Old Gaffers Association:
In 2013, the OGA celebrated its 50th anniversary with a Round Britain Challenge (RBC) culminating in a 'grand gathering of gaffers' attended by over 200 boats and 1,000 skippers, crews and their families in Cowes, Isle of Wight. The anniversary celebrations were a resounding success and the OGA sets out on its next 50 years full of optimism for a bright future.

In 2014, 70 vessels took part in the Netherlands OGA 10th Anniversary 'Cross Country Tour', racing and cruising from Wemeldinge to Den Helder. Browse the archive for both these celebrations on 'Sailing by'.

The first ever ‘Old Gaffers’ race was held on the Solent in 1959, with just 13 boats. A similar race was held on the East Coast of England in 1963. The growing success of these early races, open to gaff rig boats, led to the formation of the OGA as a national association at the Little Ship Club, Maldon, Essex in 1963. Set up to preserve our distinctive traditional rig, in the early days this entailed rescuing or preserving some lovely old boats. Now, gaff rigged boats are being built again, some using traditional methods, whilst others use more modern materials based on traditional lines. There are even new designs emerging, continuing to develop the gaff rig. With the current love of all things ‘retro’, gaffers are becoming more popular than ever.

Who joins the OGA?

In the OGA you'll meet practical sailors doing things in an affordable way. We don't all splash out on the latest technology, or on brand new bits for our boats. The Association encourages development of the many skills of sailing and boat-handling, and we champion the crafts of traditional boat-building, seamanship and boat maintenance. The OGA has grown into a flourishing Association with Areas around the UK and Ireland, a Trailer Section and affiliated associations around the globe including France, the Netherlands (including members in Belgium), Canada (including members in the USA), Australia and New Zealand.

Becoming a member of the OGA brings a range of benefits including a full colour quarterly printed newsletter, Gaffers Log, annual printed directory of members, email notices and events in your local Area and access to our major legacy from OGA50, the national online Boat Register, launched in April 2014. The Association also runs an annual Photographic Competition.

George Ray
01-08-2015, 07:42 AM
Fabric Choice:
We love Top-Gun. It was recommended by Tom Colvin and it has look and feel and hand that is wonderful. Our MainTopsail and Fisherman Staysail are dacron because the bulk/weight is less but for the three lowers the Top-Gun is 'tops in our book'.

Todd Bradshaw
01-08-2015, 11:54 AM
Though Top Gun has terrible bias stability when compared to real sailcloth.

George Ray
01-08-2015, 10:30 PM
From a 2011 thread:
Traditional-ish modern sailmaking fabrics ? (Open letter to T. Bradshaw)

one long quote from T.B.

"The synthetic canvas sailcloth offerings, like Oceanus, Clipper Canvas and Clipper Light are absolutely gorgeous fabrics. In comparison to the fabrics made for covers, like Top Gun, they tend to be a bit stiffer (but not crunchy-stiff like resin-coated Dacron), more tightly woven and more dimensionally stable. Even on soft sails, dimensional stability and sailshape-holding ability is still a major issue in creating good performance. For most boat cover cloth (Sunbrella, Odyssey, Top Gun, WeatherMax, etc.) bias stability and stretch resistance isn't really much of an issue and a little bit of stretch may actually help the design part of a project when you're trying to cover an irregular shape. Sails are a different story and the fabrics offered specifically for sailmaking are built with somewhat different top priorities. Like the cover fabrics though, the sail canvas is extremely tough stuff.

Cost is probably the biggest obstacle with these fabrics, as they are quite pricey. They also start at about seven ounce weights and most are in the 11-15 oz. range, which means that they're too heavy for an awful lot of recreational boats. They sew nicely and stitches nestle down into the fabric a bit more than regular Dacron, but you probably want your sails made by somebody who has some experience working with those fabrics and who has a general feel for shaping the sails from this softer cloth, as it will be somewhat different from normal heavy Dacron.

Nothing I build is big enough to use them, so I haven't tried making a sail from them. I buy a few yards at a time and end up using it for utilitarian stuff. I found that they seem to be virtually "dog-proof", so the car's rear seat cover, one of the dog beds and some other goodies are made from Clipper Light. I've also used 12 oz. Clipper on sails for tough little patches, like batten pocket end caps, instead of leather. It doesn't dry out and eventually crack from age and getting wet the way leather does.

Other than for spinnakers and drifters, nylon just has way too much stretch for sails. Even when brand new, it won't allow you to design a good airfoil shape into the sail and keep it that shape. Draft wanders, both in position and depth as the wind changes speeds and that's not a formula for good sailing. Nylon also usually has pretty poor UV life and a hard summer's sailing would likely burn out most nylon sails to the point that they aren't repairable. I don't know much about Vectis. Ratsey & Lapthorne used it back in the 1970s, but I haven't heard anything about it over here and the R&L website doesn't say what they're offering for cloth these days."

Todd Bradshaw
01-09-2015, 12:09 AM
and your point is?

George Ray
01-09-2015, 07:59 AM
and your point is ?

Just sharing information and highlighting sources of information that I consider credible/valuable.
This type of information seems germane to the intent of the thread.

09-03-2017, 02:30 PM
I think a European sailmaker would make more sense. Patrick Selman in Falmouth, Cornwall for instance . He made my sails for my 22ft Falmouth Working Boat in 1980 and they are still in use on that boat. He did many sails for the racing Falmouh Workin Boats and nowadays he does often make sails in Clipper Canvas for the Bristol Channel Cutter replicas. Www.gaffsails.com
Closer is the Tuchwerkstatt in Greifswald, Germany. Nice guys and good at handwork. Emiliano Marino helped them start, possible because he has German ancestors. And in Holland we have very good sailmakers for gaff rig. There are perhaps 500 mostly old steel barges converted to sailcharter and many of them race at the end of the season. Practically all are gaff rigged. My son nr.1 is skippering such a barge and he tells me that they sometimes do 13 knots then. Think of it, a hundred year old hull, 80 ft long, modern polyester sails, a 200 sq. M. Gennaker ( I made that one) , I think you should find a Dutch sailmaker. Good luck, Frank

09-05-2017, 01:00 AM
If you want someone closer to home have a look at http://www.gyllenborgrigg.se/segel.htm, they are located on the Swedish west coast.


09-05-2017, 04:28 AM
James Lawrence in Brightlingsea, UK has a wealth of experience of trad sails and turns out some beautiful work. He also listens more than he talks.

09-05-2017, 05:10 AM
Since this thread is from 2015, I'm not sure it's still valid, but I would recommend Jouni Lahdenperä in Mariehamn, Åland.
Here are some pictures of some of his work http://jouni.ax/segel/segel


wizbang 13
09-05-2017, 08:00 AM
.....with little or no base in sound construction practices, like most of the stuff you build.

That hurt a bit Todd. But ask my boat how it felt being hit by hurricanes at sea ,twice.

09-05-2017, 08:24 AM
The OP's boat has been sailing for a while, and crossed the Atlantic I believe.
And Todd's comment was uncalled for.

Todd Bradshaw
09-05-2017, 02:08 PM
I call them as I see them - and after decades of designing and building sails I have a pretty good idea of exactly what to look for and why some of these things have little or no fudge factor if you really want the sails to work well. There don't seem to be any natural born sailmakers. Those who become good at it do so by studying and learning the fundamentals and then practicing their skills enough to learn to do it neatly and properly. It's probably possible to sail across the ocean with what amounts to a modified plastic tarp or garbage bag, but that doesn't make it a good or efficient sail. I will always maintain that one can not build a good, durable and efficient sail if one doesn't know how. Apparently some of you disagree, or think you know how without ever putting in the time and energy to actually study the subject in depth. I wish you good luck with that, but considering that the sails are usually the primary form of propulsion on sailboats, I personally put a little more importance on having very good ones.

As for hurricanes, I suspect your boat would like it better if you were a bit more careful about choosing your weather.

09-05-2017, 03:43 PM
My 2c on the subject currently at stake:
If wizbang was claiming that his methods were as good as conventional methods, or that they were good enough, I kind of side with Todd (if the methods were indeed as insuperior as Todd seems to claim).
On the other hand, if wizbang just reported about how he did things, I would agree that the comment by Todd was uncalled for.


09-06-2017, 09:09 PM
I am not questioning Todd's opinion, just his way of expressing it.
Rudeness and insults are not appropriate, and are unlikely to persuade their target.

Todd Bradshaw
09-07-2017, 02:53 AM
I don't believe I was either rude or insulting. I'm a professional sailmaker with a body of work spanning nearly 40 years that clearly backs up my opinions and observations and speaks for itself. I know what I'm looking at and usually know what the cause is if it isn't up to par. If I sugar-coat my remarks enough to praise substandard work I'm not doing anybody any favors. Feel free to put me on ignore if you can't take it or feel like you know better. I think I've spent enough time and energy here over the past fifteen years trying to help folks that I'm not going to worry if it ruffles a few feathers to speak the truth.

09-07-2017, 04:36 AM
This thread was two years dead. No reason to start fighting now.

09-08-2017, 08:47 AM
It's not about sugar coating your comments Todd. It's about not adding insults. I would hope you can give your professional opinion without them.
"with little or no base in sound construction practices, like most of the stuff you build" adds nothing useful to the conversation, and lowers the level of discourse.
It's not uncommon on this forum (or many forums) to demean people that disagree. It's not helpful and not mature. This forum seems to have improved some in recent years, I hope it continues. I am not trying to have an argument, I am asking for decency and civility.

Ian McColgin
09-08-2017, 09:34 AM
I have worked for a real sailmaker and built three of my sails under his direction to his plans. I have done plenty of repair work on my own boats and have the pleasure of having repairs and a whole boat built by real pros. I also have farmer relatives and like almost all farmers they do most of their own machinery repair. Same with my fishing friends. Since I don't weld, I've taken work of that general level to a pro. So I've looked at the difference between welding and really professional job.

There are certainly people who do their own work to the very highest standard. Our host publication has tons of gorgeous photography proving that the best of pros and the best of amateurs can stand proudly side by side. And real sailors must be able to do pretty nearly all their own work to an at least "this will hold up and work OK" standard.

I really love wizbang 13's get out and do it approach to life, sailing, and boatbuilding. I live that way, but less adventurously, myself.

I do not find Todd incorrect or insulting when he draws attention to various standards of work.

Not even when I'm in over my head, which is a lot of the time.

Edited to add - The first sail I made, even with the help of a very good book but without a guru to show me really how, came out looking like the cellulitic butt end of a syphilitic rhinoceros. Moved the boat but not too fast.

wizbang 13
09-08-2017, 10:41 AM
Thank You Ian. Never been sure what you think of me.
Also never intended to start a stink here .

Todd Bradshaw
09-08-2017, 12:02 PM
John, I really don't need you telling my what I should or should not be writing in my posts. As I said before, if you don't like it, feel free to put me on ignore.

amish rob
09-08-2017, 04:49 PM
Thank You Ian. Never been sure what you think of me.
Also never intended to start a stink here .
You got me to stop taping interior fillets on wee boats! :)


09-08-2017, 05:07 PM
I love seein the way you do things Bruce. Ya mon ��

09-09-2017, 08:18 PM
I'll add that Bruce is an accomplished artist, cruiser, and boatbuilder. Not a bad record.