Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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gybing a big gaffer
To begin with a gaff rigged sloop or cutter that big was never intended to be sailed by a crew that small. These boats took very large crews to manhandle them, especially in a breeze. Modern boats this size get by with small crews due to smaller more efficient sail plans and a whole lot of moderately high tech mechanical equipment (motorized winches, roller furling, hydraulic vangs and backstays, etc)
While I have never sailed a gaffer that big, in thinking about it, it may be possible to jibe one with a crew of two, but it would take a while to do, especially in any kind of breeze. If I had to jibe one with a crew of two, I would have one person on the helm (I would not count on the autopilot as autopilots are notoriously useless dead down wind)
The second person would start with trimming the headsails, and starting forward and working their way aft, hobble each one. (This is an old term so you may not be familiar with the term, but to ''Hobble'' is to set both sheets so that they are roughly of equal length and the clew of the sail is centered in the boat.)
Once the headsails are hobbled, I would bring the mainsail in until the boom is inboard of the leeward runner. I would not center the boom yet as that would invite a premature jibe. I would tie off the sheet in that position. I would then set up the then leeward runner for the new tack and make sure that the windward runner is ready to run. At this point the boat is moving quite slowly and should be still pointed pretty much dead downwind.
I would then bring in the mainsheet tightly so that the mainsail was as close to the centerline as the horse or traveller would permit. It is only at that point that I would jibe. I would try to jibe without altering course by simply pushing the boom over onto the other tack, but you may need to head up onto the new tack by a couple degrees because of the twist induced by the gaff. Once the sail has jibed I would ease the new leeward runner, and then working from aft to fore ease the mainsail and each of the jibs onto the new tack. You can come to course once the new leeward runner and mainsail have been eased.
I really dislike Highfield levers, especially on a boat this big. They can really kill someone rather quickly. In the day before winches, typically on boats this size, there would have been a multi-part double-tailed tackle on the runners with one end of the tail led to a cleat and the other end led to a highfield lever. You would make up the runner by pulling in gobs of line (40-50 feet on a boat that size) on the tackle until the tail was as tight as you could get it. Then the highfield lever was thrown to achieve the final tension on the runner.
I have not sailed on big gaff rigged boats on which the runner was disconnected from the tackle or highfield. There was often a retractor line run to the base of the shrouds so that the lee runner could be pulled forward with out beating up the boom when it was released. I don''t know if you are doing an accurate restoration but if it were my boat, I would probably run the runner tails to a winch and use a stopper to lock off the tail.
By the way, which Nicholson are you restoring. I was very familiar with mid-1920''s era Moonbeam and Blue Moon, both of which ended up with Bermuda rigs by the 1970''s. Nicholson was a pioneer in using the Bermuda rig on bigger boats. Blue Moon, like Halloween (nee Cotton Blossom), actually started life with a Bermuda rig, but was converted to a gaff and then converted back to a Bermuda rig.