Finding Beauty in a Junk - SailNet Community
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Finding Beauty in a Junk

Some 18 months after its inception in a garage, the author's 34-foot junk-rigged schooner sits perfectly on her lines, ready to stretch her wings.
When we first decided to build a boat, we went to the library to do some research and to consider the questions of boatbuilding and boatdesign quite carefully. We knew we wanted to build in wood. We knew we wanted a large, comfortable cabin for long-term cruising. And after reading Practical Junk Rig by H.G. "Blondie" Hasler & J.K. McLeod, and Voyaging on a Small Income by Annie Hill, we were convinced that the junk-rig was the good-looking, practical, easy-to-sail boat that we had always sought.

So, 18 months later, we ended up with Moondancer, a 34-foot junk-rigged schooner. She has an 11-foot beam, and draws only four feet. We built the entire boat ourselves, based on a design by naval architect Jay Benford. Her hull consists of two layers of 3/8-inch marine plywood sheathed with Dynel cloth set in epoxy resin. In fact, Moondancer is a sistership to Badger, the boat that Pete and Annie Hill have sailed for 80,000 miles over the last decade.

Now, no matter where we go, we're bound to receive a few good-natured questions or comments about our boat; questions that range from "What kind of boat is that?" to "That's a unique boat. It looks like it dropped out of the belly of a whale." At this point in the conversation, people usually want to know one specific thing: What is a junk rig?

Junk-rigged refers to the shape and design of a boat's sails. Most manufactured sailboats are Bermuda-rigged. These boats have the familiar triangular mainsail and jib. A junk-rigged sail opens more like a fan. On our boat, we have four to five rectangular panels sewn together with two triangular panels at the top of the sail. The panels keep their shape with the help of battens, which in the case of a junk rig almost always run the full length of the sail. These, of course, give the sail its rigidity.

Junk sails may be the easiest design available for the novice sailmaker because they are sewn completely flat. We sewed the sails for Moondancer ourselves, simply tracing the design out on the flat roof of our house, then cutting the sailcloth to the lines on the roof. We taped, then sewed the panels together. We finished the sails by adding metal grommets to create holes where we could lace the battens to the sail.

With a small portion of the sail extending forward of the mast, the junk rig is balanced and therefore jibes in more gentle manner.
The masts of a conventional junk-rig are unstayed. They are also simple and don't require spreaders, which allows us to let the sails out as far as we want without worrying about a spreader chafing against the sails.

On the boat, we can raise the sails, tack, jibe, and reef from the cockpit. To raise the sails, we wrap the halyard around a winch in the cockpit and grind. The foresail has only one set of sheets, so it is self-tacking. And, wiith a portion of the sail extending forward of the masts, the sails are nicely balanced so they jibe in a gentle, controlled manner.

To reef, we don't need to go to the foredeck; we just lower a panel of the sail by lowering the halyard. We find that the rigid battens keep the sail controlled, so there's no need for reefing lines or ties. This system also gives us six reefs on the foresail and seven on the main, so there's a wide range of adjustability. For two people interested in long-term cruising, the thought of not having to go forward in inclement weather gives us a great deal of confidence and peace of mind.

Why did we decide to build a junk-rigged vessel? Aside from the simplicity of sailing, we built this particular boat because we fell in love with her lines. We decided that if we were going to take a few years off to build a boat, it had to be something unique and beautiful. Although we had seen pictures of the Chinese junk-rigs that have sailed around Hong Kong's harbor and many other places in the Orient for hundreds of years, it never occurred to us that we would build a similar boat.

Simply lowering the sail from the cockpit puts Moondancer in its heavy-weather configuration, and the heavy, full-length battens make reefing lines and ties unnecessary.
So, how does our boat sail? We absolutely love the way Moondancer sails on a beam reach or deeper. When the wind comes over the stern and we let the sails out on either side, people onshore smile, wave, and take pictures. At times like that, I swell with pride. Surely there is nothing more beautiful than a junk running wing-and-wing.

However, with the good comes the bad. Junk-rigs, as a rule, can't point as high as Bermuda-rigged sloops. Moondancer is no exception. She really doesn't like to sail upwind. As sailors, we discovered a long time ago that we don't like to beat too hard upwind either. Thus, we share a kinship with our boat. Twenty knots of wind at our back is the ideal condition for all of us.

Standing the Test of Time

One of the strongest and most vocal proponents of the junk rig is Robin Blain, the current Secretary of the Junk Rig Association based in the UK. Blain says that this rig configuration was developed 2,000 years ago by Chinese mariners and has only gotten better with time. He refutes the criticism that a junk rig can't sail to windward. The junk's only limitation on windward ability, says Blain, is imposed by the boat's hull shape. He says that junk-rigged racing boats have been proven to sail within 35 degrees of the wind. Another beauty of the junk rig, claims Blain, is that unlike Bermudian rigs, these sails are so efficient that they don't have to be tended as closely.

Blain claims that the efficiency of the junk rig also has other advantages: The sails needn't be made of high-tech materials, and compared to Bermuda rigs, these are the most quiet sails available because they don't slat and snap against the rigging; there isn't any rigging. For additional information on the Junk Rig Association, contact Blain at:

Junk Rig And Advanced Cruising Rig Association
373 Hunts Pond Road
Hants PO14 4PB
phone 44 01329 842613.

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