We Heart our Studding Sails!
Posted by Tall Ships America on July 23, 2010
July 20, 2010, 2345 – 45.32.7’N x 83.36.6’W
The second Great Lakes United TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE® Race, from Gravely Shoal to Drummond Island has become as much a race against time as against our fellow tall ships. The finish line now lies a mere twenty-two miles ahead of us, yet we have but four hours to cross that distance. The entrance of the St. Mary’s River is ahead and we need to be there by 0400 to enter with the current. We may be making five knots now, but if we turn on our engine for speed then we forfeit this race altogether!
This race is relatively short, only about 120 miles in its totality, but light and fickle winds have forced us to fight for ground. All plain sail is set aloft and our studding sails have been exercised vigorously. It would be unfortunate to drop out of the race this late in the game, especially since our competitor in our class, Roald Amundsen, has become a small smudge on the horizon beyond our stern.
This was not always so. The beginning of the race, on the afternoon of the 19th, saw the Europa and Roald Amundsen throwing canvas aloft to snatch the barely-present winds, both grasping for ground to push ahead and cut off the wind of the other. Captain Vos tells me that in light winds our two square riggers are fairly evenly matched – I believe it! At one point it looked to me like the Amundsen was gaining ground on us…then they tacked, putting themselves windward of us, perhaps in an attempt to block our wind. It was futile however, as our crew was hastily put up our studding sails, maximizing canvas aloft. With studding sails being set, the Amundsen found her speed dragging behind us at half a knot, while the Europa slowly accelerated beyond Amundsen‘s reach. Without studding sails herself, the Germans could do nothing but watch us nearly disappear over the horizon in front of them.
Our studding sails are a solid advantage for Europa over most of the other ships in these races. With all six of them set we can just about double the canvas area of a mast – allowing us to put up an impressive amount of sail to fill with light winds. If set on both sides of our foremast as we run downwind, they make our ship look as if she has sprouted great wings of white. Positively majestic! With the help of our studding sails, I was able to wake up this morning and had trouble spotting the Amundsen far astern. She now trails us by 8.2 miles.
A highlighted aspect of the ASTA TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE® races is to push ship crews and trainees to compete against one another in order to build up their teamwork skills. I think our studding sail setting should be the poster child of this goal. The amount of coordinated effort that is involved in setting them (especially when you see another ship gaining on your stern) is considerable! Hands are aloft, shipping out booms, sending down halyards and rigging sheets. Line leads are improvised as we run out of pins to make fast our lines while eager hands unfurl them from their bags. When ready the studding sails are hauled aloft on one or more halyards, sheets are tensioned to keep the lower boom (an extra wooden spar to provide “framework” for the sail) and sail going aloft steady – like a kite they are hung aloft and held at a trimmed angle by two sheets. It is difficult to describe, but today I took a video of them being set from aloft – I will see if I can get it on this blog to illustrate my point.
The teamwork involved in setting them is only heightened when they all need to be taken in quickly because of an impending storm – such a situation happened this afternoon, as our once-sunny horizon turned gray and dark. An excellent watch leader, Daniel Baxter, gave good direction as eager, helping hands among our crew and trainees eased halyards and sheets and hauled on clews to bring the corners up, then lines are dis-attached and hands aloft bring in the naked booms left sticking out. All done quickly! We have sent our studding sails up and down several times in the past two days and I can already see our crew getting better with all this practice.
Rain has drenched our deck this afternoon and lightning can be seen on the nearby shore. Yet it seems we have avoided most of that trouble. Now… if only we could be graced with just enough wind to finish the race and hopefully receive some recognition for the hard work of this crew!
By Matthew Maples