Monday, June 12, 2006

One Design Chutzpah

We were at my son's end-of-year Montessori school picnic in Wilton, CT yesterday. Brilliant afternoon, unseasonably cool, sunny and breezy. The perfect mix for the type of day on the water you might enjoy around here in late September. During the picnic I was catching up with fellow sailor & Montessori father Geoffrey Morris...he's a writer as well and we were talking about various topics I cover on Zephyr. He mentioned a class of boat (the sandbagger) I'd never heard of so I went to Google this morning and dug up link to all things sandbagger. A nod to Geoffrey for the tip - my research proved to be an interesting history lesson in one design chutzpah.

As this article will tell you, sandbaggers were 19th century working-men’s boats. They evolved from the shoal-draft sloops that once worked the rich oyster grounds off Staten Island in the shallows of New York Bay. Invariably when the boats got together, boatmen raced-casually, informally, and without rules.

In the 1870’s racing was centered on New York Bay and Hudson. Development, loss of anchorages, and explosive commercial waterfront growth gradually drove these fleets east to Long Island sound, with Manhasset, Larchment, Bridgeport, Norwalk, and New Rochelle all holding races. Sandbaggers were found on LI Sound, east to Boston, down to the Delaware, on the Great Lakes around Erie, and in Southern cities like New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah. Besides its plumb stem and stern and its jib-and-mainsail rig, the classic bag-wagon had a bowsprit two-thirds the boat’s length and ladder-like stern outrigger aft, creating a low, long rig measuring some 70’ for a 27’ boat.

You heard right - a rig of 70' for a 27' foot boat!

The rig created enormous leverage, easily overpowering the rudder. Handling the jib sheet correctly meant the difference between sailing and swimming on a gusty day. Slacking the jib reduced heeling almost as much as slacking the main. And it could be accomplished more quickly because there were fewer blocks in the system. More important, letting the jib luff forced the boat to turn into the wind and spill the wind from its mainsail. If the main was slacked without slacking the jib, the boat would bear off and the situation got worse.

I'll follow-up tommorow with more on the sandbagger as it relates to more modern times.


Allen said...

As you may know, Mystic Seaport has had a sandbagger on display for many years. She has recently gone through a major restoration and is now displayed in the water. I believe that she was sailed recently.

Zephyr said...

Thanks Allen - I'll check it out when I'm up there this summer!

hold fast said...

As "extreme" as many of today's racers are considered, it's always fascinating to see how many equally-extreme boats of yesteryear have been forgotten. i've long been intrigued by these boats... Sandbaggers, Cheasapeake Bay Log Canoes, and even more unknown, the silly over-rigged Island Sloops hereabouts; local racing rules allow the boats to finish with less crew than they start with, so sailors can be seen jumping overboard at the end of the last windward leg...