‘Spinnakers, flying jibs, and what not’

The strangely aimless and liminal pages for October 20 – there are only two – include Carruthers complaining that the Dulcibella simply isn’t going fast enough:

‘Can’t we go any faster?’ I burst out once. I felt that there ought to be a pyramid of gauzy canvas aloft, spinnakers, flying jibs, and what not.

Davies is unimpressed. ‘I don’t go in for speed,’ he says, sniffily. But the outburst from Carruthers got us to thinking: what sails are on the Dulcibella? As we’ve said before, we’re not sailors (if you hadn’t got the message by now), but thankfully many of our Adventure Club members are, and they’ve helped out a good deal with this post.

It’s worth saying at this point that there is no single point in the book where a complete description of Dulcibella’s sail complement is given us. I found this odd, until Tim NotCarruthers pointed out that he, and not me (NotDavies), is the book’s narrator. And, frankly, despite his little outburst here, Charles Carruthers does not care a fig for sails.

All we have to rely on are clues, sprinkled throughout the book – one-line descriptions of a particular sail, given in an offhand way. There are around 20 of these before October 20th – I know, I counted them. And adding them up can give a good idea of what the rigging would have looked like.

First of all, let us start with something magnificent – the painting by Martyn Mackrill of the Dulcibella at sea, which we unveiled at our screening of Riddle of the Sands back in the summer. Here it is, and we think it’s rather glorious – you can click on the image to see it in all it glory.


In Martyn’s image, you’ll note that the Dulcibella has two masts – a main-mast, and a mizzen. And apologies here – I said in the podcast that there wasn’t a mizzen in the picture, and there clearly is! So this shows the Dulcibella after the additions Davies had made in the Baltic. She also has two foresails. And finally, she’s gaff-rigged – which is where we turn to another club member, the always-reliable Tony Fuell, who explained this stuff to us in a series of comments on our 18th podcast. They’re worth repeating in full – here’s his ‘introduction to sails for non-sailors’:

At the time of the story, Duclibella was configured as a yawl, a small yacht with two masts – main mast and mizzen. Her sails would have been basically of three types:-

1. Foresails – hanked on to, and hoisted up the forestay to the mainmast by the jib halliard. It would be usual, in the days before roller furling became common, to carry several foresails of different sizes allowing one to be chosen to suit the conditions: the stronger the wind, the smaller the sail.

2. A mainsail would be hoisted behind the mainmast, and attached to the mast itself either by a bolt-rope running in a groove up the mast, or by hanks of rope. The sail would be held out by the boom and attached to it by an out-haul. Reefing points in the sail would enable the sail’s size to be varied to suit the conditions, but there would only be one mainsail. A point not really made clear in the book is whether the mainsail was hoisted with a gaff or not. A gaff rig has a rigid pole (the gaff) holding out the top of the sail. This type of rig was common at the time of the book, but due to the fact that it is more difficult to handle, the Bermudan rig, where the sail goes to the top of the mast without a gaff has become the most common. If a gaff rig is fitted, another sail, the gaff topsail, could be hoisted to fill in the inverted triangle formed by the end of the gaff and the top of the main mast.

3. The mizzen sail. normally there would only be one of these, quite a small sail, flown on a small mast set aft in the boat. If the wind became too strong, it would be hauled down and stowed on its boom.

Other sails: apart from the gaff topsail, if she had a gaff, I don’t think it likely that Dulcibella would have had many other sails. A spinnaker was mentioned, which is a big balloon sail, flown from the top of the mainmast in front of the boat and attached by two ropes to points near the stern. The windward side of a spi is usually held out by a small boom attached to the mast. A very complicated thing to set up and manage, only used when going downwind.

It was at this point that Jersey City Frankie, another regular Adventure Club member, interjected with his discovery of this illustration of the Dulcibella, taken from the film version of Riddle of the Sands:

Dulcibella from Riddle of the Sands, from Fotolibra. Available for purchase here.
Dulcibella from Riddle of the Sands, from Fotolibra. Available for purchase here.

When we showed Tony this, here was his response:

The Dulcibella illustration shows a gaff-rigged yawl, right in keeping with how I imagined her. It is showing her with what must be pretty much her full complement of sails set.

From the front of the boat, she has two foresails set, an outer jib and an inner, a gaff-rigged mainsail, a gaff topsail and a mizzen sail. I would assume he probably also has a smaller jib and a (storm) jib made of heavy canvas stowed somewhere.

I don’t see Davis, who is a practical seaman, having any use for racing frivolities such as a spinnaker. The cost and complexity of the sail and its gear, the room it would take up and the infrequent occasions on which he could set it would rule it out, I’m sure.

He would run the gear as shown in light winds. In anything more of a blow, he would first take down the topsail, then the inner jib, then the mizzen. As the wind increased, he would reef down the mainsail and set a smaller jib, if he had one. In a real blow, he would use his storm jib with the main reefed right down or stowed completely. With this rig, and the small size of the individual sails, he has a lot of options to enable him to stay at sea in rough conditions. But handling all the gear is much easier if he has a crew, the reason he asked Carruthers along!

So there we have it – the definitive, never-before-on-the-Internet description of the Dulcibella’s sail complement. An amazing effort from Tony, Martyn and Frankie – thank you chaps!

You can find out more about marine artist Martyn Mackrill at his website.


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