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Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

Loren R. Borland
Van Nostrand Reinhold Company
New York 1969

There was a real golden age from the 1930s through the 1960s when self-sufficient individuals and couples sailed the world in small boats. As author Borland aptly says, "The days of paid crews have long since vanished," and the days of modern "technological" boats had not come. Eric Hiscock was in the process of codifying the accumulated knowledge of a generation of long-distance sailors, the kind of men (and a few women) capable of splicing a line, turning a belaying pin on a lathe, soldering an electrical connection, or navigating by compass, chart and sextant. The boats, built of wood, could, with the necessary carpentry skills, be modified in any kind of way to make them safer, more comfortable, easier to sail. The introduction of the fiberglass boat was a first step toward deprecation of the old sailorly skills, followed over the ensuing decades by microelectronics, roller furling, global positioning, carbon fibers, inner mast furling, and no doubt other things of which this traditionalist sailor is not yet aware. The modern boat is no doubt safer and more reliable than the one of fifty years ago, but the modern sailor is probably a lot less handy. Can you imagine the proud owner of a new Beneteau standing on the springy foredeck with saw in hand, preparing to cut into it to install a "Combination Mooring Bit and Ventilator", as described by Mr. Loren on page 53 of his late 1960s tome? Or perhaps, hand-building some blocks to save the expense of buying them at West Marine?

Shipshape and Bristol Fashion is a collection of 65 short articles on projects to improve a boat. The march of time has obsoleted a few of them. Very few will wish to build a Transistor Power Converter for 110 Volts. On the other hand, a Tricing Line for Jibs looks like a worthwhile modification for cutter rigs, even ones with roller furling. Tacking a cutter often involves either rolling in the jib and then unrolling it on the opposite tack, or going forward to feed the jib through the slot between the jibstay and forestay. Borland's setup allows for a line led back to the cockpit to pull the jib through. Some of the projects in the book seem more amusing than practical - for example, rigging a button in the cockpit that sets off a buzzer next to the skipper's head when he is asleep in his berth - but others make eminent sense - like putting a master switch in the cockpit so that the helmsman or watch can extinguish all lights, running, interior or deck - to momentarilly remove all ambient light when trying to make out a distant signal, or identify something in the water. All the projects are interesting and some are ingenious, like the one for making a waterproof battery cover out of an inverted dishpan. Air pressure keeps water out, even if the whole compartment is submerged. As Borland points out, "With a battery installation such as this, one can start and operate an electric bilge pump with two or three feet of water above the battery, and this could well turn the tide if one were in trouble."

A project that I am considering is replacing my jib sheets, and Borland has an interesting take on the proper way to attach the sheets to the sail. To make the toggle and becket attachment, the rope work requires an eye splice, a side splice, a Matthew Walker knot and a whip finish. All of these are easy to learn. Here is the section entitled "Toggle and becket for headsail sheet fastening."

Snap shackles, especially in the larger sizes, are expensive items. They require frequent oiling if they are to work well, and they are not infallible by any means. I have had two of them, carrying the stamp of a leading manufacturer and of more than adequate size, break within a week of my having bought them--in both cases due to an obvious internal defect in the metal. They are hard and heavy, and their lethal potentialities on the clew of a flogging headsail are well appreciated by experienced yachtsmen.

In spite of drawbacks, I had accepted the snap shackle as an indisensable item for headsail sheets until I saw these toggle and becket fastenings made up by Joe and Mary Cronk for their lovely ketch, Jane Louise. They are easy to make, light in weight, very positive in their function, and quick and easy to release. They are also fun to make and never fail to elicit favorable comments from visitors aboard.

The basic secret of this fitting consists of selecting sheets of such a diameter that, when they are doubled, the bight can just be passed through the clew cringle. If the line is too large, the sheets will be difficult to attach, and if it is too small, they will tend to jam and be difficult to release. If your present sheets are good and not of the correct size to fit your cringles, splice a pendant into the clew of your headsails and end it in a hard eye of the proper size made around a sail thimble. This pendant need be only long enough for the splices.

To make the fastening, middle the sheet and side-splice it to a short length of line of the same diameter as the sheet itself (Figure 12a). Now put a racking seizing around the two parts of the sheet leaving a soft eye some four or five inches long beyond the seizing, Serve over the seizing and the side splice as shown in Figure 12b.

Four or five inches beyond the end of the soft eye, tie a Matthew Wallker knot in the short length of line. Lay up the line for four or five inches beyond the Matthew Walker, whip it at this point, and cut it off.

To use this arrangement, squeeze the soft eye in your hand until you can pass it through the cringle. Open the eye beyond the cringle, and pass the short line through it, pulling the Matthew Walker through the eye. Pull hard enough on the sheets to remove the slack in the eye. The sheets are now securely attached to the sail, since the eye plus the line forming the toggle add up to more bulk than will pass through the crinlgle (Figure 12c). The fastening can easily be release, however, by pulling on the tail beyond the Matthew Walker to gain a little slack, and then slipping the toggle out of the becket.

This same fitting should work equally well for halyards, and can be use with braided sheets as wll as with laid sheets. Since there is no strain at all on the side splice shown in the drawing, a seizing will serve just as well. Th easiest way to secure the toggle, when using braided stuff, is to sew it to one side of the bight of the sheets with sail twine, and then proceed to seize and serve the eye. course, with braided line you cannot use the Matthew Walker for the stopper knot, but a figure-of-eight will do just as well.

Toggles and beckets, of this type or with the conventional wooden toggle, can be used to advantage in many places on a cruising boat. Tack pendants and downhauls, boom preventers, halyrds, topping lifts--almost any application where snap shackles are ordinarily used. Thy are quiet, reliable, require little or no maintenance other occasional examination for chafe, and you won’t be maimed if you get hit by them.

I like this kind of thing, and there is plenty more in the book. A sail bag lanyard will keep your sail bag from blowing away after the sail is out of it. "One-shot" containers for outboard motor fuel reduce gas spills. A boom preventer safeguards against accidental jibes. Even in the modern world there are many things the sailor can do to make his boat safer and more comfortable.

Shipshape and Bristol Fashion is long out of print, but copies can be found at the usual outlets for little more than the cost of shipping. For any sailor with a bent for handiwork, or just an interest in the grand old age of small boat cruising, this book will make a fine addition to the library. Put it up there next to Hiscock and Pardey.

Reviewed by Paul M. Clayton