Clam Girl's Cat Rig

~~~ Hoops & "easy drop"

Previously published in SCA November 2017

Home is where the cat is. In October, after flying out West to see son Dural in Colorado and son Huff in New Mexico, I drove the black, sun-baked 2000 Corolla back to Cedar Key from the airport in Gainesville, Florida.

Fuzzknuckle, the cat, with Joseph Conrad Tales Big Fuzzknuckle would be waiting; I was 95% sure. Reports said he'd appeared daily to be fed on the twelve foot high deck. He'd been living up there in the screened porch, the door propped open his whiskers' width.

As I got out of the car -relief- the corroded Toyota had made it, and I heard Fuzzknuck's happy-hungry meows from the dark above.

His little boat yard has cat rigged dinghies and canoes, but no catboats or catamarans.

In 2018, though, for the Clam Girl prototype, I'm expecting another cat rig with a 21st century shape. It's for pleasure sailing, for doddering journeyers, rather than jazzed up competitors. The goal is the 'cat's pajamas' of cat rigs.

Clam Girl's prospective sail has a fat-head profile like today's big race boats, or Meade Gougeon's last Everglades Challenger. But Clam Girl's mast will be freestanding; the sail attached with hoops. We want the fat-head's advantage of controllable force on a moderate height mast, but with friendlier gear, and reefing developed by successful EC sailing canoeists, Meade and Goke Tomlinson.

Besides learners and old salts sniffing roses, Clam Girl and her rig are for non-racing racers coaxing every molecule of themselves upwind. Racing or not, they still want to climb to windward with a powerful rig. And, we all want to work a fading zephyr into an airless lee, don't we?

Clam Girl was drawn for shallows and "journey sailing" - wherein the experiences of the ride are as important as the destination. So, ultimate speed doesn't matter much. Besides, sailors know speed is relative. If one's sailing area is small, a short boat can prolong the journey from A to B. A 12 knot multihull steals two thirds of a 4 knotter's journey time.

For dodderers, ease of use is crucial. The big, efficient sail must slide up and down slickly without being straight head-to-wind. The sailcloth's "hand," that tactile quality encouraging handling, should be more like the cotton in jeans, rather than crinkly plastic.

I asked Randy Smyth, can "gaff batten" compression released to easily lower the sail? Sure, he said, "Easy drop head."

Ford Motor Company's rebates flipped my determination to buy a year or two old car. I traded the disintegrating Corolla for a white 2017 Focus.

A roundtrip to St Pete was most of its first two hundred miles. Bill Wright introduced Simon Lewandowski and me to sailmaker Tom Barry. Barry is an inventive fellow, experienced with modern fat-head rigs. "Yes," he said. "'Easy drop.' Several ways."

Simon and I visited JF Bedard's shop and watched his NC router cutting stations for a 26 foot power boat. A thirteen foot new-design garvey was getting its stitch-holes filled.

Driving back to Cedar Key, I compared a car of 2017 to 2000, and back to pre-World War Two. Egads! The Focus bristles with sensors, gets 36 miles per gallon, and would answer a smart phone if I had one.

For an adult, sailing Clam Girl should be no more trouble than driving a rented car from an airport, like the red Focus in Denver, adjusting mirrors leaving the rental lot. Karen and I didn't need to rent a race car; just a sound, practical vehicle. "Easy as using a toaster" is the phrase I like.

Sheet, halyard, downhaul, vang, and outhaul should be comfortable to operate and easy to grip. Aged people know that small, round and smooth buttons are increasingly frustrating, and large ones -especially with texture- are easier the bigger they get. Same for lines. Their hand is important, too.

Clam Girl's rig, with its size and efficiency, should have enough power to overcome slight increases in drag. The iconoclastic hoops can reduce friction when setting and striking, but, they aren't as aerodynamically clean as some racing methods of attaching the sail.

Penny, the eleven foot Penguin one-design dinghy is in Fuzz's territory. She's shapely and useful with a pivoting centerboard and kickup rudder. But, her stayed cat rig is from the 1930s.

The weekend before Thanksgiving a couple dozen sailors met again in Cedar Key. JF brought the thirteen foot garvey "Sponge Docks Skiff," and Simon and I ballasted her for her first ride.

In Florida in 2007, the three of us loaded our canoes on the thirty-two foot Gougmaran, Meade's efficient power catamaran. On a whim, both had bought fishing rods and reels before we left. We motored leisurely and unobtrusively over 200 miles from mid-Florida south to the everglades, but too fast for trolling for fish.

JF Bedard and Simon Lewandowski working on the Clam Girl design Old friends recalled and toasted Meade. He had said JF might be able to help with Clam Girl. JF and Simon brought their computers, and worked on her with their astonishing software. The image is the result - the cat's meow.

~ HH

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