PAM SAYS: My Home Made Staysail


I was just thinking about selling my ancient, but hardy and working perfectly, Read’s Sailmaker Hand Crank sewing machine that I bought in England in 1972! That little tough machine did so many repairs, for our sails and others sails, made a myriad of canvas covers, envelopes for tools, lee cloths for our bunks, curtains, water catchers, and also my biggest accomplishment attributing all its success to the Read’s Sailmaker Hand Crank Sewing machine, was an 8 oz heavy duty storm staysail!

I never thought I could actually sew a sail from scratch, but with Andy’s help, and encouragement, and drawings, and laying out the new sail, I was able to sew it up, quadruple stitching I may add, on that mighty little sewing machine.

That small sail is still being used to this day, born in 1976 and still going strong today!  When in use it is hanked on to a removable inner forestay that is only used in heavy weather when we do not want to use our lighter weight roller furling genoa.

After I finished stitching up the entire sail, Andy did all the handwork sewing in the luff rope, the grommet eyes, the head, tack, and clew cringles etc.  And then we laid out the sail and drew with a pencil where we wanted to put the reefing points along with the heavy reefing tack and clew holes.  I guess we flaked it up and set it aside to put those necessary rings at another time.

sewingmachineFour years later,  1976 when our little girl Sammy was only 3 years old, we cruised in KANDARIK up in Maine and then sailed on to New Brunswick, Canada to go up the Reversing Falls of the Kennebecasis River. That will be another story!  On our way back down to Maine from St. Johns, New Brunswick, we sailed into an unpredicted bad weather pattern.

Instead of having the following wind and seas and nice weather, it quickly became apparent that we had strong  Southwesterly winds, right on the nose, and difficult to believe with such strong wind, we had pea soup fog.  Now keep in mind we had no electronic navigation in those days.  It was strictly Dead Reckoning, and with no radar it was strictly what you see with your eyes and what you hear with your ears.

We had the Wolf Islands  to our port and ledges to our starboard. Zero visibility and 25 to 35 knots of wind right bow.  We were having to tack down this channel with no visibility, no radar, no GPS or Loran, with our little girl down below snug in her bunk.  When the apparent wind starting going over 28 knots we put on the small staysail that I had made!!!  And when the wind came over 30 knots, Andy crawled up to the foredeck, chilling spray encompassing his entire body, wind howling in the rigging, me at the helm getting ready to tack if we detected anything dangerous!  Andy took a long time crawling up there to reef our already tiny staysail.  But when he came back to the cockpit, totally soaked, he had not set the reef in the staysail.

I shouted, “What happened?”  He looked sheepishly at me and said in his Australian voice, “We bloody well forgot to put the reefing points in! All I found were pencil circles!”  So much for making our sails, so much for being prepared, so much for making our own sail!!!!

Just to finish this story, after hours and hours of tacking in really miserable sea conditions, where the little staysail remained up but without any reefs, constantly peering through the fog for the possible Wolves Islands or ledges, and really cold and wet, and talking on the VHF to DAWN PIPER who was out there, somewhere near us, heading in the same direction and commiserating as often as we could on the radio, a miracle happened!

All of a sudden the fog scaled up, the wind moderated, and as the sun was setting there, right smack dab in front of us, was the RED CROSS on the Head Harbor Lighthouse welcoming us to the lovely protection of a beautiful harbor on Campobello Island.  How we ever got right where we wanted to be was a miracle, and of course Andy’s great navigation skills!  I am sure many of you know that wonderful feeling of relief after a difficult and uncomfortable day at sea.