I love rowing, but I’m not so enamored with it that I don’t think of raising a sail when I feel a breeze coming over the transom. While my Whitehall has a spritsail and a rudder, I don’t carry all that gear when I’m out rowing.
Two years ago, I spent an afternoon with the Whitehall, and on the way home a following breeze piped up. I couldn’t ignore it and tried sailing with my cagoule as a sail, one oar as a mast, and the other oar as a rudder. The hood of the cagoule fit over the blade of the oar and, with its draw cord cinched up, it stayed put. A couple of lines tied to the hem served as sheets. The boat briefly surged forward whenever the cagoule caught a puff of wind, but as a sail it wasn’t stable in the wind, and I struggled to keep it open and pulling. I needed a proper sail. I’ve had great success with a squaresail with my other larger boats, but it requires two spars. I decided I needed a spinnaker. It would work with an oar as a mast, and the head of the sail would just need a bag to secure it to an oar blade.
I found a pattern for a simple “M-Class Balloon or Parachute spinnaker” in an article first published in Model Yachting Monthly in June 1945. The pattern just needed to be scaled up for the Whitehall, so I lengthened the pattern from 48″ to 80″ and made it slightly more slender. The instructions in the 1945 article noted: “Make in 3 segments or in 4 if desired.” I planned for four and settled on five segments.
If the boat you row isn’t rigged to sail, a forward thwart just needs a hole to serve as mast partners and floorboards can have a hole or a step screwed in place to secure the oar handle. Alternatively, the forward thwart can have a hole as a step for the oar handle and a partner can bridge the gunwales. If you assign a crew member to mast duty, a backstay will take the pull of the spinnaker.
The next time you’re out rowing and a friendly following breeze pipes up, think of how pleasant it would be to put the oars to use as a mast and a rudder, take a comfortable seat in the stern, and leave the labor to the wind.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly.
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