As age makes its inevitable changes to the sailor’s once supple joints, certain positions that were once assumed without thought become uncomfortable, if not actually painful. When I was younger and singlehanding, my favorite place to sit was on the floorboards with my back against the side planking. If conditions are right, it’s hard to beat this position for comfort and a sense of being one with the boat. This position only works going to windward in a moderate breeze or on a reach in more boisterous conditions. As the wind dies or the boat heads downwind, it is necessary to scooch toward the boat’s centerline to maintain proper trim. Here the posture is nowhere near as comfortable. Tacking while sitting on the boat’s bottom brings out the grunts and groans.
The thwarts and stern sheets of my own rowing-and-sailing skiff are placed, as they need to be, for the best trim with varying numbers of crew. The center thwart is the rowing position for one person in the boat. The forward thwart is placed where the oarsman will balance a passenger at the stern. Either thwart can be used for rowing with two passengers.
The middle and aft seating positions are usually not ideal for sailing. Few small, light boats sail well with the helmsman sitting in the stern sheets: The transom drags and lateral resistance moves aft, upsetting the balance of sails and hull. Keeping the helmsman’s weight near center of the boat to preserve fore-and-aft trim for light air requires that he sit on the middle thwart. In a boat over 10′ long, this requires an impractically long tiller.
One solution to the problem is a second board butted aft of the original center thwart that increases the seat’s total width to about 16″. Extending aft from each side of the widened thwart are arc-shaped boards supported by the seat risers and cleats at the added thwart’s after edge. A rower sits on the original seat with thighs extending across the added board. The sailing position is on the new woodwork, closer to the tiller. The skipper can slide around the arc created by the doubled thwart and the sideboards to a nearly ideal position either for light air or for going to windward in a breeze, and come about, without having to rise from the seat or pass by the tiller.
The sheet on most boats this size leads from a point on the boom either directly above or somewhat aft of the sailing position, so facing aft when coming about makes handling the sheet and tiller smoother. Tacking thus becomes an easy slide around the arc of seating with no crouching or pirouetting required.
When two people are aboard, the forward thwart is often a wet place when sailing to windward. Balance is best achieved when both people sit on the center thwart. The doubled thwart with its wings makes this a comfortable arrangement.
Harry Bryan is a boatbuilder, purveyor of plans, and contributing editor for WoodenBoat magazine.
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