shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Tarp Riding Sail

October 22, 2012

The proud captain and his success

The problem: some boats, especially sharpies, tend to yaw at anchor. We had lived on Walküre for three months and had had enough. In high winds, she yawed so much that if you were on deck you risked going overboard. Several times I had been knocked off my feet in the cabin when she snatched up hard on the end of her mooring pendant as the bow fell off. The motion was reminiscent of Eurisko's dragging warning. For over a decade our bodies have responded to that much motion in the bow as, "Oh crap! We're dragging!" Now, it was an everyday occurrence. Actually, it was an every three minute occurrence. We had read and were mostly convinced that a riding sail would ease the motion. A small amount of sail area raised as far aft as possible (in this case, off the mizzen mast) should keep a constant pressure on the mooring line, pulling Walküre backwards just enough to dampen her yaw. But we couldn't attempt the experiment because the mizzen was lowered so that I could varnish it, the last of the spars to be finished. After applying two gallons of varnish in five months, Walküre's brightwork was dazzling and the mizzen was raised. The next day, we debated how to build our riding sail.

Duct tape reinforcement

We are not opposed to spending money or to "doing things right." On the contrary, we firmly believe that doing it correctly once prevents you from having to do it again. But in this case, and in most circumstances when we are simply testing a theory rather than repairing something structural, we were willing to try the cheapest, quickest method to see if a riding sail would even work. With what we had on hand (an old 6' by 8' tarp) we built a prototype. Dave cut it in half diagonally, keeping the grommets on the corners of the bigger half. We raised this tiny blue sail from our mizzen, attaching only the three corners. We backfilled the sail just a touch and instantly Walküre's motion improved. In 10 to 12 knots of wind she was laying with her bow just off to starboard of the mooring ball. And she stayed there. For one glorious day and night she was still for the first time since we had launched her. But unlike some of Dave's prototypes that last for several years, this one was not usable after the first day. In order to get the leach tight enough for it to not sound like we had a flogging blue tarp on our rig, we had to tighten the lines until the old sunburnt tarp started to disintegrate. Time to build a real one.

Preparing for grommets

We priced sail cloth, debated building it out of Sunbrella (but it stretches too much and the sail would soon have a belly in it) and finally decided that a blue tarp was the best way to go. $6 at Home Depot, cut the tarp in half again, but this time we duct taped the luff. One piece on either side and then one that wrapped around the edge. We built duct tape equivalents of nylon webbing through the head and tack to spread the load. Next, we installed three extra grommets along the luff so that we could pull it in close to the mast without putting unnecessary pressure on the tack and head. We laced the blue tarp sail on the mizzen using Phil Bolger's lacing system, which also helps spread the load. We raised it, backfilled it as we had with the prototype and even in 5 knots, she calmed down instantly. We left the riding sail raised day and night through all wind speeds (up to 25 knot squalls) and even though it is right over our heads in the aft cabin, it was so silent we never heard it.


We are not naive enough to think that this tarp sail will last forever. But if it lasts us a month is will be cheaper than any other material we could have built it out of. It was inexpensive and quick to build, is quiet and easy enough to replace, and makes Walküre a much nicer place to live.

A $6 riding sail

MONDAY we'll share some of our favorite books. You know they're good if they made the Eurisko to Walküre move where our book storage space is less than a quarter of what we've had for years. Some of them may become your favorites, too.

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