Monday, 18 September 2017

Sailing in Hebridee II

When done well, museums bring history to life for visitors. Working museums, such as the various working farm museums, sawmills, and blacksmith shops around the province, add live action and interactive elements, where action replace the words on an information plaque. My interests in boats and boat building aside, the opportunity to not only see a traditional Nova Scotian boat being built (or in this case rebuilt), but to actually see the end product sailing around the harbour - and if you're really lucky, to be able to join the boat for a sail - is a real privilege.

Hebridee II heading out into Halifax Harbour under sail.
I'm been following the progress of reconstructing the schooner Hebridee II at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on the Halifax waterfront for some time, and she has been the subject of this blog before:

Reconstruction of schooner Hebridee II


In addition, all of these photos, and more, can be found in my Hebridee II gallery on Smugmug.

After the rechristening and relaunching, I was told by builder Eamonn Doorly that I should invite myself out for a sail at some point. It took me a while to find the time, but with the hurricane and boat hauling seasons upon us, I decided to take him up on the offer. I was instructed to meet up on the waterfront next to her berth at noon on Friday. We left the wharf in calm conditions under the power of Hebridee's electric motor, and went looking for some wind, which we found beyond George's Island. 

It was a four cruise ship day in Halifax. 
After raising the sails, the electric motor was shut down, and off we sailed. The wind started out light, but gained strength throughout the afternoon, and of course gave us some of our most exciting moments just before we were due to lower the sails. 

Soon after we put up the sails, we crossed wakes with the auto carrier Guangzhou Highway - and what a wake it was!

Approaching Guangzhou Highway.
The auto carrier had just pulled out of the Autoport in Eastern Passage, and was making a hard turn to port in order to round McNab's Island and head out to sea again. 

A rare view of an auto carrier (for me, anyway) taken low to the water and with nothing but the ocean's horizon beyond.

Guangzhou Highway's hard turn to port left significant turbulence in her wake.

Hebridee II crossing the boundary of Guangzhou Highway's wake and the tail eddies left by her propeller wash.
At this point, we temporarily lost steerage in all the turbulence, and marveled at the effects of the prop wash on the surface of the harbour. Small whirlpools passed along our port site.

A small whirlpool from the ship's prop wash.
Eamonn made his crew work for our passage, and our participation made the sail that much more enjoyable. Under his watchful eye, we took turns on the helm, raising and lowering sails, and trimming sheets. I managed two turns on the helm myself, and probably had a stupid grin on my face the entire time.

Looking up a schooner's vast mainsail - the boom often overhangs the transom, and requires running backstays to keep the rig from falling forward when going downwind. Unlike the single backstay that I am used to on my boat, running backstays need to be reset after each tack or gybe. The "BJ" at the top of the sail stands for "Bluenose Junior", the name bestowed to Hebridee's class by her designer, William J. Roué. Sailboats usually carry letters or a symbol indicating their class on the mainsail.
Schooners are known for being reluctant to tack (some more than others), and Hebridee is no exception (though this may have been exacerbated by her inexperienced crew). I am used to a smaller sloop rigged boat that is fitted with a tiller and a fin keel, and she turns on the proverbial dime. Hebridee, on the other hand, has a full keel and her rudder is turned with a wheel - the former kills more momentum when she turns, and the latter takes longer to shift the rudder hard over. One trick is to allow the jib to backwind during every tack before hauling in the jib sheet on the new tack, to allow the wind to bring the boat onto the new course quicker - but we were not always effective in doing so, and sometimes Hebridee's bow would take a while to fall off onto her new course. The light winds probably didn't help in this respect.

Eamonn Doorly adjusts the foresail sheet. Sheets are the ropes that pull sails in and out, and they often (as seen here) use blocks to gain a mechanical advantage to make it easier to pull the sail in against the force of the wind. In Hebridee's case, the blocks are from the original schooner and were refurbished for use on the new.
Speaking of the helm, the helmsman (or helmswoman) sits on a seat on top of the worm gear that the wheel is attached to. The wheel itself turns in the opposite direction of where you want the boat to go, which takes some getting used to for anyone who is used to driving a car or, for that matter, boats where the wheel operates normally. I eventually got used to it to a certain extent, but continued to second guess myself everytime I turned the wheel, and made a few mistakes. I did not offer to bring Hebridee alongside the floats at the end of the sail.

The view from the helm, with two of my fellow crew, Aaron and Ray.
When not under sail, Hebridee is powered by an electric motor and a battery. This makes her very quiet under power, and simplifies a number of aspects in her operation and design. No longer does she carry flammable diesel fuel, and the blower normally required to remove explosive fumes from the bilge of vessels powered by internal combustion engines isn't present. The "throttle" for the motor is a simple dial located by the helmsman's right ankle, and one turns it forward to go forward, back to go aft, and it is merely turned to the neutral position when under sail. Power is instantly available when needed by turning the dial in the desired direction. The endurance of Hebridee's batteries isn't known at this point, but Eamonn says he has run the engine for 5 hours and only run down the battery by 10% (although he suspects when the batteries do drop off, they will do it quickly).

Mainsail and boom.
On our way back downwind, we managed to get the fore and main sails "wing on wing" - the foresail was on the port side, and the main was on the starboard. I didn't even know this had a name until that moment.

Sailing "wing on wing". 

A good view of the cockpit from dead aft, with the helmsman at the bottom of the image. We were still "wing on wing" at this point.
I spent some of my time lying flat on my back up at the bow, under the jib, to get some shots of the rig set against the sky. I find this often makes for good photo composition, and I love the curve of the while sails set against the blue sky.

Halifax, and George's Island, make an appearance in the bottom of this image taken as we headed out the harbour. One of the halyards is tied off on the port shroud.

The sails on my boat feed into a track in the aluminum mast. On Hebridee, a rope spirals up the foremast to attach the luff of the sail to the mast. 

The curve of the jib mirrors that of the foresail.

As with the leech of the sail to the mast, the foot of the foresail is attached to the boom with a spiraled rope. The leech and foot of the mainsail, on the other hand, are attached to clips that run in tracks in the mast and boom respectively.

Another shot showing the different attachment methods used for the different sails.


Hebridee II's restoration isn't quite finished, and Eamonn expects to work on her this winter. The turnbuckles that connect the shrouds to the chain plates, for instance, are from the original schooner and grey paint is covering up their true age. She also requires some modern electronics to allow her to sail farther afield than just afternoon sails in Halifax Harbour, and Eamonn hopes to sail her down the South Shore for Chester Race Week and schooner races in 2018.

Hebridee employs polypropylene rope that has been treated to look like traditional hemp rope.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable sail. As Friday afternoons go, I've had much worse.

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