Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1Jul99) This issue will show some ways to reef a sharpie sprit sail on small boats. Next issue, 15Jul99, will start a short series about making a small polytarp sharpie sprit sail for Piccup Pram.




Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.



Last issue I wrote about some of the basics of the sharpie sprit sail. I mentioned that reefing the sail is different from reefing more modern sails because many sharpie sprit sails have no sailtrack and because the snotter tackle that tensions the sail will interfere with any lacing or hoops that might be used instead of sail track. Here are some thoughts about dealing with that problem. I should add that I don't claim to be an expert on the subject but I have had some experiences and will write about them. To my knowledge no one who has decades of experiences with the sharpie sprit has ever writen about them in detail.


vertical reef

Figure 1 shows the basic elements of the olden sharpie sprit rig. One very good book that talks about this subject is Howard Chapelle's AMERICAN SMALL SAILING CRAFT. I think the book is still in print and if should be on the "must buy" list for anyone thinking about a small sailboat. Anyway, the old sharpies used a vertical reefing system as shown above. I'll quote from Chapelle on page 107 of his book:

"The sails appear to have been laced to the masts in the early boats, but by 1880, at least, mast hoops were in use. The sails were hoisted by a single-part halyard, a sheave being usually placed in the masthead within 8" of the truck. The reef band was parallel to the hoist. In early boats the reef was made by a series of brails leading through thimbles on the luff-rope and spliced into a single fall, which permitted reefing without lowering sails. In later boats there were usually two reef bands fitted with reef points and the sails had to be lowered to reef, the points being turned in as the sail was again hoisted. In either plan the sprit tackle was slacked off until the reef was made and then set up; as the reefs were made , the heels of the sprits projected farther forward of the mast..."

Chapelle doesn't mention it but to me it would appear that a system with mast hoops and halyard would require that the sprit tackle be removed before lowing the sail and reattached after raising the sail. None of this could be done quickly and the sail would be in very limited control until the sprit tackle is reattached after raising the sail. The older style rig with the brailing system would not require removal of the sprit tackle (snotter).


Figure2 shows a system I have tried - the vertical reefing system Phil Bolger put on the Birdwatcher. As I recall the original BW plans did not show a reefing scheme but Ron Meuller, who built and tested the prototype, asked for a reefing system after a few sails in rough going. Here is what the sail mod looked like:

vertical reef

It was an add-on that worked to a certain extent. Reefing patches and grommets were added to the original sail which allowed a single line to zigzag from mast head to tack as shown. Placment of the grommets is critical. When the brail line is pulled in down at the tack, the whole reef area is pulled forward to form a bundle near the mast, exactly as with Chapelle's traditional system. But the old system of brail lines leading to thimbles and spliced to a single line was eliminated. Again this system does not require removal of the snotter tackle but does require it to be slacked off and retightened with the sprit projecting farther forward of the mast.

When reefed these sails will all look something like this:

vertical reef

Here is what is good about this system. 1) It is very cheaply made from common stuff. 2)The snotter tackle need not be removed during the reefing operation. 3)The sheet/clew attachment is totally untouched. Items 2 and 3 are extremely valuable in a small boat where leaving the tiller in a rough go is dangerous. I found with Birdwatcher that the reef could be put in very quickly by running forward, loosening the snotter, hauling in the reef line and tying it off, and retensioning the snotter, and running back to the tiller.

Here is what is bad about the system. 1)There is a very large bundle of cloth right next to the mast to disturb the airflow. I came to think of the system as something like a parachute - you didn't use it until you had to and then you didn't expect it to sail very close to the wind when reefed. 2)You'd never guess this one. The reef on Birdwatcher was hard to get out completely. To unreef the sail you let go of the brail line and retighten the snotter. Only takes an instant. But the brail line way up near the top of the sail is very hard to loosen so you always end up with a misshapen sail up there. The only way I could ever loosen the brail up there was to stand on tip toe on the deck and reach up with an oar to tug the line loose - and you don't do that in rough water! Once again I accept the limitation given the parachute idea.


If you had a mast with a halyard and sail track so the lowered sail would freely pass the snotter tackle you could use a more conventional horizontal reef line that might look like this (the red line is the reef line) :

horizontal reef

I should add now that I sailed Jinni for several years with a reef like this and mast lacing instead of sail track. The problem of course is how to get the sail lacing past the snotter tackle without taking it off. Here is how I did it. Let's say the reef is 24" deep. Below the sprit tackle the sail is fastened to the mast with one or two loose loops of line individually tied with topmost loop right below the snotter tackle. The the next 24" of the sail above the snotter tackle has no ties or lacing of any kind. Above that there is regular lacing of your favorite type. So when you reef the sail by dropping it down 24" with the halyard, there are no lacings to interfere with the tackle. It works well if the halyard tension and thus the luff tension is high to prevent sagging in the unsupported 24" of luff. I think the technique won't work too well with a double reef but most trailer sailers can get by without a double reef.

Anyway, reefing this sail can be just like reefing a sail with a boom except of course there is no boom ot bundle the reef to. But in the real world of small boats it usually doesn't work so well because most small sharpie boats don't have topping lifts or jiffy reef lines. Without those two items here is how you reef one of these. First you loosen the snotter tackle. Then you untie the clew from the sheet freeing the sail from everything including the sprit. Then you lower the sail with the halyard and tie in a new tack rope to the new tack position. Then you haul the halyard taut. Then you retie the the sheet and sprit to the new clew position. Then you tighten the snotter tackle to tension the sail. Then you bundle up the loose sail area and tie it to the reef grommets.

I challenge anyone to do the above in a small boat in rough going! Especially solo. I used to get away with it on Jinni because the mizzen usually would hold the boat head to wind while I fiddled with the above. Without a mizzen it would be about impossible because almost all boats will turn crossways to the wind if you let go of the tiller to do this work. Then you can't get your hands back on the clew connection.

So the reefing operation should be done on shore and saying that is no help for the guy far from shore with a thunderstorm in view. Once reefed like this though, I've always found the sharpie sprit to be a very good sailer. In fact I've often thought it might be closer winded reefed than when full perhaps because it sets flatter (most of the draft shaping in down in the bundled part when reefed) and maybe because the spars are effectively shortened and thus are stiffer.

The horizontally reefed sail would look like this:

horizontal reef


I think it is possible to jiffy reef a sharpie sprit sail. I've set a sail up like what is shown below and it worked well on the trailer, at least. Never got a chance to try it in real reefing conditions and I can assure you that nothing can be taken for granted under bad conditions.

horizontal reef

I think there are two key elements in the operation. First the rig needs a topping lift. It can be quite light. Second and most important you need to locate an eye pad on the sprit through which to run a second clew line to the reef clew. So that when you haul in that second clew line it tightly pulls the clew to the sprit in a position that doesn't require you to undo the original clew line (which is also the sheet line). If you fiddle with it long enough you might actually arrange it so the snotter tackle remains untouched. The reef clew line will run forward from that eye pad to a cleat near the forward end of the sprit so that you always have easy access to it even if the boat swings sideways to the wind.

When you reef this thing here is what you do. Go forward and slack off the halyard to lower the sail into the reefed position. The topping lift and snotter tackle will support the boom. Haul in on the new clew line really hard to set the reefed clew hard against the sprit, and cleat it off. Set up the reef tack line. Now you may have to tinker a little with the snotter tackle to fine tune the reef. Lastly you bundle up the loose cloth and secure with the reef grommets. The jiffy reefed sail looks like this:

horizontal reef

One major difference between this jiffy reef and the normal reef is that with the jiffy reef the sprit does not extend farther forward beyond the mast. Also you do not have to untie and retie the sheet to the sprit, and the sheet line actually stays the same relative to the boat. Bolger points out in his great book 100 SMALL BOAT RIGS that one limit to a deeply reefed sharpie sprit is that the sprit and sheet can move so far forward in a deep reef that the sheet now sweeps across the cockpit and becomes very much in the way.


I'll show how to make a small sharpie sprit sail in polytarp.



Jon jr


Jon Jr. is a small jonboat, sort of a personal sized boat that will take two adults and probably no more. It would be a perfect "back of the pickup truck" boat. It could be cartopped also, its empty weight being about 100 pounds. To me the idea of cartopping a powerboat is a bit strained since you would need to carry the motor with all its' drips and smells and the gasoline inside your car, although I've seen it done. If you are sure from the start that you will be trailering the boat, you might consider Jonsboat which is quite a bit larger but not so large that it will be expensive to build, use and haul.

Jon jr

As for power, I'd suggest 5 hp max. Sometimes you can find low power motors at yard sales since they are unsuited for the image of modern boating. The usual rule I've seen for power on planing boats is a horse for each 50 pounds and salesmen like to quote a horse for every 25 pounds. But my AF4, with its simple flat shape planes nicely with a horse for each 100 pounds. This boat with a light small motor will weigh about 150 pounds ready to go, say 350 pounds with a man and a bit of gear. So 5 hp should be plenty for it. Besides, this boat is too small for big waters and covering lots of distance. The type of lake I'm saying suits this boat is something like a conservation lake less than two miles long. The 5 horse motor will take yo anywhere on the lake in 10 minutes.

Construction is of the simplest "instant boat" type from three sheets of 1/4" plywood. All nail and glue construction with a smattering of epoxy and fiberglass to fortify the chine corners and help seal the water out of the bottom joints.

Plans are $10 until one is built and tested.


Prototype News

Some of you may know that in addition to the one buck catalog which now contains 20 "done" boats, I offer another catalog of 20 unbuilt prototypes. The buck catalog has on its last page a list and brief description of the boats currently in the Catalog of Prototypes. That catalog also contains some articles that I wrote for Messing About In Boats and Boatbuilder magazines. The Catalog of Prototypes costs $3. The both together amount to 50 pages for $4, an offer you may have seen in Woodenboat ads. Payment must be in US funds. The banks here won't accept anything else. (I've got a little stash of foreign currency that I can admire but not spend.) I'm way too small for credit cards.

Usually when a design from the Catalog of Prototypes starts getting built and is close to launch I pull it from the catalog and replace it with another prototype. So that boat often goes into limbo until the builder finishes and sends a test report and a photo.

Here are the prototypes abuilding that I know of:

Mixer2: Mixer2 is more or less the original Mixer with a rough water bow like Toto's. 12' x 3'9" and about 90 pounds. Has a sail rig. I got a call from a Colorado builder who wanter to learn to sail and apparently has the boat well along. He also built last year a Smoar which is a 12' version of Roar2 and was very satisfied with it. As I talked with him on the phone I got down on my knees and begged for photos.

RB42: This is an 18' rowboat meant for two. It's never been in any of my catalogs but the Canadian builder has it completed. Imagine the Oracle shown in the 1may99 issue stretched to 18' and you have it. Here are some photos. It looks like a V bottomed boat in the photos but the center has a narrow flat bottom plank so it is really a multichine. Very nice job! Waiting for the paint to cure totally and to carve out two sets of oars.



Mayfly12: A Mayfly12 is going together up in Minnesota. The hull has been glassed and is in the deck and fitting stage.

AF4B: A builder in Virginia is building AF4Breve, a 15.5' version of the 18' AF4. I tried to talk him into building the 18' version but he had two very good reasons to go shorter - a short trailer on hand and insufficient building space for the larger boat. The AF4B is essentially a "scrunched" version of AF4 but comes from a whole new set of drawings.




Mother of All Boat Links

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Messing About In Boats

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The Boatbuilding Community

Kilburn's Sturdee Dory

Bruce Builds Roar

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Herb builds AF3 (archived copy)

JB Builds Sportdory

Hullforms Download (archived copy)

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