How to Train your Dragon, Part 2.

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Sailing in the small boats.

So previously I described the work involved in raising the sail and letting it fly. But unless you’re running completely downwind, much greater control of the sail is needed, by securing the bottom corner of the sail closest to the wind, the hals, and trimming its shape with a variety of ropes. It’s much easier to see how the process works in the smaller square-sailed boats.

These were built to test potential hull designs for Draken, scale-models of ships known from archaeological remains, each between 6 and 7 metres in length and sailed by a crew of between 2 and 6 people. As the sail is raised, the hals is secured forward to a bolt or stick through the side of the hull by a rope called the smett (tack). The opposite corner of the sail is controlled by pulling and holding another rope running aft called the skaut (sheet), and the whole arrangement trimmed by adjusting the angle of the rå by pulling back on the bras (brace), down on a rope called the priya which fixes the bottom edge of the sail to the mast and pulling forward on the bolina (bowline) to change the shape of the sail.

When changing direction, the whole sail set-up must be taken down and established again on the opposite side of the boat. Literally. As we turn, the bolina is released and the rå is lowered down to the gunwhales, dropping all the wind from the sail, whilst the hold on the skaut is released and pulled forward. Forward of the mast, the smett is freed from the bolt to which it is fixed, and the opposite corner of the sail is pulled forward and fixed by its smett. The loose skaut is pulled back aft to take control of the free edge of the sail, the rå raised and you’ve made your manoeuvre.

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Looking forward at a port-side tack. Photograph by Peder Jacobsson.

Scaling this process up to Draken, there are several things that change. Firstly, the amount of effort required to raise and lower the sail means that tacking and gybing happen with the sail raised, so at a point the wind ends up on the wrong side of the sail and slows the forward movement of the ship. If a tack is made too slowly, there is every possibility of the ship coming to a complete stop or even moving backwards.

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Hals fast!

The larger sail of Draken means that more ropes are needed to trim the sail and alter its shape. In addition to the priya holding the bottom of the sail towards the mast, there are also two high priya attached higher up the back of the sail, and on the front in addition to the bolina, which is tightened or slackened from a capstan in the forskip, is another line called the penta. With all the different stations involved, making a manoeuvre takes the combined efforts of around 15 people, giving all their strength in the correct sequence of events. 

It takes time and practice to bring it all together, and even with the experience of the core crew members and the enthusiasm of the volunteers it doesn’t always happen smoothly. But when it does, its a great feeling.

(And then, if you’re lucky, you get to do it all again 15 minutes later to avoid a fishfarm or the opposite side of the fjord or something).

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One thought on “How to Train your Dragon, Part 2.

  1. Ajaytao2010 September 10, 2013 / 21:24

    Nice reading about you.
    Be in touch.

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