Edwin Schoettle on catboats, Gavin Atkin on what’s wrong with yachts and yachties

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Legendary catboat Silent Maid

Edwin Schoettle’s classic Sailing Craft published in 1928 is a fabulous big old book of nearly 800 pages – so I hope no-one will mind me posting a few of them. And perhaps my post will serve to keep the memory alight.

I’d like to explain why I’ve been thinking about the catboat lately.

I’ve complained for years that many yachties  motor or motor sail for much of the time and I’ve often wondered what the reason might be. Well, I’ve come to think that it isn’t laziness or a dislike of sailing. The reason why they’re reluctant to use their full sailplan is that they’re either sailing alone, or effectively doing so, and don’t want the fag of having to manage sails, winches and sheets as well as steer, navigate and keep a look out.  And because they’re not using their full sail plan their boats are slow without the help of its engine – and that’s why most yachties motor for much of the time.

Looked at another way, it’s because we’re using the wrong rigs.  Instead of the Bermudan sloop with a masthead rig, big foresail, winches and the rest, we could be using rigs that reduce the number of essential control lines to very few – the cat and the cat yawl.

Of course there’s a shortage of cat yawls outside of a few designers offering plans for relatively small boats aimed at the amateur builders, so I’ve been considering the experiences people have had with the catboat.

I’ve no experience with these boats and have no firm opinions to offer, but it’s interesting that Schoettle emerges as such a fan of the catboat. I’m inclined to think a modified form of catboat, perhaps one with the kind of capacious hull that’s long been normal in family cruising boats could be seriously useful to yachtsmen in the era of expensive fuel and growing environmental awareness.

Those who find it difficult to swallow the idea of the Bermudan sloop being replaced by a more old fashioned rig might thinking about the argument in a different way – instead of describing the cat or cat yawl rig of the future as being derived from historical yacht types or workboats, just think of them as big Lasers with heavy keels.

Read more about Silent Maid in a recent post at the weblog 70.8%.

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‘A diversion of another sort’

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Many of us feel a little grim at this time of year, myself included. Christmas with its family meals, parties and presents is over, and there’s a lot of cold, dark winter to get through before the summer. So today I’ll attempt to lift everyone’s spirits by sharing this short quotation taken from a book called Sailing Craft by Edwin J Schoettle.

Sailing Craft is a collection of essays on various topics, and this dreamy excerpt comes from Gordon K Seagrove. If it doesn’t make you want to go sailing just a little bit – well, you must have no soul.

‘If you need a diversion of another sort – something with a tingle in it when you want a tingle, or peace when your soul cries out for peace – something that carries within constant change and endless variety, what you want is sailing; what you ought to have is a sailboat. And now is the time to begin looking for one if you hope to be clear-headed and well-muscled next summer.

‘You will experience what no other sport with the possible exception of hunting can produce – that feeling of complete and utter detachment from a drab and dusty world that comes when blue water is all about you. Again you will find your spine a-tingle when you have beneath you a lean and lovely thing of wood and snowy canvas, racing along through the cool water, the white foam crinkling and gurgling at the rail, going where you want her to go, leaping to your touch and trusting to your skill as the fresh breeze whistles out of an indigo sky into the bellying sails. Back there, behind you are the office, the sunbaked streets and the quivering heat; ahead, only the cool and changing water and the distant shore – and the day to yourself!

‘There are the breaking dawns on the grey water
when the loons call and the light over the compass
pales, and the amateur helmsman peers into the
lifting mists’

‘There are the breaking dawns on the grey water when the loons call and the light over the compass pales, and the amateur helmsman peers into the lifting mists for the first sign of the landfall. There are the serene, sunny days when the craft slides lazily along the bluest of seas, almost sailing herself while you lay on your back counting the little scudding clouds and forgetting that your pipe is out. There are the moonlit nights, mystic and unreal, when your little vessel seems like an ethereal butterfly suspended between earth and sky, yet moving always toward the distant blinking beacon on the dark horizon; from forward of the mast comes the sound of singing from those too glad of the night to sleep, and from the dimly lighted cabin the chimes of the ship’s clock sounding the watch call to men who yesterday, perhaps, were  lawyers or financiers, but who now are sailors. And there are still other nights when the clouds swing low and the towering seas moan for miles behind you, while your crew, huddled on deck, eye the shortened canvas and wonder if so small a barque can triumph over the booming seas and make the port where rest and friends and sweethearts are.Those are the days you taste content. Those are the nights when you sample life’