The Knitting Sailor

Wool – it makes you sail faster
July 9, 2012, 1:47 pm
Filed under: the Captains Cabin | Tags: , , ,

Following an exciting adventure to Wool on the Wall this weekend, I have been fascinated to discover that Viking sails used to be made out of heavy woollen cloth – woven on massive looms.

Speedy sail fabric?

I was somewhat stunned by this as I have never thought of sheep as particularly aerodynamic, until I began to think about it and wonder what EXACTLY I thought sails were made of pre-Mylar (and pre crispy-fabric.  And pre fabric that used to be crispy but now just sits in a heap – dependent entirely upon how old and rubbishy the boat I had just bought off E-bay actually was).  And it turns out I’m not the only one – in fact there have been actual studies on what these sails were made out of – and seem to prove that woollen sails can outperform some of the other sail materials throughout to be used at the time – Hemp and Linen –

“In 1975 Svend Larsen concluded his book, ‘Vikingsernes hav’, by stating that beating to windward cannot be done with woollen sails because they are ‘fleecy, nappy, yielding and leaky’ (Larsen, 1975). It is now known that high cover factor woollen square-sails could beat at 66 degrees into the wind and most likely out-perform linen and hemp sails. Furthermore it has been proved conclusively that the process of smorring enables the properties of the wool sail to be improved and ‘trimmed’ during use.”

“Viking woollen square-sails and fabric cover factor” – Bill Cooke, Carol Christiansen, Lena Hammarlund

I was also a little disappointed to discover that they were likely red from dying with ‘Madder Root’ rather than from the blood of their enemies as I have always thought – well to be fair the practicalities would probably have been a nightmare….

Its a plant. Not a weapon of mass enemy destruction at all.

Now I was actually quite excited about this as my degree was in Ancient History and Archaeology.  This was purely due to an Indiana Jones fascination.

The many faces and talents of Indiana Jones

However turns out that doing this degree doesn’t

  1. Turn you into Indy
  2.  Help you meet a man like Indy
  3.  Help you do anything that Indy actually does

Maybe I should have realised this as it’s been awhile since any mad Nazi’s have been chasing archaeologists around the globe, but I do think the university should have a disclaimer – “Doing this degree will NOT help you find the Holy Grail”.

It actually consists of lots of scraping in the ground hoping beyond hope (and the evidence of the last three months in the rain) that this trowelful of earth will actually be the one that reveals a magnificent mosaic floor or similar*.

*N.B. this only ever actually happens on Time Team.  It’s not real archaeology.

So I am thrilled that someone with this background has spent time investigating this.  The looms they use are huge – and these wouldn’t be big enough for the size of sails we would be talking about, so there would be a massive amount of work involved.  In fact it probably explains why the Vikings had to steal all those sheep.

Ginormous Loom

I am now wondering if I should be knitting myself a new sail – although not in red – I don’t have any madder in the garden and I think the authorities would have something to say about me collecting the blood of my enemies.

Off the Blocks!
April 2, 2012, 7:09 pm
Filed under: the Captains Cabin | Tags: , , ,

Yesterday was my new sails first outing.

I was tremendously excited.  And really very nervous.  The club was super busy with everyone getting back into it and a committee meeting following racing, so there was much interest and acclaim for the funky newness of the whole thing.  People were oohing and ahhing (and I could see thinking ‘what the heck is she bothering with that for’!) and being generally enthusiastic.  By the time I had fitted my new pimpy toe straps I was feeling that my boat was bling-tastic!

Toe strap-tastic!

Of course on the comfort of land it’s amazing how far you imagine you lean out the boat on your toe-straps….

My boat was further complimented by my shiny new buoyancy aid (can you tell it has been Christmas and bonus time since the last time I was sailing?  Without the bonus I defiantly wouldn’t have stretched to the buoyancy aid).

This is in pink.  Pale pink.  A bit girly girly pale pink rather than bright pink girly ROAR!  I was somewhat disappointed in this, but have had the perennial struggle of buying a buoyancy aid that suits a more ‘ahem’ feminine figure.  When I have the time I will mainly be making my fortune by investing in bright pink neoprene manufacture and a female mannequin – how hard really can it be to produce female–friendly sailing equipment?  In pink?  Maybe I could knit it.

So fully equipped I was ready to take to the water.  And I did.  It was AMAZING sailing.  For the first time in any wind (and yesterday was topping a force 4 early 5) I actually had some control over the boat.  I did things like deciding where I was going to go.  In the first instance this was straight over the side when I established early on I am a fat lump and really don’t hike out of the boat far enough to require my straps that loose.  To be fair I hadn’t decided on this – it was a consequence of where I decided to go (On a reach.  Very fast).   The good news on this was that I didn’t die, so therefore the buoyancy aid obviously works.

Shiny new!

And as an additional bonus I was able to pop the boat straight up with no problems at all – this is why we like reservoir sailing – it is not possessive when it comes to your boat and gives it straight back to you.

This is all to do with having a boat which is no longer overpowered for me.  To be fair I didn’t get the kite up – I think I may have ended up in a death-roll, but what a difference to the entire boat.  Definitely money well spent – I would advise any RS Vareo sailor who feels the same about their full size sail to give the Storm Sail a go – I can’t see me going back based on yesterday.

Funky Monkey

So after a bit of adjustment I had a fab blast and feel well equipped for the season ahead.

I am bold.  I am intrepid.  I am not going to win the pity prize at this year’s prize giving (honestly – how many times can you win the best improvers and still actually be rubbish?  Last year they decided that if they gave it me again I would have to keep it – so they made up a prize for me – I think just so that I keep sailing and everyone has someone to beat – the ‘Perseverance’ award – Gosh I was proud).

So my next plan is to decide which series I am going to compete in.  I am planning on doing this on general magnificence of the trophies rather than what I have a hope of winning – so I think the Summer Series may be it.  Just wait till I win it and can show it to you all…

Parrot not included
March 29, 2012, 7:05 am
Filed under: the Captains Cabin | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I had to share – I have just got my sign up instructions for the seamanship course I am doing at Easter.  I felt this might be a wise thing to do for when I sail in the sea (I don’t intend to – but you never know), wear Arran jumpers (I will never do this – do you know how much knitting there is in one of those things??) or smoke a pipe (obviously a health no-no).

So it was with great excitement I opened the email inviting me to the course.

Apparently –

“We will be using Wayfarers for the course which will include a full inversion capsize, lee shore leaving and landing, man overboard, sailing backwards, rudderless sailing, coming alongside, picking up moorings, anchoring, being towed and reefing afloat.”


  1.  “full inversion capsize” – e.g. swimming beside an upside down boat – that’s fine – lots of practice a this one.
  2. “lee shore leaving and landing” – not too concerned – given where I sail I think I have done this lots without the fancy name.  So now I shall be able to discuss it with aplomb.
  3. “man overboard” – falling in – giant tick.
  4. “sailing backwards” – I have quite literally no idea of what this is.  I can’t even guess.  I have been sat here 5 minutes….
  5. “rudderless sailing” – surely this is actually known as ‘drifting’?  I wasn’t aware there was a professional way of doing this, so I am afraid I may well have picked up a number of bad habits already…
  6. “coming alongside” – another one I can do!  Fortunately they didn’t say ‘coming alongside and then stopping in a controlled fashion’.  When I do this I like to call it ‘crashing’.  Usually the boat I come alongside calls it this too.  And the insurance company.
  7. “picking up moorings” – Hmmm…. think this may be ‘coming alongside and then stopping in a controlled fashion’…. I’m checking my new insurance docs right now just to ensure I’ve still got this one covered.  Yes… explains the rise in premium however.
  8. “anchoring” – I sail an RS Vareo on the deepest reservoir in Northern Europe – trust me – I’m not going to be managing an anchor on that long a chain on such a little boat.  Unless a tattoo is compulsory to pass the course?
  9. “being towed” – definitely been towed before so I should pass this bit – although more usually its ‘boat being towed with me sat in the patrol boat’, but sure it won’t be that much different.
  10. “reefing afloat” – just one thing… I’ll say it slowly…. FULLY BATTERNED SAIL.  If I could reef afloat I wouldn’t need to know about points 1, 3, 5, 6, 7 or 9.

I don’t see parrot-balancing on the list!!  It’s the only REAL reason for me doing this and I would have thought would have been fundamental to this type of course.

Fortunately my beard-cultivation is coming on well.


Captain Birdseye - the Consummate Seaman and Parrot Balancer extraordinare


Working party. There wasn’t wine.
March 21, 2012, 6:43 am
Filed under: the Captains Cabin | Tags: , , , , , , ,

So there are many sailing and also knitterly things to tell you about.  First off my most special of special things arrived this week.

It looks like this –

It is a new and shiny sail for that most beloved of all boats Diagonelly*.  No, not like the Harry Potter books, like a boat that is called Nelly and goes diagonally.  The long winter nights just fly by….

*There is a story here.  It could be long and involved….. so I’ll save it for when you have been drinking wine….

But I am super excited.  This was purchased at the boat show and I didn’t’ quite think it was real as the boat show is an unreal and magical place, but both my beautiful sail and scrumptious boat cover have now arrived and I am a very happy bunny.  I am sure with this and my continuous toe straps of delight I will be triumphant in winning SOMETHING other than the wooden spoon or the ‘turning up award’ this season.  In fact I am thinking about getting quite serious about the whole thing and maybe practicing and getting fit and stuff – and as someone who is definitely thinking about getting off the bottom of ballast and doing like running and sit-ups and pretend spinnaker hauls I think people should be very afraid.  In fact I am quite exhausted by the thinking about it – I must be fitter already.

I have not even dared to unwrap it properly – I have quickly and neatly transferred it into its official sail bag and will be moving it to the boat fixer to add my numbers.  I could do it myself, but I am just too scared of spoiling the magic.

My cover however is fully fitted and looking glorious.

I know this as this weekend was the working party.  Turned out there was no wine.  Not much of a party in my view….

As it was on Mother’s day I did the decent thing that every daughter does and went on the Saturday instead – thus allowing me to multitask and help the club on Saturday, and have the family for mother’s day on Sunday.  That’s right, I cooked, it wasn’t toast, and no one died – all round a win.  A further win was booking the pair of us onto a sock knitting class at the Knit Studio next week – super exciting!

So the best thing about Saturday was that having managed to track down two more balls of the requisite wool on the internet I managed to knit nearly all the way there in the Exception – only one pocket front and the hem pattern to go on the cardie.  Problem with this is…. I’m going to run out of wool again.  I am sure the cardie has turned into a wool black hole as there is no way on the yardage and gauge it should be taking this.  At this rate it will have cost so much I will be forced to live in it for the rest of my life to get my money’s worth.

The worst thing about Saturday however was arriving to the most beautiful day in the world.

Note lovely sunshine, light breeze, jetty beckoning all sailors to launch.

And having purposely not having brought my kit having to do boring things.  I did cleaning of spiders and grot from the outside of the club house and washing of all the windows.  They look like this – so you can now actually see things like the racing through them.

I felt like a perfect wife… all the way up to the point that Michael reminded me that to be a perfect wife I would have washed the windows at home as that is where he actually lives and would most benefit from being able to see out of the windows of.  I feel this is nit picking.  After all you can’t see boats from our windows – so what’s the point?


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