Update on Spar Making Activities

I thought I’d give you a status of our spar making activities.
We’ve completed:
-Douglas Fir hollow Spinnaker pole (83′ 6″)
-#1 Douglas Fir hollow Club Topsail yard (68′)
-#1 Douglas Fir hollow Club Topsail Club (57’6″‘)

This past Saturday a gentleman came into our shop with several pristine RELIANCE drawings from Hart Museum. These showed new penciled note information, not on our own microfilm copies:
a. That the boom was lengthened 3’0″ during May 1903 (From 111′ boom length or 112′ from center of boom hanging)
b. That the #1 and #2 club topsail club spar had 7/8″ sail tracks twhich end 2′ from spar tips.

With that information we’ll be scheduling a visit to MIT’s Hart Museum to ensure we have all the “red-lines” and will retrofit the club with a sail track!

We’ve nearly completed the bowsprit (40′ 7 1/2″). We’ve cast and formed the pieces at the tip and will install the retaining bar shortly at the butt. This will complete everything we can do on the bowsprit until fastening it to the deck.

We’ve finished shaping a hollow Douglas fir gaff complete with fittings at the end. We are in the process of fashioning the jaws end– the metal ring and tongue, jaws and eye have been cast in bronze and dry fitted to the spar. We also have a photo of gaff jaws, saddle and parrel on Eleonora a “Westward” replica. Westward was contemporaneous to RELIANCE, and we’ll do some searching of the drawings to confirm the picture. There will be many layers of paint applied to our gaff so we get this to look like metal. (at this time we’ll leave the final coat off, since we do not yet know what color the metal spars were painted. I expect that we’ll be able to show you the completed gaff and saddle in several weeks so keep posted! FYI, the original gaff was fabricated metal like the mast and boom. Pictures of the mainsail being raised show how much the boom and gaff flexed until supported by the halyards and mainsail.

We are also working on the boom which we’ve hollowed out and are shaping from Douglas fir. The original was metal plated over metal bulkheads and stringers. The irony of receiving these new drawings on Saturday was that we had just chopped our boom to its original 111′ length one hour before! So, we’ve spent the next couple of days adding the additional 3′ just as HM Co must have! Grrrrr….

We have just ordered Sitka spruce for the topmast. The original topmast was a 56′ 4″ hollow Douglas fir spar. (56′ 4″ without the metal top cone). In June 1903 Captain Nat ordered a second design for the topmast (58’3″ including nickel steel cone). We wonder whether this design results from the dismasting RELIANCE suffered. We’ll have check the dates. The only significant differences in the two designs seem to be that:
– It is now Sitka Spruce
– The bottom portion of the mast is hollowed out 7″ vs 7 1/2″ on the first design. I have no idea whether this to beef it up or compensate for strength differences between Douglas fir and Sitka. Sitka is also lighter.
– The fid which holds the topmast in its erect position is now 1 1/2″ wide vs 1″ on the original
– Original had 8 internal pine bulkheads, 1 3/8’ thick, spaced 5’10 1/2″ apart, but these do not appear on the second drawing, except perhaps at the top bearing ring.

We’ll be constructing this spar the way we believe Herreshoff actually did. Notes on the second design drawing are very helpful (sketch enclosed). It seems to us that HM Co. would first glue up four sets of two 5″ x 5″ sitka stock to form the four sides. These would then be beveled at 45 degrees as shown and routed out for the 7″ diameter core at the bottom, and increased to 9 1/2″ at the top, perhaps using an inclined jig. The square hollow at each end would naturally form when the sides are glued together. When these four sides are ready, they would be glued together to form the mast; the flat outside surfaces forming superb clamping surfaces. Though the topmast is a “straight stick” it would be easy with this approach to taper the spar as well, keeping a constant wall thickness. After gluing, it would be an easy step to round off the outsides using traditional methods. What do you think?

I’ll shortly post some Classic Yacht Symposium articles which show the way that spars were made for the Herreshoff NY50 “Spartan.” One section discusses Herreshoff spar making. I’ll add some pictures from our archives of the spar-making shop and also photos of Columbia’s topmast which once was used as a flag pole. The spar is broken and photos of the inside show reinforcing strips inside the staves. These don’t appear to run the entire length and may have in fact reinforced scarfed joints. TBD. (A note on RELIANCE’s second design says that the scarfs are to be 3’6″) A spar maker who viewed Columbia’s topmast was amazed at these reinforcing strips, noting that early aluminum masts and current carbon fiber masts also have such reinforcement.

Sketch of RELIANCE's topmast, second design

Sketch of RELIANCE’s topmast, second design

2 thoughts on “Update on Spar Making Activities

  1. Richard Feeny

    Yesterday I finally got to MIT to see the small, but beautiful RELIANCE model they have there. Big is beautiful too. You guys are doing nice work. Great to see so many builders and visitors last week!


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