Owl: my current junk-rigged boat

I thought I’d describe my current junk rigged boat and show some of the design features. The boat is called Owl because it is green (as per The Owl and the Pussycat).

The boat is a 11′ GRP clinker-style boat originally built in the early 1980s for a gentleman to take his kids out in. I suspect it was adapted from a standard hull – probably designed for rowing or fishing. It had:

  • A flat centreboard that is a bit far aft;
  • A rudder that only just touched the water;
  • A standing lug rig that wouldn’t go upwind, with heavy yard and boom that reduced stability and threatened to hit heads.

However it did have a free-standing mast and, without the lug-rig up, was extremely stable. A perfect candidate for a junk rig!

My objectives in the conversion led to some particular choices that won’t suit everyone. I needed to take small children out sailing – then aged 2 and 4. This meant that stability was very important – capsize was to be avoided at all costs. The biggest consequence of this is the mast – it is an old aluminium windsurfer mast bought for £30. It is extremely light so doesn’t have any effect on the stability of the boat. It is very easy to put up and take down – I can almost do it one-handed. However it will probably buckle before the boat capsizes – which in this use is a very good thing. I can always row back with a broken mast.

I actually expected to break the mast very quickly; however I wasn’t prepared for the unstressed nature of the junk rig. Since the sail isn’t tensioned on the mast – it basically hangs from the halyard so there is only the weight of the yard, sail and battens to account for – the weak and bendy mast doesn’t seem to matter. It is very noticable when trying to haul the sheet in when going to windward – the mast just bends backwards – but otherwise it doesn’t seem to have any effect.

Mast step

The mast step is two iroko blocks with holes in on some ply. This drops into the original mast step system for the lug rig. The lug rig will still fit just as it did before.

Note that the lines come back to the helm position round the edge of the boat. The kids sit in the front of the boat where they can paddle and fish and drop things overboard.

Also visible is the kicker – a length of bungee with a hook on the end. This is clipped to the boom and helps to keep the sail in the right place.

Halyard attachment to yard

The yard has a loop of tape wrapped round it a couple of times. The halyard is tied to this with a bowline. The yard pocket in the sail keeps the loop of tape in the right place, so no holes are needed in the centre of the yard. Seems to work well. Note there isn’t a Yard Hauling Parrel – the sail doesn’t seem to need it although I may experiment with one this year.

Batten parrels are secured with plastic rucksack clips

The batten parrels have loops of tape at either end that go over the batten. The front end is held in place with the string that holds the sail to the batten, the rear goes through a hole in the batten pocket. The plastic clips are great – very secure and very fast to rig. Being able to set the boat up quickly and easily is very important when you’ve got two bored kids running around.

The batten pockets are made from acrylic canvas that was left over from something else. It is strong so relying on pockets to hold parrels in place is ok. The main sail cloth is 65gsm ripstop polyester. It is very strong on the thread axes but will stretch on the bias (diagonal) which is important in a cambered sail to avoid too many wrinkles.

Kicker clipped to the boom
Throat hauling parrel to take the wrinkles out of the sail
Front end of batten showing tie-on loop

The battens are tied to loops sewn into the tape that runs down the edge of the sail. The sailcloth – being very thin – cannot take loads directly.


The mainsheet is very simple – there are only 4 sheeted battens so two sheetlets are enough. A fiddle block handles all the string without having to worry about alignment. Old climbing carabiners are used to clip the mainsheet to the sheetlets – very fast and light. Seems to work very well.

The lower part of the topping lifts is a bit of a bodge. Putting the boom in a pocket is very neat but means changing anything once assembled is hard. I forgot to add anything to hold the topping lifts in place so I ran another tape from the back of the boom forward.

Sail up but no throat hauling parrel, showing diagonal creases and no camber
Throat hauling parrel tighted up so no creases and lots of camber
Camber in the sail. Light sailcloth means that camber develops quickly in light breezes.

Overall I’m delighted with this boat. She is lovely to sail – very stress-free, stable, fast enough, fast to respond to the rudder and plenty of room for kids. I’m happy to let a 3-year-old sail her – on one memorable occasion my 3-year-old was sailing us round and round in circles while the racing fleet were capsizing a short distance across the lake. The only downside is lack of room for adults.

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