What Eagle teaches, Wings will never know

September, 2001

By Dodge Morgan
I sail Eagle when I want intimacy with the wind and water and Wings of Time when I want to go somewhere with obscene comfort. Eagle takes 20 minutes to get underway and Wings takes two minutes.

Eagle is a 75-year-old gaff-headed schooner just 31-feet in length overall, and Wings is a modern 53-foot sloop. The schooner displaces about 10,000 pounds and the sloop 58,000 pounds. The schooner can carry five sails on nine halyards with six sheets. The sloop carries two sails with three sheets and no halyards to tend. Once underway, both boats single-hand with ease. If it comes to reefing, I can reduce sail alone on the sloop in a minute using only my thumbs, while this chore on the schooner is a lengthy, double-hernia project.

The ritual in getting the schooner underway, and putting her up afterwards, is an integral ingredient of a sail with her and best accomplished while moored. Twenty-three sail stops come off, four sheets for the lowers are set at planned lengths, two topping lifts adjusted and two stowing lines are removed. The sails go up aft to forward, always for two gaff-headed sails with throat halyards on the starboard and peaks on the port. Gaff-headed sails should be set with loose wrinkles from peak to tack when no wind is filling them. The topsail goes up on a jack line and is made hard with halyard, downhaul and clew outhaul. This tiny sail doesn’t pull much but can act to vang in the mainsail gaff when sailing on the wind and, frankly, add to the symmetry of the sail plan for onlookers’ joy.

Jib goes up last and is up-winded to get her off the mooring on the chosen tack. One characteristic of a schooner is that the mainsail is the authority. With main trimmed in and fore and jib started out, the boat will stand directly and firmly dead into the wind and make slow way straight aft. In order to fall off, especially to prepare a jibe, the main must be started. Famous schooner designer Murray Peterson described to me a big Alden schooner attempting to fall off in a turn to avoid the Eastern Yacht Club float in Marblehead with her main strapped hard in and her engine in full power forward. The engine power was not enough to push the big main into the wind for the turn and calamity ensued; if the main had been started, she would have spun on her keel.

There is no ritual in getting underway with the sloop. The only line work to set the main is to give a couple feet of sheet and then the thumb of one hand and a finger of the other do all the rest of the work in 30 seconds; she has an in-mast furling mainsail and big, self-tailing, electric winches. The jib is reeled out to a winch on the side one wants the wind to come over for the sail away; one does have to tail the roller furling line.

The schooner has no headroom below and the main cabin horizontal space of a compact car. She has the ideal aft cabin layout for a mechanic with diarrhea since when seated on the head one is poised over the little engine. She has a total of two pumps, both for bilge water, one electric and one manual. I installed two reading lamps about ten years ago when I began having trouble reading by oil lamp. Cooking is done on an alcohol two-burner that can be removed to use a coal stove beneath it. I installed two, small, manual winches for tending the jib sheets 20 years ago when I became too lazy to bring her into the wind for the trimming. The nav gear is a compass and the radio is hand-held.

The sloop has plenty of headroom everywhere, two independent sleeping cabins for two each, a huge main salon, hot and cold pressure water supply, a freezer and house-sized reefer, stereo radio and CD player, television, a four-burner propane range with large oven, a propane heating stove, a diesel hot air heating system, a shower the size of a closet, two full heads and a workshop forward. She has nine pumps to move seawater and fresh water. The nav gear consists of three separate GPS receivers, color chart recorder, radar and three compasses.

Now please read the first sentence of this tome with renewed understanding.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine.