Appendices -- Useful Supplemental Information


Derek Van Loan, Paradise Cay Publications, 2007

(Reviewed by S. K. Hopkins in Messing About in Boats magazine.)

The Chinese junk rig, in various permutations, continues to interest a few Western sailors, in spite of drawbacks like complexity of rigging, weight aloft, and less-than-brilliant performance to windward.

The rig’s economy of construction and extreme ease of shortening sail (those heavy battens bring the sail down where it lies doggo in all that rigging) has made it popular among a small group of long-distance voyagers -- Annie Hill of Badger fame and Blondie Hassler’s converted Folkboat Jester come to mind. Designer and sailor Tom Colvin popularized the rig on a number of Western hulls, notably sharpie types like his Gazelle. Phil Bolger has drawn several variations of the junk rig combining its good features with those of the gaff rig, to come up with what he has dubbed a “Chinese gaffer“.

Van Loan’s contribution to junk rig literature (this edition is a revision of the 1993 edition, which was a revision of the l981 edition) is a basic, very practical guide to designing and building Chinese lug rigs and sails, with clear, specific instructions on how to proceed: design of the rig, spars, sails, rigging details (plenty of those on a junk), and notes on handling the rig underway. Drawings clarify everything. By far the handiest and most cost-effective introduction to the subject in print. The British magazine Classic Boat says this edition “squeezes into a small paperback what Hassler and McLeod did in a large hardback. Van Loan manages to get a lot of information over remarkably well.”

Curiously, the author gets slightly aback early in the book when he defines the Chinese junk sail as “a fully battened standing lug sail" which it is not. It is a balanced lug sail -- i.e. with the boom (and all the battens) projecting significantly forward of the mast. Standing lug sails have the tack at, or behind, the mast. With this lapse behind him, however, Van Loan sails on without further mishap.

Of special interest to readers of MAIB will be a few pages on adapting the junk sail to very small boats, like a decked canoe and Chesapeake Bay crabbing skiff, with sketches of simplified geometry for such small sails, and ideas for the relatively simple sailmaking involved.

Fortunately for amateurs who decide to make a Chinese sail, the sailmaking is simple in fact: No edge curves (except a little hollowing of the leech between battens to prevent flutter), no panel shaping or broad seams. Just a perfectly flat sail, with the cloths arranged to fill each space between the battens.

What’s fortunate for the amateur is unfortunate for the professional, who grits his teeth while he tries to heed the warning in Tom Colvin’s self-published Sailmaking, Making Chinese and Other Sails . . .”I have seen several Chinese sails ruined by professional Western sailmakers trying to cut some draft into the sail . . . do not be tempted to commit this error.”

The sailmaker, of course, would like to see a way to exercise his art and create a junk sail with a more elegant airfoil, but the odds seem against him. (See footnote for an update on this.)

Here are the experts on junk sail aeodynamics:

Van Loan: “Because the airfoil shape of the Chinese lug sail derives solely from the battens, the cloth is cut flat . . .Battens that are not stiff enough . . . will produce a baggy shape. This will be OK in a light breeze for windward work, but when the wind strengthens, the vessel will not go well to windward . . . It is better to have battens that are too stiff than too slinkly.”

Blondie Hassler and Jock McLeod (Practical Junk Rig) conclude that “. . with the wind on or forward of the beam the battens should be well arched in ghosting weather and should get progressively flatter as the wind speed increases.” But they immediately point out the sad fact that “This is the exact opposite of the natural behavior of battens, and we have as yet no way of (correcting) it.”

Phil Bolger agrees (in 100 Small Boat Rigs) that “it’s almost impossible to make these sails take up a good aerodynamic shape. . .”

For a more optimistic view of the junk rig’s abilities, see David Nichols’ Working Guide to Traditional Small Boat Sails. In his chapter on the Chinese lugs’l he suggests “For the owner-builder wanting a weatherly, efficient, and easily handled sailing rig, the Chinese lug sail is a good choice.”

Van Loan appends a glossary of general and junk-special nautical terms, and an eclectic reading list.

Online, will take you to Craig O’Donnell’s very interesting and beautifully illustrated tutorial on junk sails. Googling “junk rig,” “Chinese lug sails” etc., will take you into the hinterland and beyond.

* A description of cambered panels, which induce useful airfoils between the battens, can be found at

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