The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders














by Paul Haynie
Guest Columnist

Rebel at Rend Lake

When I put in for my vacation, I was planning to use it to attend the Duckworks Messabout. I was going to get off work at noon on Tuesday, pick up the boat, and drive like a maniac in order to be at Magnolia beach on Friday afternoon in time to participate in the overnight raid. As the date approached, reality reared its head, and I realized that this was not a sensible plan even by my admittedly low standards. I had yet to trail the boat more than 30 miles; I had yet to get the boat into the water in the nine months I had owned it; I had not actually been at the tiller of a sailing vessel of any kind since 1982. I started to consider alternatives.

Attending without the boat was certainly an option, but it bothered my conscience a bit; I owned a boat, and I really needed to get some sailing time in with it before I went haring off across the country to see what boats other people had come up with. I decided I would reroute my vacation to Rend Lake, where I could get some sailing in without facing a long road trip or quite so much open water as the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, once your plans start to change, they tend to change uncontrollably, with the result that I spent only three nights at Rend Lake, and only got in one day of sailing.

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Fenris, ready to hit the launch ramp.

(click images for larger views)

The boat in question is a 30-odd year old Rebel, a 1948 design that touts itself as the first production fiberglass sailboat. The hull and sail plan haven't changed since 1948, in the interest of keeping it a valid one design class, but the deck and interior details have mutated over the years; the current Mark V has full flotation and is self bailing; my Mark II doesn't, and isn't. The design includes a 23 foot mast stepped to a pintle on the foredeck; the boat is 16 feet, 2 inches by 6 feet, 6 inches on deck, and has an official empty weight of 800 pounds, including the steel centerboard.

On the day in question, I arrived at Rend Lake's Sailboat Harbor at about 11:00 AM, and began by applying the new registration stickers and changing the boat's name. The former owners had called the boat "Oinkers Aweigh", an embarrassing name that I simply could not live with; I rather think the boat was happy to be rid of it. Of course, I am sufficiently superstitious about such things that the new name required some continuity with the old, provided in this case by drafting a member of our menagerie of plush toys, a wild boar with the spirit of a wolf called "Fenris". Fenris the boar was declared to boat's mascot, and "Fenris" the boat became. (And yes, Fenris the boar was along on this expedition, in a waterproof container. I try to be thorough in my madness.)

The next order of business was stepping the mast, a task that was NOT intended to be done single-handedly. I rigged the shrouds, attached a three-for-one pulley rig (made from fiddle blocks from Duckworks) to the forestay, and walked the mast up, alternating between one hand for the mast and the other for the forestay tension, and both hands on the mast with the tensioning rope in my teeth. It wasn't elegant, but it worked.

I rigged and furled the jib, and then attempted to do the same with the mainsail, and realized (as I had not before) just how much the boat had been intended as a racer. There was a boom vang, and a provision for a Cunningham, but no provision at all to reef or furl the sail: There was a rope in the luff of the sail that needed to be threaded into a channel in the mast, and the sail had to be either raised, or removed. I scowled and furled the sail, free of the mast, to the boom.

I didn't make too much of a fool of myself backing the trailer into the lake, and I managed to muster the foresight to overcome another of the boat's basic handicaps: The only provision for mooring lines is a single cleat on the foredeck. I got around that by leaving the rudder unshipped, and left the mast transport crutch in place. This crutch mounts to the rudder gudgeons, and I was able to use it as a mooring post. I led lines from it, and the foredeck cleat, back to the trailer winch post, and once the boat was floating I was able to easily lead it down the dock (backwards) and tie it up while I parked my car.

the amazingly versatile mast transport crutch, and my "crew": Carl the sea monster, Fenris the boar, and Willie the ape. Great attitudes, but absolutely useless…

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I turned the boat 180 degrees and drifted and paddled a few dozen yards to another dock, where I raised the main and shipped the rudder. I realized the boat was already pulling to be away (even though the wind was minimal), so I left the jib furled on the foredeck, cast off, trimmed the sail, and I was off. I proceeded to wait too long to make my first tack, and ran aground on the inside of the breakwater that shelters the boat ramp, but then I pushed off, tacked, got some room to move, tacked again, and was off across the lake. I almost felt like I knew what I was doing.

I played with the idea of sailing through the causeway bridge into another section of the lake, and proved to myself that I COULD have done it, if the boat's mast hadn't been about eight feet too tall. I got within a couple of feet of hitting the bridge with the mast, and then veered off across the lake. The wind never QUITE died, though it was often barely perceptible, and there were occasional gusts that pushed the boat up to 5 MPH, according to my GPS.

Rend Lake is a bit over two miles wide at that causeway, and I crossed it, beached the boat long enough to unfurl and raise the jib, and then (after a calm that was just long enough to be worrisome) sailed back. I developed a significant appreciation for cam cleats; there was one for the centerboard pendant, and one with an integral fairlead for each side of the jib sheet and for the main. Pull down and across, and the line is secure; pull up, and the line is free. Magical.

After some three hours and about six and a half miles of sailing, I returned to the ramp and sailed right to the windward side of the dock, dropped the main, and tied up. Once again, an onlooker might have been fooled into thinking I knew what I was doing. My subsequent splashing about for nearly an hour while trying to get the boat onto the trailer straight would have put the lie to that idea, of course.
Fortunately no one was waiting for the ramp.

Eventually (after drenching my wallet and completely exhausting my patience), I parked, crawled under the trailer, and bench pressed the stern of the boat to move it the six inches sideways that I couldn't arrange at the ramp. As always, when intellect fails, it is handy to have access to sufficient brute force…

Conclusions? I had a great time, give or take a certain amount of tooth gnashing. I need to make some modifications, to the trailer, and I need to mount several cleats on the boat. I MAY go so far as to work up another mast and sail, because being unable to reef BOTHERS me. One thing I did not do was deliberately swamp the boat, just to see how badly it needs additional flotation; that seemed to be unwise without assistance. But it is something I will have to do…

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