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by Ross Lillistone - Esk, Queensland - Australia

If you are looking for a super-simple rig which is effective on all points of sail, and which can be put together with the absolute minimum of fittings, the Balance Lug could be for you.

Phoenix III showing-off her Balance Lug rig option.

I first used the Balance Lug for the first time in about the year 2000, nearly forty years after first learning to sail, and I have to say that it was a revelation. For most of my sailing life I've been interested in the simple rigs associated with small working boats, with particular focus on the Chinese Lug (a. k. a. Junk Rig), the Standing Lug, and the spritsail in both it's leg o'mutton form and the better known four-sided layout.

The Chinese Lug
Four-sided Spritsail with a jib set flying - Phoenix III
Leg o' Mutton Spritsails on my Little Egret design.
Standing Lug with a sprit boom shown on my old Phoenix, designed by my father back in 1970. She is the same boat as in the photo showing the Chinese Lug. She has been the workhorse for my rig experiments, and has carried at least eight different rigs (so far...)
Dipping Lug. This boat is a Francois Vivier Aber which I built in 2007

All of these older working boat rigs evolved over long periods of time, and the evolution was not perverted by the artificial constraints imposed by the rating rules used in various forms of racing. These rigs were developed by people who required low-cost, reliability, ease of operation, and repairability in order to survive on the oceans, lakes and rivers of the world. The result is that the rigs work efficiently with the minimum of costly fittings, and they are reliable. If the crews understand the idiosyncrasies of the rig, their performance can be superb.

The Balance Lug is said to have been a pleasure boat rig more than a working boat rig. It has been said that the working boatmen would have found the boom to be an annoyance, particularly because of its self- vanging characteristic. For many years I discarded it as a worthwhile rig for a reason which seems to worry a lot of other people as well, and that is that the rig appears to be so asymmetric with the sail being distorted by the mast on one tack. That is a strange attitude for me to have, because the Chinese Lug (one of my favourites) is similarly asymmetric.

They say it is a virtue to become aware of one's own stupidity, and that was brought home to me in about 2003 when my friend, Doug Laver, gave me a near-new sail which was surplus to his requirements. The sail was a Balance Lug, and I added it to the inventory of sails I had for my old boat, thinking it would be interesting to try out, but not thinking much more about it. However, after several moths of regular sailing, it occurred to me that the sail I was using most often was the Balance Lug, and that I was almost totally oblivious to the asymmetry which had worried me so much in my armchair theorising.

A Jim Michalak-designed Mayfly 14 demonstrating satisfying performance with her Balance Lug

So, what is it which makes the Balance Lug such an appropriate rig for a small cruiser? Here is my take on the rig:

  • The sail is not attached to the mast anywhere, but is simply laced on to the boom and the yard. This greatly simplifies rigging, unrigging, and reefing as there is no sail track, no mast hoops, no luff lacing, and no slugs or shackles;
  • The halyard and down-haul are simply attached to the yard and boom by a rolling hitch - at least in the case of small boats. No expensive fittings, no gooseneck, no slides, no shackles;
  • Because the boom extends forward of the mast, the combination of the downhaul adjacent to the mast and the upward tension in the luff of the sail pulling the forward end of the boom upwards, the rig is self-vanging. No boom vang and associated pulleys and shackles required;
  • The luff of the sail is well forward of the mast, working in clear air free from mast-induced turbulence;
  • When the halyard is released, the sail always comes down on its own. No more tugging away at reluctant sails stuck in tracks;
  • Furling the four-sided sail is convenient, especially as the boom and yard can remain attached;
  • Reefing is convenient, quick, and neat. The remaining sail shape is good, and the sail cloth is not strained. Reefing can be done with nothing more than some light line, and the resulting centre-of-area of the reefed sail is very close to being in the same longitudinal location as with the full sail - in many other rigs, the reefed centre-of-area moves forward significantly;
  • Being balanced by the portion of the sail which extends forward of the mast, sheeting is light and gybes are relatively gentle;
  • The mast, boom, yard, and sail make up into a neat bundle for transportation and stowage.

There are plenty of tricks which can be employed to make the sail even more versatile, the most important of which is the use of a parrel on the boom. Here is how I do it, but there are plenty of other methods.

This is the view from above showing the boom parrel looped around the boom with a loose bowline (or rolling hitch if you like), and then running around the mast, forward to a hole through the tack end of the boom, and back to a cleat on the boom which is within easy reach of the helmsman. By tightening or loosening the line at the cleat, the entire boom and sail can be moved aft or forward relative to the mast location, making alterations to the balance of the rig.
Here you can just see the downhaul on the port side of the mast, and the boom parrel running around the starboard side of the mast and extending to the forward end of the boom.
This is a closer view of the same arrangement.
An out-of-focus photo, but you can see how the parrel runs through the boom and then back to a cleat placed anywhere handy on the boom.
A view from below showing the entire set-up. All very simple, but also very effective.
This view of Periwinkle with her heavy weather rig set-up shows the mizzen mast removed, the main mast moved aft to a more central step, and the main sail set on its own, with a reef tied in. See how well the sail will set when reefed. This particular sail is set loose-footed, but it would probably be better laced around the boom.

The Balance Lug is a simple, effective, and versatile rig which can be put together with few, if any, store-bought fittings. The unobstructed luff, free from turbulence generated by the mast gives far better windward performance than many would imagine. The above video clip shows just how well the Balance Lug can drive a small boat, which in this case is my Phoenix III design.

Ross' Plans are available in our store.

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