I’d like to start off by discussing the spritsail, one of the smallest sails on Mayflower II, one that has a bare minimal amount of necessary running gear but, oddly enough, was the sail that in 1957 seemed to perplex Captain Villiers and his experienced Cape Horn officers the most; until they got used to experiment setting this sail it seemed very awkward to them. In actuality, it likely wasn’t the sail or its gear that was most confusing, but just how to trim the spritsail yard to make the most effective use of this sail.
The yard has a lot of confusing gear which controls it – lifts led out to the end of the bowsprit and braces originating from and leading back and forth to the forestay – and all these lines need to be handled in a relatively small, confined space in the beakhead where they are led and made fast to a pin rail just aft of the inboard bowsprit gammoning. As for bending the sail itself, the first step is usually to roll the sail up from its bottom to the top, leaving the bolt rope along the head (top edge) exposed.
Once rolled up, the sail can be temporarily tied up like this in roll along its length by twine. At this time (or prior) robands have been attached to cringles along the head of the sail. The robands are short, braided lines which will tie the sail securely to the yard. It is much easier to bend (attach) the spritsail when its yard has been lowered down into the beakhead, where the ends of the yards can be more easily reached. It can be done with the yard hauled out to its usual location beneath the forestay collar, but why not more easily bend the sail in the beak instead of having to walk out the sprit and have to work over the water having the various lines fed up and down by gantline?
Once the rolled-up sail and yard are in the beak it is a fairly simple matter to tie the precise centerline of the sail to the precise centerline of the yard. This method of bending sails to yards is pretty much the same for all of Mayflower’s sails. Once the center of the sail is secured to the yard, the ends (top corners) of the sail can be pulled out as far as possible to the ends of the yards. Lines called earrings are passed through a seized loop at the top corners of the sail and passed back and forth through holes in the ends of the yards.
Before making up the earrings permanently, the head bolt rope of the sail should be pulled taut along the yard using a small handy-billy or come-along, thus insuring there’ll be no sag between the roband cringles; the head of the sail should be pulled taut, no sag, and all the robands can be tied, well securing sail to yard, and the earrings can be made fast at the yard’s ends, port and starboard. From a practical standpoint the running rigging attached to the sprits’l is fairly simple. The lines can be considered in two categories – those that draw the sail up to the yard when it is to be furled and those lines used to draw the sail out and away from the yard when it is to be set.
The rigging plan for the vessel shows the sprits’l rigged with only one (centerline) buntline which is led over the forward side of the sail and draws the bottom of the sail up to the yard. There are also clewlines which originate on the yard, are led through a fairlead block at the clews of the sail, then up to other lead blocks tied to the yard, thence to the forward pinrail on the forecastle deck; the clewlines draw the two lower corners of the sail up to the yard.
Even though not shown on the rigging plan, when we rigged the sprits’l in 1990 for Mayflower’s first sail in 26 years we also added two leechlines to draw the leeches (vertical side edges) up to the yard, working in tandem with the single buntline. In order to set the sail all the clewlines, buntlines and leechlines are slacked away and the sail pretty much un-furls itself. To draw the sail fully out, there are lines attached to the clews called “sheets” – These are led aft from the lower corners of the sprits’l thru bullseye fairleads attached near the deadeyes of the after-most fore shrouds and then the sheets are made fast on the main deck abaft the forecastle bulkhead.
Once again, as mentioned in the opening paragraph above, the sprits’l and its gear really is not too complicated but, rather, it is the sprityard’s awkward gear – braces, lifts and halyard – which made setting the sail difficult when we first tried to master it back in 1990. But, after studying photos of the ship taken in 1957 and reading a few of Captain Villiers detailed accounts of handling the ship, it wasn’t long before we were able to efficiently set the sail for any wind conditions.