The Lateen Mizzen

Mizzen SailContinuing on with the series on Mayflower II sails and their rigging, this time out it’s the lateen mizzen, one of the smallest sails on the ship but one that is very useful as a balancing sail. The mizzen is a triangular fore-and-aft sail set on the ship’s aftermost mast, high on the stern-castle. The sail is controlled by lines very much the same in function as those for all the other sails, although a couple of the lines are known by different names. To set the sail there is really only one item of gear – the “sheet” – which pulls the clew of the sail out from the mizzen yard. The mizzen sheet is actually rigged as a 2-block purchase…the standing part begins in a strop along with a block shackled to a small outrigger boom which protrudes aft from the poop deck thru the upper stern planking. The sheet then goes through a lead block at the clew of the sail, is led back aft through the block on the boomkin, then is led forward again over the after poop rail where it is made fast to a cleat secured to a stanchion. (It should be noted here that when the ship was much younger, in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, the sheet came through the block on the boomkin then through a fairlead hole cut through one of the stern planks at the poop deck level; apparently after one of the stern’s replanking projects the fairlead hole has never been re-cut). To take in the sail, or to “haul it up in its gear” as the saying goes, there are the lines that do the usual jobs. The “clewline” draws the lower aft corner up to the yard. Then there is a line that draws the lower edge of the sail up to the mizzen mast. On all the ship’s other sails this line would be called a buntline, but for some reason on the mizzen this piece of gear is known as a “brail.” There is also a confusing arrangement of gear that draws the after vertical edge of the sail up to the yard and smothers it. On the topsails & spritsail there are leechlines which draw the sides of the sail up; but here on the mizzen (as well as on the fore and main courses, which will discussed later) there is this convoluted gear known as the “martinets.”

MartinetsA picture perhaps can better describe how the martinets work so therefore I have included a photo which shows how they form a web-like net to draw the sail up and secure it to the yard. Basically described there are two deadeyes through which are rove the legs, or “martlets.” They are also rove from one side of the sail to the other through bullseyes worked into cringles along the bolt-rope of the sail’s leech. As I said, difficult to understand from a description, but much easier with a photo or two to help one visualize how they work. Another interesting facet of the mizzen rigging is how the yard must be swung around to the opposite side of the mast each time the ship is tacked.

tacking the MizzenNormally when set the yard is suspended at approximately a 45-degree angle. When it must be swung around the mizzen mast, the sail needs to be hauled up in its gear and the yard is then stood up vertically, parallel to the mizzen mast. Once the yard is stood up, the “bowline tackles” at the foot of the yard are disconnected, the yard is shifted to the opposite side of the mizzen mast, the bowlines are rehooked and the “peak” end of the yard is lowered back down, the yard resumes its 45-degree angle and the sail is set once again on the new tack. This procedure somewhat baffled Captain Villiers and his 1957 crew until they got used to doing it, and it baffled us a bit in 1990, too, regardless of our having read Villiers’ accounts of the transatlantic crossing. But our difficulties arose from another piece of rigging which had stretched out to such an extent that it didn’t work correctly. The mizzen peak halyard consists, in part, of a pendant leading aft from the main-topmast head which has a lead block in its lower end. Well we could not stand the mizzen yard up to a vertical position the first time we tried because the mizzen peak halyard pendant was well over 31 feet long when, according to the rigging plan and specifications, it should only have been 20 feet, 6 inches. Somehow over the years of sailing inactivity this gear had stretched over 10 feet and was useless to do what it was meant to. We had limited time before the ship’s September 5, 1990 sail so we didn’t shorten the pendant right away. But we did so during the next off-season down-rig period and the mizzen peak halyard was working properly in time to sail the ship to Provincetown during the summer of 1991.

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