A sailing craft's rig is her engine and, like most engines, it is a complex arrangement of parts carefully fit together to produce a maximum of power. This was no less true in 1888 when George Lawley built Elf than it is today. Because the boat was created to race in the 30 foot waterline class of Boston the rig was built within certain parameters. Apparently a limit on size was not one of them.  For all of her sail area Elf can be safely sailed, the clouds of canvas are for light air in an engineless era; also that entire rig is stabilized by an 8,500 lead casting under her keel.

          When her racing career ended Elf sailed with a much smaller sail plan, she came to be rigged as a gaff yawl. In the course of her rebuild by the Classic Yacht Restoration Guild it was decided to reinstate her original racing setup and it fell to us to do that. The first step in the process was to determine what that rig had been. The photographs on this page are courtesy of the Hart Nautical Collection at MIT. These and several more have been a tremendous help in the process of rediscovering the original Elf. The library at Mystic Seaport came up with a page of notes on the rig from the Lawley yard listing key spar dimensions. Further information was gleaned from W.P. Stephen’s “Traditions and Memories of American Yachting” where Elf’s rig is compared to that of the C.C. Hanley catboat, Harbinger. Utilizing all of these resources it was possible to work out the proportions of Elf’s original rig.

          To work out the details like standing rig wire sizes and spar wall thicknesses the lines were taken from the boat so calculation could be done based on them. The rig could then be designed as if it were for a new boat.  Along the way decisions had to be made about the boat’s use in the twenty first century. She would be racing with other classic yachts so an effort had to be made to keep her competitive in the modern classic yacht racing scene. This would mean a few departures from the original in terms of construction, most notably her spars would be hollow rather than solid, This change makes her faster, safer, a bit more manageable and is permitted by the modern racing rules. Other changes had to do with materials. Stainless wire rather than galvanized, polyester line rather than manila, Dacron sails rather than cotton, bronze fittings rather than iron. All of these decisions came from a desire to reduce maintenance and increase durability at little cost to the experience of racing a 19th century sailing machine. So the running rig is three strand with all the traditional work, the standing rig is spliced, parcelled served and leathered, the cleats are wood for the most part and the blocks are wood shelled. Any 19th century sailor would be right at home on the deck or in the rig of Elf.

A Sail Plan
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MIT Hart Nautical Collection
MIT Hart Nautical Collection