I met Alex Burton at one of the early Pt. Townsend wooden boat shows, I think maybe 1980? He had one of the neatest boats I’ve ever seen, built on the beach up in British Columbia with a lot of driftwood. It looked straight out of 1960s Marin County California, which back then was one of the most exciting and creative places in the world. Of course B.C. is the Canadian California and Vancouver Island back then was like Marin and north. Alex knows what he’s talking about regarding Junk Rigs anyway, and he recently sent me the letter below. Note his comment that the sail was made from a blue plastic tarp. That is common up there in British Columbia. You can buy a 30′ x 60′ tarp here at Harbor Freight or the like for a hundred bucks or so. People make their junk sail from part of it, sail to Mexico, then make another sail to come home. You won’t learn about this sort of thing in Cruising World but it ain’t uncommon….. Anyway, here’s what Alex wrote!

I read through your notes on the junk rig and can confirm some of the things you suppose. In very light breezes they do, sometimes, have some issues with tacking. Some of this problem is the result of people trying to force the boat around rather than sailing it. Patience and finesse are both wonderful virtues. Backing the sail, however, soon solves the problem and this is very easy to do. As far as heaving to, my boat was “yawl” rigged-I suppose you would call it a cat yawl -with a little junk jigger right aft. She would heave to beautifully and I rode out a few gale force storms that way lying in my bunk below reading a book. Very relaxing. There is some issue with shortening sail sufficiently when running in brisk winds, but I did use a small jib set flying and that worked very well. I was caught in the ongoing 3 day gale off Cape Mendocino during which a 60′ steel fishboat lost all the windows in her wheelhouse and a big, strong, aluminum sailing boat with a strong crew of macho men came limping in all battered and complaining. I used the small jib, went below and read, peaking out from time to time to marvel at the huge waves.

You are certainly welcome to the junk rig comments if they are of any use to you. After sailing Pookmis thousands of miles with that rig, mostly without an engine, I did develop some familiarity with the rig and an appreciation of both its qualities and weaknesses. For cost and simplicity, it is pretty impossible to beat. The sail, as you may remember, was made from a blue, plastic tarp sewn up in an afternoon on a treadle Singer. The mast was a fir pole planed to the heartwood and the battens were simply saplings from dry, rocky south-facing ledges-tight grain and fairly straight. The lack of rigging allows the sail to be feathered and it can be reefed in a heartbeat on any point of sailing. The lazy jacks also allow the sail to be reefed from the bottom up to provide reduced sail and better visibility when, for example, maneuvering in tight quarters. It’s not the greatest on a wind-about equivalent to a gaff rig-but is a delight on anything of a reach or a run. Downwind, of course, without stays in the way the sail can be set almost like a square sail and easing off on the lines that control fore and aft tension the centre of pressure can be shifted more toward the longitudinal axis of the boat thus reducing the lever arm and the ensuing weather helm. You can pull off a full jibe without touching a sheet with no drama at all because the sail is balanced. For short handed, old-man type cruising, it’s a pretty hard rig to beat. At no time, except perhaps when a big power boat passes very close at high speed, does the rig seem to impose any strain on the hull and no winches or other fancy gear are used at all. It’s always a big surprise to people when you sail up to a dock and drop the sail with one hand by un-cleating one line.