Important Announcement

Dear Readers,

I have made the difficult decision to put my blog and newsletter on hold for the foreseeable future. However, I will still be putting out my writing prompts every other Friday.

I came to this choice after a lot of struggle and trepidation. I am so grateful for you. I read all your comments and am encouraged by your interest and gratitude. I don’t want to walk away from that, but I desperately need a break. I feel it’s only fair to tell you why.

I write the blog in the evenings after work. I don’t have other writers or researchers to help me. I put it out completely on my own in my spare time.

I have a fulltime job in supply chain for a manufacturer. As I’m sure you’ve heard, supply chain is very difficult right now. My job has become increasingly demanding. On top of that, I recently lost both of my in-laws within six weeks of each other. There is now a lot that my husband and I need to do to settle the estate. Lastly, I have lingering fatigue from my battle with cancer three years ago. I have a limited amount of energy and can only do so much before I’m exhausted.

Then there is my book. I care deeply about it, and it is one of my biggest priorities. Due to everything going on, I have caught myself sacrificing time I would normally spend on the book to keep up with the blog. As much as I love the blog, the book is more important to me.

I am putting the blog and newsletter on hold to prioritize my book and my wellbeing and to take care of these personal matters. My plan is to resume putting out the blog and newsletter once the book is edited and I have started pitching with literary agents. I hope you will understand and will continue checking back.

May you always find the best words,

Rebecca Shedd

Writer’s Deep Dive: Sail Repair

As I said in my last post, The Writer’s Guide to Sails, the sails are the engine of the ship. Therefore, any damage that prevents the sails from performing their function threatens the ship and crew. In the worst case, the vessel will be stranded or at the mercy of the tides and waves.

As a result, sail maintenance and repair are critical skills. This was especially true before ships had engines they could use instead of sails and radios to call for help.

In this article, I will cover the major sources of damage and how it can be repaired.

Now, let’s dive in!

Causes of Damage

Sun and Water Damage – Sails are subjected to a lot of weather. The hours of exposure to the sun and sea spray will weaken the cloth’s fibers. Eventually, the fabric will fail at its weakest point. This can cause either a hole or a tear. Both negatively impact the sail’s ability to catch the wind.

Stress Points – Parts of a sail endure more stress than others. These include the points of connection to the rigging and masts. The edges also are under a large amount of stress.

It is important for a ship’s crew to inspect the sails regularly to spot areas of weakness that can be addressed before they result in a hole or tear.

A massive tear in a sail. Image source.

Catastrophic Damage – This type of damage results from unusual events that are not because of regular wear. Holes or tears can occur when the sail is pierced by a projectile, such as a cannonball, arrow, or missile from a siege engine. If a mast or spar is damaged, it can puncture the sail. Last, the sail can be damaged by a dashing character making a dramatic entrance by sliding down to the deck with his knife through the sail.

Douglas Fairbanks sliding down a sail with a knife in The Black Pirate. Image source.

Repair Methods

However, if the sail is damaged, be it wear and tear, a cannonball, or a dashing sail-destroying character, it will have to be repaired. Sails are expensive, even today, with the help of the sewing machine to speed up the process. Before the aid of machines, sails were all sewn by hand, a time-consuming process. As a result, replacing the entire sail with a new one was the last resort.

Patching – A hole or tear can be repaired by patching, although a tear is usually sewn together first to stabilize it. A piece of new sailcloth is cut out and sewn over the damage, completely covering it. A patch is applied to both sides. This encases the damage and prevents it from spreading.

A patch on a sail. Image source.

Replacing Panels – If the damage is more extensive but contained to a single panel, the entire panel can be removed at the seams and replaced with a new one. This is more drastic than patching but less extreme and expensive than replacing the whole sail.

A new panel. Image source.

Tools of the Trade

Most sailing vessels throughout history, especially those on long journeys, had a sailmaker on the crew. He would have a kit that contained the tools of his trade, including scissors, awls, a sailor’s palm, pliers, waxed thread, and needles. A sailor’s palm is the sailmaker’s thimble. It fits over the hand and has a reinforced cup that the back of the needle is seated in. It allows the sailmaker to apply more pressure to the needle and use the strength of his arm. A pair of pliers is usually needed to pull the needle out the other side.

A sailor’s palm. Image source.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or by writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways, please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2023 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

The Writer’s Guide to Sails

The sails are the engine of every sailing vessel, since they are the primary source of propulsion. Humans have been catching the wind with sails for over 5,000 years. Although there have been advancements in materials and complexity of rigging, the concept remains the same.

I covered the basics of sails in my The Writer’s Guide to the Technology of Ships. However, today I am going into more detail.

As always, magic is the exception to the rule. Because magic.


There are two types of rigs. Square rigs are perpendicular to the keel of the vessel and are usually suspended from a yard attached to a mast. This type of sail is the most efficient at harnessing wind coming from behind the ship, and a vessel that mainly use this type of rig is known as a square-rigger. [1]

A ship with sails parallel to the keel is using a fore-and-aft rig. Vessels with this type of rig are described as fore-and-aft rigged. [2]

A square-rigged frigate. Image source.
A fore and aft rigged yawl. Image source.

Sail Attachments

There are four principle places where sails can be attached to a vessel.

Stay – A stay is a piece of standing rigging that runs along the center of a ship. It helps to stabilize a mast. [3] They run fore and aft in direction.

Mast – Sails with one edge against a mast are triangular or gaff-rigged. Both have booms at the bottom of the sail, which can swing from side to side to angle the sail to catch the wind. With triangular sails, the top of the sheet is hoisted up to the top of the mast. A gaff-rigged sail has a gaff at the top. A gaff is a smaller boom, usually of wood, with a ring, known as a throat, through which the mast runs. The throat slides up and down the mast when raised and lowered. The other side of the gaff is called the peak and can be raised semi-independent of the throat.

Spar – A spar is a horizontal piece attached to a mast. Suspending sails from a spar is the most common method used throughout history.

Halyard – A halyard is a line used to hoist a sail. Spinnakers are the most common type of sail suspended primarily from a halyard.

A fully rigged ship with sails attached to stays, masts, spars, and halyards. Image source.


Sails can come in a variety of shapes, including square, triangular, and quadrilateral. I covered the main sail shapes in my The Writer’s Guide to the Technology of Ships.

A quadrilateral sail. Image source.


A variety of materials have been used to make sails throughout history. The first sails were probably animal skins or woven reed mats. However, cloth sails appeared in Egyptian art dating back to 3,300 BC. Early sailcloth was woven from flax, which was later replaced by cotton. [4] Most modern sailboats used laminated poly fibers.


Sails made before the modern period were constructed of multiple panels since it was impossible to weave fabric big enough to create a sail of a single piece. The panel could be horizontal or vertical. Modern sails used radial panels to better stand up to the stress. [5]

Sails constructed of multiple panels. Image source.


As I mentioned in my The Writer’s Guide: Introduction to Sailing Ships, running rigging is used to raise, lower, and adjust the sails to best catch the wind. This is known as trimming. When a sail is gathered against a boom or spar, it is known as furling. Sails are furled when they are not in use or when the weather is bad, and the winds are unpredictable.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or by writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways, please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2022 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Keegan, John (1989). The Price of Admiralty. New York: Viking. p. 280. ISBN 0-670-81416-4.
[2] Knight, Austin Melvin (1910). Modern seamanship. New York: D. Van Nostrand. pp. 507–532.
[3] Keegan, John (1989). The Price of Admiralty. New York: Viking. p. 280. ISBN 0-670-81416-4.
[5] Hancock, Brian; Knox-Johnson, Robin (2003). Maximum Sail Power: The Complete Guide to Sails, Sail Technology, and Performance. Nomad Press. pp. 288. ISBN 978-1-61930-427-7. sail panel cut.

Writer’s Deep Dive: Anchors

A ship’s anchor is a critical piece of equipment. It allows the vessel to be secured in place when a dock or pier is unavailable. However, just like the hull and sail shapes, the anchor has a significant amount of technology in its design.

Now, let’s dive in!


Shank – The long piece of an anchor between the ring and arms.

Arms – The crosspiece at the bottom of the anchor.

Ring or Shackle – The top of the anchor to which the chain is attached.

Fluke – A flange at the end of the arms that digs into the seabed.

Stock – A crossbar at the top of the anchor.

Rode – The chain, rope, or cable that connects the ship to the anchor.

Hawsepipe – A small hole through which the rode passes.

The parts of an anchor. Image source.

Types of Anchors

The earliest anchors were rocks, and many have been found dating back to the Bronze Age. [1] The most common design comprised a hole bored through the rock with a rope tied through it. The ancient Greeks used baskets of stones, sacks of sand, and wooden logs filled with lead as anchors. All these early types of anchors relied on the weight to hold the ship in place.

An ancient stone anchor found off the coast of Israel. Image source.

The biggest improvement to the anchor design was the introduction of flukes. This is the iconic shape that most people are familiar with. Roman ships from the 1st century have been found with this style of anchor and 10th century Viking vessels. In fact, the Romans added the stock at the top of the anchor early on. Different variations of the fluked anchor have been developed over the centuries, but the basic design has remained the same and is still in use today.

An anchor from the Nemi ships, 1st century Roman vessels.
Image source.

The Admiralty Pattern anchor is a common shape that was based on the ancient Roman designs. The stocks are set at ninety-degree angles to the arms. When the anchor has landed on the bottom, strain on the chain will cause the stock to dig into the bottom, canting the anchor until one fluke digs in. Although the design is effective, there is a tendency for the rode to tangle in the stocks as the vessel swings with the wind and currents. This tangling may dislodge the anchor and require it to be reset. Another drawback is the difficulty in storage. Commonly, the ring was secured to a timber sticking out from the bow, known as a cathead, while one fluke was hauled up and hooked over the rail. A variation of the Admiralty Pattern anchor was developed in the mid-19th century, known as the Trotman Anchor, which had folding stocks. [2]

An Admiralty Pattern anchor. Image source.

A stockless anchor was patented in England in 1821. [3] Although the Admiralty Pattern anchor had superior holding capabilities, it was unwieldy to handle and store. The stockless anchor could be stowed flat or off the bow of the ship.

A stockless anchor. Image source.

Until the mid-20th century, small vessels used either a scaled-down version of the Admiralty Pattern anchor or a simple grapnel anchor, basically a four tined grappling hook.

Early sailors commonly used rope as their rode but it became replaced almost exclusively by chain on large ships. The downside to hemp rope is that it absorbs water and can fray on rocks and coral. Today, small vessels commonly use either chain or nylon rope.

Anchoring Techniques

To anchor a ship, a proper anchorage is determined, the anchor is dropped, the length of the rode is let out, and the fluke is set. The anchorage should be approached from downwind or down current, depending on which is stronger. The ship is stopped, and the anchor lowered to the bottom. Then the ship may drift or else motor back slowly, keeping the rode straight. As the anchor digs in, there will be resistance and the vessel should be maneuvered backward to achieve a good set.

With only one anchor, the ship will swing with the wind and currents. Multiple anchors can minimize the movement of the vessel. A forked moor involves two anchors off the bow set at a 45° angle. A bow and stern moor involves an anchor off the front and back of the ship.

It is important to know the depth before attempting to anchor. It is recommended that the length of the rode should be between four to ten times longer than the water is deep to prevent the anchor from breaking out. [4] The measurement should also include the distance between the surface of the water and the anchor roller or hawsepipe.

A correct anchorage. Image source.

Weighing Anchor

An embedded anchor must be broken out of the bottom in order to haul it up. The rode is taken in until the ship is directly above the anchor. This rotates the anchor and is usually enough to free it. If not, the vessel can move around to loosen it. When an anchor is aweigh, it means it is hanging from the rode but not resting on the bottom.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or by writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways, please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2022 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Johnstone, Paul and McGrail, Seán (1989). The sea-craft of prehistory. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-02635-2, p.82.
[3] "anchor" in The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 15th edn., 1992, Vol. 1, pp. 377–8.
[4] Safety in Small Craft. Ch 2. Royal NZ Coastguard Federation. Mike Scanlan. Auckland. 1994