An Essential Sailfish Gadget

From Chris Drury, October 6 2018:

 “Irreducible complexity is a term to describe a structure that performs a function but cannot be made any simpler or it will not work. Remove one single component from a mousetrap and it is no longer a mousetrap.

The Australian Sailfish is a sailing boat that could be described as irreducibly complex. It is a sailing boat that in many aspects can’t be made any simpler or it won’t work. So, this is not the class where one would expect to see novel gadgets. It is not the class to see many gadgets at all really. But when Sailfish are lined up along the beach, you can be sure that this gadget will be well represented. It’s probably not unique to the Sailfish class, but it doesn’t seem to be that common in other classes.

There is a reason why this gadget is so popular with Sailfish skippers. Picture being on your Sailfish in a stiff breeze and for one reason or another, the sail needs to come down. Try scrambling to the fore deck of the boat to untie the halyard and lower the sail. If you are lucky you can get half the job done before the boat capsizes and is completely upside down.  Then you have to finish the job feeling around beneath the boat. Or you climb on the centreboard. OK, the mast is now horizontal, so from the centreboard you lean forward to get to the halyard but then the bow goes under, you fall off and the boat is upside down again.

Our safety rules state that the sail must be able to be lowered from the deck. The circus described above is hardly compliant and is certainly no fun. Enter the gadget, drum roll please – Enter the quick release; there, wasn’t that worth the build up?

The quick release is a fastening device at the top of the mast with a chord or wire down to deck level. One tug on the chord and the head of the sail is free to come down, no more circus. This gadget is so simple that there is no need for any more words, just a few pictures. So here it is. The humble quick release.”

(The author of this article says he will not answer any questions about “the circus” for fear of self incrimination.)

Blowed if I Know 3456

IMG_4233.JPG        IMG_4234.JPG

IMG_4235 copy.jpg

So, enthused, ready to make your very own, not sure where to start? Read on, for the latest (??) from our March 1978 Australian Sailfish Newsletter!

“Here is a simple device invented some (many!) years ago by Peter Kilevics and used on many Sailfish since then. Read the steps and refer to the images below for clarification, I would recommend a dry fit first to test everything out.


  1. If you are using an aluminium mast, make up a wooden plug to fit into the top of the mast, slather with glue (epoxy or whatever) and fix in place. If using a wooden mast this step is not required.
  2. Cut a 6 mm (¼”) slot fore and aft in the top f the mast. This should be 25 mm (1”) deep at the front of the mast and 37 mm (1 ½”) deep at the back.
  3. Fashion an L shaped lever as shown from aluminium plate about 4 mm (3/16”) thick.
  4. Fit the lever in position with the long side sitting flush down the front of the mast. Drill a hole through the mast, the block plug and the lever and secure with suitable nut and bolt.
  5. Drill another hole in the mast about level with the lowest point of the lever. Make a loop in one end of a 150 mm (6”) long piece of stainless steel wire, push a bolt through the loop and the mast, bend the wire around front of the mast and lever. Twist the wire around the opposite end of the bolt and then secure with a nut.
  6. Run a length of cord, or wire, to the deck to use if required to release the sail.”

Here are two variations of the instructions above:

Stanley Crocodile 3330

Quick Release Engaged                                  & Released

IMG_20181012_125953382.jpg          IMG_20181012_125942287.jpg

Jack’s Toy 3461

Quick Release Engaged                                  & Released

image-1.jpg          image.jpg

As you can see, the photos above show a version of the Peter Kilevics system. What is not immediately obvious is that the lever in the photos has a notch cut in the top to hold the shackle, or cord, or wire at the top of the sail and the system in the article has a slight dip in the section that sticks out the back of the mast for the same reason.

Another option for an aluminium mast:

The sail quick release on Super Trooper (3365) is basically a spring-loaded pin at the top of the mast that is connected to a cord running internally down the mast and out a small hole just above the base. When the cord is pulled the pin retracts releasing the shackle at the top of the sail.


For those with wooden masts who don’t want to cut them about, this variation from Ken O’Brien is worth checking out:

  1. For my quick release system I used a Wilchard Quick Release Snap Shackle, bought from Anchor Marine. It comes with a very short release line, which I removed, and then had trouble finding a fine rope to fit through the hole, so probably better to attach your rope to the one provided.
  2. The release line loops up through the top eyelet of the release shackle.
  3. Using this system, the quick release could be added without any modification to the mast, except for adding cleats at the base to hold the release line.
  4. One design consideration is that when the quick release is used, the release line should remain attached to the top of the mast, and not come down with the sail, when it would get tangled.
  5. Another consideration is that this snap block is very sensitive, and could release through mast flexing . To overcome this, I have attached a short length of shock cord along the release line, arranged so that the shock cord needs to be stretched before the release line operates. This takes a little bit of experimentation to get the pressure right.

Wooden Mast Step 1                                          Wooden Mast Step 3

IMG_E1363.JPG            IMG_E1358.JPG

Wooden Mast Step 5


There you go, one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but you will be SO glad you have it on that fateful day when you really need it.


One thought on “An Essential Sailfish Gadget

  1. I caught up with my brother the other week and we both had a look at the website. We couldn’t believe the condition of Super Trooper. David said it looked as good as the day he sold it to Dale Watson. It was interesting to see the original Powerdrive sail on it.

    The quick release on Super Trooper it is actually a Goldspar fitting. David put it on when he put the champion mast on the boat after he broke the original mast. I also had this system on Boggle when I put a champion mast on it. The only other class I have seen quick releases on is the Sharpie. A few Sharpies still use them today – usually the Goldspar fitting but most have now moved back to halyards – saves tipping boat over when rigging!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s