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

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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

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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

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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.


Old Boats have Old Sails

And new boats need new sails

Over the nearly two years since we kicked off the website there has been a remarkable and quite unexpected resurgence of interest in the Australian Sailfish. Quite a few boats have been recovered, discovered or just dragged out from under the house, and there has been a good number of new boats built or being built.

However, there is one area of the build or restoration that is beyond most of us working from home, and that is the skills and equipment to repair old sails or make a new one. Whether you need a new sail for your shiny new Sailfish, or your old sail needs replacing, or a new bolt rope, or some stitching replaced, or a patch where a batten has torn through, you really do need the help of an experienced sailmaker. After some discussion between Chris and myself we are happy to recommend the following sailmakers:

Unique Sails – Brian Carroll, Jack’s son – based in Paynesville Victoria, Brian has literally a lifetime of experience with the Australian Sailfish, and has been making sails since he was about 15. His latest Sailfish sail is for Jack’s Toy, his new build from 2017 and it goes like a train.



Phone: 0411 743 602

Redback Sails – Andy Campbell and James Gough – based in Brookvale NSW and has supplied Ian Milton’s and Chris Cleary’s latest sails, and they are both really happy with them, Chris reckons it is the best Sailfish sail he has ever had (and no, it isn’t his first sail).



Phone: Andy 0438 111 197

Off the Beach Sails – Peter Williamson – based on the Sunshine Coast Queensland with a focus on dinghy sails and repairs. Peter has access to sail design software and CAD but all his work is done by hand, from measuring to cutting to finishing.


Phone: 0405 226 739

Really Simple Sails – Michael Storer – Michael has a strong reputation for his affordable and accessible boat designs and has extensive experience with lug sail development. Really Simple Sails is based in the Phillipines and is offering a discount on their normal price for the first Australian Sailfish sail ordered for delivery into Australia. This is due to the introduction of GST on imported goods being extended to goods less than $1000 and the lack of clarity about how that will be managed. The deal is that the customer has to let Michael know what happens with additional Australian charges.




I have deliberately not listed any prices here, as that will fluctuate with exchange rates depending on where you are and who you order from. If you are ordering a new sail, that will be the time to discuss price and inclusions. Of course, repairs are most easily done locally.

So this gives us a sailmaker in each state on the eastern seaboard of Australia and an overseas supplier as well. These are just some of the sailmakers we know a bit about, you might have a great sailmaker near where you live and be happy to be using them instead. Whoever you choose, I hope they look after you and your Sailfish.


Helen Gets a Facelift!

Those of us who were at the Classic Dinghy Classes Invitation Weekend at Cairn Curran last November will remember how wild it was on the Saturday afternoon. Ken Maynard took Australian Sailfish 600 Helen out for a romp before the racing started and once the race got underway was doing well in the extreme conditions.

But then he started to slow down and fell away to the back of the pack. After the race it became apparent that the deck had lifted at the join where it meets the bow, creating an opening that seemed determined to swallow as much of the reservoir as possible. So, more repairs required, and here is the current state of play:

Sailfish 600 Helen, with bow removed, but still with a lot of wood in there! [By Ken Maynard, Diamond Creek, May 2018]
To quote Ken “nothing some glue, screws, brackets and a new bit timber won’t fix.”

Stay tuned for updates.


Repairing holes in a plywood boat

(repair, text and photographs by Chris Cleary)

This website last year carried a notice regarding a second-hand Australian Sailfish for sale in an antique store in Geelong. It was a boat from the early 1970’s, the provenance of which, unfortunately, remains a mystery.

It was inspected in late November, and found to have quite a handsome varnished deck.



When turned over however, ugly holes were revealed in both port and starboard bottom panels in the forward section of the hull.

Hole in starboard side bottom panel near bow.
Holes in Port side bottom panel near side chainplate

Despite this damage, the boat was rescued for liberation into the Sailfish paradise on Lake Macquarie in NSW.

The technique to repair this sort of damage is relatively straight-forward. In a painted boat it is easy to get a good aesthetic result. This is less readily achieved on a varnished hull, even with careful matching of the grain of the plywood patches. In a varnished boat, damage such as this has often been the trigger for a change to a painted finish.

The first step was to trim the holes to a regular shape. Be careful to check with fingers the extent of damage on the internal surface of the bottom panels, and expand the hole as necessary so that all damage is removed.

Damaged sections cut to a regular shape

When the holes were adequately trimmed, tracings were made.

Tracing of port side hole

These tracings were transferred to a couple of pieces of off-cuts of 4 mm ply that were already pre-coated with a few coats of unthickened epoxy. It is critical that these patches be exactly the same thickness as the panels being repaired, otherwise you will have an uneven finish.

A backing frame for both holes was then made from the same pre-coated 4 mm ply. On the port side the frame was made in two pieces to enable it to be more easily fitted into place. The backing frames were glued with thickened epoxy to the inner surface of the bottom ply, the frames overlapping the perimeter of the holes by about 10 mm. They were clamped in place while the epoxy cured overnight. These frames also protruded into the holes by about 10 mm or so, providing a glueing surface for the patches. They act as butt straps or pads for what are essentially butt joints between the patches and the bottom panels. On the starboard side, a partially exposed stringer acted as part of the backing frame for the patch.

Starboard side showing backing frame and final patch piece
Port side showing backing pieces and final patch piece

The patches were dry -fitted to the holes. Note that it is not necessary to have a tight fit. A slight gap provides a space into which sanding filler can be squeezed at a later stage in the repair. This seems to lessen the likelihood of the rectangular patches being discernible through the finished paint job.

Dry fitting port side patch

The patches were glued into place, covered with pieces of plastic and held in place with gravitational clamps (also known as bricks). The patches and surrounding ply were sanded back after the epoxy had cured.

Glued and sanded, note minor gaps visible at edges of patch

To allow for final fairing, a generous coat of sanding filler was applied with a squeegee to the patches. I use Bote-cote epoxy, which was thickened with Bote-cote sanding filler powder.

Starboard side patch coated with sanding filler
Port side patch coated with sanding filler

It provides a readily sanded surface which can be faired with higher and higher grade sandpaper to a perfect finish. Some areas of the filler coat will become almost translucent with sanding to a fair surface.

Final faired starboard patch
And the finally faired port side patch


The repair at this point is ready for painting by the boat’s new owner at Toronto on Lake Macquarie.

Fixing up an old centreboard

More and more Australian Sailfish are surfacing as a result of the renewed interest in the class, and while some will require a full restoration, think Helen and Stanley Crocodile as shown in the Gallery, others might just require a bit of repair and maintenance to get back on the water.

A case in point, Mrs Vicious, winner of the very first National Titles held at Elwood in December/January 1968/69. Hull was in good shape even after years of storage, spars were sound, sail was good and needed only a few minor repairs. As a safety precaution, I replaced the stays as there was no way of knowing how sound they were, having been sailed in the ocean and then stored by the sea for well over ten years.

The centreboard on first inspection was a bit knocked about:


Apart from the chips along the trailing edge there were some dents and divots along the chord of the centreboard as well.

The first step is to sand it back so you can really see the condition. Now starts the good news, bad news stuff. Sanding back with a painted centreboard is relatively easy, as long as the base paint is sound as it is here, then there is no real concern about ruining the shape of the centreboard; as long as you are not sanding through the paint and into the wood, you can be sure you are safe, that’s the good news. However, in this case, sanding off the red paint revealed that this board had suffered some major damage and then been filled and faired to repair it.


Notice the amount of filler along the trailing edge at bottom left of the picture. The other side revealed more damage:


Again a lot of filling and fairing along the trailing edge, even more than I had suspected from the other side, also note the fairly deep scratch marks centre right of the photo below the handle.

OK, so here we are, the board is basically sound, even though there has been some damage, the paint is actually in really good shape, this is a win as it means the entire board doesn’t have to be taken back to bare wood (and filler).

The next step is to hand sand and fair the board, doing your best to remove the worst of any imperfections. If you have to take the centreboard back to bare wood, when it comes to painting I would suggest standing the board on its top end and painting or varnishing both sides of the blade at once to ensure there is no chance of distortion of the blade as one side dries while the other is still bare wood.

For this project I decided to use a roller with a short bristle, this was both a training exercise and an experiment for me, I usually use a brush, but if I am to move into the exciting world of epoxy resin I will have to develop my roller skills. As I hadn’t needed to take the board all the way back to bare wood I was able to paint one side of the board and then the other. Basically, apply paint, sand and fair, repeat until happy.

Two factors affected my paint choice. Firstly, availability, so I used the same paint that I had used to repaint Mrs Vicious’ hull, a well known semi gloss house paint. Which brings me to the second factor – if you are building a new boat, high gloss looks brilliant, really highlighting your boat, but that also means that when doing up an older boat it will highlight every bump, mark and imperfection, which is why I choose semi gloss, or even matt, paint or varnish for restoration work.

Here I did a total of four coats of paint, after the first coat I sanded back with 220 wet and dry (wet), repeated that after the second, after the third I sanded back with 400 wet and dry (wet) and then once I was sure I was happy with the fourth and final coat, I sanded back once again with 1200 wet, being sure to add just a drop of liquid detergent to the water to minimise the chances of scratching.

Here is the end result:



Is it perfect? Hell no, it’s a 50 year old centreboard that has had some rough times, but the shape has been cleaned up and the chips out of the back edge have been faired in, the scratches in the sides of the blade are smoothed out or removed and it is a clean, usable centreboard for many more years of use.

We hope that this will become part of an ongoing series on Repairs & Maintenance. If you are doing some fix up work on your Sailfish please send in some details and we can run a blog to help out others.