Booms and Romilly

By Philippe Galland

I bought Augustine, Romilly n°7, (a Dartington boat built in 1996) from a guy in Saint Malo. I usually sail single handed. I quickly discovered some hurdle in leaving the tiller and jump on the foredeck to fix a pole, even with an autopilot. Anyway, autopilots don’t like broad reach or run situation, particularly in choppy water like the Gironde Estuary where Augustine and me are based. So I decided to change the sail plan for a boom version and ask Ed Burnett for a new sail plan.

As Nigel Irens says in his article about boom, boom sail plan presents a problem on the “bad” (starboard) tack. Without having (by very far) the same technical know how I realised that the sail had a “bad shape” on the starboard tack and was not pleased about it. Looking back to the Nigel Irens original (without boom) sail plan, we see that the tack of the main is fixed precisely at the foot of the mast, reducing to almost zero the “before the mast” part of the sail.

We can also seek advice from the tradition. I have got a small book edited by the “CHASSE-MARÉE”: “GUIDE DE LA MANŒUVRE DES PETITS VOILIERS TRADITIONNELS”. (a very nice little book with plenty of illustrations you can buy on ). We can see there that a lot of solutions have been used in different countries or times.

When you’ve got some part of the sail before the mast, it’s called a balanced lug. If the tack is at the foot of the mast, it’s a standing lug. Both solution have been used with or without boom. On the balanced lug, «l’usage était de gambeyer sur les longs bords». It means that they use to change the side where the gaff was hauled to avoid the “bad tack situation” («la mauvaise main» in French).
We cannot do that on a Romilly which argues in favor of the standing lug.

Whatever, nobody forbade us to put a boom on a standing lug, or modify the Ed Burnett sail plan by sliding the down haul right at the fore end of the boom.

Romilly sail plans

I finally did that this season.

I’ve not sailed a lot yet with this disposition, but it seems to work beautifully, even if I have to valid it through actual tests. If I encounter any problem anyhow, it’s very easy to go backward: just slide the down haul back.


Originally I decided to fix a boom on my Romilly because the use of a pole on a broad reach or a run is practically impossible when single handed.

Then I promptly discovered that a boom in downwind situation was not, at first, such a good solution: as you bear away, the sheet becomes unable to control the vertical position of the boom. The boom raises too much, oscillates dangerously up and down, the sail “closes” and the boat runs sometimes out of control.

Romilly sail downhaul

I’m sure that all of you encountered this problem, and I’m curious to learn the solutions you’ve found.

In the little book I just talked about, they say that, on the “canot à misaine” going downwind, Briton sailors pulled the tack of the sail windward, seizing it on the gunwale of the canot.


How can we do that on a Romilly?
First and easy things are to release throat parrel and down-haul. These two actions arrange things somehow, allowing the boom to slide windward. The gaff also become more horizontal.

To go further we should arrange a sort of boom-vang to prevent the boom lifting too high.

How can we achieve that with the mast at the bow?

I decided to try something using what we have, and seizing two blocks on the front fairleads with textile shackles. Then we can fix a sort of twin boom-vang, running from the first third of the boom to the two blocks on either side of the mast, and back to the winches (now unused because of the boom situation).

Romilly rig diagram

Each side of the twin boom-vang is obviously used on a different tack, the other being released.

With the boom vang in place, the downwind situation is far better. The boom practically horizontal, the sail looks already more like a square sail. The centre of propulsion goes back toward the mast, insuring a more secure movement.

Romilly boom rig

It remains that the port tack is better than the starboard, but the boom-vang has another decisive advantage: it works as a “retenue de bôme” (how you say that in English, I don’t know) which prevents any accidental gybing.

On a reach boom-vang is also useful in limiting the twist of the sail. There also, tests are to be made this summer to see how it works.


The originality of the Nigel Irens design comes from the fact that he translated traditional designs using modern tools. As a consequence he transformed the design itself. I’ve always been struck by the fact that, compared with traditional luggers, the Roxane and Romilly sails appears to have been vertically elongated as reflected by the “funny mirrors” of the amusement park. Carbon mast and spar allow that, plus the cast iron centre board, giving us a far better power output from the sail.

Then the way we use the boats have to be adapted too. All the solutions do not exist yet, and we have to add some. Then we’ll obviously make mistakes and have to be corrected by our experience or the one of others. That’s why this blog is such a great idea.

I hope that the solutions described here will be rapidly outdated (if they’re are not already) by better ones. And I’m very curious to see how.

    1. Nigel Irens says:

      Great stuff!

      It will be very interesting to see how your arrangement works out as you spend time with it. I’m the first to admit that while having no ‘balance’ on the boom solves the luff shape problem it does create another: as you say, the boom lifts and the sail twists much too much when sailing off the wind.

      My best compromise was to use a bearing out spar (in my case the top halves two broken windsurfer masts joined, butt to butt). I allowed it to run forward of the mast and set so it crossed the mast about 2.5 metres above the deck .

      The tension was created by a tackle secured to the inboard end of the spar, which pushed the clew both outboard and downwards. The other end of the tackle was attached to a grommet around the mast, which itself carried a downhaul which stopped the spar riding further up the mast.

      For short downing gybes it seemed worth putting up with having the spar on the ‘wrong’ side of the sail. In fact that only worked if the bottom batten was removed, as the batten hated having to ride over the bearing-out spar.

    1. Ian Schmidt says:

      has anyone thought of, or tried a wishbone? It would seem to be a suitable solution to the downwind issues of a boomless rig. It is also lightweight and simple. To see an example google the American Wyliecat boats.

    1. Roger McAuley says:

      I built an SPV Romilly 10 years ago, but have not sailed her for 6 years due to being busy with a cruising yacht. The latter has been sold and so I now plan to sail my Romilly (Sarah) again. I was looking at Philippe Galland’s very interesting article on developments for improving the downwind performance by introducing a type of kicking strap (or vang) – there seems to be a lot of common sense in this idea. I have 2 queries regarding the issue. Firstly I wonder how the idea has progressed, and secondly, why not set-up the kicking strap (or vang) in a more convential manner (which would run through a block at the bottom of the mast to the boom)? With regard to the latter question I have set up a simple model and cannot see why this convential type of arrangement would not work. I would be very interested to hear about any further developments in the use of kicking straps.

    1. Philippe Galland says:

      Thank you for your post.
      I’ve got some answers
      1° «why not set-up the kicking strap (or vang) in a more conventional manner (which would run through a block at the bottom of the mast to the boom)?» The reason against this more simple solution is that the boom is already fixed at the very foot of the mast, so fixing the vang at the same point offers no angle to pull the boom downwards. That’s the reason why I thought fixing the vang at the front of the mast and then was obliged to have a “twin boomvang”. 2° After using it one season, even successfully, I came back to the normal arrangement, without boom.
      Why? Mainly because in the area we’re dwelling Augustine and me there are much more occasions needing reefing than going downwind. And the reefing arrangement is much more easy quick and safe with the original situation, id est without boom. For the downwind allures, I used a pole I devised from a mere windsurf mast.

      Today, I’ve sold my Romilly Augustine, and I’m finishing the restoration of a Roxane. I intend to use the same arrangement and show it to you as soon as I shall be able to test it on sea.
      As the wishbone solution is concerned, I though about it (Nigel thought also a lot about it) but the reefing arrangement appeared not to be really easy in that case.

    1. roger mc auley says:

      Thank you for your response. I can now see why my suggestion would not work!! Setting up a convential kicking strap or vang arrangement and then slackening of the boom downhaul does allow the sail to move into a better downwind position BUT because the downhaul and kicking strap are secured close together in the area of the bottom of the mast then the whole mainsail will become unstable and I’m sure begin to oscilate all over the place!!!!So much for that.
      Good luck with your Roxane. I shall be interested as to your future ideas re sail management