May / June 2019

New Spars for ZISKA

Using bird’s-mouth joints in large work
New mast, boom, and gaff.

For Stanford Siver’s ZISKA, a 1903 gaff cutter of a type called a Lancashire nobby, boatbuilder and author Pat Mahon of Port Townsend, Washington, used bird’s-mouth hollow spar construction to make a new mast (at right in the photo), boom (at center), and gaff. He used solid construction for the smallest spar, the topsail jackyard. The boat’s solid bowsprit (to the left of the boom in the photo) was the only existing spar to be retained for the boat, which is 38′6″ LOD with a beam of 11′6″ and a draft of 5′.

In fall 2017, ZISKA sat neglected for the second time in her long life, now 114 years, and she was 5,000 miles away from where she was built in northern England. ZISKA is officially a Morecambe Bay prawner, a type colloquially known as a Lancashire nobby, but she was built in 1903 as a yacht and racing boat by the Crossfield Brothers at their yard in Arnside, Cumbria. Nobby translates as “rough wood,” and ZISKA is ruggedly built like her fishing sisters, but she differs in that she was fully decked with a cabin house and cruising interior.

After suffering significant damage in a 1974 storm, she was laid up and neglected until found in 1997 and brought back to sailing condition by Ashley Butler, then a 19-year-old novice boatbuilder, who sailed her to the east coast of the United States. There, she changed hands several times, eventually being trucked to Port Townsend, Washington. It was here, after she again fell into a state of neglect, that Stanford Siver purchased her and undertook her restoration.

The restoration of a boat more than a century old always involves innumerable decisions, small and large. One decision that was made early was to renew her rig, including her spars. The mast was in usable condition, but the solid Douglas-fir stick was deeply checked and would require continual maintenance. The gaff and boom were in questionable condition, and their sizes and shapes suggested that they were probably repurposed from a larger vessel. The previous owner had ordered a complete set of new sails, safely stored ashore, as part of his unrealized restoration. ZISKA will thus have new spars (except her bowsprit), standing rigging, running rigging, and blocks—and that new suit of sails.

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