You might surmise from the heading of this entry that we were at sea and sailing. Not so, the sails that I am referring to are windmills sails. Yesterday saw Phil and myself laying aloft on the great wings of the timber mill that we are berthed alongside, to loose and set the sails, ready for the day's operation of sawing oak logs. Firstly the sails are loosed, (I am going to use seaman's terms here, not knowing how the millers describe the operation or what the various lines are called in Dutch) a flick of the arm freeing them from behind the thumb cleats that keep them secure when furled. The robands are laced onto the hooks that run down the edge of the wing and the head earring hauled out. The sheets (three or four each sail) are then hauled taught, using a special hitch which for a better term I will call a Dutch mill hitch. Any corrections gratefully accepted - if any readers have a copy of the Ashleys book of knots, they might like to look it up. The great brake shoes are released by hauling on a heavy rope and the wing pushed around until the next one is down to the deck. Once all four sails are set, the brake is held open by simply hooking a toggle into a notch and the windmill is free to go. Colours are made - the Dutch flag is hoisted and the mill is trimmed to the wind. We visited a number of mills yesterday and the power of the great wooden machinery is awe inspiring. As well as the timber cutting mill that I have already described, we saw an oil mill, used for extracting linseed oil and a dye mill that crushes chalk to be used for making paint. The machinery is these two drive huge round crushing stones, weighing many tonnes each, and large timber pile drivers, that drive a wedge down that squeezes the bags of crushed linseed to extract the oil. Just as you appreciate the forces involved at sea under sail, here too you can see the relentless power of the wind being put to work. At sea, as the wind force increases, we have to reduce sail area, handing sail, or in later period ships, reefing as required. It is just the same with the windmills. With wind force up to force 4, all four sails are set. Force 4 to 6 sees the equivalent of half-hoisting our topsails - some of the mills reef each sail, others take in two of the four. As the wind reaches force 7, the mills are down to two reefed sails, the next stage is no sails set and and the wings rotating only under the solid panels that form the leading edge of each wing. Stronger winds again mean some of the boards are removed and when storm conditions are reached, a ship would be lying to under bare poles and the mills have nothing set on the timber framework of the wings. Handing sail set at the end of the working day was the opposite of setting. The slippery hitch of the Dutch Mill hitch was let go, sails rolled up, then flicked around behind the thumb cleat and secured. Sounds easy, but the millers got a great deal of amusement from watching me try and do it. Not as easy as it looked but eventually I got the hang of it. I wonder how it will read on my CV - setting and handling sail on an 1867 Dutch timber mill.
Master - Duyfken