Building the Peregrine Galley: Masts and Yards

Now that the hull is more or less done, it's time for the masts and yards.


Mast parts

The ship has three masts (fore, main, and mizzen), each with three parts (lower, top, and topgallant). We will make these pieces out of paper and design them to snap easily together, although they may also be made (probably more easily) from real wood dowels.

The picture below shows the mast parts dry-fitted to the ship. Note that we will not actually install and fully assemble the masts until we do the rigging. The rigging sequence infolves rigging all the lower masts, then mounting and rigging the topmasts, then mounting and rigging the topgallants, so permanently assembling the masts ahead of time would just get in the way of smooth construction later. Note also that the main and mizzen masts rake back somewhat, while the fore mast is straight up to slightly forward.

Masts dry-fitted

The lengths of the masts are below. I did not strictly measure the widths as that is difficult to do with rolled paper tubes, so you will have to use your eye and judgment to determine the appropriate widths.

Mast Length (inches)
Fore Mast 6
Main Mast 6 7/8
Mizzen Mast 5 7/8
Fore Topmast 3 5/8
Main Topmast 4 3/16
Mizzen Topmast 3 1/8
Fore Topgallant 2 1/2
Main Topgallant 2 3/4
Mizzen Topgallant 1 15/16
Bowsprit 5
Spritsail Topmast 1 3/8

Making Strong Paper Tubes

One of the biggest problems is that paper is nowhere near as strong as wood. If we just rolled up tubes and used them as masts, they would be too weak to take the rigging and yards without bending or folding, with the horrible-looking results that follow. How do we make paper masts nearly as strong as wood?

The answer is to use liquid cyanoacrylate. Liquid CA absorbs into paper and turns it into a hard plastic-like substance. We roll our tubes as tightly as possible and then liberally cover them in CA. When the glue dries, the tube will have all the strength of a solid plastic tube. Not quite as strong as wood, perhaps, but vastly stronger than paper. Moreover, the resulting surface is easily sandable and paintable. We will make all our spars in this way.

Lower Masts

The lower masts are the most complex of the masts. Roll slightly tapered tubes in the right diameter and treat with CA as described. At the top end of each of the lower masts we need to make the knees for the crosstrees. Note that the cross section at the top here is square, not circular. There are a couple of ways of handling this. When we need a larger surface and sharper lines (like on the mainmast), we build a box around the top part of the mast and attach the knees there. This method is shown below.

Masthead parts

The alternative (and much easier method) which is not shown is to pinch the ends into the square shape before applying CA. You get less sharp of an edge and less definition this way, but it will still be sufficiently square to attach the knees and maintains a correct diameter automatically.

Once the lower masts are assembled, paint them. After painting, wind black thread at certain intervals to form the inner rope woldings.

The fishes are made from a strip of card, rounded at the edges, and curved to match the mast. They are simply painted and then glued directly onto the masts. The mizzen mast does not have fishes, while the fore and main masts have fishes on the front and the sides.

After the fishes are in place, run more rope woldings around at different intervals to bind the fishes to the mast.

This sequence is shown in the picture below. The mizzen mast has only the rope woldings. The foremast, shown next, has the fishes attached. Notice how they cover much of the first woldings but that they still show through in the back. The mainmast is complete and shows the woldings around the fishes; note how they are staggered from the first layer.

Lower mast sequence: inner woldings, fishes, outer woldings

Next we create the crosstrees and trestletrees. These are the supports for the tops; the crosstrees run across and the trestletrees run fore and aft. How should they be positioned? It is helpful to have a partially completed topmast assembly done so you can see where the topmast heel comes down. The rear crosstree should be set a bit aft of the mast, leaving a small gap more or less in line with the edge of the lubber's hole in the top. The front crosstree should be close to (although not necessarily at) the other edge of the lubber's hole.

First install the trestletrees:

Mainmast trestletrees

The crosstrees are supposed to be notched to fit into the trestletrees, but I found it easier to simply make each one of three sections: one on ach side, plus a piece in the middle. Strengthen the whole assembly with CA after you are finished and paint to match the masts. The result is below:

Lower mast crosstrees and trestletrees


The topmasts are less complex than the lower masts. Make a single rolled tube, slightly tapered, for each mast. Pinch the top ends so they are vaguely square and stiffen with CA.

We will build the topmasts with the caps permanently attached. When it comes time to attach them to the lower masts, the cap and topmast snap into place as a single assembly.

The caps themselves are simple; just construct boxes out of single ply card. Leave a circular hole through one side for the topmast to go through and a square hole on the "bottom" end for the lower mast to fit. For simplicity, the lower mast does not go all the way through the cap. Stiffen them with CA (they will take considerable force when you friction fit them to the masthead) and paint black.


The mast caps are permanently mounted onto the topmasts with glue.

Topmasts, with caps mounted

Check the fit of the topmasts and lower masts during assembly. The square hole at the bottom of the cap should snap snugly onto the square top end of the lower masts, while the topmast should pass between the trestletrees/knees and be prevented from moving forward by the front crosstree. This is shown below:

How the topmasts are mounted on the mainmasts

Finally, we build the crosstrees and trestletrees at the top of the topmasts. Similar rules apply, but there are three crosstrees here and no top. The two rear crosstrees sandwich the topmast fore and aft, while the third provides a space for the topgallant mast heel to fit snugly. Again, it is helpful to have a completed topgallant mast so you can ensure the spacing is correct. Strengthen with CA and paint when completed.

Completed topmasts


The topgallants are extremely simple. The masts are too thin to be satisfactorially rolled from bond paper, so they are made from worm-rolled tissue paper and glue, stiffened with CA. There is again a cap that connects it to the topmast that is permanently attached. The completed topgallants (only 2 parts each!) are below:

Topgallant masts


There are three tops to make, one each for the fore, main, and mizzen masts. We begin by making the pattern on thin bond paper and then planking it on both sides with card strips. The planking pattern is different for the top and the bottom. On the top, long planks run side to side at the front and back, and the gap is filled with short planks running fore and aft. The reverse is true on the bottom; the area covered by the long planks is covered by short planks running fore and aft, while the gap is filled by planks running side to side. The picture below shows this planking; the fore top on the left is show with the top up, while the main top on the right is shown with the bottom up.

Planking at the tops

When this is done, make the rims out of 2-ply card on top and 1-ply card on the bottom. Stiffen them with CA before gluing them to the tops; this is because we will need to drill holes in them for the crowsfeet and topmast shrouds. After attaching the rims, place this slivers of card for the "spokes" on the top side of the top. The top side of the tops look like:

Top side of a top

And the bottom side looks like:

Bottom side of a top


Yard Length (inches)
Main Course 6 1/4
Fore Course 5 1/2
Crossjack 4
Main Topsail 4 1/2
Fore Topsail 3 7/8
Mizzen Topsail 3
Main Topgallant 2 1/4
Fore Topgallant 2
Mizzen Topgallant 1 1/2
Mizzen Lateen 5 3/16
Spritsail 4
Jackstaff 1 1/2

The easiest way to make a square yard with the ends properly tapered is to start by making it in two pieces. Cut strips of bond paper (colored black with marker) as shown and roll them up. Use your judgement and eyeballs to ensure they are tapered properly.

a tapered square yard

The larget square yards have an octagonal center section. The easiest way to do this is to score a piece of card into 8 sections and join the two halves of the yard. With a little bit of glue to patch in any crevices, you get a yard with the proper octagonal center than becomes circular as we move out.

Making the octagonal center of the yard