Custom Sail Bags from Dabbler


(to start of project)

What an amazing day.

The Northern Neck is the large finger of land between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. It’s where I spent so many summers growing up at my grandparents’ house – sailing, fishing, crabbing, and exploring. So many great memories are scattered around the marshes and woods and waters of that place, and no doubt we’ll be making more soon with these new boats.

Dabbler Sails is in the northern part, near Wicomico Church, and Stuart Hopkins and his wife Dee were kind enough to let us invade their privacy to fetch the sails in person. For us it was a real treat, not only to visit the area again, but to meet the man who’s become so widely known for his fine work. Robb White called Dabbler his favorite sailmaker, and few people are as demanding as he was. There are some possible launch sites and a marina I wanted to check out, places friends had told me of, or I’d found on maps but had not yet seen. It seemed natural to combine the trips into one.

Leaving the main road outside Richmond, we wound through Tappahannock, then on to Lively and Belle Isle State Park, where you can rent a plantation house on the water for a week. From there we headed to Mollusk and Greenvale Creek to explore a small ramp and the ruins of an old oyster shucking house. Then on to Yankee Point Sailboat Marina on the Corrotoman River, and after that took the tiny two car cable ferry across from Ottoman to Merry Point.


Crab Pots at Greenvale Creek.


The old boiler for steaming crabs and oysters,
relics of Oyster Shucking House at Greenvale Creek.




Ferry arriving at Ottoman Landing.




A short video of the docks at Greenvale and the ferry ride:


Or watch in HD on Youtube:

Merry Point Ferry

After a late lunch of fried oyster sandwiches in Kilmarnock, we made our way to Wicomico Church to pick up the sails. Fortunately, Terri took some nice pictures, as I was too busy talking to think of it.

Dabbler has been making sails for 20 years. Stuart has a prickly wit, and he and Dee, an artist and author, are both sharp, lively and incredibly gracious. He told me earlier in the week he had just finished his 1000th sail (which I guess makes ours 996-999, or 1001-1004, depending on how you count). Sounds like I placed our order just in time, too, as once again he is booked up solid all the way through summer. All from the small loft workshop in the house that he and Dee built themselves, when they moved from a life of living on boats to one living near boats.


Stuart Hopkins, sole proprietor of Dabbler Sails



Getting the low down direct from the source.



A lesson in proper flaking and storage.


Some of Dabbler’s tools. Everything folds up and out of the way.
Tables appear from nowhere and disappear back again.
Space-saving tricks he learned from a lifetime of living on boats.


The sails look terrific, and I couldn’t be happier. One is cream and the other tanbark, which will go well with their respective hull colors, and make the boats easy to tell apart on the water. We opened one out in the loft, and Stuart showed us how to tension the luff and sprit to get a good set, and how the tops’ls should overlap the main to form a good airfoil shape.


The Cream Sail, in a lesson on proper tensioning of the sprit.


This morning I took them both out of their custom sailbags and laid them out for a look. The angles and overlaps will change some under tension on the spars, but this gives a general idea of the mainsail shapes, and the tops’ls above. Now I just need to finish the rest of the boats, and try to do it with the same care and attention that Dabbler gave the sails.


Cream and Tanbark, should look nice on the boats, and lovely dancing around each other on the water.The sizes and shapes are a bit distorted by the camera angle, but you still get the idea.

melonseed skiff, mellonseed skiff, melon seed, mellon seed   




4 Replies to “Sails”

    1. Hey Doug,
      You know, I’ve been thinking, with two identical boats it will be fun to put the topsail up on one and not the other, then sail them against each other to see how much difference it makes. That should be interesting.

      If it it makes enough difference to be worth it, you could easily add one to Pie, with no real modification – just some line, another sprit, and a sail. (though out there you may never need it). Will keep you posted.


      Monday, May 3, 2010 – 12:05 AM

  1. Barry, how beautiful to see your .progress, Nathan and I and a friend of his sailed up to the bridge and back in short order topping out at 7.7 knots vm, made me think about you and your project,

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 – 09:55 PM

    1. Hey Seth, been thinking about you a lot lately, with all this great sailing weather we’ve had. Glad someone can take advantage of it. See you in Deltaville in June.


      Wednesday, May 5, 2010 – 01:57 AM

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