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Improvised Sail

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Row, row, row your boat...

You build a sailboat or raft and want to sail it on a pond, stream, or lake or ocean. But uh oh! Your boat doesn't have a sail, what do you do?

The simplest thing you can do is use something as a makeshift sail, whether it be a your dress, pants or shirt. Sometimes everyone's clothes are sewn together to make a sail. Sometimes may even be made of improbable materials. But that doesn't matter in most cases. Either way, now that your boat has a sail, on with ye journey!

Essentially, this is a trope where a boat or raft of any kind is devoid of a regular sail before being given an unorthodox sail.

Can be a part of MacGyvering. May overlap with Deserted Island.

Similar to this is: Improvised Parachute.

Examples :

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Lupin III: Part 1, after stealing a dozen classic paintings, Lupin and his gang sail away on a boat whose sail is made out of the sewn-up paintings themselves.

  • An early Gil Elvgren pinup ("Short on Sails") has a topless girl sitting on a raft with a bra flying from the mast.

    Comic Books 
  • One Adventure Time comic had Marceline the Vampire Queen serve as a sail on Princess Bubblegum's raft by assuming the form of a giant bat and clinging to the mast.
  • The Viz character Felix and His Amazing Underpants often does this with... well, guess.

    Film — Animation 
  • In Cat City, Sgt. Lazy Dick makes one out of a leaf.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Cast Away, Tom Hanks' character escapes the island after making a raft, the sail of which is the corner section of a port-a-john that washed up on shore. He had tried sailing out before, but the improvised sail gives him the extra power needed to make it past the waves breaking over the surrounding reef.
  • In the film I Sailed To Tahiti With An All Girl Crew a rival boater sabotages the protagonist's sails, so the eponymous all-girl crew use their dresses to patch the sails. Now he's got a sail which looks like a cut-out chain of people out of folded paper.
  • In The Last Flight Of Noahs Ark, two bands of survivors join forces to build a boat to get back to civilization. For propulsion, flags sewn together make a sail. This might not count because the boat isn't launched until after the sail is in place.
  • In Napoléon (1927), the title character uses the Tricolore as a makeshift sail when fleeing his native Corsica.
  • In the Gilligan's Island film, Rescue From Gilligan's Island, the Howells donate many of their spare clothes to be used for sails. The sets of clothing that only comprised part of the luggage they had taken with them on the ill-fated three-hour cruise.
  • A plot device in the John Candy movie Summer Rental, where a pair of his character's under shorts are used in lieu of a sail, while entering a sailing contest against another vacationing family.

  • Horatio Hornblower and his crew must improvise sails and masts several times throughout the Hornblower Saga. Notable examples:
    • Beat to Quarters: During the first fight between Hornblower's frigate Lydia and the enemy Natividad, both ships lose a mast and the associated sails to enemy fire. When darkness and bad weather force them to break off the battle, both crews must jury-rig their ships with replacement masts and sails before re-engaging the next day.
    • Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies: The packet ship carrying Hornblower and his wife back to England gets caught in a hurricane and is nearly sunk. With all the masts gone and the ship kept afloat only by her buoyant cargo, Hornblower and the remaining crew must improvise a mast and sails in order to reach land before they die of hunger and thirst.

  • A Russian bard song "Blue Striped Pants" ("Little Boat"), sung to the tune of "Red River Valley", has the lyrical protagonist using the titular pants as a sail. It ends badly; wind carries the pants away and the protagonist is stranded on a boat, alone, with no means to steer and in his longjohns.

  • In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh breaks the mechanism that powers the ferryman Urshanabi's boat, and is forced to gather sticks to make into an absurdly long pole to push against the bottom of the river of death. It turns out he miscalculated and they're one stick-length short, so they have to use the mast to make up the difference (since touching the water directly is fatal). Gilgamesh himself serves as the mast, standing with his arms extended, "wearing" the sail.

  • Our Miss Brooks: In "An American Tragedy", Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton and Mr. Conklin are stranded on a rowboat in the middle of Crystal Lake. Mr. Conklin suggests using Mr. Boynton's shirt as a sail. Miss Brooks ups the ante:
    Mr. Conklin: Let's try to get organized, shall we? Clear thinking is the ticket. Lacking an oar, we shall need to improvise a sail immediately. I shall need a large, white garment. Miss Brooks?
    Miss Brooks: You won't get a stitch from me.
    Mr. Conklin: Well, then, Boynton. I suggest we use your shirt as a sail.
    Miss Brooks: Second the motion. And let's throw in his undershirt, too, sir. Ha. His shirt ought to do nicely.

    Video Games 
  • Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam: When a group of Toads needs to use a raft to sail back to the mainland, Paper Mario uses himself as the sail.

    Western Animation 
  • In Around the World with Willy Fog, when Inspector Dix and Constable Bully are lost in the jungle, they build a raft and they make sails out of their jackets (pictured above).
  • One episode of Hey Arnold! had Arnold and Gerald going out fishing. They took off their shirts to make the sail on their boat. Arnold provided both his blue overshirt and his red flannel undershirt.
  • In Littlest Pet Shop (2012) "Littlest Pet Street," Blythe and her dad are stranded on a desert island because the Pet Jet has crashed and isn't airworthy. Blythe asks if it's seaworthy, and they wind up sailing it home, with a sail made of her dad's Bermuda shorts. Doubles as an odd Chekhov's Gag, as he'd bought the shorts to wear on his staycation.
  • One episode of Mr. Bogus showed Bogus and Brattus sailing down the river in a raft, using Bogus's pants as a sail, with Bogus just standing in his Goofy Print Underwear.
  • The Tom and Jerry short "Salt Water Tabby" ends with Jerry sailing away on Tom's picnic basket and using Tom's bathing suit as the sail.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: on rare occasions in Real Life, this can be a highly effective survival technique when lost at sea. One such incident was logged by the HMCS Charlottetown on January 7, 2008.
  • During World War 2, the US aircraft carrier Intrepid was hit by an enemy torpedo in her stern, rendering her rudder useless. Steering with the propellers wasn't good enough, so the crew of this 800-foot-long, 27,500-ton, state-of-the-art warship had to rig an enormous sail out of canvas scraps in order to steer her back to Pearl Harbor for repairs.
  • In Real Life, even masts can be improvised, and this trope is known as jury rig. A skilled sailor can use any spars or oblong objects for jury rig and any suitable fabric (or even tarpaulins) for sails. (Needless to say, on an actual yacht, sails can be used on positions not originally intended to, such as storm jib for a jury-rigged mainsail.)