What’s in A Rig? The Junk Rig

By: Sailboat Rigs, Sailboats

What’s in a Rig Series #3

There’s probably no rig more fascinating than the junk rig. Long before Columbus’ time, early as the 10th century, the Chinese were making their way through the oceans with a rig that has amazingly stood the test of the time. There are many who feel that this very old but very innovative sail plan is superior to the more popular and ubiquitous sloop rig and others.

The junk is predicated upon sails that are fully battened, a characteristic associated with more modern racing vessels and they typically lack any standing rigging (stays and shrouds). They are a completely different looking sail plan and in practice it’s clear the early Chinese engineers and designers were way ahead of their time. A thousand years later, there are  advocates ready to point out the many areas where the junks reign supreme.

Due to the full batten set-up, the sails maintain an efficient consistent shape and are fast, especially downwind. In a big breeze junk owners will attest that they’re extremely easy to reef and, as an added bonus, are inherently self-tacking. There are obvious cost benefits to not having any standing rigging – no maintenance, replacement or (costs aside) anxiety about sudden failure. Because of the full battens, there’s also no flogging or flapping of sails and there’s fewer blind spots, like what you might experience with a large genoa on a sloop or cutter rig.

The main disadvantage that’s cited with junk rigs is there upwind deficiency. Although there are theories as to how to improve this, most junk owners will concede that the best they can do is come closer to how well a sloop travels upwind.

Like everything when it comes to choosing a rig, it’s about where you want to compromise. But junk rigs are definitely rife with attributes and many modern hull designs are candidates for retrofitting. And, you must admit… they’re pretty cool looking.

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