Although wingsails or rigid wings have risen to the limelight in the contemporary sailing world with the America’s Cup now employing the technology across the board, they are in no way a brand new concept. A sail, after all, in its purest form is essentially a wing. So, through the decades, many designers, looking for optimum performance, have of course instituted rigid wings (just like that of an airplane). A notable example would be the so called Little America’s Cup, a long-standing catamaran contest based around the pursuit of pure speed.
The schooner is another split rig plan, like the ketch and yawl, but really fell out of favor after having a very dominant place in sailing history for quite a long time. Early in the 18th century on into the 19th they became widely popular for their speed, versatility, and upwind prowess, which by today’s standards is not good, but at the time was surely better than the larger unwieldy ships of the day.
By definition, a schooner is a sailboat with at least two masts, with the forward mast (foremast) being a bit shorter than the main mast. Although a schooner can have more than two masts, most were just two. During the time of their popularity this smaller and better upwind set up allowed for a more efficient and manageable sailboat. It was the preferred choice of pirates, privateers, slaveship captains and others.
Typically speaking, a cat rig is a single mast situated well forward, near the bow, which carries a large single sail and has no standing rigging, sometimes referred to as “unstayed.” An Optimist, Laser or Sabot are common (smaller) examples of a cat rig, but many bigger boats utilize the set-up.
What’s a gaff rig? Well, first… what’s a gaff? A gaff is a spar, or a strong pole. A gaff rig employs a spar on the top of the sail and typically other sails can be set in conjunction with that mainsail with the gaff. Often, on the smaller, non tall ship, gaff rigs, there will be a small triangular sail that fits between the main and the mast like a puzzle piece – this is the topsail.
The gaff rig was the standard manner of rigging a sailboat a century ago and before. The thinking at that time had to do primarily with the ability to manage sail area. The sails weren’t made of the lightweight synthetics of today and there was solid logic involved in dividing the sail plan into pieces for the purposes of balancing and reefing in strong winds. Like today, sailors wanted horsepower via sail area and fractioned rigs allowed skippers to also manage it more easily.
Like, the ketch a yawl is equipped with two masts, a main and a mizzen, but ordinarily on a yawl, the mast is smaller and set behind the rudder post. This, therefore, beckons the question: is this an efficient and practical rig?
Although some credible sailors, like the legendary Don Street, will espouse the virtues of the yawl rig and say it is a worthwhile design with practical and solid value – it’s an argument for the yacht club bar.
Ketch rigs hold a special place in many a cruising sailor’s heart. There’s something dignified and majestic about them. They are two masted rigs with a main mast and a (smaller) mizzenmast – they carry a jib just like a sloop. Generally, ketches will be in the 40-plus foot range. The reasoning for this is that before sailing hardware and gizmotology (yes, we invented a word) was as advanced as it is now, designers were looking for ways to carry a good amount of sail, but make it manageable at the same time. This configuration served that purpose and while doing so also gave sailors quite a few options for various weather conditions and situations.
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.
A variation on the last installment of What’s in a Rig (the sloop) is the Cutter Rig. Although it has gone through some changes through the course of history, the modern cutter rig is generally a set-up with two headsails. The forward sail is called the yankee and the one slightly behind it is the staysail.
Cutter rigs are a choice a cruising sailor might opt for more offshore work. Since longer passages usually means encountering heavier weather, the cutter rig can be the perfect choice to have a ready-to-go balanced sailplan when the wind picks up. They are not quite as easy to tack as sloops, but since cruisers go for days without tacking, the ability to quickly furl the yankee and have a small staysail up in a stiff breeze is worth the sacrifice.