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Date Posted: - Saturday - 12/29/07 - 7:39pm
Author: matts djos
Subject: Seeking information: nuances of a ketch rig--advantages and problems

I am working on a piece on the advantages, peculiarities, and weaknesses of a ketch rig, including sail handling advantages and problems and suggestions for taking maximum advantage of this sail plan--of particular interest: sail plan and balance, peculiarities of the helm, heavy weather sailing, light air, maximizing center of effort, disadvantages and problems in managing the plan, maximizing stability, clues that the boat is carrying too much sail, advantages of various combinations, and the like--
I am especially intersted in your personal experiences.

Thanks in advance for any information you might want to share.

matts djos
s/v "scandia dream"--hull 69

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[> Rather more than you asked for... -- Randall, Murre, M31, - Monday - 01/14/08 - 12:03am

Hey Matts, congrats again on Scandia. Sheís a sharp looking Mariner.

Here are some random thoughts based on my time with Murre.

Sadly, the ketch is a much maligned rig these days. She is criticized in the contemporary literature as more expensive to maintain than the sloop and less efficient under sail. Certainly these criticisms are correct in there own way, but to me they miss the larger point.

To be fair, whenever I paint the main mast, I do also have to paint the mizzen. When I re-rig, I re-rig for two. But I find it funny that the above maintenance complaint came from a famous cruiser who spent five years building a carvel planked cutter (no maintenance issues there). Given the other jobs called for on boats like ours, taking care of two masts instead of one donít account for much in my book.

As to efficiency, this criticism astounds me. Certainly a bi-plane is less efficient than a jet if going fast at high altitude is the objective. But try crop dusting with a 747. I remember Norgrove going at ketches in this manner in his CRUISING RIGS AND RIGGING (an admirable book otherwise). He remarked feeling pity for all those ketches hobby-horsing in the chop of the bay. And he says this from the helm of his 50 foot SCHOONER.

For me it boils down to this. I like sailing my ketch because 1) itís what I have; 2) itís more fun than the sloop rig; and 3) it offers more, practical, under-sail single handing options.

1) Itís what I have.

I have come to believe this cannot be overrated. I have a boat. This immediately makes me more fortunate than most everyone I know. She also sails, so add another Ö infinity Ö of fortune. This has nothing to do with ketches, but it means I shouldnít pine too much for other boats and rigs when what I have is perfectly practicable and solid and safe.

2) Itís more fun to sail a ketch.

In a certain sense, speed is a red herring. I never officially race (hell, I own a full-keel ketch with a three blade prop and a rudder the size off the Queen Mary!), but like most sailors, Iím racing whenever Iím under sail. I find that if carefully minded, Murre can usually keep up with boats she should keep up with, although often this takes a powerful lot of careful minded sailing. When she just canít, itís usually because she canít point as well (which is not a function of rig type, per se), or she needs a new jib, or her generous allotment of wetted surface slows her down.

And what an odd thing is our inordinate emphasis on speed in small boats. Yes, itís awfully sporting that the Dashews can talk about the incremental safety of a sail boat that can outrun a storm, but their Beowolf is 80 ft. Among cruising boats in my class (a Catalina 30 and an old one to boot), a sustained 5.5 knots is fast, and with this I keep up just fine.

And if Murre is more or less equal to others of her class/size/age, Iíd rather have three sails than two because three sails implies seven (spinnaker, forestaysail, mizzen staysail, mule) whereas two sails implies but three.

Itís great fun to play with the extra sail combinations available on a ketch and gives one the sense of sailing something much grander and more complicatedóa frigate perhaps. If youíre on a sloop in a light beam reach, the only option you have is a bigger jib or hauling the spinnaker way round. But in addition to this, I have the possibility of a bellying forestaysail, mizzen staysail and/or a muleóor all of the above. With a modicum of skill and a little luck, I can fly five or six sails at one time on a boat whose water line is 25 feet. Is this an efficient use of sailcloth? No, not terribly. But it is entertaining and the stares from the unfortunate sloops are gratifying. And if Iím running before a moderate breeze, nothing beats the feeling of going wing and wing Ö and wing!

If I had a more efficient rig, I might occasionally win a beer can race or get home in fewer tacks, but if speed was the goal, I chose the wrong sport. Simply put, sailboats arenít fast.

3) it offers more, practical, under-sail options.

Fun aside, the shorter rig and the sail choices make it, for me, a more balanced and more easily handled rig when singlehanding. Murre will track her own course with wind forward of the beam. If Iím feeling lazy or challenged, I donít have to raise the main at all, but can just fly jib and jigger and never leave the cockpit. If Iím not lazy and in a honking wind, I can reef down jib, main, and mizzen and get that amazingly solid, in-control feeling a ketch rig can provide. If I must have my nose to the wind when I sail off anchor, I can raise the mizzen to swing her around. If I need to heave to in really nasty stuff, a single, deeply reefed mizzen will do. Etc.

Iíll admit itís not all sweet tea and cakes with Murre.
-On blustery days when the chop is bad, she can be embarrassingly hellish to tack. This is not entirely the rigís fault, but the extra windage sure doesnít help.
-Close hauled she can be a dog. This is largely because the mizzen is too far forward and catches the wash from the mainsail. Itís useless flying the full mizzen in a moderate breeze on this point of sailóyou can actually feel it pulling the boat asternóand for years I sailed as a sloop when close hauled. But Iíve learned a trick that eases this problem, which is to reef the mizzen flat. Taking the belly out utterly corrects the backing problem. One might feel silly reefing anything in 10 Ė 12 knots of wind, but itís better than not flying the sail at all.
-Iíve never learned how to adequately control Murre with a smart wind on the quarter. I donít know if this is a ketch thing, but brisk quartering wind, especially if there is any kind of swell, requires close attention to the wheel at all times. Even if I am lucky enough to find a sort of balance that allows her to track her course for a while, that point of sail allows for no self-correction, unlike sailing close hauled, for example, and soon she wanders off either toward a jibe or luffing up.

I just happened to run into this quote today from John Letcher and about his ALEUTKA. I thought it might be appropriate to this discussion:

ďA person who is building Aleutka must carefully consider his intended cruising and consciously accept her limitations in return for her advantages. As a day sailer, she will be a disappointment; as a weekend cruiser in popular waters she will be an embarrassment, for every other boat will show her up. But all by herself on the deep ocean, running or reaching in a trade wind toward some distant island landfall, she will be a delight, for that is what she is built to do. And then she will have left ninety-percent of all those lovely, tall, long-legged racing boats far, far behind.Ē

ALEUTKA isnít a ketch, but itís a fitting quote anyway.

Thatís my two senses and moreÖ

Good luck with the article.


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[> sailing a ketch -- Mike Anthony, - Monday - 01/14/08 - 7:46am


Outstanding post. I love my ketch, and would not trade it. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

It is hard to think about sailing with the 8" of snow we received last night. And it is still snowing.

Fair Winds
Mike & Paula
S/V Tivoli

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[> ketch rig advantages -- ian mcgehee, - Tuesday - 01/15/08 - 5:07am

Randall's post covers the subject well; just wanted to elaborate on a couple of points-

besides the extra sail combinations that the ketch rig allows, the fact that it can carry the same amount of sail area as a single mast but in a lower aspect ratio rig is a *huge* advantage in heavy weather, and probably the reason why it is associated so often with cruising boats...the tradeoff in efficiency vs. a sloop or cutter is well worth the added stability of the shorter rig and decreased inertia created by weight aloft.

As for helm peculiarities, it's a double edged sword- in my experience, split rigs in general tend to have the issue Randall reports with quartering winds, no doubt due to the wind's forces on the rig being spread out farther away from the boat's center of lateral resistance compared to a sloop, creating more leverage that can negatively affect handling. Of the most common split rigs the ketch is the most forgiving; schooners can get *really* squirelly and unforgiving in quartering winds, and yawls tend to either have tiny mizzens that don't do much, or large ones that due to their location aft of the rudder post create even more leverage problems than in a ketch.

...but the flip side of this issue is that with that added leverage, the ketch can also track more evenly than a single masted rig on other points of sail (like a car with a long wheelbase) and minor adjustments in the jib and mizzen can be used to steer the boat...which can be just a fun thing to do to hone your sailing skills, or can be a lifesaver in situations where you lose your primary steering gear or even the entire rudder.

And combined with a tiller and a bungee cord, the mizzen can also be used to rig up a rudimentary but effective self-steering setup without compromising the rig's efficiency as much as the same thing would on a sloop or cutter rigged boat, and on a broader range of points of sail.

The last two points obviously add to the rig's suitability for cruising...but another factor has nothing to do with sailing- a ketch has all kinds of booms and rigging spread all over the place that can be used to support awnings and other in-port gear, haul up dinghies, etc. and the mizzen can be used with either a specialized canvas or the reefed mizzen sail itself to help the boat track with the wind while swinging on a single anchor when there is a cross current.

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