Sailboats have been rigged with a large variety of sail plans ever since man began going to sea. Writing about the history of boat rigging and the various sail plans could fill multiple books. For this article we’re only going to discuss modern sailboat rigging and the most common choices for someone who wants to buy a sailboat and go cruising.
By far the most common and popular sailboat rig is the sloop. Some of the other more popular options include the ketch, yawl, and schooner. For the purpose of this article the ketch, yawl and schooner can all be considered the same. They offer very similar advantages and disadvantages. Granted, there are quite a few subtle differences in them but they all share common traits that everyone considers when deciding on one of them versus a sloop.
The thing that ketches, yawls and schooners all have in common is multiple masts which carry a larger number of smaller sails to make up their sail area. The advantage of having more, smaller, sails is that they are easier to handle (due to being smaller and lighter) and they can be flown in multiple configurations that suit the particular wind speed and direction. The disadvantage is that you need more sails, additional rigging and your constantly trimming and reefing more sails than you would with a sloop.
A sloop has two basic sails; a mainsail and a headsail. There are additional sails such as spinnakers and other specialty sails but you can sail a sloop just fine with only two sails. The fact that a sloop has less sails to trim or reef, less rigging and is so easy to sail makes it so popular. Over the years sloops have steadily become more popular and every other rig has become less popular. Their growing popularity is due in large part to sails being made of lighter, stronger materials, better sail handling equipment (winches and halyards) and stronger masts and booms. The most significant of all though has been the improved reliability and universal acceptance of roller furling for headsails, and increasingly for mainsails. Roller furling sails makes sailing much easier and safer and allows one person to easily handle large sails.
Roller furling along with sail improvements mean the sloop is far and away the most popular sailboat and has become very easy to sail even shorthanded. Unless you have an affinity for tradition, a sloop should be at the top of the list if you want to buy a boat and go cruising.
Sloop Rig Exile – Jeff Johnstone – Wikimedia
Sailing Thumbnail – Microsoft Office Clip Art Collection