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Old 11-08-2013
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Argyle38 Argyle38 is offline
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Re: Sailing a Cutter

Cutters might be the most popular rig you will see out cruising. There are probably actually more sloops, but that is because there are so many more of those built, especially in the last 20 years or so. Even some modern sloops are being fitted with a detachable inner forestay, or "solent stay" to add flexibility to the sail plan.

Most cutters I've sailed on are not any more difficult to tack than a sloop. Typically the staysail is self tending, meaning that during a tack you don't have to bother with the sheet. If it was sheeted in correctly for port tack, it will sheet to the same angle on starboard. So, when you tack, the only sail you have to deal with is the jib, just like in a sloop.

The headsail on a cutter is cut differently than that on most sloops. On a sloop, the large, >100% headsail is called the genoa and the clew of the sail is very low, right on the deck when sheeted in. On a cutter, the clew is much higher so the sail is easier to tack in front of the inner forestay. This sail is called a Yankee Jib and the high clew also makes it easier to see forward on the leeward side of the boat.

You can absolutely sail with just the staysail and main. If I'm out on a daysail on my boat, that is how I typically sail. With the main and staysail self tending, it makes for an easy day on the water. If I were in an area where I had to do a lot of short tacks, and I had enough wind, this is the configuration I would use.

You will definitely be tacking a lot less running offshore or coastal than you do on an inland lake. Completely different kind of sailing. Still, you will find situations where you need to tack upwind, but if you are cruising you are talking about tacking once every two or three hours, in most cases. If you are offshore, it might be twice a day. You are not going to be tacking every 5 or 10 minutes unless you are in a race, and you are not going to be racing an HC38, unless you are racing other HC38's. :-)

As mentioned in the other posts, a staysail is also very nice to have in heavy weather. Running a staysail and reefed or double reefed main puts the center of effort inboard and down low, keeping the rig balanced (compared to having reefed main an no headsails or partially furled jib on a RF). This configuration is also easy to heave-to and makes for as good a motion as you could ask for in those conditions.

The only negative I know of for a cutter rig are cost and a bit of a hit to pointing ability. A cutter will have an extra stay, extra turnbuckle, extra sail and sheets, etc. All this is in increased expense over a sloop of the same or similar design. The extra hardware on the foredeck also causes a bit of windage in front of the mast, which will tend to push the bow off the wind and slow the boat a bit when beating. I think this is a pretty small effect, but it's not zero. Cutters are not known for being great pointers, but I think this has more to do with the types of boats that the cutter rig is installed on than the rig itself. There are some very fast, very weatherly cutters built, but most of them are in the 60'+ category of yacht.

Good luck and get a lot of experience before you go. The pacific coast is no joke.

-Argyle
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Last edited by Argyle38; 11-08-2013 at 09:36 AM.
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