Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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When you ask "Do any of them (ketches) actually sail well?" I guess I would have to answer "what do you mean by 'well'? ". In other words, what are your criteria.
A well designed ketch will generally have lower loads on its halyards and sheets. A well designed ketch will be no less and no more seaworthy than a well designed sloop or any other rig for that matter. A well designed ketch will have certain advantages in terms of less heeling for a given amount of sail area (which in part is offset by the need to have more sail area due to a ketches inherent inefficiency).
But if your question is 'will a well designed ketch offer the same performance as a well designed sloop?' then the answer is no. By and large the ketch rig is a one trick pony. Upwind and at deeper reaching angles, the downdrafting of the sails hurts performance relative to a sloop. And in that zone from a close reach to a deep reach (in other words one side or other of a beam reach), the ketch rig does not offer a performance advantage over a sloop.
Where ketches come into their own are on boats that have a lot of drag relative to their stability, which was often the case with traditional heavier displacement, full keeled boats. In this case, the drag of the keel limits the ability of the boat to sail to weather. And sheer amount of drag requires a large sail area but the lack of stability relative to drag limits the ability for a sloop to carry enough sail area to over come the drag at deeper angles to the wind. Since a ketch can carry a lot more sail area with a lower vertical center of gravity, it works better in this situation. To me this is one of those "it hardly sucks at all" situations where a ketch may be justifyable.
But if you are thinking of combining a ketch rig with an efficient underbody, the sail plan will limit your ability to take full advantage of the efficiencies of the underbody. There may be reasons why this is done (such as the Whitbread ketches which took advantage of rating rule loophole in a predominantly reaching race around the woold) but as a rule it is a bit of a non-sequator.
In the end, I think that the case can be made that in limited applications there may be some practical advantages to the ketch rig, but generally in day to day use there is a price paid for those in terms of lost performance.
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay
Last edited by Jeff_H; 11-18-2010 at 12:34 PM.