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Epiphany 01-28-2004 03:43 PM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter
I anticipate purchasing a 35-38 foot boat, primarily for single-handling in offshore waters, around the end of the year. I''ve done a lot of reading on the advantages and disadvantages of various rigs, and have come down to the 3 referenced in the subject line of this post. But I''m still a little confused. Here''s what I think I know at this point:

A sloop, with only 2 sails, offers the greatest degree of simplicity in sail-handling for a single-hander.

A fractional sloop offers the same 2-sail simplicity, but with the added benefit of a smaller foresail (jib or genoa).

A cutter, while adding the complexity of a 3rd sail, may offer easier sail-handling because each of the foresails is smaller. Plus, it may improve the ability to heave-to by keeping more sail area forward than a reefed jib on a sloop or fractional sloop.

I''ll very much appreciate any thoughts on this subject.

Jeff_H 01-28-2004 05:14 PM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter
I had written this for another venue but might prove somewhat helpful.

Today these terms are used quite loosely as compared to their more traditional definitions. Traditionally the sloop rig was a rig with a single mast located forward of 50% of the length of the sailplan. In this traditional definition a sloop could have multiple jibs. Cutters had a rig with a single mast located 50% of the length of the sailplan or further aft, multiple headsails and reefing bowsprit. Somewhere in the 1950ís or 1960ís there was a shift in these definitions such that a sloop only flew one headsail and a cutter had multiple headsails and mast position became irrelevant. For the sake of this discussion I assume we are discussing the modern definition of a sloop and a cutter.

Historically, when sail handling hardware was primitive and sails were far more stretchy than they are today, the smaller headsails and mainsail of a traditional cutter were easier to handle and with less sail stretch, allowed earlier cutters to be more weatherly (sail closer to the wind) than the sloops of the day. With the invention of lower stretch sailcloth and geared winches, cutters quickly lost their earlier advantage.

Today sloops are generally closer winded and easier to handle. Their smaller jibs and larger mainsail sailplan are easier to power up and down. Without a jibstay to drag the Genoa across, sloops are generally easier to tack. With less hardware sloops are less expensive to build.

As you note sloops come in a couple varieties, masthead and fractional. In a masthead rig the forestay and jib originates at the masthead. In a fractional rig, the forestay originated some fraction of the mast height down from the masthead. Historically, sloops were traditionally fractionally rigged. Fractional rigs tend to give the most drive per square foot of sail area. Their smaller jibs are easier to tack and they reef down to a snug masthead rig. Today they are often proportioned so that they do not need overlapping headsails, making them even easier to sail. One of the major advantages of a fractional rigs is the ability when combined with a flexible mast, is the ability to use the backstay to control mast bend. Increasing backstay tension does a lot of things on a fractional rig: it tensions the forestay flattening the jib, and induces mast bend, which flattens the mainsail and opens the leech of the sail. This allows quick depowering as the wind increases and allows a fractional rig to sail in a wider wind speed range than masthead rig without reefing, although arguably requiring a bit more sail trimming skills.

While fractional rigs used to require running backstays, better materials and design approaches have pretty much eliminated the need for running backstays. That said, fractional rigs intended for offshore use, will often have running backstays that are only rigged in heavy weather once the mainsail has been reefed. The geometry of these running backstays typically allow the boat to be tacked without tacking the running backstays.

Masthead rigs came into popularity in the 1950ís primarily in response to racing rating rules that under-penalized jibs and spinnakers and so promoted bigger headsails. Masthead sloops tend to be simpler rigs to build and adjust. They tend to be more dependent on large headsails and so are a little harder to tack and so require a larger headsail inventory if performance is important. Mast bend is harder to control and so bigger masthead rigs will often have a babystay that can be tensioned to induce mast bend in the same way as a fractional rig does. Dragging a Genoa over the babystay makes tacking a bit more difficult and slower. While roller furling allows a wider wind range for a given Genoa, there is a real limit (typically cited 10% to 15%) to how much a Genoa can be roller furled and still maintain a safely flat shape.

Cutters, which had pretty much dropped out of popularity during a period from the end of WWII until the early 1970ís, came back into popularity with a vengeance in the early 1970ís as an offshore cruising rig. In theory, the multiple jibs allow the forestaysail to be dropped or completely furled, and when combined with a reefed mainsail and the full staysail, results in a very compact heavy weather rig (similar to the proportions of a fractional rigged sloop with a reef in the mainsail). As a result the cutter rig is often cited as the ideal offshore rig. Like fractional rigs, cutter rigs intended for offshore use, will often have running backstays that are only rigged in heavy weather once the mainsail has been reefed. Unlike the fractional rig, the geometry of these running backstays typically requires that the running backstays be tacked whenever the boat is tacked.

Cutters make a less successful rig for coastal sailing. Generally cutters tend to have snug rigs that depend on larger Genoas for light air performance. Tacking these large Genoas through the narrow slot between the Jibstay and Forestay is a much harder operation than tacking a sloop. As a result many of todayís cutters have a removable jibstay that can be rigged in heavier winds. This somewhat reduces the advantage of a cutter rig (i.e. having a permanently rigged and ready to fly small, heavy weather jib).

Cutters these days generally do not point as close to the wind as similar sized sloops. Because of the need to keep the slots of two headsails open enough to permit good airflow, headsails cannot be pulled in as far as on a sloop without choking off the airflow in the slot. Since cutters are generally associated with the less efficient underbodies that are typical of offshore boats this is less of a problem that it might sound. Cutters also give away some performance on deep broad reaches and when heading downwind because the Genoa acts in the bad air of the staysail.

There are a couple issues that are rarely talked about. You always hear about the greater flexibility of a cutter rig because the jib can be doused and still use the staysail as a storm sail. While a staysail is generally roughly the size of a stormsail it is generally a more powerful sail made from a lighter cloth than a proper storm sail. If properly cut as a storm sail, the staysail is of little use as a staysail in combination with a jib as it is cut way too flat. Also most boats develop greater weather helm in heavier air. The staysail is generally too far aft to balance the mainsail without a pretty deep reef in the mainsail. In that regard the smaller headsail on a fractionally rigged sloop when combined with a bladed out and reefed mainsail will often have a better balance. Lastly with a cutter there is often conditions where the jib is too large for the wind conditions but simply sailing under the staysail does not provide enough drive. Here the ability of a fractional rig to ''shift gears'' on the fly really comes into its own.


WHOOSH 01-29-2004 07:22 AM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter

I can only offer a few tidbits around the edges after Jeff''s thorough review.

I don''t think your characterization of a sloop is correct when applied to offshore sailing, as you''ll inevitably want to have an inner stay (Solent or staysail) when the wind starts to moan and the seas build. Simply rolling up a jib or genny part way and drawing that CE further forward is a bad alternative as it will stress the furling gear, put the furling line (and perhaps its tendency to chafe in severe going) to a real test, and provide a lousy sail shape. So...sloops look the simpliest when daysailing but suddenly start to become more complicated when set up for an offshore run. We''re very pleased with the Solent stay we installed (our boat is a ketch) but it does complicate things.

Cutters can, in one sense, be seen as coming in one of two versions: one is rigged with a boom to enable simplier rigging of the staysail sheet and traveler (not ''better'' mind you, just simplier) and which just might wap you in the ankles and toss you over the side, while the other is boomless and offers more running rigging, tracks etc. How nicely integrated all this is on the boat you end up considering will depend...but even when looking inside the ''cutter envelope'' of choices, there are some frustrating compromises. The most common of truths I heard from owners of cutter rigged boats is how infrequently they get much mileage out of that inner foresail and all its associated hardware.

Fractional rigs need additional heavy weather support (note Jeff''s referral to running backs) as the specific design of the fractional rig can look very sparse in the standing rigging department when you think about that stick being tossed about by a heavy sea. And oh my, aren''t we putting a lot of faith in that (normally) one forestay. There''s a very solid-looking Kiwi sloop down the dock from us right now, arriving here in London via the Indian Ocean and the Med, and she''s *very* fractional (3/4 at the most) despite being 43'' LOA. The couple sailing her have a nice hard dodger to hide under, and as long as they stay ahead of the mainsail as winds increase, they''re in good shape. There''s a lot to recommend that option, I would think, provided the boat is well designed for it.

Good luck on the search...


zperson 02-01-2004 06:45 AM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter
Can anyone reccomend a good fractional rigged sloop in the 30-35 foot range that is under 50K. The boat should have as large a cockpit as possible. (I know the safety issues, but I am not going offshore, or even out of site of land)

I also looked online at a j36 and found it interesting as well, although I thought the cockpit was a little cramped.

zperson 02-01-2004 06:45 AM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter
Can anyone reccomend a good fractional rigged sloop in the 30-35 foot range that is under 50K. The boat should have as large a cockpit as possible. (I know the safety issues, but I am not going offshore, or even out of site of land)

I also looked online at a j36 and found it interesting as well, although I thought the cockpit was a little cramped.

zperson 02-01-2004 06:45 AM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter
Can anyone reccomend a good fractional rigged sloop in the 30-35 foot range that is under 50K. The boat should have as large a cockpit as possible. (I know the safety issues, but I am not going offshore, or even out of site of land)

I also looked online at a j36 and found it interesting as well, although I thought the cockpit was a little cramped.

msl 02-01-2004 07:44 AM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter
I hope this isn''t a dumb question ... but I need to ask;

If one doesn''t have a fractional rig sloop, why not just fly a smaller headsail to reduce workload?

Also another question; exactly how does a fractional rig headsail offer more power than a masthead rigged headsail?

Mark L.

Jeff_H 02-01-2004 08:36 AM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter
There are several aspects that make a fractional rig make more sense for cruising than a masthead rig. Because of the geometry of a fractional rig, where the forestay comes in below the masthead, it is very easy to control precisely mastbend with the backstay adjuster. On a fractional rigged boat, increasing backstay tension stretches the forestay and so flattens the jib and opens its leech, while mast bent flattens the mainsail and opens its leech. In effect, on control depowers both sails at once. Because of the ability to quickly and precisely depower, individual sails are adaptable to winder wind range and there is less reefing and sail changes required. For similar reasons a fractional rig can carry a proportionately larger mainsail and more sail area in its standing rig. Because a fractional rig can carry more sail area through a wider wind range in its standing rig, it can get by with smaller and few headsails. These smaller headsails represent a smaller portion of the overall sail plan and are much easier to tack and handle. Since most boats develop weather helm as the wind picks up a fractional rigged boat will often balance with its working jib and single reef which moves the center of effort forward and therefore reduces weather helm. For that matter the center of effort of a fractionally rigged boat is further forward allowing reasonably balanced sailing with only the mainsail.

The reason that simply using a smaller jib on a masthead rig does not work is that since masthead rigged boats do not have the ability to carry sails through as wide a wind range they are usually designed with smaller standing sailplans. Therefore most masthead rigs are designed around using a genoa for light to moderate conditions. With a smaller jib on a masthead boat generally means that you lose the lower end of the windspeed range because do not have sufficient sail area for the conditions. By the same token, because masthead rig boats are usually designed to balance with a genoa, using a small jib with a full mainsail generally results in a boat that has more weather helm than is ideal. (The same problem happens in cutters when they sail under just the staysail).


msl 02-01-2004 12:10 PM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter
Thank you, Jeff. I guess you know we save these explanations to study as we look for boats to dream you have any favorites (other than the Laser 28''s) in the 30 to 36 foot range ?
Thanks again.
Mark L.

Jeff_H 02-01-2004 02:04 PM

Sloop vs. Fractional Sloop vs. Cutter
I have no idea what your budget is, where you sail or what your goals are, but there are a number of performance/ coastal cruisers/ racer-cruisers in this range although that seem like good boats to me, however not all of them are fractional (F)rigs:
(Boats with * are boats that I personally like above the others)
(Boats with $ should be under or around $50K)
Beneteau First 36.7 F*
Beneteau First 36s7 F
C&C 110 MH
Contessa 33 F * $
Dehler 34 F (Optima 101)$
Dehler 36 F
Dehler 33CR F
Express 30 (Goman) MH $
Express 34 (Alsberg)MH * $
Express 37 (Alsberg)MH *
Farr 1020 F *$(This would be my first choice under $50K)
Farr 1106 F
Farr 11.6 (Farr 38) Sometimes under $50K *(This actually was my first choice)
Farr 37 MH (Dickenson)
Hustler SJ30 F
J-33 MH $
J-34c MH *
J-35c MH *
J-36 (the J-36 is the only J on this list that is a fractional rig)
Kirby 30 F&MH $
Hinterhoeller F3 36 MH $
North Coast Wylie 34 /North Coast 10.3 MH&F $
Oyster 37 MH
Oyster SJ35 MH $
Oyster 34
Pearson Flyer 30 F $
Santa Cruz 33 $
Santana 35/36 F $
Santana 30/30 MH $
Schockwave 30 MH * $
Schock 35 MH
Sigma 36 F
Sigma 33 F&MH $
Sydney 36 MH
Sydney 32 F *
Tartan 10 F $
Tripp 33 F $
Wylie Hawkfarm F $
X 362
X 102 F $
X 332
X 99 F *$

That ought to keep you busy for a while.


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