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Old 12-09-2001
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Dan Dickison is on a distinguished road
Sailing a Cutter Rig

What are the advantages of a cutter-rigged boat?

Dan Dickison responds:
A cutter sails pretty much like a sloop, but with two jibs, the cutter rig can be a more versatile sail plan. If the staysail is self-tending (on a boom with a traveler on the foredeck), you can short-tack upwind without grinding headsail winches. How the rig performs hard on the wind depends a great deal on the size and style of the main headsail. With a large, low-cut genoa, the staysail may be starved for air when beating, while a smaller, high-clewed jib or yankee may work well with the inner headsail.

A staysail almost always provides usable sail area for power reaching once the boat is slightly off the wind and works well until the wind is well abaft the beam. On a dead run however, the little staysail is usually blanketed by the mainsail and is of little use. Yet, a little-used advantage is that when running downwind, the staysail can be sheeted flat amidships, acting like a large anti-roll air brake.

The most important aspect in using this rig is to make sure that the trim on the outer jib matches the trim on the inner one. This assumes that you've got the proper sheet leads, halyard tension, and sheet tension. Obviously you want to sheet the outer jib outboard of the inner jib.

The cutter-rigged boat can be balanced better than a sloop because the staysail can be sheeted in or out to add more or less weather helm. A staysail can also be extremely useful as the wind increases because they keep the sail plan of the boat low and centered as the headsail and main are reefed. Paired with a partially-rolled genoa or a small, high-clewed yankee, sail area can be reduced until the staysail alone is left.

To achieve the most effective cutter rig, there are several decisions that must be made. First, whether the staysail should be self-tending on a boom or loose footed. Self-tending is nice when tacking shorthanded, but makes stowing anything on the foredeck nearly impossible, and it can be a shin-buster when anchoring. Also, a self-tending, club-footed staysail won't have the performance potential of a loose-footed rig. The other decision regards whether to have a hoisting or roller-furling staysail. Furling the sail from the cockpit is convenient, but it makes the stay for the staysail non-removable and also makes the addition of a storm staysail, or spitfire, more difficult.

Now there are some disadvantages to a cutter rig, and one in particular is that the staysail stay often interferes with tacking a large genoa, regardless of whether the staysail is in use. The use of a Hyfield-style release lever on the staysail stay can help you overcome this drawback since it allows the staysail stay to be un-coupled and stowed aft near the mast when the staysail is not in use. This small change is worth undertaking because it makes sailhandling and manhandling a spinnaker pole on the foredeck much easier. Here's hoping that this information is useful to you.

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