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  #1  
Old 04-08-2004
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gaff rig

I now have a 52'' cutter with a lot of open water experience. I am looking to purchase a 50'' gaff rigged schooner of which I have no experience.
What''s involved in sailing with a gaff rigged
setup?
Thanks
Ray
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Old 04-09-2004
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gaff rig

I really enjoy sailing on gaff riggers. They require a completely unique set of skills to sail well. They can be extremely challenging in changing conditions or a seaway but that challenge is what makes them a lot of fun to sail.

Unlike more modern rigs, gaff rigs are quite dynamic, changing sail shape with each roll of the boat. As a boat rolls the boom lifts and moves toward the centerline of the boat and with the additional sail cloth in the leech of the sail, the gaff sags off to leeward further. The result is a sail that has too much twist during part of the cycle, with the head over eased and the foot over trimmed. Proper sail trim can make a big difference in the performance of the boat (both speed, heel angles, and motion comfort), and so care should be taken to try to find that ideal middle setting.

In changeable conditions, the comparatively large stretch in the halyards, the fact that the geometry of the peak halyard changes relative to the throat halyard as the sail is eased, and the previously mentioned dynamic nature of a gaff sail, means that halyard adjustments (typically peak halyard) are very critical and need to be made quite frequently in changeable conditions. Failure to keep up with the adjustments can result in fairly large differences in speed.

Big gaff rigs take good sized crews to sail as it takes a lot of strength to sweat up the throat and peak halyards in unison. While the multi-part tackles reduce the loads on the lines, much of the mechanical advantage is lost to friction. Jibing, the multiple sails of a typical gaff rig mean the need for a lot of sail adjustments and great care is required with the running backstays to keep the rig in the boat and not damage the partners during a jibe.

Gaff rigs are expensive to build and more difficult and expensive to maintain than a more modern rig. Because of their inherent inefficiency, gaff sails tend to be much larger than their Bermuda equivilients and so are more expensive to replace.Like a mainsail on a modern rig, the foresail and mainsail are up all of the time that the boat is sailing, which when combined with the large leech loads and greater chafe,need more much frequent replacement. Chafe against the running backstays and shroud rigging is a constant problem. The hoops and spars need near constant attention as the very act of sailing these craft abrades the finishes. There is a serious chafe problems with the halyards, since they pass through so many blocks and also on most reaching courses abrade against the jaws of the gaff. The halyard are way longer than Bermuda halyards and so with all of that abrasion, need more frequent replacement.

Gaff rigs do not point or run very well. There are a lot of reasons for this. Beating their comparatively low aspect ratios and larger diamater spars offer a lot of wind resistance relative to their drive. The tendancy of the gaffs to sag off to leeward, makes optimum beating sail shape difficult to achieve and impossible to maintain. Running the tendancy of the gaffs to sag way off makes it hard to project the entire sail area to the wind. On stayless rigs, when the boom is eased to close to beam on, the gaff is actually sagged past abeam and so there is actually lift generated in the wrong direction. When trimmed with the gaff perpendicular to the wind, the boom is not fully eased.

Historically, the gaff rig is at its best when used on boats which are limited in their ability to go upwind by a lot of factors (inefficient hull forms and low inherent stability relative to its drag.) They are fun to mess with but make poor rigs for voyaging.

As to the schooner rig, Schooners do only one thing really well, they provide a lot of drive on a reach for the amount of heeling that they induce. They do not point and they do not run. But take a boat with a lot of drag for its stability and the schooner is a great rig.

Schooners, more than any of the other fore and aft rigs, are really a series of rigs. They vary from the modern unstayed cat schooners (like the Freedom 39), to Fengers experiments with wishbone schooners, to the traditional two masted gaff schooners, to the early 19th century square topsail schooners, to the knockabout and the staysail schooners of the late 1930’s, to the 4, 5 and 6 masted cargo schooners of the late 19th and early 20th century. Each of these have distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Schooners in one form or another, have been around for a very long time. Like most multi-masted rigs, they evolved in the days when breaking a rig into a lot of smaller sails made sense. Multi-masted rigs resulted in a rig with a greater number of smaller low aspect ratio sails. These proportionately smaller sails reduced stretch within the individual sails, made it easier to manhandle the sails and make sail shape adjustments. This was a time before before winches, light weight- low stretch sail cloth, high strength- low stretch line, and low friction blocks. In the days before these important advances these proportionately smaller sails powered up less in a gust as compared to having larger sails. While multiple small sails are less efficient, the hulls of the era were so inefficient that this loss of sail efficiency did not hurt much.

Multiple masts, along with bowsprits and boomkins, allowed boats to have more sail area that could be spread out closer to the water. In a time when stone internal ballasting was the norm, this was important as it maximized the amount of drive while minimizing heeling moments. Multiple masts meant more a little more luff length and more luff length meant greater drive force on a reach or close reach. But multiple masts also meant more weight aloft and much more aerodynamic drag, increasing heel some and greatly reducing the relative efficiency of the sails. Multi mast rigs also have the issue of downdraft interference, meaning that each sail is operating in the disturbed and turbulent air of the sails upwind of it, which also further greatly reduces the efficiency of multi mast rigs.

Schooners are best suited for high drag, burdensome vessels with comparatively little stability. They are best used in sailing venues where they predominantly will be reaching between 30 degrees above a beam reach to approximately 50 degrees below a beam reach. Because of the geometry and inherently high drag of the schooner rig they are not very good rigs upwind or down. Upwind, the large amount of aerodynamic drag from the spars and, in stayed rigs, rigging, coupled with the low aspect ratio sails typical of a schooner rig, and the down draft problems of a multi-masted rig, results in very poor windward perforance. When compared with Yawls that can drop thier mizzen when beating without much consequence, a Schooners primary drive sail(s) are acting in the wind shadow of the entire rig.

Probably the highest upwind efficiency is achieved in schooners with lug foresails. On a schooner, lug foresails are not actually ‘lug rigged’. In the case or a schooner, the term ‘lug foresail’ means a gaff foresail (not a jib) that foresail that over laps the mainsail in much the same manner as a genoa over laps the mast on a modern rig. This rig was common in American working craft in the 19th century as there was no boom to deal with on the working deck. It was used on such boats as the yacht America’s original rig, Tancock Whalers and on many Atlantic coast pilot boats. Lug foresails need to be tacked around the mast in much the same manner as a genoa is today.

Downwind the problem of downdraft interference is a major problem as well. The large mainsail again tends to block the air on the sails forward of it and schooners really do not have a tall forward mast on which to fly a meaningful spinnaker. While there are all kinds of kites that can be flown from a schooner, and early working schooners often carried square sails on their foremasts, most of these attempts at trying to improve downwind performance really come into their own on a reach.

Because of the proportions of the rig, it is also quite difficult to get a schooner to hove to with any reliability.

I once had a great conversation with Olin Stephens about schooners. Someone had asked why the schooner rig had died out. In the course of the conversation it was pretty much concluded that as hull forms became increasingly efficient, the schoonber rig could the inherrent lack of efficiency of the schooner rig not keep up with the increased hull efficiency. Great efforts at all kinds of schooner rig improvements were tried but in the end the inherent limitations of the schooner rig was ill matched to the improved hull forms of the early 20th century.

Today, traditional schooners are wonderful to look at relics of a bygone age. Traditional forms of the schooner rig are complicated rigs that are expensive to build and maintain. They generally lack the strength of staying of a more modern rig. They are limited in their ability to beat to windward, hove to, or go dead downwind. They require greater skill to sail well and are pretty labor intensive to sail in shifting conditions. Still there is nothing like the romance of gaff topsail schooner with a bone in her teeth.

Respectfully,
Jeff


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Old 04-09-2004
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gaff rig

That was really interesting and informative: material that I haven''t seen elsewhere. Thanks for the effort it takes to write this stuff down and share it.
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Old 04-09-2004
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gaff rig

I''ve been sailing a gaffer for three years now and as Jeff mentioned they can be alot of fun. I had always sailed the traditional sloop rig and learning the gaffer has added a totally different set of elements to get the best shape and performance. I am constantly tweaking the peak or the outhaul. To me, the rig is beautiful... looks so traditional, parrel beads, bowsprit and gaff... makes a real looker.
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Old 04-09-2004
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gaff rig

Thanks Jeff. I printed what you wrote and will study it. I don''t know what to do. We are taking her on a sea trial in two weeks and We will have to see. I''ll post a message to let you know. But she is beautiful and a classic.

Thanks
Ray
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Old 04-13-2004
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gaff rig

As always, it''s impossible to argue with JeffH''s facts but easy to argue with his conclusions

I''ve sailed numerous times aboard a friends (Reid Stowe) 70'' gaff rigged schooner which he built himself 25 years ago (www.1000Days.net). I was inspired so much that I bought my own gaff-rigged Westsail 32.

I suspect that how much you have to fiddle with your halyards or outhauls depends on your sailing style and whether you are neurotically obsessed with getting every fraction of a knot of speed out of every fraction of a knot of wind.

Most people who go with a gaff-rigg don''t do so with the intent to race them, for all the reasons Jeff mentioned. More often, they''re used by people who either want to inspire ohs and ahs at regattas or who want to do some serious long distance cruising. When sailing across an ocean, you might set your sails and not touch them for several days.

Reid has had no trouble sailing his 70'' schooner alone or with just one other crew person, and while I agree that it takes some heaving to raise the gaff, the 4 part blocks do all the work. It''s actually easier for me to raise my mainsail alone without the use of a winch than it would be if I had a marconi rig.

As far as ability to point, I''ve heard this a lot, but in my experience, a gaff-rigged boat might point at 50 degrees to windward whereas a marconi rigg might point to 35-40 with any degree of performance, but this is generally not a major issue unless you''re clawing for a mark (or off a lee shore)

Gaff sails are generally heavier than their counterparts, and don''t seem to take as much beating (probably because they are not sailed beating in to the wind as often). My sails are several years old and look practically new, and same for Reid''s sails, except for a tear along a reefing cringle.

Halyards would have more friction, and theoretically wear faster, however, since you''re buying so much more line to feed through the blocks, you''re probably buying cheaper braided line, so, it may not cost as much. And, again, it all depends on your kind of sailing. If you''re crossing oceans, you''re not raising and lowering your sails as often as the local coastal racer.

As far as the schooner design, Reid''s boat is increadibly sweet. He based the design on the East Coast cargo schooner, and then modified the lines a bit. His boat has a fantastic amount of room below, but also performs very well underway; very well balanced. He said that he sailed from down around Trinadad up to St. Marteen without once touching the wheel or the sails without an auto pilot or windvane, just a little piece of twine looped over one of the spokes of the wheel.

So, consider what your sailing style is. If you''re not in a hurry, and you''d like something fun, stylish and very capable, then a gaff-rigged schooner is a great choice. If you want to enter the local yacht races single-handed, and you''re a freak about getting some place a few seconds faster, then maybe you want something else

Enjoy and let us know how it goes!

Oh, and check out a few books, such as Hand, Reef and Steer by Tom Cunliffe or The Gaff Rig Handbook: History, Design, Techniques, Developments by John Leather. That will tell you all you need to know!
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Old 05-12-2004
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gaff rig

I have a 32'' LOW Eastport Pinky gaff rigged. Her main is 548-sqr foot main; the boom is 29 feet long. Some one has the same boat for sail as a ketch, if you want to see pictures go here: http://www.thisoldwoodenboat.com/pictures.htm I don''t know this person at all, just posting the link so you can see where I am coming from.

I am to write this as a reply to Jeff since he covered a lot of ground in his post.

I agree that gaff can by dynamic but I think the proper sail trim issue is true for all boats all the time. I regularly sail past boats with Bermuda rig and bad sail trim. Also the time your gaff rig was designed is very important. Eastport pinkies are an 1850s design, long boom, long gaff and the effect Jeff mentions is there. A lot of newer gaff rig designs have shorter boom and gaff and the effect is less pronounced. Mike Kasten discusses this with drawings at http://www.kastenmarine.com/gaff_rig.htm .

On the question of big crews to sail can raise my sail alone, the sails on your schooner are likely a little smaller. I doubt you need large crew but you do need halyards that run free in the blocks. I find that my halyards and sheets have expanded a bit over time and that can make the job more difficult due to unwanted friction with the blocks. I am replacing them this year. I think this is really important, you should not be losing much mechanical advantage due to friction, if you are something is wrong.

On the question of expense I am not sure I agree with Jeff, I think you need to do some close analysis to be sure. Gaff rigs have bigger more expensive sails but use fewer or no big expensive winches. You can use triple braided line which is less expensive and your spars are often less expensive as well. Ted Brewer seems to think gaff rig is less expensive http://www.boatus.com/goodoldboat/foreaftrig.htm but I am not sure he is right either, I bet it depends a lot on your boat. On the question of chafe you do need to guard against it, John Leather''s book talks about that as well.

On the question of when is a rig best, running, reaching, or beating gaff is better than Marconi on a reach, and a bit better on a run. Gaff is not better than a spinnaker on a run, but a lugsail is, and a crab claw rig is better than Bermuda all round though it loses to lug under some circumstances. If you’re curious lateen is the least efficient rig. I get this information from Marchaj, he wrote a great book on the subject.

Jeff goes on to say that gaff rigs are fun to mess with but a poor choice for voyaging. I have not voyaged but I have read a number of authors who have sailed both and advocate the gaff rig for voyages. Their arguments have a set of common themes:

Easier to repair and maintain because of simpler parts (no winches).

More flexible sail configurations, though this is only really true of split rigs like the schooner, and cutters.

Lower aspect means more comfortable sailing, less crew fatigue and a nicer atmosphere on board. I think of this as a big plus on a long trip.

Jeff also discusses hull form efficiency and that leads to a question: efficient for what? When people say a hull is efficient they often means it sails a triangular course really well. Australian skiff racing hulls are very efficient, they reach plaining speed rapidly and fly along, winning races and making for a very exciting sport. But I would not voyage in one. My 9-ton sloop with a huge cockpit is very comfortable and is near perfectly efficient for entertaining friends. But its relatively low reserve stability and large cockpit make it a danger in a mid Atlantic storm, I would not voyage with it either.

Boats are designed with a purpose and they tend to be efficient at that purpose and less efficient at things they were not designed for. The schooner you’re looking at should be evaluated with this in mind.

Claude Worth also took up the question of the popularity of schooner, but he did it in 1920 and was thinking about the popularity of schooner rig on the east coast of the USA and cutter rig in the UK. He said it was a question of the prevailing winds in the two areas. British sailors were often beating to windward because of the prevailing winds. Americans often had onshore and offshore breezes that gave an advantage to a rig that was better on a reach because they would be sailing parallel to the coast.

There is a lot to think about when you’re looking at gaff Vs. Bermuda and even more to think about when you add split rigs to the equation. But the homework is a lot of fun and it’s worth it in the end.






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An Eastport Pinky, no kidding. Neat boat!!!! Talk about a trip to yesteryear. Whew. Do you know if your boat was based on the Chappelle design or Benford''s Sunrise?

Back to the question at hand. I think that by an large you and I are in agreement in our comments. I did want to clarify how I was using the term ''efficient''. I am using the term efficiency in the aerodynamic and hydrodynamic sense meaning compartively high ligft for low drag and and undesirable side force produced. My point was that modern rigs make sense when coupled with modern low drag high lift hulls and rigs. They make less sense with burdensome, high drag, and inefficient hull/keel forms.

As you have noted, the crabclaw rig exceeds the efficiency of all known sail configurations. That said, there has been a lot of testing of the crab claw rig (including one built with carbon fiber spars and kevlar sails) since the UNESCO sponsored study that Marchaj refers to in his book. The current thinking seems to suggest that a particular crabclaw sail is only efficient in a comparatively narrow wind speed range. Given the crabclaw boom and yard geometry, reefing and depowering are not an option. Crab claw rigs seem to best suited to multihulls since the lose efficiency quickly as the incident (i.e. heel) angle increases. I am not sure that we will see the crabclaw used on bigger boats any time soon.

It is the ability to control sail shape (twist, and powering up and down)and to reduce sail area that is the real strength of modern Bermuda sail plans.

Lastly, I am not sure that I agree that the block intensive sail gaff rig really is cheaper to build or is more reliable over time. My 1939 Stadel cutter had all of its original winches intact, but the blocks were in rough shape and in need of rebuild or replacement.

Respectfully,
Jeff
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Jeff,

I am told that it was based on the lines from Chappelle. The boat was one of 6 or 7 built by Penobscot Boats (of trawler fame) in the first half of the 1970s. The story I got is that they built the first one to Chappelle''s lines but found that performance was not what they liked so they made some modifications. I gather this is the passed down story so I am not sure how true it is.

I know one of them was Ketch rigged and named Appogee, she sank on the way to bermuda some time in the early 1990s. Another was for sale in RI a year or two ago. I am not sure about the others.

I sailed mine down from Maine and sailed her a bit for two years before finally buckling down to fix her up. Right now she has some deck missing in the cockpit and lots of other work to do but I am fixing her faster than she is decaying so eventually I will run out of projects and have to learn to sail again.

The boa is great fun, I learn more about it every time I go sailing. There are a lot of well thought out practical things about the boat, but she is so unlike other vessels out there that I have to figure a lot of it out myself.

Thanks for the clarification, I wonder if Ray is going to buy the schooner?
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Old 05-13-2004
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gaff rig

Thanks everyone for the help on the gaff rig.
we went for a sea trial and haulout, but the hull needed so much work we backed out. What a shame to neglect such a beautiful boat. We are actively looking for a gaff rigged schooner and have several to see. Will let you know how it turns out. But for now I am going to enjoy my cutter.
Thanks
Ray
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