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oborseth 11-07-2013 09:17 PM

Sailing a Cutter
As I hone my sights in on my "dream" sailboat I'm finding that several of them happen to be cutters. More specifically, I really like the Hans Christian 38 Traditional and there are a few for sale on the west coast where I will be spending a substantial amount of time sailing. Most of my sailing time to date, with only a few exceptions, has been on inland Colorado lakes where tacking happens about every 5 minutes or so. I assume, and based on the little experience I have so far, tacking is not a thing you have to do quite so often when sailing along the coast. I personally plan to sail from Long Beach, CA up to Victoria Island, BC and then hopefully points beyond.

I guess my question is, are cutter rigged boats a pain in the ass to sail or is that extra sail a benefit? If you are in a position where you will tack / jibe frequently are there options like only running the staysail, removing the inner stay, etc? Can you run a big genoa up front if you want and basically be a sloop?

Thanks for any answers that come,

StormBay 11-07-2013 09:46 PM

Re: Sailing a Cutter
I guess my question is, are cutter rigged boats a pain in the ass to sail or is that extra sail a benefit?
Not a pain to sail at all. Having an extra sail allows you to have more options when reducing sail and allows you to carry more sail area when the winds are light.

If you are in a position where you will tack / jibe frequently are there options like only running the staysail, removing the inner stay, etc? Can you run a big genoa up front if you want and basically be a sloop?
You can't remove the staysail stay on a hans christian, but you absolutely can just fly the staysail or genoa alone or just use the main by its self. Also some HC's have a boom fitted on the staysail making it self tending when tacking

If you haven't been there already check out Hans Christian Owners Association

Yorksailor 11-08-2013 07:42 AM

Re: Sailing a Cutter
We have sailed our cutter for 30,000 sea miles and while tacking the genoa through the headsail slot is irritating that is well compensated by the ease of use of the staysail in anything over 15 knots. We sail with staysail and single or double reefed main 80-90% of the time.

In heavy weather the staysail is indispensable.

I certainly would not buy a cruising boat without a staysail

Jeff_H 11-08-2013 09:08 AM

Re: Sailing a Cutter
My sense is this, a cutter rig works well if you live in an area where the predominant winds are sufficiently breezy that you rarely need to use a genoa, or if you do long passages where you rarely have to tack or jibe. But in areas where there is a high percentage of light to moderate winds, and where you tack and jibe frequently, a cutter rig is a serious PIA.

There are a range of reasons why this is so. First, the foretriangle on a cutter is generally proportionately bigger than that of a sloop. So you are starting with a bigger headsail to handle.

Big genoas tend to be less efficient than taller aspect ratio sails and so require more area to be able to generate the same forward drive. This means that the already bigger headsail due to the bigger foretriangle, needs to have a larger overlap in order to generate the same forward force.

In order to keep the slot of the working jib open, genoas on cutters normally are routed outboard of the shrouds. This reduces the ability to point as high. When combine that with a boat with a lot of drag relative to its working sail plan, like the Hans Christians, you are talking about boats that do not point as high as boats with more efficient hulls and sail plans. That means a lot more tacking when sailing in confined sailing venues. There are similar problems avoiding blanketing the headsails downwind meaning more jibing in confined venues as well.

And then there is actual work to tack a cutter. It is always harder to tack a genoa that has a large overlap than one without. In the case of a cutter, the genoa not oly has a lot of sail to drag over the shoruds but there is also a very large of sail area aft of the jibstay. If there is enough breeze, the genoa will blow through the slot, but that generally means that you have been forced to overstand the tack toget enough force to blow it through, and so you end up winching in a lot more line on a more heavily loaded sail. You also lose an excessive amount of forward speed in the interim. For that reason, some cutter owners will partially furl the genoa on the tacks.

Either approach is not a problem offshore where you time the frequency of your tacks by the day rather than the minute, but its a real pain in the butt when beating up a river where the quality of every tack counts. When I owned a cutter, I sort of got used to the issue, choosing to sail with the jib topsail in confined quarters whenever the breeze was even close to enough to move the boat with the smaller sail, rather than fight with the genoa. But that strategy also meant more frequent sail changes when the wind died down.


Argyle38 11-08-2013 09:32 AM

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.


Alex W 11-08-2013 10:58 AM

Re: Sailing a Cutter
I have limited cutter sailing experience, a friend has one and I've sailed with him a few times.

Tacking his boat efficiently does require an extra hand to pull the genoa around the staysail stay. Otherwise you tack almost 180 degrees to get the wind to push it through, then come up and sheet in. Dropping the staysail doesn't help unless you also remove it's stay.

I get having a cutter to have more options of sail plan (from all sails flying scaled down to a trysail with small staysail). If you plan on motoring through once you get to Victoria and head north then the cutter won't be a downside. If you want to sail you'll likely find yourself tacking often (winds in the Gulf Islands and north typically run NW or SE, leaving narrow passages to tack in) and wishing for the simplicity of a sloop rig.

If I were going offshore I would personally buy a sloop rig and add a removable solent stay from which to fly smaller headsails in storm conditions. That makes tacking easier but gives you the sail plan flexibility of a cutter. I'd also want a fin keel for better performance to weather and reduced wetted area.

Markwesti 11-08-2013 01:55 PM

Re: Sailing a Cutter
On my cutter my staysail head stay is on a pelican hook . But we only remove it when tacking the drifter . Tacking isn't really a problem ,and I have my sheets tied on . I think this winter it will make a good project to splice them on . Every boat handles different, here is how mine likes to be reefed first reef the main if more is needed reef or get rid of the staysail last reef the head sail . I know that goes against what OP have said here . We only use main and staysail combo when motor sailing . Also if your HC 38 doesn't like to tack you can always just furl in the head sail , tack and then unfurl . I do that when I'm single handing . Good luck with finding a HC , maybe I'll see you around .

PaulKotzebue 11-08-2013 03:01 PM

Re: Sailing a Cutter
1 Attachment(s)
Double head rigs on ocean racers were popular for a while in the 1970's, at least in southern California. The trick to tacking them was to not release the staysail sheet until the topsail clew cleared the inner forestay.

Attachment 16278

Tim R. 11-08-2013 03:37 PM

Re: Sailing a Cutter
Our Caliber is cutter rigged. Our staysail is not self tending so to tack our genny we backwind the staysail which helps guide the genny thru the slot. It also help get the bow thru the head to wind faster. It does not hurt performance to much backwinded while sheeting in the genny and it is only backwinded for maybe a minute.

oborseth 11-08-2013 08:06 PM

Re: Sailing a Cutter
Thanks guys. I've been reading a ton about this on other sites as well. It seems very dependent on the boat and what kind of cruising one does. Backwinding the sail before letting it go over seems to be a very common technique to make things easier. I wonder, can a boat with a nondetachable inner stay be converted to a detachable?

I've pinged the HC Owners website to see if anyone would be interested in taking me out next time I'm in the Northwest. I'd like to experience it for myself and see how a longtime owner handles things. Not to mention I'd like to sail a bit on a boat before buying one of a particular model. The HC38T just makes me happy when I look at them, knowing she can take me up the coast or across an ocean, hopefully sailing one gives me that same feeling.

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