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Location: Annapolis, Md
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How do you tack a cutter?
You are asking a lot of questions here. Cutter rigs have become very popular with the traditional cruising boat croud because they offer quite a bit of versitilty with less of a performance handicap than a ketch or a yawl. The traditional definition of a cutter (a single masted, fore and aft, sailing rig with its mast located approximately 50% aft in the sail plan and with multiple headsails and in the most traditional definitions a reefing bowsprit) placed the mast very far aft compared to a sloop. This resulted in boats with reasonably large headsails.
While traditional definitions of a sloop permitted multiple headsails, today, any single masted boat with multiple headsails seems to get called a cutter. These modern definition cutters, which are often really multiple headsail sloops, end up with comparatively small headsails.
Traditionally, the inner most of the two headsails is hung on the ''forestay'' and is called the ''Forestaysail'' or simply the ''staysail''. The outer most heasail is hung on the ''Headstay'' or ''Jibstay'' and was called the ''Headsail'' or was more frequently simply refered to as the ''Jib''. If the Jib overlapped the shrouds it was called a genoa or a jumbo. If it had a high cut foot it was sometimes called a ''Yankee'' named for the J-Boat ''Yankee''.
When you hear about the versatility of a cutter, this touted adaptability of the rig is often really most useful offshore, rather than for coatal cruising. Cutter fans like the ability to use the staysail as a storm sail by simply dropping (or furling) the Jib.
In tacking a cutter, the Jib typically has two sheets and is tacked like a headsail on a sloop. Today, the staysail is typically mounted on a boom and is self-tending like a mainsail. In an effort to reduce the hazzard of a swinging boom on the foredeck, traditional offshore cutter rigs often had the staysail rigged with two sheets and they were tacked like a jib as well.
The combination of the two small headsails on a cutter does not produce the same drive to one large sail of equal sail area. Beating the small staysail offers a lot of drag and turbulence for its drive. Most modern cutters sail best upwind with a genoa and the staysail dropped to the deck. Compared to tacking a similar sized sloop, tacking the genoa through the gap between the headstay and forestay is a real pain in the butt as you are forced to haul the sail forward around the stay and then back again. There are a lot of cutters that are very hard to safely tack without partially furling the genoas. Before roller furling Cutters rarely had jibs that overlapped the forestay more than a very small pecent of their overall area. For coastal cruising it is often nicer to have a removable forestay. This permits an open foretriangle making it substantially easier to tack the genoa and reducing wear and tear on the sail.
The sails are generally adjusted fore to aft starting with the Jib, then moving aft, adjusting the staysail and then the mainsail. The staysail is hard to adjust as it often has a narrow groove between backwinding the mainsail and luffing.
Cutters work best when reaching between just cracked off of a beat until a fairly shallow broad reach. They are pretty poor when deep reaching or running because of the blanketing affects of the three sails. Many cutters deep reach or run best with the Staysail dropped or furled essentially behaving like a sloop. Dead downwind the Jib and Mainsail are generally flown wing and wing with the staysail dropped or allowed to sag into the lee of the mainsail.
While many of the older texts still advocate cutter rigs for offshore cruising, with the advent of more effective slab reefing gear, more modern thinking has moved towards fractional rigs being more advantagous for offshore work. The comparatively small jibs found on a fractional rig generally behave like the staysail on a cutter allowing a quick reduction in sail plan without having the problems found in cutter rigs.