Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: New Westminster, BC
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Good posts, John, as usual.
We have owned both masthead and fractional boats, and esp for shorthanded cruising prefer the fractional rig. I'd agree with JohnR that when cruising you should avoid "necessary" running backstays, because that is a chore that pretty much requires an extra body.
By "necessary", I'm referring to boats whose rigs are so spindly that the integrity of the rig is compromised if the runners are forgotten or mishandled. This mainly applies to straight-on race boats (but many "out-of-date/noncompetitive racing designs end up being converted to "cruisers") so you may run into this scenario.
Most more moderate fractional rigs will use runners, but their job is primarily to provide and maintain headstay tension. In a masthead boat the backstay can provide this function.. on most jumper-less fracs tensioning the backstay will mostly bend the mast, little of the force is transferred directly to the headstay. Runners do provide that tensioning force as the wind pipes up. This aids pointing ability and keeps the sail shape as the sailmaker intended it to be.
Our 35 footer with a 3/4 frac rig came with runners, but the rig is robust enough to use without them. The price of the convenience of not using them is some pointing ability as mentioned above. Since we do not race this boat we, so far, have been satisfied with using the boat this way.
However we recently added a furler, so it may prove to be more advantageous to replace the runners... we will see, but prefer to sail without them if we can (we are almost exclusively doublehanding)
We like the frac rig because it keeps the headsails smaller, lighter and more manageable (sheeting loads are down as well) and, more importantly, the spinnakers are much smaller and easier to handle than their masthead counterparts. As a result we fly our spinnaker MUCH more than we ever did with our previous boat, a 40 foot masthead boat, whose kite could be a real bear to deal with.
The other advantage (IMO) of many fractional rigs is that since there is more power invested in the mainsail, the bulk of your sail area can be well managed with a good mainsheet/traveller system. These types of boats will also tend to sail better under main-only in more extreme conditions.
Nothing wrong with either, as John says frac/masthead should be a secondary consideration beyond other more important criteria such as construction, layout, equipment and condition, but it was on our "nice-to-have" list this last time after dealing with huge genoas for 12 years.
1984 Fast/Nicholson 345 "FastForward"
".. there is much you could do at sea with common sense.. and very little you could do without it.."
Capt G E Ericson (from "The Cruel Sea" by Nicholas Monsarrat)