The Best Small-Boat Rigs
Are you a casual cruiser who values simplicity and ease-of-handling above all else, or a racer who looks to maximize performance with every tack? We ask readers about the pros and cons of various rigs
Article by SCA Editors — Illustrations by Rick Myers
Most of us know sailing rigs are, much like boats themselves, a series of tradeoffs. What any of us considers the “best” rig is really just the best for us, based on our needs, where we sail, and possibly other considerations.
The kind of sailing you do obviously matters as well. Are you a casual cruiser who values simplicity and ease-of-handling above all else, or a racer who looks to maximize performance with every tack? Do you carry an outboard motor or rely on sail and oars only? Do you typically sail with crew or mostly singlehanded?
Where we sail is a factor as well. Exploring the windy San Francisco Bay might have you thinking about sails more easily reefed, where cruising on the light summer winds of South Puget Sound will convince you that any rig ought to start with plenty of sail area. Negotiating shallow water and 30-knot gusts during a Texas 200 will give you new appreciation for the yawl, as you watch boats with these rigs peacefully weathercocked on a sheeted mizzen while you struggle to heave-to.
There are other factors too, like aesthetics or a sailor’s skill level. There some especially handsome traditional rigs with topsails, and running backstays, or little boats with schooner rigs, for example, but with each mast, sail, or new string to pull comes another learning curve. Same goes for racing rigs with lots of fine adjustments and tweakability—while some sailors demand these options, others wouldn’t know what to do with them.
Although we’ve established that “best rig” is subjective, is it possible there are a particular few small-boat rig types that seem to do better generally? Or rigs that consistently get higher marks from their owners?
With this is mind we sent out an e-mail survey to thousands of you asking about your small-boat rig, what you’d consider its strengths and weaknesses, and what you’d choose if you could do it over. What follows are the results of this survey along with any conclusions we were able to draw. We should also point out: A sailing rig is only one part of the performance equation—the same rig on a different hull shape or underbody is obviously going to perform differently. —Eds