My views on split rigs

11 Apr
This article originally appeared in my buddy Kevin’s blog.

Split Rigs According to Perry, by Bob Perry

I use
the term “split rig” to describe any boat with more than one mast. It’s
important to keep this discussion in historical context. There was a time when
dividing up the big rig of a sloop was a practical matter. It was done to break
the sail area down into smaller individual components to make handling easier.
But today we have nice big winches, roller furling for jibs and mains, fancy
line handling hardware, aluminum and carbon fiber spars and lighter weight, high
tech sail fabrics. The modern fractional sloop rig is very easy to handle and
the benefits of the split rig have diminished to the point where we are left
with split rig disadvantages. If you prefer a split rig I think it’s best to
realize that it’s a subjective decision most of the time. You might just prefer
the look of a schooner, ketch or yawl. I can’t argue with that. Actually I have,
but in the end I have always lost that argument.

What are the disadvantages of the split rig? Weight
aloft would be one. Complexity and clutter would be another. Cost certainly is
increased when you add another mast with its required chainplates, mast step and
additional sail detailing. But I have designed a lot of split rigs and if that’s
what the client wants I’m happy to oblige.

An Islander Freeport 41 ketch, my very first
design job for Islander,
chugging along nicely with modern off-the-wind
asym chute and mizzen
staysail drawing


Let’s start with the yawl. Yawls look great with
their itsy bitsy mizzen, usually hovering over a long stern overhang. While
there have been yawls and yawl-like rigs for many years, the popularity of the
yawl boomed in this country during the late 40’s and 50’s when the dominant
racing handicap rule was the Cruising Club of America rule, the CCA. There was a
bit of a glitch in the way the CCA measured sail area. Sails flown off the
mizzen mast, i.e. mizzen staysails and mizzen spinnakers, were not counted in
the measured sail area. So if you had a 44′ yawl and could fly a 300 square foot
mizzen staysail off the wind, that was 300 sq. ft. of “free” sail area. This was
eventually corrected in the later days of the CCA and when corrected yawls
disappeared from the racing fleet. But when the free sail area was allowed, the
dominant ocean racers like the famous S&S FIGARO and Alan Gurney’s
magnificent WINDWARD PASSAGE were all yawls. Any race that was an off-the-wind
race gave a distinct advantage to the yawl. While the token mizzen was of little
use at all, big mizzen staysails and mizzen shuts were the key to rule efficient
off-the-wind boat speed. Most of these boats beat to weather with the mizzen
furled and then unleashed an inventory of off-the-wind mizzen flown sails for
off-the-wind horsepower. The only practical side to the yawl for a cruising boat
was that the little mizzen made a great riding sail to keep the boat head to
wind at anchor. You can hang your radar off the mizzen too. Or you can stow your
fishing poles alongside the boom. You can also use the mizzen boom as a lifting
device for your outboard.
I only drew one yawl and I did it for my friend
Jimmy Hiller when we were exploring designs for a CCA style “retro” cruiser. The
boat never got built and as I look back at the design it’s obvious to me that
try as I might, I never really captured the strength and beauty of the boats
designed by Bill Tripp and Phil Rhodes. Right near the top of my all time
favorite boats is the Rhodes design CARINA, a classic CCA yawl.
Perry’s only yawl design – A
48-footer that was never built
I won’t fall back on the old definitions for ketch
and yawl. The criteria used in the old days just don’t hold up today. Where is
the mizzen in relationship to the waterline “buttwater”, the rudder, the helm?
Boats today are very different than the boats of the 50’s. Rudders are much
farther aft.  A center cockpit boat has to have the mizzen aft of the helm. For
me the difference between yawl and ketch is strictly one of proportions. A yawl
will have a very small mizzen, well aft. A ketch will have a much bigger mizzen
stepped further forward. It doesn’t make any sense to me to define the
difference with numbers, just use your eye.
When I was a kid it was almost automatic that any
“serious” offshore cruising boat would be a ketch. History was full of them and
they made sense given the technology of the day. The ketch had some advantages.
The three sails were smaller than the two sails of a comparable sloop. The
center of pressure was lower for better stability, although, the VCG was often
higher due to the weight of the mizzen mast. So I think the stability argument
can be questioned. Many sailors like the ability to sail “jib and jigger” in a
blow. This meant furling the main and sailing under jib and mizzen. This works
and can be very convenient but I wouldn’t count on this configuration to give
you good performance to weather. One problem that all split rigs share is that
the mizzen or aft sail is always sailing in the bad air of the forward sails
upwind. The apparent wind for the mizzen will be closer to the wind than the
apparent wind angle for the forward sails. So, in sheeting the mizzen in to get
clean air over it, weather helm can easily be created. Many ketches go to
weather in a blow with the mizzen furled to relieve helm pressure. During a two
week cruise in the BVI’s where we had plenty of breeze we never flew the mizzen
on the 54 ketch I sailed.
This is the CT 54, my very first GRP (glass
reinforced plastic) design. I was 26 years old. They built 100 of these classic
ketches. They sail very well considering the general nature of the
I have designed two ketches that really surprised me
with their performance. The very first Tayana 37 that was delivered to Seattle
was a ketch version. The boat was beautifully balanced and went to weather very
well. The other ketch that surprised me was CAPAZ, a 48′ motorsailer with an all
inboard rig. CAPAZ was very close winded.
The 48′ motorsailer ketch
But my favorite ketch of my own design has to be the
CT 65. They built about 30 of these and they sail very well. Vladimir Ashkenazy,
the famous maestro, owns one and that makes me happy. I find this a very good
looking ketch with classic ketch rig proportions.
CT 65


But today I have a new ketch being built at the
Pacific Seacraft yard in North Carolina. This is the 63′ CATARI. This ketch has
a bigger mizzen, well forward. We were working with a rig height restriction on
this design so I needed to spread the area out to get the sail area I needed and
come up with a mizzen that would be  a true driving sail, effective upwind and
down. It’s a complex rig made even more complex by the fact that this boat has
both an aft cockpit and a center cockpit. The deck layout has been a real

CATARI, a 63′


I can’t forget schooners. Of all the split rigs the
schooner is the most photogenic. But with the big sail aft the schooner can be a
challenge to balance and often the foresail is blanketed by the large main when
off the wind. Schooners made sense in the days of working sail when small crews
would have to handle large schooners. But today the schooner rig is expensive
and getting four sails (jib, staysail, foresail, mainsail) to line up and work
efficiently upwind can be a challenge. The schooner rig is not close winded. My
friend just bought a beautiful old Alden schooner. It’s a lovely boat but it is
not fast. I have only designed one schooner. I tried to talk the client out of
the schooner rig but he just wanted a schooner. JAKATAN is a modern schooner
with an all carbon fiber rig and single point halyards on the foresail and main.
We eliminated the throat and peak halyard arrangement typical of gaff rigs in
favor of a simpler single halyard system. It works well. JAKATAN is very fast
with a modern underbody and a powerhouse off the wind.
JAKATAN, a modern

didn’t look at cat ketches. They can work well but there are not many of them. I
didn’t mention staysail schooners either. They are just a variation on the
schooner rig and I don’t think they have any real advantage. But you have my
basic thoughts on the pros and cons of split rigs. They can all work well given
a good design but none match the performance of the standard sloop for
efficiency. -BP

This article was syndicated from YACHT DESIGN


  1. Greg CANTORI

    I love my freedom 39 pilothouse schooner.Great light below and super easy Stayless rig that can fly two spinnakers or staysails.

  2. Jorge Bermudez

    One thing not mentioned about split rigs would also be diversity. A standard sloop offshore (i.e. most boat on the Salty Dawg Rally) had 2 sails, a headsail and a main. A split rig will normally have a headsail, staysail, main and mizzen sail. Many more options to choose from offshore.

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