Sloops, Ketches, Cats, and All That Junk

I’m going through another one of those phases dreamers and planners go through. You know that phase where you allow the mind to wander off into the hinterlands of possibilities and then come back with a few good ideas? That’s the phase I’m talking about. The combination of a curious mind, hours of downtime, and access to ‘The Google’ means that I’ve been engaging in what is becoming known around here as ‘self medication’.

Usually that means I’m looking at boats on Yachtworld, Craigslist, and Sailboatlistings. Okay, well, yes, I’m doing that, of course, but one can only look at the exact same boats for so long before they begin to run together in one’s proverbial mind. So I started focusing on rigs to expand my search criteria.

Here’s the deal: I’m looking for a boat that can take us anywhere we want to go. Anywhere! It has to be comfortable, it has to perform well, and it has to be easy to sail. I am not getting any younger, as proven by my recent birthday. The steps we need to take in order to get this plan off the dock will take a few years, making me that much older when we start out. We want to sail places like down the coast of Chile, Easter Island, the Galapagos and beyond. By the time I get to do that, I’m probably going to be pushing 60. Yikes!

So it occurs to me that I should be looking for a boat that will be easy to sail not only now, but in the future as well. Otherwise, I might not enjoy it as much as I’d like to, and there will be too much of my relying on Mike and his man body (which is also not getting any younger, I might add.) In addition, it’s not so easy to sell a boat in ‘this economy’, so this makes it more important than ever to choose the right boat to begin with. So I’ve been doing some research on different rigs, particularly the cat rigged boats with unstayed masts, and the junk rigs, which also have unstayed masts.

Initially the idea of an unstayed mast filled me with trepidation. But as I began to educate myself more about them I began to change my mind. I like the idea of having less sailing hardware to worry about, and I’m reading that these boats are very easy to sail and do well in all types of seas and weather.  The junk rig has not caught on in the U.S., but it’s making quite a showing in Europe where there is an active Junk Rig Association. Apparently they are now making sails that allow the boats to really give the Bermuda rig some stiff competition.  And for sheer beauty on the water there is nothing to compare. Last year I bought the book Voyaging on a Small Income, by Annie Hill. The title says it all and I recommend reading this book if you, like us, are among the 99%.  The Hills are definitely of the ‘go simple’ opinion. [amazon_image id=”1888671378″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Voyaging On A Small Income[/amazon_image]

This boat is currently for sale in Sydney, BC. I'd love to see it.

Mike has always admired the cat rigged Nonsuch sailboats. Alex Kimball, the man who did the painting of Moonrise, owns a very beautiful Nonsuch and he and his wife live aboard the boat. They plan to take her down the coast of Mexico and through the Panama canal, then continue on to Europe. At a raftup last spring we were able to go aboard Alex’s boat and let me tell you: that is one beautiful vessel. The decks are completely clear of trip hazzards, too. When I heard they were planning to go ocean voyaging in the boat, my ears pricked up. I began to think outside the Bermudian box.

Then, on our recent ferry trip over to San Juan Island, I saw the loveliest boat on the water. It was a cat ketch rig and it was just beautiful. Maybe it was the Freedom 33 cat ketch that is for sale up on San Juan Island. Need to tack? Just turn the wheel. The sails tack themselves. Who knew?

Isn't this lovely?

I don’t know why these boats haven’t caught on around here. According to what I’m reading, they are simple to sail, well balanced, and economical. It’s not like these rigs are new. They’ve been around for ages. The junk rig has the added benefit of having sails that you can make yourself if necessary. In the UK, they race junk rigs alongside Bermuda rigged boats so I guess they are not exactly slow if you have the right sail shape. Alex Kimball’s Nonsuch beat the pants of lots of other boats in one of the Puget Sound Cruising Club ‘races’ this spring. I suspect the lack of popularity has something to do with boats being designed to the rules for racing or something like that.

So I don’t get why I’m not seeing tons of these out on the water. Could it be part of the herd mentality that keeps people from thinking outside the box?  I’d really like to get on a few of these boats to find out. If you’ve ever sailed on one of these kinds of boats, or you know any one who has one, please post. I know just enough about this to be dangerous, but I’d like to know more. What else am I going to do while Moonrise is still on the market?

From the Junk Rig Association site. What's not to love? Go there and check them out.



19 thoughts on “Sloops, Ketches, Cats, and All That Junk

  1. “So I don’t get why I’m not seeing tons of these out on the water.”

    Upwind performance. When researching boats, I too admired the junk riggers. I would have probably gone for one if we had found one in the right place and the right time. I did try very hard to understand all the pros and cons of that rig. The biggest con in my limited understanding is that you cannot achieve the same ability to go upwind as you can with a bermuda rig that allows you to point higher and to achieve more lift.

    • Now this is a concern I had, too, and with the traditional junk rig sails that are flat sails this is true. But what I am reading is that with cambored sails they actually sail to windward almost as well, and sometimes better, than their Bermudian sisters. In addition because of the balance of the boat they do not ‘hobbyhorse’ when going to windward as badly as the traditional bermuda rig. The cat ketches, in particular, have been used in ocean racing because of the versatility of the rig and the amount of sail presented vs the bermuda rig. Take a look at this article: There is some boat ‘naval architecty’ stuff in it. I actually was able to pay attention to almost the whole thing. I must have found it interesting.
      Now all of this is only heresay until I can get on one of these boats and take a sail.

      • My only other question would be… In light air downwind sailing, how would the junk perform compared to a stay’d mast? You can’t hoist a gennaker/drifter/etc?

        • Again, my knowledge is brief and academic at best. I understand that they excel in downwind performance, many times beating the bermuda rig. This goes for the cat ketches, too. And going downwind with two masted sails wing on wing sounds a lot easier to me than flying a spinnaker or flying the main and jib wing on wing. Both of those sailplans are really tender and take a lot of attention from the helmsman in my experience.

          • I have read that some of the early Freedom ketches with the wishbone rig sailed like dogs, but I have only seen one reference to that, and apparently it had something to do with ‘wrap around’ sails. That doesn’t sound good. I’d probably want to avoid something like that.

  2. I don’t know anything about these boats, but I love the way they look and I’m about no maintenance!!

    The nonsuch’s are such great boats. We looked into them because we love that “old world” look, but the price tag was a bit too much to bear.

    Now things are getting interesting…

    • yes, the price on those boats is bigger than what we can afford, too. There are a number of them for sale in florida, some at more reasonable prices, but fortunately, in spite of the fact that they are lovely boats, I’m not really interested in a boat that has only 1 really, really, really huge sale. Handling it would require electric equipment on the boat. Alex’s boat has ‘push button’ reefing from the cockpit. I’m going to bet that our boat won’t have that.

  3. I think because most folks learn to sail on a sloop, that’s what they stick with. Some might get crazy and go for a yawl or a ketch but I think folks are loathe to give up the jib once they are accustomed to them. I remember as little kid living in Florida seeing a few junk rigged boats. I distinctly remember vowing at 5 years old to one day live on one!

  4. See, that’s what I think is going on! It’s herd mentality and maybe a bit of a lack of creative thinking. The article I posted under Tate’s comment gives a bit of the history of why we use stayed masts and I was right – it has to do with the racing folks making new ‘rules’ whenever people got creative about the boats they entered. Bah! Boat politics is no better than any other. Don’t get me started.
    It sounds like ya’ll don’t have these down your way, either. I think the only thing is to sail up to any we see and ask for a ride.

  5. I’ll be interested in hearing your findings. I find everything you’ve shared to be informative. With regard to the gaff-rigged sails (and perhaps the junk rigged, as well) would be the added weight aloft (depending on the weight of the battens and gaff material selected), which may require a little more draft or a bit more ballast for compensation (not a significant consideration). However, I believe your comment on hobby-horsing may be more a function of weight distribution than actual sail rig, especially in fin-keeled moderate displacement boats. Generally displacement and weight distribution will have the greatest influence on motion. The practice of putting a couple of hundred feet of chain in the bow coupled with hanging a dinghy and motor on davits from the stern will do more to affect the boats motion going upwind than the selection of rig. I hope you share more of your findings on your search for the ideal boat and rig.

    • Yes, I believe you are correct about the lack of hobby horsing being due to weight distribution as most of these boats appear to be balanced fore and aft. I understand that in the newer boats of these designs carbon fiber is used as a mast material due to the strength for weight ratio. There is much information to be had on the Junk Rig Association website, much of it technical in nature. It’s a good reference. Maybe we just need a trip to the UK to sail on a few of these boats. If they can handle conditions in the seas around there, that says much. In terms of the cat ketch, I found the article by Sponberg to be very informative.

  6. Dear Melissa: The main reason that I would not want a junk rig is that they go to weather as poorly as any rig. Your Cal 34 goes to weather well. Regards, Don

  7. That’s what I’ve read, Don, with the exception of the cambored sails. But maybe the jury is really still out on that. I do have a tendency to sail as close to the wind as I can get, usually because it’s on the nose and we have a destination, a dangerous idea in a sailboat around here. You are right, Moonrise does sail to windward fairly well. Good girl!

  8. Hi all…

    So the Cat ketch rig wont sail to weather as well, is it me or is the ocean big? So it may take a bit more time to get somewhere and you might have to relay on navigation a bit differently. I would much rather sail slow and steady (enjoying life), cheaper and safer than pushing it fast. Then again, out running bad weather is a perfectly good argument against slow and steady.

    One thing I want to point out is that wing and wing sailing is always about half the speed.

    Now if I could just find a full keel Cat ketch rig ranging in the 35 to 40 foot before you all do. 🙂 Love your site by the way.

    • Michael and April,

      I have heard the ocean is really big as well. Motion Comfort is a huge part of the decision of one rig design over another. Speed, comfort and safety are going to all be part of the final decision and sure as the world we will wish for more of one of those qualities in whatever boat we voyage in.

      I checked out your blog, Love that Clipper Marine 26. It looks like a great pocket cruiser.

  9. I located a woman who owns a Freedom 40 cat rig on the east coast. She and her husband love the boat, although she suffers from severe sea sickness so I cannot really tell how much motion ‘comfort’ the boat offers. Poor thing. I asked what she would change about the boat and the only thing she came up with was the addition of some hanging lockers. That and the fact that a 40 foot boat is a lot of boat for two people, in her opinion. She wished the boat were a bit smaller because all of the usual reasons like costs. She is a tiny thing – 5’3″ and about 110 pounds and she can handle raising/lowering the sails on their boat by herself.
    On one of their crossings the spartite holding the main mast in place rumbled loose due to high seas (they had not replaced it, so it was original to the boat). The mast rocked back and forth and the husband was able to use a piece of driftwood to wedge the mast in place, an easy fix if you think about it.
    Here’s a link to their blog, which is really entertaining:

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