Best rig for small catamaran circumnavigator?

Discussion in 'Multihulls' started by randy quimpo, Jan 23, 2006.

  1. RHough
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    RHough Retro Dude


    Not quite sure if I want to yank the chain a bit more or not ...

    The reason that I said "Even among the wacky-racer crowd of high performance multi-hulls, the Balestron Rig is not a popular choice." is to preempt the "You know, as everyone else does, that mainstream yachting is ultra conservative, even timorous - and only grudgingly changes to new developments ... " response that I was sure someone would use. Everyone that thinks they have built a better mousetrap uses some version of that to explain why they have vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals. ;)

    The entire mutlihull segment of sailing can use that argument with facts to back it up. Of all sailors, multihullers seem to be the least moribund, new, non-mainstream ideas tend to flourish in multihulls compared to the greater monohull sailing community. Your argument would have more weight if l'Hydroptere didn't have a relatively conventional (by large multihull standards) rig.

    I did not say or mean to imply that the Balestron Rig a poor concept. Like any rig it has good and bad qualities. The fit between the rig's character and the boat's usage (and budget) are what determine the goodness or badness of the rig. I do intend to point out that some of the claims do not seem to follow the laws of physics that I am familiar with. Lower total weight and lower cost are two.

    I am somewhat familiar with the treatment that cruising rigs get in the real world. Things like UHMW bearings inside a hole in the deck of a cruiser's sailboat sound like a horror story waiting to be written. I could be wrong, but from what I've seen in the field those bearings will see zero maintenance and be expected to perform as new during the 3 days each year that the boat actually gets used ... after about year 5 the second owner won't even be aware of any maintenance requirement ... at year 10 the third owner will be trying to use scrap plastic from a dusty corner of the local sailor's exchange to make replacement inserts, get the fit wrong, and point load the spar to failure along the stress riser caused by years of grit never being flushed out of the original system.

    If that sequence of events does not ring true for you, you deal with a different bunch of cruisers than I do. ;)

    Foilers are not and will never be a popular solution for Joe Average sailor. JA does not keep his boat clean enough to allow the foils he has (keel and rudder) to work properly.

    I expect the marinas to be full of Balestron Rigged, CBTF, foiling cruisers on my way back from the third coming of Christ. I do expect them to be full of lower maintenance, more bang for the buck boats. I expect more cruising multi's, maybe not for the reasons I would choose, but more of them. The small catamaran circumnavigator is a type that has more potential than most. Once the mass producers of sailboats figure out a way to build and sell small 30-40 cruising cats to the folk that now buy 30-40 cruising mono's (Benetaeu, Catalina, Hunter, Etc.) they will take off like nothing we have seen before. The hint is to watch mother at the boat show. Compare her expression when looking at the accommodation of a 40 ft mono compared to a 40 ft Multi. ;) She sees a kitchen (not a galley) and bedrooms (not oddly shaped closets with "Guest Cabin" on the door), she steps on the edge of the boat (what the hell is a gunwale?) and it does not tip alarmingly, she has seen father watching the AC boats tilted at 30deg in a light breeze and hears evey word when the factory rep talks about sailing all day and not spilling your wine. This is where a Balestron Rig might seal the deal ... simple, no deck clutter, none of those wires with funny names ...

    For those of us that *like* trimming sails an inch or two every 30 seconds, the Balestron Rig is not so attractive. ;)
  2. bill broome
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    bill broome Senior Member

    one vote for gaff sloop.

    .... with a few full length battens, and a sprit boom.

    wood's discusses this stuff on his site, and very well. i still back a gaff for a small passagemaker, because you can use a round tube and save a lot of money. a small jib on a club may not be very efficient, but it takes care of itself, and every once in awhile you're going to be busy enough elsewhere.
  3. Gary Baigent
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    Gary Baigent Senior Member

    balestrons on cruising small boats?

    hey, nice commentary RHough - agreed, I strayed off topic bringing in racing developments.
  4. RHough
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    RHough Retro Dude

    I'd like to replace my aging leadmine with a cruising multi ... but mama has to like it. We are chartering a 4 stateroom cat in OZ this October. If my child bride likes sailing on a cruising multi, the chances of having one on my dock go up exponentially! I think sailing without worrying about spilling her wine might be a deal maker ... :)

    If she *really* likes it, I'll show her a Gunboat ... :D
  5. rob denney
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    rob denney Senior Member



    All the sailing experience in the world is not much use if you do not apply it to making better rigs and boats. Basing your dislike of carbon masts on your Carbospars experience was fine 5 years ago, but as far as I can tell, it is out of date now as there has been a lot of development since then. Carbospars overbuilt (and overcharged for) unstayed masts and boats, as an independant engineer would have confirmed. Overbuilding is not necessary, as indicated by the numbers I quoted for the mast in the video and the mast on the open deck 11m cat.

    From your post:
    You overlook that carbon is stiffer and stronger for a given weight than aluminium and stainless steel and can be tapered in section and laminate, unlike alloy cruising masts. A carbon mast (stayed or unstayed) is 40-60% the weight of an alloy one, if the loads are the same.

    You are wrong about goosenecks, they are not required on a sensible rig with a boom. Nor does such a rig require a sleeve luff.
    A mast head unit for an unstayed mast is a couple of hours work. Whether you include it in the week or not is no big deal.

    I was not comparing the proa performace to Gypsy, but to your highest "performance" cruiser. Yet again in this thread, you ignore the question and/or try to introduce a red herring.

    A tri is less like a cat than a harryproa is, so why would you give any credence to tests I did on an F27?

    The top of the comparison mast is 40mm diameter and 2mm wall. The bottom is 150mm x 20mm wall (how does this compare with the bare tube dimensions on Gypsy?). The diameter and wall at the bottom are based on the righting moment, so they do not change for a longer or shorter mast. Making it longer is more complex than just extending the top, but it adds far less weight than the linear increase you suggest. This is pretty basic engineering.

    The bearings are very simple to make, and to align. It can be made into a long and difficult job if you have a mug client paying you by the hour, but it does not need to be.

    The essence of my posts on this thread is how easy it is to sail and build an unstayed carbon mast. Yet, knowing nothing about what is involved in the building, you say you can't do it. A surprising attitude for an experience based designer. For the record, it is far easier than building a sheet ply boat.

    Your attitude to your clients is noble (and normal for boat designers), but if I am even partly correct, you are exposing them to more likely harm and expense with a traditional rig than with an ustayed one. Surely it is worth more than a blanket denial, especially one based on such flimsy reasons?

    So far you have said unstayed masts are prone to lightning strikes (supported by 2 unreferenced, so presumably incorrect, claims),
    dislike for sailing backwards off moorings,
    a desire to use a tricolour,
    lack of confidence to build even a sample piece to try it
    and quibbles about the finish after a week's work and whether it would have a halyard fitting.

    In the overall scheme of rig selection for cruising boats for round the world voyages (or any other use), these seem to be pretty pathetic excuses for ignoring all the benefits.

    It is also noticable that you have not addressed most of the benefits that I have mentioned, such as the lack of deck gear, automatic depowering, lack of maintenance, cost (how much does a Gypsy rig, ready to fit, cost?), low load sheet, ease of reefing, hoisting and lowering the main.

    Alan M,
    Sorry for the delay, I have been in Singapore talking to a venture capitalist about carbon mast manufacturing in China. Richard may not see the potential of lightweight masts, but he is one of a very few.

    You can work on a carbon mast tube being about 60% the weight of your alloy one. So alloy =16x 8.2 = 130 kgs. 60% is 80 kgs x $12 = $1,000. This is just the materials, you still need the consumables and the space.
    If you have it engineered ($1,000), the weight will probably drop to 40-50%.
    Plans for amateur builders are $1,000, which includes making virtually all the fittings from composites. The weight and cost savings from this are also appreciable.

    Or, you can wait until the end of the year, at which time, all going well, we will be producing carbon masts (stayed and unstayed) in China at lower prices than your aluminium extrusion.

    R Hough,
    Your quote is by Steve Callahan (journalist, survivor, designer, editor of Cruising World), one of the people I was referring to in my earlier post. He knows about as much about what what is happening with low cost carbon and rigs as Richard does; ie not much.

    You need to be clearer about what you are comparing. A carbon ballestron "mast" is cheaper and lighter than an alloy/ss stayed "mast" with it's rigging. 60 kgs/132lbs for the12m/40' Aroha harryproa vs 67 kgs/150 lbs for the 8m/27' Gypsy cat.

    A ballestron "rig" is probably heavier than an alloy "rig", including the stays, boom, furler, and other bits attached to the mast.

    The ballestron rigged "boat " is lighter than a stayed alloy/ss rigged "boat" (including all the extra gear and beefing up required to support and sail the rig) as far as I can tell. Most designers are like Richard, they do not want to talk about how much weight and cost actually goes into their boats to support the rigs.

    The weight/windage tradeoff is indeed a compromise that has to be made, but as you can see from the video, not as big a problem as it is made out to be. The windage of shrouds, forebeams and strikers on traditional rigs is not to be sneezed at either. An unstayed wing section is the best solution and they also require some compromises. These are mostly eliminated if the mast can telescope, but that is another story.

    Making the boom and mast rotate independantly of each other is no big deal, if you get away from racing boat nonsense such as vangs, goosenecks, travellers and highly loaded mainsheets.

    The jib track is the same as a self tacker, mounted on the beam just ahead of the mast. See the pictures on

    I agree with your description of (some) cruising sailors, but not your comments on UHMPWE for bearings. Unstayed mast bearings are high load, large diameter, low speed and protected from the elements so they do not see excess wear or contamination. If they do, it will be pretty obvious and easy enough to fix. UMPWE is an amazingly tough and tolerant material, both to point loads and foreign matter. A point load from a worn bearing will not break the mast, just make it a loose fit. This will show as a problem motoring in a seaway when the mast will shake back and forth a little. There will still be a lot of wear before the bearing disappears. Compare this to "a little bit of wear" on any of the bits holding up a stayed mast.

    Which part of my cost and weight comparison do you disagree with? And why?

    When you show your wife the million dollar plus Gunboat, make sure you do lots of reefing, tacking and gybing, especially in a breeze. Then show her a $400,000 harryproa (same build quality, more room, similar power to weight, much easier to sail) and let her decide which is less likely to spill the drinks. My wife has always called the harry windward hull the chardonnay hull. She cannot understand why all sail boats don't have one.


  6. Boston

    Boston Previous Member

    Ive got this old book
    high speed sailing
    its got a pyramid rig design in there that you might look into
    its pretty slick looking and its on a rotating mast

    and take all with a grain of salt as Ive been out of the field
    or water as the case may be for quite some time
    I have started a redesign project of my own
    so hopefully
    Ill be seein my share of
    a fair wind
    and a followin sea
  7. Richard Woods
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    Richard Woods Woods Designs

    Rob, please don't be too personal. I'm not the only one designing boats with a single aluminium mast. But I am one of the few who have sailed on a balestron rigged catamaran.

    So I have some experience with them, unlike most. For example I agree with Mark Pajot's findings as reported by Gary Baigent '' Pajot did say however that after sleeping he sometimes awoke to find the boat caught aback and reversing".

    That happened to me as well, something that never has with a conventional rig. Although I may not be as experienced a catamaran sailor as I would like to be, Mark Pajot did win an Olympic gold medal before sailing offshore so I guess he at least knows how to sail.

    After 40 years of boatbuilding I think I know my capabilities better than you do, even though you have seen one of my own home built boats, and may even have been on board (I can't remember as it was over 25 years ago that we met)

    Richard Woods of Woods Designs
  8. Bruce Woods
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    Bruce Woods Senior Member

    Good one Rob.

    So we are still just addressing the benefits and ignoring the down sides. You don't seem to be listening .
    So what about reefing? what standing on top of the balestrom boom stuck in a leeward wave piercing hull of a lopsided catamaran , 3 meters in the air , sorting out a reef is safer. WTF are you thinking rob.

    So the Coffs harbour elementary mast broke on the beach, Rare Birds mast is too soft (re your own comments) Blind date is overweight so one must assume their rig stiffness is not matched correctly to the boats righting moment, and your now advocating telescoping unstayed masts are a good thing when you haven't actually tested one yet in the real world.

  9. rob denney
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    rob denney Senior Member

    Most of your posts on this thread have been "personal". Your day to day existence and your experience, with little or nothing about the merits and drawbacks of unstayed rigs. All I want to do is discuss the rig options.

    We all know you have sailed unstayed rigs and you think they are 25% better than stayed ones for Joe Average, as per your FAQs. Getting you to discuss them, rather than just dismissing them out of hand is like getting blood from a stone. When you do deign to toss off a criticism, it is to point out the most inane problems conceivable, which leaves me wondering why you don't like them?

    Waking up in reverse is right up there with shards of carbon piercing the deck after a lightning strike. How can it happen unless the main was reefed and the jib wasn't or there was a massive windshift, which would have been much more disastrous with a conventional overlapping headsail? Or in Pajot's case, maybe the rig hit the shrouds? Could you explain the circumstances, please.

    If you did somehow manage it, or any other problem arose , you simply release the lightly loaded main sheet and the rig weathercocks and the boat stops, whatever the wind direction or strength. Pull in a couple of feet of lightly loaded sheet and the boat will start sailing again. None of the flogging sails, huge loads or extensive winching associated with a genoa (or spinnaker) which has been caught aback.

    You know your capabilities better than I do, but I know how simple it is to build a carbon mast (or beam, boom or rudder stock). I can assure you that if you can use a jigsaw, a string line, epoxy resin and a vacuum pump, you will have no difficulties. You are refusing to try something you know nothing about.

    You are indeed one of many designers using stayed alloy rigs, but as far as I know you are the only one who is advocating alloy masts over lower cost, lower weight carbon ones.

    Fun times 25 years ago. I had just designed and built (with help from Ian Howlett, designer of the Aerorig and Ian Armstrong, one of the founders of Carbospars) a balls to the wall, ultra cheap, stayed alloy masted, sloop rigged racing cat which I capsized while leading our class in the 2 handed Round Britain race. From memory you were cruising in the same very well built type of boat and rig you are cruising in now.

    Did not take you long to revert to type.

    I think even Richard agrees that reefing is one of the major advantages of an unstayed rig. It could hardly be simpler. The first reef is automatic as the mast bends and depowers. This is particularly handy in squally weather. To put in the second reef, you ease the single sheet, the rig weathercocks and the boat stops. You then drop the headsail on the ballestron, or tuck in a reef on the una rig. The third reef, you dump the sheet, the rig weathercocks, the boat stops and you lower half or more of the main. Turn and drift downwind with the waves if the motion is uncomfortable.

    All are far easier and safer than reefing a stayed rig. Unless it is raining, you don't get wet. You don't have to go on the foredeck, generally don' t even need to clip on, although I would recommend you do. Compare this with the plunging foredeck on a semi depowered boat being thrown all over the ocean, jammed furlers, poorly setting headsails, main plastered against the shrouds typical of high wind reefing on stayed rigs.

    This is not about harryproas, but since you mention them, Rare Bird (the boat in the video) is heavier than the rig was designed for. Still does windspeed under plain sail in flat seas, and I have not seen any videos, or even anecdotal evidence of any cruising boat with the same accommodation and cost which does the same, with as little fuss. If it was a stayed rig designed to the same spec, it would have broken by now.

    I broke both masts in the workshop on my Elementarry 4 years ago, and rebroke one of them on the beach a year later testing a new sail shape with huge downhaul pressure. The boat is the test bed on which I try new ideas before including them in my plans. I expect things to break on this boat. If they don't they are not being tested thoroughly enough. I repaired the masts and they have performed well since.

    Blind Date weighs two and a bit tons in cruising trim. Spot on it's designed weight. Not bad for a first of it's type cedar strip 15m/50'ter. This boat is regularly used for it's intended purpose of taking sight impaired people sailing so they can feel the thrill of sailing fast and safely.

    I look at things (multihull design, rig cost, rig efficiency and boat building techniques to name a few) and see they can be improved (harryproas, low cost carbon masts, telescoping masts and frameless flat panel building). I then spend my time and money trying to do so. Some work, so I sell them to people who agree that the current state of affairs can be improved upon. Others join the pile of failures in my garage and back yard. What is your problem with this?

    If you want to start a discussion on harryproas, telescoping rig potential, why you dislike me or a history of my testing failures (see for pictures and details of other breakages), start some new threads.

    I am happy to discuss the disadvantages of unstayed rigs, but it is getting boring waiting for you to start pointing them out. Also still waiting for you to discuss their advantages, or even acknowledge that they exist.


  10. Gary Baigent
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    Gary Baigent Senior Member

    caught aback

    Hey, Marc Pajot was singlehanding a lightweight, avant garde 60 foot cat and he awoke to find there had been a wind change or the boat had luffed in waves and stopped and Elf Aquitaine then reversed while he was sleeping. You mean that has never happened to you while sailing a lightweight multihull? Singlehanded?? And this one with a 1.5 metre wing mast chord. Large wing masts sail backwards at high speed. My point was that although Pajot found himself in this position once, maybe twice, he lost the race by only 23 minutes - it was not a criticism of balestron rigs and certainly not of Pajot's skill. Any lightweight with any type of rig could have done the same. Critics write off Elf Aquitaine 11 and its rig as a failure because it did not win the '84 OSTAR - get real you jokers.
  11. Freenacin
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    Freenacin Junior Member

    Here's one, a 44 year old, 33 foot boat, built of ply I think, doing 100% windspeed in 10 knots.
  12. rob denney
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    rob denney Senior Member


    So it is. Thanks. makes you wonder what has been happening to "performance" multihull design for the last 44 years, doesn't it.

    Alan M,
    I mixed up my kgs and pounds in your materials quote. As per the original, it is $12/lb, which is $26.4 per kg. Sorry.


  13. Alan M.
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    Alan M. Senior Member

    Thanks for the info Rob. Looks like the materials alone would cost about as much as the alloy section delivered to my door. Then I'd still have to build the mast.
  14. rob denney
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    rob denney Senior Member


    Sure would. Need to decide whether it is worth it for the 40% (probably 60% if it was engineered) weight saving and the cost saving of not having to buy any of the fittings on the mast, nor worry about them falling off.



  15. RHough
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    RHough Retro Dude

    Now that you have stated that a Ballestron Rig (complete and ready to step) is probably heavier than a conventional rig (also complete and ready to step) I don't disagree with the weight comparison so much. To compare the carbon Ballestron Rig to an untapered alloy spar and rig is hardly fair. The fair comparison is between a tapered carbon mast and carbon boom as part of a stayed rig and the Ballestron. The Ballestron rig will be *much* heavier than its stayed carbon counterpart.

    I also question your conclusion that the rig loads add that much weight to a conventional design. There is a finite amount of material needed to handle the loads. How does moving it from the boat's structure to the Ballestron boom result in an overall weight savings? I may not understand how you are getting to your conclusion.

    Sailing loads are another concern. How does a Ballestron rig maintain forestay tension? If a permanent backstay is used, you lose the performance of a large roached fully battened main. If you have no permanent backstay, the leach load on the main and the longitudinal stiffness of the mast must counter forestay tension. If leach loading is used in to keep the forstay tension, you have to keep the leach tight in heavy air. On a stayed rig with swept spreaders of aft leading cap shrouds the shrouds keep the forestay tight and the jib flat while the mainsheet is eased to allow the roach to twist of and depower the rig. I don't see how the Ballestron handles this very well unless the mast below the hounds is *very* stiff (and heavy).

    Not having seen the detail of how you are using UHMW for the bearing, they may not be the problem I foresee. I has been by experience that keeping bearing clean and running free on boats is an engineering challenge. If you have come up with a no maintenance solution, that is a feather in your cap. If it can be duplicated by an amateur builder, even better.

    As far as reefing and tacking etc. I'm blessed, my last mate is sailor. She can hand, reef and steer. Being able to do it while not standing on a 20-30 deg deck would be heaven. If my sailing partner had fewer boat handling skills, I would see more value in rigs designed with easy sail handling over performance.

    The "self reefing" feature of a bendy, tapered, carbon spar would not be lost if the rig was stayed. It is the mast tip above the hounds that needs to have good gust response. If you have figured out how to have the entire mast bend and depower without losing forestay tension and powering up the jib you have my attention.

    IMO a good cruising rig can lose any one stay and still stand. The mainsheet serves to back up the backstay, the jib halyard backs up the forestay. If the mast section is a proper choice for cruising, any one stay can fail and the mast should stand, granted the remaining wire(s) may get stressed mast their elastic limit and require replacement after the event, but the mast should be fine.

    Although there are many potential points of failure in a conventional rig, the little bits are easy to inspect and easy to replace (if I build the mast). I can see the signs of impending failure. I cannot see the beginning of a delam problem in a composite spar.

    I can see that the Ballestron Rig and a PROA are a good match. In the Harryproa (as I understand it) the longer, leeward hull is the 'light' hull and the windward hull is the heavy hull. There is little need for the leeward hull to be strong enough to support the crew walking around on it. There is also no convenient place for a conventional rig's stays. When you add the requirement that the rig sail both ways, the Ballestron becomes a near perfect answer.

    On a cruising catamaran, none of the PROA's rig limitations exist, some of the problems a Ballestron Rig solves for a PROA just don't apply to a cruising cat. I'll take the tapered carbon spar, a stayed rig with mast rotation, a big roach main and a long traveler. ;)
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