Gaff Rig - Safety - Ease of Use - For a Cruiser

Discussion in 'Sailboats' started by Standpipe, Jan 2, 2015.

  1. Standpipe
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    Standpipe Junior Member

    Hi all,

    I was wondering how many liveaboards prefer a gaff rig and why. I read that a gaff rigged boat is a little safer than a bermuda rig because of mast height and a slightly lower center of gravity. The article also said one is less likely to have a mast shear off in bad weather.

    Is the extra hassle of the gaff rig worth it for boat under 40'.



    Thanks in advance
     
  2. RHough
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    RHough Retro Dude

    How does living aboard effect the choice of rig?

    Define safe. IMO "safe" includes the ability to sail to windward well. A fractional sloop has all the advantages of a gaff/topsail rig and sails to windward much better. Having a gaff trying to beat your brains out while putting in a reef is no way safer than slab reefing a modern sail.

    Masts don't "shear off" in bad weather. The mast and rig choice are not factors in most dismastings. Poor rigging design or maintenance caused masts to go over the side. A gaff rig has different challenges in design than a fractional sloop. The rigging is more complicated and has more potential failure points.

    That said, gaff rigs are pretty cool and they were highly evolved before they were replaced by more modern rigs.

    I once drew a gaff rig conversion for my Catalina 30. The idea was to have a rig that would pass under a local RR bridge without having to call for an opening. It could be made to work but I'm under no delusions that it would have been safer or more practical in any way.

    If your plans include cruising the year around and decent performance in both light summer breeze and winter gales a topsail gaff cutter is a good rig. For the summer and light air the topmast and bowsprit are rigged so you can carry a topsail and a jib. In winter and heavy air you remove the top hamper of the topmast and remove the bowsprit to sail with the lower centre of gravity and lower CoE of the main and forestay sail combination. The topmast and bowsprit have homes on the deck and the rigging is stowed on the boat while not in use.

    This is quite a lot of work for a typically short handed cruising couple.

    For a modern under 40 ft boat the gaff rig has little to recommend it. If the boat you want was designed with a gaff rig, don't change it. If it was designed with another rig, don't change it.
     
  3. bpw
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    bpw Senior Member

    In the last four years of cruising I can only remember seeing two gaffers, a Tahiti ketch and a good size traditional schooner. So they certainly are not very popular among long distance sailors.

    I wouldn't trust that article, both center of gravity and strength are related to design and construction, not rig type. Sounds like it was written by someone with either an agenda or stuck in the past.

    I suspect it would cost more to put together a good gaff rig than Marconi these days (assuming equal quality of gear and level of technology) since parts are so readily available for Marconi and fewer blocks and less hardware is needed compared to gaff. There is away larger selection of used gear and sails for a Marconi rig.

    Dont forget that back when gaff rigs where common a 35 foot cruising boat would often carry a paid hand or two.
     
  4. MikeJohns
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    MikeJohns Senior Member

    I guess you mean cruisiers by liveaboards.;)
    Really your question is very open ended. Are you considering designing such a rig for aboat, or is there an exisitng boat that you are considering ?

    I've sailed small and large Gaff rigged boats and a lot of Bermuda rigged. They both have pros and cons on any sized boat.

    I think a modern shorter Gaff could be designed to lose many of the cons, but many choose gaff rigs for authenticity and these are the rigs you'll tend to see.

    Many low aspect gaff rigs need a main topsail laced to the top boom to get decent windward performance. But the topsail presses onto the mains peak halyard on one tack and upsets the flow significantly. Higher aspect mains with short gaffs evolved in Holland.

    In the working days of sail the workhorses were often Gaff ketches and it's hard to see how their rigs could be improved upon for the large working sail areas they carried. Except to give them modern materials for sail cloth and spars and maybe some sheet winches.
     
  5. Standpipe
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    Standpipe Junior Member



    http://www.kastenmarine.com/gaff_rig.htm

    Here is one designer who favors the gaff rig but I've read others.

    -------------------

    I'm not in favor of any rig over another; I'm just asking questions.

    I initially asked if liveaboards favor the gaff since liveaboards (assuming they don't live on a hook) would to know choose the most reliable and safest rig they could get. As someone who's looking into liveaboards, I think it's wise to "go with the masses". If liveaboards avoid X, I should listen and follow suit.

    This was a concern for me and the gaff rig

    The experienced voices raise another warning flag.


    I'm willing to sacrifice performance for saftey but if the gaff rig is no safer and more compicated (failure prone). Then the gaff rig is out...


    Thanks again
     
  6. waikikin
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    waikikin Senior Member

    I sometimes sail on a 40' gaff ketch, a crew of 5-7 go & hoisting the main takes 4 sets of hands to get done in a tidy fashion, can be done with less but takes longer. Also any passengers get moved out of the drop zone, below or foredeck for the hoist. The gear is heavy & no winches.
    Jeff.
     
  7. RHough
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    RHough Retro Dude

    Performance IS safety. Ask the boats on the beach in Cabo after a hurricane made the anchorage untenable. Those that could sail off a lee shore in a gale survived. Those that could not called their insurance companies from the beach.

    Sailing ability is the #1 safety concern. More miles per day = less exposure to bad weather. More miles per day = better choice of spots to anchor. More miles per day = lees food and water (less weight) for every passage.

    There is nothing to recommend a rig from the 1900's over a modern rig from a safety/performance standpoint. If a 200 year old rig is chosen for economy ... well ... spend the money on a good liferaft ...

    I like kasten's stuff and a MOTOR sailer with a gaff rig makes some sense. The boat is never expected to have good sailing performance.

    R
     
  8. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    There's nothing inherently safer about a gaff rig, over other types of rigs. In fact a reasonable argument could be made to the contrary, because of the weight aloft, typical of these rigs.

    Generally these questions arise with folks that haven't a lot of experience sailing and/or with the particular rig they might have concerns about. In a nut shell, safety is much more a function of the skipper, not the rig type. The hull type and rig can come to play, but common live aboards and serious cruisers set the boat up to be as easy to get underway and use as practical. Simply put, any rig can be made easy to use and safe.

    The traditional gaff rig requires man power and thought to use. They often don't have the conveniences of modern rigs, in terms of sail handling, hoisting, dousing, heavy air furling, reefing, etc., so you'll have to man up. You can easily address these concerns with tackle or equipment and all serious cruisers do just this, except for the diehards that insist on no winches, because their backs are still young.

    A modern take on the gaffer can be had, which eliminates many of the vices, though sailing performance is still what the rig can offer.

    The bottom line is a live aboard is about accommodations, not the rig. Most go for the more hull volume offerings, for just this reason. These make fine live aboards, though usually don't sail all that well, because of the cavernous hull.

    In the end, you need to decide what you want, a massive hole in the water that sails like what it is or a well founded if a little heavy sailor, that you can come to terms with. I've lived aboard several times in my life and most folks just don't make this transition well. It's a different life and you have to make tough choices, particularly in regard to what is really import to have aboard and the amount of physical space you need to be comfortable. Ultimately, you can do all the research you want, but eventually you'll just have to get aboard and "change your models" about life, because shortly after moving aboard, everything you thought you'd really need, you don't and everything you didn't you will. This applies to life and boat operation.
     
  9. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    Liveaboards usually have potted plants in the cockpit and corals growing on their lines. Cruisers are a different group of people. If the OP means long distance voyaging, Marconi rigs are safer, cheaper and easier to handle. A gaff swinging on a gale is a handful. Also, there are two halyards to man either hoisting or dousing the sails. I have sailed all kinds of rigs, and even though love the look of gaffers, they are not my first choice.
     
  10. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    A modernized gaffer isn't much different than a Bermudian rig. The sails are on slides, winches do the work, etc. It's not an issue to a sailor really, as they'll work out a way. In this case I think it's simply lack of experience and hoping to find some, without seat in the cockpit time.

    Simply put, if you ask a cruiser or live aboard, what's the best rig, boat, hull material, keel type, cooking fuel preference, etc., you'll get as many answers as you find folks willing to respond. Both living aboard and cruising require a certain level of self starting and self assurance, in their personality. This assumes their ego has stepped aside, in regard to their land based ideals.

    If looking for a simple water front life style, by a condo and hang out at the Tiki bar on the dock all day, watching cruisers repair and maintain their boats for their next adventure or maybe by a houseboat and pretend it's not a floating Winnebago as they spit their wad over the side, careful to not splatter it on the "boat" next to it.

    StandPipe, put down the books and take a bare boat cruise for a month. You'll quickly find out if this is the life style for you. Nope, it's not cheap, but neither is living aboard, unless you're very experienced (read ridiculously sailor frugal, because you're a nearly broke tight ***).
     
  11. bpw
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    bpw Senior Member

    Wire halyards have been out of use for twenty years, and modern line is much softer to handle than any of the traditional stuff.

    Despite not having sail slides (which are almost free used) a gaff will have more hardware than a marcon rig. most if the expensive bits for a Marconi rig can be had very cheap on the used market since they are so common. Most gaff rig parts will be expensive or you will need to make them yourself.

    A basic low aspect Marconi sloop is about as simple as possible and requires very little hardware. Our boat only has three small winches that cost $150 for all three, and we could pretty easily get by without two of them. We use a two to one purchase on our halyard so no winches needed at the mast, On the other hand a gaff would require several expensive blocks or a halyard winch to be hoisted shorthanded.

    Listen to PAR, buy something cheap and easy to sell again (some common plastic design) and get out there for a year or two so you can make your own choices.
     
  12. BATAAN
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    BATAAN Senior Member

    I agree with bpw about going sailing now on something cheap. But if you have far too much money and want to drool over modern gaff rig designed by one who understands it try: http://www.burnettyachtdesign.co.uk/view-case-studies/
    Gaff rig usually goes along with a hull developed along with it and just as a tall modern rig is a poor fit for many traditional boats designed for gaff rigs, so also a gaff rig is not usually suitable for a hull designed for something else.
     
  13. BATAAN
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    BATAAN Senior Member

    A properly designed gaff rig has tremendous flexibility for reducing sail, especially if it is loose-footed in the traditional English style. Tricing up the tack and slacking the peak halyard cut area in half in seconds, without having to lower the sail. The gaff stays aloft when reefing when the gear is properly laid out. European gaff traders from 1880 on increasingly used roller reefing, which works only if you understand it, and gives a bunchy mess if you don't, but allowed many vessels to reduce their crew size and subsequent running expenses.
     
  14. BATAAN
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    BATAAN Senior Member

    Many years ago I tried this solution to the well-stated problems with a gaff rig; two halyards with miles of rope, slow and often anus-clenching reefing, a handful to stow in a breeze when your boat is trying out for a part as a rodeo bull.
    Sometime in the dim past the Chinese figured out how to put the most area up with the least height and still be able to be handled by the mom and kids.
    This boat's fat old fashioned design demands a very large sail area to respond acceptably to all conditions, and being large it's even more important that it be very quick to reef.
    When laying the rig out I'd recently come from CALIFORNIAN, a 100' topsail schooner with a mainboom about 60' long and a gaff to match. We often had adventures in jibing under and not under control and got good at it but it's not something I care to repeat.
    The main on this boat is designed to replace a large gaffsail and big topsail, all without a topmast or any light canvas. We've been sailing since 1984 and all I can say it 'seems to work so far'. The Chinese rig has many of its own odd and unrecorded quirks and faults but they are really minor when you can be going downwind way over-canvassed with the main pinned on the shrouds and be able to drop in 3 or 4 reefs in 90 seconds, then quickly have full sail an hour later when it eases.
    Single halyard using modern high tech rope onto a 2-speed WW2 Landing Craft door winch with pawl and brake with large shoe area that gives excellent control over the 1000 square foot sail since a novice can lower the sail without any coils to deal with while you are shin-deep in water. And small persons can crank the very heavy sail up using the lower gear, it just takes longer.
    This is not a rig you just tack onto any old boat but needs some real understanding and experience to know which boats are suitable and which are not, which is most modern boats that are not.
    The modern masthead rig is well developed and almost landlubber proof, but one can still make mistakes from inexperience and put the broken mast in the water no matter what the rig design. They all require study and understanding that can only be gotten by experience.
    Get that experience by finding something like a beater Westsail 32 with a simple masthead rig and go sailing now!!
    It is later than you think.
     

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  15. gilberj
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    gilberj Junior Member

    gaffers as cruising boats

    I have about equal experience sailing gaffers and marconi rigged boats. My experience is mostly with boats less than 40 feet on deck, but not exclusively.
    For cruising boats I slightly prefer the gaff rig to the marconi rig, though to be honest I am not sure my preference may not be influenced by a simple desire to be different from the crowd.....
    The truth is, the differnce between a good gaffer, versus a comparable marconi rigged boat is marginal. The marconi rigged boat will point slightly higher efficiently than the gaffer. There are a lot of the old classic boats by the hot designers of 100 odd years ( Herreshoff's and others) ago that have sailed with both rigs and there was not a huge difference. The gaffer will make up some of the difference reaching and running, but not quite as much as they lost to windward.
    Getting out of trouble....beating off a lee shore is more about the boats underbody than the rig. Actually beating off a lee shore is way less important today than in the days of sail. We have today GPS for accurate and reliable position keeping and reliable weather forecasting is incomprehensibly better than the old days. Pretty much every sailor 100 odd years ago had a lee shore story, but not so critical today.
    I sail a Herreshoff Meadowlark, pretty much as designed...with short gaffs on the Main and the Mizzen. Someone above mentioned short gaffs above, so I thought I would add to it. Herreshoff designed the short gaffs to reduce some of the disadvantages of the gaff sail and to take advantage of some of the advantages of the marconi sail. The masts can be supported by stays and shrouds efficiently rather than the limit of the shrouds and stays having to be above the gaff. This is because the gaff and the sail run in a track, much the same as nearly all modern marconi sails. The sails are actually fairly high aspect ratio foils, and resemble the fat head sails seen on all the hottest racing boats today.
    The thing which makes these sails better for cruising is the weight of the gaff which definitely helps the sail come down when there is a real wind or when racing.I have had too many marconi sails stick up and fight coming down for reefing or dropping the sail when the wind is really strong.
    Whimbrel is fast and efficient to windward in a blow, more so than any other boat I have sailed in this size range. Part of this the underbody. My main and Mizzen are hoisted on a single halyard lead first to the throat and then up again and out to the peak. This give me a good purchase for hoisting the luff tight and surprisingly allows pretty handily for slacking to reduce luff tension when I want fuller sails in light winds.
    It is worth noting that L F Herreshoff designed many of his later cruising boats with the short gaffs. I have sailed extensively on two of these Herreshoff designed short gaff rigged boats.
    Some one mentioned Michael Kasten designs. I like his work very much.
    I'd strongly suggest anyone considering building a serious cruising livaboard boat from scratch consider short gaffs. If you might consider building a new rig for an existing boat I would again suggest considering it.
     
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