MAX EBB â€” "W
hat a beautiful old boat!" remarked one of the regulars at the bar. He had once been a brilliant racing skipper, or so I had been led to believe, but in recent years he was seen far more often holding down the yacht club bar than sailing out on the Bay. I was back early with my crew that day. The wind had been up, the course was not too long, and we had finished the day of racing with hours to spare for post-race socializing. And the classic yacht sailing into the harbor was pretty enough to catch our eyes and quickly turn the conversation. "Yawl rig," I noted. "Very pretty. I don't think anyone is building divided rigs these days." "Like, I go by the rudder-stock location," Lee Helm corrected me. I had persuaded Lee, a naval architecture grad student, to call tactics for me that day. "The mizzen is aft of the helm, but it's forward of the rudder stock. So I call it a ketch." "I don't know what's so pretty about all that extra rigging," said another one of my crew. "The mizzen mast on a yawl is just an artifact of the handicap rule of the day." He was another grad student whom Lee had brought along to do foredeck. But he was not very good at foredeck, actually. I think he had a problem with attention to detail. But he was an engineering major and knew his aerodynamics. "Divided rigs are inherently inefficient," he insisted. "The mizzen is always
in the downwash from the main, in a permanent header. The mizzen only exists because under the older measurement rules there was almost no penalty for a mizzen spinnaker. Free sail area! So of course all the race boats from the '30s were yawls." "Maybe, but you know, divided rigs are good on their own merits, even on cruising boats," replied the old-timer. "The mizzen lets the boat ride much better at anchor: no wandering around, like with a sloop anchored under bare poles. You know, this has actually gotten much worse now that every cruiser thinks they need roller-furling, 'cause the rolled-up jib puts that much more windage forward, almost as much as another mast, and that makes the boat sail around the anchor even more. The mizzen is a perfect weather vane." "For sure," said the young aerodynamics student, "but notice how any serious race boat with a mizzen usually has it furled for sailing upwind. Even restored boats like the old yawls Dorade and Chubasco have gone to those vestigial undersize full-batten mizzens." "The Marine Photographers Association should never have allowed those sails," suggested my jib trimmer. "The sail plans don't look anything like the originals in the photos." "Must be the same organization that's trying to change the rules for the J Class, to require that they fly only white sails," said another one of my cockpit crew. "Those black sails look very wrong on a
Consensus was that two of the windows on that boat were just plain wrong.
Three pretty sterns, according to Lee Helm's eyeballs, from three different designers. They all provide a lot of buoyancy well aft for a faster hull speed, and the clean run lets the water leave the hull without a lot of turbulence.
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fleet of throwback 130-ft megayachts." "The other great thing about divided rigs," said the older barfly, not finished with his defense of ketches and yawls, "is that it's really easy to sail in and out of a harbor when you have a mizzen. You can't appreciate this till you try it, but with a working jib and a mizzen, and the main down, you can balance the boat to keep control even at very low speed. No worries about the bow being blown off before you get steerageway after a slow tack." "You also need the huge, long keel to come out of a slow tack without stalling," added the engineering grad student. "Anyway, modern marinas are packed too tight for a boat that size to sail in and out of their slip. I think the handling advantages of the yawl or ketch mostly went away now that boats are mostly berthed in slips in crowded marinas instead of at moorings." Meanwhile the pretty old ketch was proving him wrong, as it dropped its main and sailed farther up into the harbor, then jibed over to sail up one of the narrower fairways to its berth. "The mizzen has many other uses," said the old-timer. "Flag halyards, support for the radar, dinghy handling . . ." "And the mizzen shrouds are great to lean against while taking a celestial observation with a sextant," added one of my cockpit crew with detectable sarcasm. "Okay, the mizzen can earn its place on a cruising boat," admitted Lee. "But when I look at the hull shape on that so-called classic design, even just the parts that show above the waterline, I see a heavy old slug that will never sail faster than hull speed, even on the perfect wave. Plus it's a design that's been totally distorted by the rating rules of the day. Short waterline, long overhangs, and a stern that will pull half the ocean along with it if there's a good breeze on an offwind leg." "Wait," I said. "Doesn't the waterline get longer when the boat heels? I always thought that was a good design feature, a way to keep wetted surface area low for light air, but also allow the waterline to get longer for a faster hull speed when the wind is up." "Mostly myth," said Lee. "Only scows actually make the waterline longer when they heel, and we don't have them on the Bay. For most hull shapes, it's all about the way the boat sinks down into the trough between the bow and stern waves, and the stern wave coming up to add buoyancy under the stern overhang. And like, this is important because the buoyancy from the stern wave is pushing
The September 2019 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.