Split Rigs According to Perry (Guest Post by Bob Perry)

I'm sure at least of few of you, like me, have been patiently waiting for Bob Perry's sequel to the guest post he provided here a month or so ago about sailboat rigs (If you haven't read it yet, check here). What follows is the sequel where Bob focuses on split rigs (i.e., rigs with multiple masts). A big "thank you" goes to Bob Perry for his continued guest blogging here on SailFarLiveFree.com. Bob has provided a lot of really great design perspectives and experience that help me better understand the cruising sailboats that I love so much. Maybe more importantly, it's been a lot of fun interacting with one of my sailing heroes.

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 well.

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 type.

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 CAPAZ

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 ketch

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 challenge.

CATARI, a 63' ketch

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 schooner

We 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

Want more sailboat design perspectives from Bob Perry? Start with these:
Or get Bob's excellent book: Yacht Design According to Perry


  1. Anonymous03 April

    You did mention height restrictions as a common reason for having a split rig. Although not that practical and fast most of the time, yawl's have the advantage of providing a riding sail while at anchor and riding sails are still used on some fishing boats and trawlers.

    1. Yup - reduced mast height, riding sail options, dinghy-davit arm (mizzen boom), etc. are all secondary advantages of the yawl design. But do those alone outweigh some of the disadvantages? Just like a lot factors in choosing a sailboat, choosing a rig type requires trade-offs.


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