There’s nothing like the feeling of being on a boat when the wind catches in its sails and takes you onwards in your voyage.
Sailboats are some of the oldest vehicles ever designed and, although they may have evolved over the millennia, the basic mechanics remain the same.
Here, we’re not going to explore the old square rig tall ships that once took explorers across the Atlantic, but some of the most common kinds of consumer sailboats to help you find and choose the best one for your needs.
This is the most common and easily recognizable sailboat rig, forming the great triangular sailing shape we’re all so familiar with.
Also known as a Bermuda rig, the sloop has one large tall mast and two large sales, the mainsail that usually reaches the top of the mast, and a headsail.
Sloops come in a variety of sizes and, because of their simple design, are relatively cheap to build as well as being simple to use.
They tend to be much faster than other rigs because of the size and shape of the mainsail. Speed is especially fast when heading windward.
There are fewer sails to buy, which means less maintenance is required. What’s more, there’s less standing and rigging thanks to the singular mast.
However, because of the size and weight of the sail, they require more strength to handle, and they are mostly only effective at sailing to windward because of the large, single sail.
This makes them most effective for day sailing or racing.
Despite the fact that it has more masts and more sails than a sloop, a ketch doesn’t necessarily have more sailing area.
Rather, a ketch breaks up the overall sailing area, making it more manageable and controllable than a sloop.
On a ketch there are two masts. The mainmast acts like the single mast on a sloop, with the mainsail and a headsail. The second mast, known as the mizzenmast, is smaller and has a mizzen sail.
Ketches usually use three sails to make them more manageable under different conditions, like different winds. However, the increased standing rigging and running rigging means that there’s more to manage and maintain, making it harder for the novice sailor.
Provided you can operate a ketch, they can be more easily sailed in different directions and fare better downwind than sloops. They’re more stable when out at sea and, as they tend to be larger, they have more room below deck.
They work particularly well when sailing to windward but aren’t as quick as sloops. As a result, the ketch is considered the better option for cruising and long voyages out on the sea compared to sloops.
Like the ketch, the cutter takes the approach of cutting up the sailing area to offer the sailors more control than the sloop provides. There is one mast, the mainmast, which has the mainsail but it also has two headsails instead of just one.
The increased number of headsails allows for more control under different wind conditions, making it more effective for longer voyages. Because it’s relatively small compared to the ketch, it’s also easier for one person to operate alone.
While sloops are faster (and are the fastest of all common consumer sailboats, without question) cutters are also very fast when sailing to windward. The speed plus the greater sail control makes them great for short-handed offshore voyaging. It’s also worth noting that sloops can come with optional cutter sails.
The gaff rig is a more traditional style of sail. A gaff isn’t determined by number of sails but rather the shape of them. Instead of triangular sails, a gaff has a 4-cornered sail.
The gaff offers fast windward sailing and is relatively easy to control, but it’s not as efficient to handle as the average modern-day sloop is.
The gaff is primarily chosen for the aesthetic, in most cases. It has a unique look, hearkening back to ancient sailing ships. As a result, it’s not as common as the three types mentioned above, but it’s not exactly hard-to-find, either. It’s not suited for racing, being inferior to the sloop in terms of speed, but still makes for a pleasant day sailing experience.
Which sailboat you end up buying or renting will depend on your budget, where you plan on sailing, whether you’re going to be day sailing or week ending, and more. The information above can help you get started, but you need to do your own research to find the vessel perfect for your needs.