A One-sided Defense of the Cruising Ketch

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:12AM - Comments: (9)

Courtesy of Evan Paul
Courtesy of Evan Paul

Seaquill, a lovely Allied Seawind II, enjoys a romp in the Caribbean tradewinds

My affinity for cruising ketches like the Allied Seawind II we feature in the January 2016 issue of Practical Sailor runs contrary to the view of their many detractors. Their criticism goes something like this: Ketches were popular in early days of cruising when undersized winches and friction-bound hardware conspired to make handling large sails a chore. With efficient winches and modern hardware, split rigs are obsolete on boats under 50 feet, they say.

Having wrestled down the main on more than a few 40-footers with “state of-the-art” everything, I don’t buy this argument, but I’ll let it stand. Nor will I quibble over complaints about a ketch’s handicap to windward—which in my view is overstated, at least with regards to the better designs. Being the first boat to reach a windward watering hole is nice, but it’s hardly the first feature you look for in a good cruising boat.  

You can poke around the cruising blogosphere and find plenty of resident ketch-haters, and indeed, some of the complaints have merit; the added weight and expense of the ketch’s extra rigging are irrefutable knocks. But having lived aboard and sailed a much-beloved, 32-foot William Atkin ketch for 10 years, I’m not interested in joining the chorus. Instead, I celebrate the rig’s attractions, especially to the short-handed cruiser.

  • Smaller sails are easier to handle. In squally weather, start with a reef tucked in the main, then just furl the mizzen or jib as needed without leaving the cockpit, upsetting helm, or wrestling more reefs into the main.
  • Ride the invisible rail. The fore-and-aft distribution of sails simplifies the task of achieving a rock-steady helm.
  • Impress your sloop-sailing friends with fancy ketch tricks. Sail backward through the mooring field (spin circles if you have a sharpie), nose casually up to anchor, hove-to with jig and jigger.
  • Barrel westward on a reach. Turbo-charge off-wind sailing by setting a mizzen staysail.
  • Don’t fear a dismasting. Having two independently stayed masts increases your odds of having at least one spar to use for jury rigging. (This advantage does not apply to ketches with triatic stays like the lovely Sea Witch.)
  • Sail in good company. Some famous ketches to consider: Steinlager 2 (1990 Whitbread winner), Suhaili (Robin Knox Johnston’s Golden Globe race winner), Joshua (Bernard Moitessier’s beloved, steel globe-trotter), Wanderer IV (Eric and Susan Hiscock’s storied cruiser), Colin Archer’s heroic little rescue boats . . . the list goes on.
  • Draw longing sighs from those ashore. There is something about having a main and mizzen working together that kindles romantic visions of South Sea islands.

Another nice thing about ketches is that many have reached an age when they are true bargains. Here are just a few familiar ketches worth considering:
L. Francis Herreshoff’s classic H-28, Gary Hoyt’s unstayed Freedom 40, Charlie Morgan’s family-friendly Bahama-mama Out Island 41, Ted Brewer’s Whitby 42 (aka Brewer 12.8), the Cheoy Lee Offshore 41, any of William Garden’s iconic ketches, the Swedish-built Hallberg-Rassy 42, Atkin’s Ingrid 38 (and her related offspring), John Hanna’s iconic Tahiti ketch, Holman & Pye’s Bowman 57, and two S&S designs, the Swan 57 and Tartan TOCK.

These are just a few that come to mind. I’m sure PS readers have many other boats to add to the list as evidence that reports on the death of the cruising ketch have been greatly exaggerated.

Comments (9)

My wife and I greatly enjoyed our GulfStar 50 center cockpit ketch for 10 years, and are now into our 4th year aboard a Ta Chiao CT-56 ketch, (Bob Perry design).

When the wind kicks up, I never put a reef in the main, I drop it entirely, thereby avoiding any dangerous on deck gymnastics during rough seas; and with the mizzen and jib, we are still nicely balanced.

Our sails are much easier to handle. We can (as mentioned) balance her very well with the numerous sails - we also have a cutter or foresail - between the jib and main.
Our mast height is lower than sloops, again, as mentioned.

If we are having a problem - lost halyard, etc., we have plenty of other sails to use.

The list of positives is quite extensive, so we are quite pleased to own ketches.

Thank you,
Doug Sabbag
Captain S/V Triumph

Posted by: DougSabbag | March 17, 2016 8:32 PM    Report this comment

You neglected to mention mast height. Our Allied Princess Ketch clears 45' bridges. Nice plus in tight spots.

Posted by: C-Lover's Captain | December 15, 2015 4:59 PM    Report this comment

You neglected to mention mast height. Our Allied Princess Ketch clears 45' bridges. Nice plus in tight spots.

Posted by: C-Lover's Captain | December 15, 2015 4:58 PM    Report this comment

I love my Pearson 365 ketch. She is pretty, fun to sail, a great liveaboard and gets admiring looks. I have sailed on another much larger ketch on S. F. Bay in summer when the wind howls.
She was steady and easy to handle by our volunteer crew and the city kids aboard had a blast.

Posted by: five on red | December 14, 2015 2:00 AM    Report this comment

I take this moment to offer thanks for using that stunning photo of my Allied Seawind MkII
ketch "Sea Quill" on the opening page the most recent edition.

I reluctantly sold her about nine years ago to a couple who planned to take her all the way around the "Marble".
Despite their thin experience the departed the Dominican Republic headed for Jamaica to install a Cape Horn vane steering wane and shortly after departed for the Panama Canal.
Unfortunately Sea Quill was hit by lightening the evening prior to their final Caribbean leg prior to entering the canal.
The damage was significant to her electronic appliances and apparently she languished near Colon for a year or more awaiting a new owner.

I would really like to be somehow a part of her next adventures in the future.
Despite several attempts to reach the cruisers that will undoubtedly cross tacks with her
in the future I have only a quick note from a cruiser who claims Sea Quill was purchased and has been totally refit and may yet be in the area of Panama..
I ask that anyone who can forward any news of the sweet Allied Mk II ketch "Sea Quill to me. No doubt the attributes you have used to describe why the love of the ketch will never go away.

Posted by: GOODKETCH | December 12, 2015 11:05 AM    Report this comment

Thanks Petrea! I think I've got the right Wanderer now!

Posted by: sailordn | December 11, 2015 5:08 PM    Report this comment

Hi Darrell, having owned, lived aboard and sailed a 31' Norwalk Islands Sharpie, I fully agree with you. As this was my first experience with a ketch I was dubious, but quickly became a convert to the ease of handling. Being engine free made it especially important that I could maneuver under sail, and the ketch made it simple and safe. Dead downwind and upwind are the worst points of sail, but hey, they are only a small proportion of the available wind directions. BTW the Hiscocks last boat was the sloop Wanderer V.

Posted by: PetreaMcCarthy | December 11, 2015 4:38 PM    Report this comment

I too own a Hinckley yawl (1984 custom yawl), and agree with the above excellent assessment of a split rig. However, I'm not aware that Hinckley ever made ketch. Henry Hinckley was a fan of the yawl, not the ketch. It had something to do with the old IOR rules, I think?...mnh

Posted by: mnh | December 10, 2015 6:25 PM    Report this comment

We have owned a 49' Hinckley ketch for 16 years (See P.S. review of July 2010). Ours is # 17 of 24 built. from the early to mid-70's. They are roomy, dry and comfortable down below. Both sticks have in-mast furling to permit sail adjustments from either the center or aft cockpit- certainly not a struggle for 2 people of advancing age. .At 38,000 pounds and with considerable tankage, it moves nicely in 10-15 knots of breeze. The auxiliary provides adequate power and will maintain 7 knots @ 1800 RPM- fairly economical. They draw 5 feet board up and 10 feet board down. We think they are a nice fit for a live aboard couple. The market has been stable with asking prices at 200K (+/-) ten percent. Even after 40 years and with proper care, they will still turn heads. We are ketch people!

Posted by: PDH | December 9, 2015 4:18 PM    Report this comment

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