A Sunny Look at Ketches


Allied Seawind II

My affinity for cruising ketches like the Allied Seawind II we feature this month 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 Ill let it stand. Nor will I quibble over complaints about a ketchs handicap to windward-which in my view is overstated, at least with regards to the better designs.

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 ketchs extra rigging are irrefutable knocks. But having lived aboard and sailed a much-beloved, 32-foot William Atkin ketch for 10 years, Im not interested in joining the chorus. Ill instead celebrate the rigs 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.

Dont 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 Johnstons Golden Globe race winner), Joshua (Bernard Moitessiers beloved, steel globe-trotter), Wanderer IV (Eric and Susan Hiscocks storied last boat), Colin Archers 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 a few familiar ketches worth considering:

L. Francis Herreshoffs classic H-28, Gary Hoyts unstayed Freedom 40, Charlie Morgans Bahama-mama Out Island 41, Ted Brewers Whitby 42 (aka Brewer 12.8), the Cheoy Lee Offshore 41, any of William Gardens iconic ketches, the Swedish-built Hallberg-Rassy 42, Atkins Ingrid 38 (and her related offspring), John Hannas iconic Tahiti ketch, Holman & Pyes Bowman 57, and two S&S designs, the Swan 57 and Tartan TOCK.

Im 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.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here