Rigging Small Sailboats

Chapter 2

.....rigs and sails

Page 2

Rigging Small Sailboats

FIG. 2-1-A MASTHEAD RIG has the forestay attached to the top of the mast. This GLEN-L 25 has a backstay, upper shrouds, and two sets of lower shrouds supporting the mast. The boat uses a main and jib for working sails, plus an optional Genoa sail.

Rigging Small Sailboats

FIG. 2-2-A typical JIBHEAD RIG such as this GLEN-L 11 has the forestay attached to the mast at some point below the masthead. The mainsail on this boat, as well as those in FIGS. 2-3 and 2-4, is connected to the boom only at the clew and tack, making them "loose footed"; that is, not attached along the length of the boom.

Everyone knows what a sailboat is and most people have heard expressions such as "sloop" or "ketch." These words describe the configuration of the sails and masts on the boat, and we refer to this configuration as the RIG. Rigs have names which are defined by the number of masts the boat has; the number, shape, and locations of the sails; and sometimes by the position of the rigging on the boat. Most small sailboats under 25' have a single mast with one or two sails being used under normal sailing conditions.


The SLOOP rig has one sail forward of the mast, and one sail aft of the mast. The stoop rig generally comes in one of two variations depending on where the FORESTAY (the wire which supports the mast from the forward side) joins to the mast. A MASTHEAD RIG, such as shown in Fig. 2-1, has the forestay connected to the mast at the very top of the mast (or MASTHEAD). A JIBHEAD RIG, as shown in Fig. 2-2, has the forestay connected to the mast at a point somewhat below the top of the mast. So, when we see a single masted sailboat with a sail fore and aft of the mast and with a forestay that goes to the top of the mast, we call it a "masthead rigged sloop"; and when the forestay is below the masthead, we call it a "jibhead rigged sloop".

Rigging Small Sailboats

FIG. 2-3 -The typical CAT RIG uses a single mast well forward with the sail located on the aft side of the mast as shown by this GLEN-L 10. The stays consist of two shrouds and a forestay.

A boat with a single mast located well forward in the boat and only one sail, which is aft of the mast, is called a CAT RIG (Fig. 2-3). Do not confuse this term with "catamaran," which is a twin hulled boat, but which may also have a "cat rig." Depending on the design, the mast of a cat rigged boat may or may not be supported with wires (called "stays"; see Chapter 4). Figure 2-4 shows a cat rig with a mast not supported with wires, and is referred to as a "freestanding" or "unstayed" mast.

Another common rig used in small sailboats is the LATEEN RIG illustrated in Fig. 2-5. This rig uses a single mast, somewhat short, and usually unsupported with wires, onto which is attached two poles. A triangular shaped sail is then attached to these two poles, but not to the mast. The lower pole is sometimes not used, but the rig is still called a "lateen." The rigging of a lateen is usually very simple and uncomplicated.


Sails can be considered the "engine" or power plant of the sailboat, while the rigging can be considered the "transmission," or the means by which the power is transferred to the boat to create motion. Therefore, to understand the rigging, it is necessary to know something about the sail configuration, because both work together as a unit.

Rigging Small Sailboats

FIG. 2-4 -The GLEN-L EIGHT BALL dinghy uses a sock-type sail which slips over the mast. Because the mast is free-standing, no stays interfere with the sail along the mast. This boat is also called a "cat rig".

Just about all small sailboat sails are triangular in shape, and the terms used in describing one will generally apply to all. Modern sails are most often made of synthetic fabric, usually polyester (Dacron or equivalent). Some Nylon is used but it is considered inferior because it stretches too much in use, except for special sails such as spinnakers (see following). Sails in the past were made from cotton fabric, and may be to this day, but these require more maintenance and care. The sail of Dacron is virtually maintenance-free; just keep them clean and dry, and check occasionally for damage (see Chapter 11).

Sails have names determined by their function and location on the boat. On boats which have only one sail, this sail is always called the MAINSAIL (the "main" sail on the boat). The lateen rig sail, while still a mainsail, is commonly called a "lateen" sail. Sloop rig sailboats have a mainsail also, and this is the sail located on the aft side of the mast. On sloop rigs, the sail forward of the mast is called the JIB, and the main and jib sail when used in combination for normal sailing are called the WORKING SAILS. The boat in Fig. 2-2 is under sail with main and jib working sails.

Sails other than working sails are sometimes used, especially when racing or cruising. Two of the most popular types are the GENOA jib and the SPINNAKER. The Genoa (commonly called "jenny") is actually just an oversize jib used to increase the sail area, and hence the performance of the boat. The boat in Fig. 2-1 is designed to use a Genoa jib. Sailboats under about 16' long seldom use a Genoa. The spinnaker is a parachute shaped sail (hence the nickname, "chute") used forward of the mast in place of the jib when sailing before or with the wind. Because the spinnaker is considered a "competition" item usually associated with larger boats, and requires specialized gear, it is beyond the scope of this book.