This week our blogger Jonty Pearce recounts the benefits of ketch sailing
Carol and I are both admirers of the ketch rig. Some Yachting Monthly readers may have seen my article on the rig (Six reasons to sail a ketch, May 2014) so I won’t repeat all I wrote then apart from briefly mentioning some of the basic advantages of ketches – their sail plan options, heavy weather versatility, ability to set a riding sail at anchor, use of the mizzen boom as an outboard crane, and the handiness of the mizzen mast as a handhold and mount for kit such as a radar or wind generator.
Much as we enjoy the prettiness and practical aspects of our ketch, the ability to sail ‘jib and jigger’ outweighs all other benefits. For those lazy days when we can’t be bothered with the mainsail or when the wind is higher than for comfort we love to sail with just a foresail and mizzen sail. It does away with the big heavy flappy mainsail attached to a heavy boom crashing from side to side and leaves us with a beautifully balanced sail plan that we can easily control without leaving the cockpit. OK, there is no countering the argument that sailing without a mainsail leaves the boat underpowered in lighter winds, or that the loss of the slot effect between the genoa and the main lessens Aurial’s pointing ability, but for days of high wind or when we just want to drift the absence of the mainsail outweighs the disadvantages.
All too often we have found ourselves on passage when the forecast underestimated the local wind strength, or when we have decided to battle on through adverse conditions with a deadline to meet. When it comes to needing to reef we start by taking in a couple of rolls in the genoa before pulling down the first and then second reef slabs in the main, with progressive reduction of the genoa to match. With further wind increases, we put in the third deep reef in the main or more likely drop it altogether, leaving us sailing jib and jigger under foresail and mizzen alone.
Eventually we might put a reef in the mizzen and change the genoa to a stormsail, but usually the foam luff in our new genoa keeps the reefed sail flat enough to avoid the trip forwards on a bouncing foredeck to rig the inner forestay. Thus dressed and beautifully balanced we can make over 7 knots in a force 6 or 7 with a light helm and little fuss. And because our mainsail reefs at the mast, the accessibility of the mizzen just behind the cockpit means that we never need to go out on deck. Much of the stress of high wind sailing is averted – less heel, no fighting weather helm at the wheel, and making the coffee becomes a pleasure.
On our first sail of the season we were in a relaxed mood and the wind was fitful. I had woken with a bad back, so we ended up drifting up Milford Haven in a variable wind with just the genoa and mizzen. The sun shone, Carol helmed, and I sat back against the cushions while we coasted along. In such lazy moods without the option of the mizzen we would probably have ended up motoring – instead we were free to listen to the wildlife along the shore and had time to sink into the peace of the lovely countryside. Yes, we do relish the joys of ketch sailing!