Somewhat more than half Victoria Marine's customers opt for cutter rig, while others prefer a sloop. Being customers, they are always right. Or are they? Denny Desoutter muses...
At Victoria Marine they produce some very fine boats, well designed, and well built. Beyond that they also follow a policy of allowing each customer the maximum possible freedom of choice in the fitting out of his own boat. Wheel or tiller steering, laid teak deck or non-slip resin, with or without pilot berth, and so forth.
Among the options the latest to be introduced is the choice of sloop or cutter rig for their 34 and 30 foot boats. (The ‘original’ of the family, the Frances 26 is still offered only as a cutter, though maybe if someone really wanted a sloop version…)
But of the bigger craft, it was the Victoria 34 which was first dressed with two headsails, and she was shown in that form at the 1988 Earls Court Boat Show where the rig, I am told, was the main subject of conversation among visitors to the stand.
I sailed the Victoria 34 with her single headsail rig back in 1986, and Rodger Witt had sailed the Victoria 30, also as a sloop, on which he reported in PBO for Dec 1983.
So when I had the chance to try a short excursion in the cutter-rigged Victoria 30 earlier this year I was quick to take it up.
Most of my own sailing life had been with two-headsail boats, some of them rigged to my own design, and not always as successfully as I might have wished.
It would be good to see what a professional designer had made of the rig, for the proportion and sheeting of two headsails can be a matter of some delicacy.
When one sail is set abaft another its air flow is naturally affected by the one ahead, and the net result can be poor.
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Indeed, the better aerodynamic answer is to have one big sail, rather than to split the area between two smaller ones, but there are other considerations than mere aerodynamic efficiency of course.
In the event, I quickly concluded that Chuck Paine’s proportions were absolutely right.
As you may see from the photographs, the sail base of the Victoria 30 has been extended for the jib by the addition of a short and solid bowsprit which, incidentally, has a well-fitted bobstay but no shrouds.
The keel-stepped mast remains in the same position as on the sloop.
As you can see, the luffs of the two headsails are almost parallel, and in practice the gap proved sufficient to ensure a clean flow between without any of that backwinding of the staysail by the jib which can occur with some sailplans.
Correct sheeting angles are also important in maintaining that clean flow without backwinding.
It is necessary to lead the staysail sheet in very close to the mast so as to ensure a small angle of incidence in the wake of the jib.
In fact, on this boat both headsails set perfectly on all points from close-hauled to that point on a broad reach where the mainsail of a fore and aft rig begins to blanket the headsail.
I hope that Dick Everitt’s photograph shows how well all three sails were filling and drawing in the force three (nearly) that we had available to us on this day.
In a utopian world we should have had two Victoria 30s out on the same occasion, one sloop and the other cutter, so as to compare their behaviour. But only one boat was available in reality.
Nevertheless, I was told by both Peter Gregory and Richard Whitehead of the company that there is no discernible difference in performance between the two rigs, except perhaps in that broad reach situation where it is rather more difficult to keep two head-sails drawing than just the one.
In practice it may often be better to hand (or furl) the staysail in such a situation so as to give the jib some clearer air.
The fact that the cutter’s jib is tacked a couple of feet farther forward than the sloop’s single staysail may actually give her the advantage on that point of sailing.
If there is no difference in performance, why go for the cutter rig with its unavoidable extra cost?
One simple reason is that people find it more interesting, more fun, you might say.
Another which some ladies have been heard to express is that “it’s nice to have two sails in case something goes wrong with one of them.”
That is not quite so naive as it may sound.
The standard form of cutter offered by Victoria has her yankee jib on a Harken roller-reefing gear, and her staysail hanked to the headstay.
I would not expect anything to ‘go wrong’ with either, but the weather does tend to go wrong, and in that event you have the ideal arrangement for shortening sail.
The Harken gear, by reason of its lag-behind tack fitting, achieves a neat reef, so that the jib can be rolled down as small and snug as forty square feet (as I judged it) while still keeping a good shape.
A small area like that, well forward, can be of great benefit to balance in a stiff breeze while you are still wondering whether to take a second reef in the main.
And when the time does come to shorten sail still further, the yankee can be completely furled so that you are left with the staysail of about 80 square feet.
Being set well inboard it should make a good heavy weather sail on its own, if-need to be, with the main completely stowed. The ‘standard’ cutter rig with which I sailed had a yankee of about 185 square feet, about fifteen per cent bigger than the working jib of the sloop.
My own preference would be to have something of about 250 square feet so as to get the maximum benefit in light airs, knowing that unwanted area can easily be rolled away as the wind freshens.
That by the way would be a little larger than the sort of genoa an owner might buy for the sloop version.
And that brings me to a point about cutter rig that some people may not have noticed, namely that with a bowsprit it is quite possible to have a jib which alone is bigger in area than the single staysail of a sloop.
If you wish, therefore you can sail the boat with that single headsail, as if she were in reality a sloop.
The furled staysail is then truly a sail in reserve, not so much as a standby but as a heavy weather sail to be brought into use when the jib has to be put to bed.
In hypothecating like this I have to admit that my penchant for a yankee of the largest possible area can bring difficulties, notably when tacking lo weather, for it can be very awkward to drag a large yankee round past the headstay.
That problem certainly did not arise on the Victoria. At no time was there any difficulty in getting her yankee across, perhaps because its area is not too big: the sire of sail that I personally would prefer might prove less tractable.
Still, I should be concentrating on the boat as she is, and there is no doubt that she’s well suited to the single-hander.
And that is very important in any cruising boat for the reasons which we all know very well.
Everything comes within easy reach of the helmsman who can stand with the tiller between his thighs and handle both pairs of headsail sheets, as well as the runner backstays, while keeping control over the rudder.
As I have said, the jib showed no tendency to snag on the headstay, a fault which might tempt the solo helmsman up on to the foredeck, and there was no difficulty in bringing the jib sheet home on the new lee side before it was filled and drawing – perhaps to be hardened in by a couple of tweaks on the self-tailing winch later.
The staysail sheets come second, and present little difficulty since the area of this sail is only about 80 square feet.
The lead of the sheets lo their tracks on the coachroof is such that the weather sheet can be shortened in and made up on its winch before the helm is put down: then there is very little slack to bring home when the other sheet is cast off.
As the photograph shows, the runners come to jamming blocks at the forward end of the cockpit coamings, and though the prospect of tending them might seem burdensome to owners who have so far lived without them, they present no trouble in reality.
It is obviously desirable to set up the runner before tacking so as to take up the stress of the three-quarters headstay, but even if one forgets there is an automatic reminder when the mainsail bears on what was the weather runner, showing that it might be slacked away.
That action will suggest to the forgetful that it is high time the now-weather runner was set up, and it won’t be Jong before the drill becomes second nature.
In words, the business of handling two sets of headsail sheets and a pair of runner backstays may seem rather tedious. In reality, I am sure, many owners enjoy having something to do.
And I know from past correspondence over many years with many readers, that there are people who share my own pleasure in sailing behind a bowsprit (however short), and two headsails.
The sight leads eye and spirit forward somehow. In short, the choice is largely emotional, for I cannot claim that either cutter or sloop is inherently the better boat – except perhaps in the special case where an existing boat needs more sail area, or just more sail area forward.
And although I prefer cutter rig for my own boat, it is obviously more expensive. For example, the extra cost for a Victoria 30 amounts to more than £3,000, for there are fittings to the mast and on deck, as well as the bowsprit, the runner backstays, sheets with their winches, and the roller furling gear which I would consider essential for a yankee of this sort.
It is fair to say that I have assumed that roller reefing is not essential for a sloop, though desirable.
If a sloop is fitted with roller furling, then the extra cost for a cutter comes down to a bit over £2,000.
Although heaving-to is often spoken of as if it were a single, well-defined and limited condition, it can in reality embrace a variety of states.
Furthermore the actual trim and proportion of sails, and the position of the helm is peculiar to the particular boat.
With the Victoria 30, for example, in a force three with full mainsail, jib furled, and staysail aback, the boat could be sailed slowly and under good control, but she could not be brought to the almost static state which is usually suggested by ‘hove-to’.
The narrow sheeting angle of the small staysail does not provide sufficient braking effect for that.
To get more braking, and to slow the boat even more, a modest area of the jib needs also to be shown aback.
Likewise, some jib area (but not so much as to chafe on the hanks of the staysail) would be desirable to steady the boat in a seaway, as you might wish to do when making a repair, or poring over chart and tide-table.
The areas of headsail are obviously related to the area of mainsail exposed, so that again is a merit of roller furling which allows you to have just the area you want.
These are matters for experiment by an owner, and my aim was simply to get a feel of the controllability of the boat when sailing slowly with jib aback.
As Rodger Witt commented in his full description of the boat (1983), the helm is heavy, perhaps because the rudder lacks any balance area, but at the same time the boat is very responsive, turning nimbly under either sail or power.
That mixture of properties gives her a distinctive personality, a feeling of dependability which is enhanced by her notably good directional stability. Perhaps because of her half-delta keel, which Marchaj has told us is an essential component of seaworthiness, she can be left to sail herself hands-off while you go forward to tackle a snared sheet, or into the cabin to look at the pilot.
These qualities make her, as Rodger said, a yacht for an owner whose aim is serious cruising, and my view is that the cutter rig, with all the flexibility that it offers, is the right one for that purpose.
But other owners may prefer the sloop, and who is to say that they are not right?
VICTORIA 30 specification
- LOA: 29ft 8in
- LWL: 23ft 4in
- Beam: 9ft 7in
- Draft: 4ft 7in
- Displacement: 9,010lb
- Ballast: 4,400lb
- Bal/dis ratio: 48 per cent
- Sail Area – Cutter: 450 sq ft
- Sail Area – Sloop: 420 sq ft
- Price – standard spec: £34,650
- Price – cutter: £37,895
- Designer: Chuck Paine
- Builder: Victoria Marine Ltd. Stone Pier Yard, Shore Road, Warsash, Southampton.
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This feature appeared in the November 1989 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.
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