David Harding looks at some of the latest developments in junk rig and meets the owners of different types of boat who are all convinced of its merits

Much has been happening in the world of the junk rig since PBO last took a close look at it.

Junk-rig enthusiasts are an innovative bunch and some of them never stop experimenting with ways to make their favourite rig simpler, faster or more efficient.

They love this particular sail boat rig for all sorts of reasons. It’s simple to sail with and can be controlled entirely from the cockpit.

Let the sheet go, and the sail swings out without flogging. Sheet in to go again. Drop the halyard and the whole lot comes down in a trice.

Need to reef? Lower the halyard to reduce a panel – or two. Time to tack? Put the helm down.

Trimming a junk rig

The junk rig is unstayed so there are fewer stress points

Because the rig is unstayed, there’s no standing rigging to worry about: no bottlescrews, terminals, chainplates or lengths of wire.

That means fewer stress points and less chafing.

The yard and the multiple full-length battens mean that the panels in the sail are lightly loaded so there’s no need for high-tech, low-stretch fabrics.

Long-distance cruisers like the rig because of the low stresses and ease of repair.

Performance is good downwind because you can let the sail out to 90° so its entire area is projected to the wind: you don’t have to fly a spinnaker or even pole out the headsail and you can sail at any angle you choose.

A yellow junk rig sail on a wooden boat

Annie Hill’s FanShi can be easily reefed, a real benefit of the junk rig when sailing solo. Credit: Annie Hill

Gybing is a much gentler and safer operation too.

With all these points in its favour it’s easy to understand the junk’s popularity.

Traditionally there has been just one big problem: going to windward.

Junk sails have mostly been flat, and flat sails don’t generate much lift.

Even worse, they start to get fuller at precisely the wrong time, as the wind picks up and the battens start to bend.

Little wonder, then, that few sailors serious about performance have had any time for the junk rig.

However, a great deal of development work has gone on over the past 15 years or so.

Continues below…

There are junk-rigged boats out there now that can give Bermudan-rigged equivalents a run for their money upwind and leave them for dead off the wind – assuming the Bermudan rig doesn’t fly a spinnaker.

The reason they have rarely made the headlines is that people are generally attracted to the junk rig because of its inherent simplicity and ease of handling, so the rigs tend to be found on comfortable cruising boats rather than those designed for speed.

With any sort of development, different people pursue different approaches and one great thing about junks is that there’s room for an incredibly diverse range of views.

While some are experimenting with wishbones and soft wing-sails, others are happy to stick to the tried and tested and to create their own rigs out of sticks and string – almost literally.

What they have in common, however, is an unshakeable belief in the concept of the junk rig.

They’re happy to share ideas between themselves and, just as importantly, with the yet-to-be converted.

To see where the junk rig is heading, I sought a range of views and approaches on an assortment of boats owned by people with varying budgets and ambitions.

I made the junk rig myself for less than £200 using a builder’s tarpaulin

This Bolger Micro epitomises the budget boat: just 4.6m (15ft) long and built of plywood, she sports a rig that the owner made himself for less than £200.

Like many designs by the American Phil Bolger, the Micro was conceived for simplicity of construction and is unlikely to be seen at the front of a racing fleet.

Nonetheless, as I found when watching her sail among a fleet of other junk-riggers, which included such known performers as the Varne 27 and Etap 26, she’s impressively slippery given her diminutive size.

A boat with a main mast and mizzen

Applecross sporting her new, home-made jumk mainsail and original mizen. Credit: David Harding

Applecross is owned by Martin Roberts and originally carried the cat yawl rig with sprit booms for which she was designed.

The trouble, explained Martin, was the length of the main boom: trying to manage a piece of wood 4.3m (14ft) long when trying to reef was awkward to say the least. ‘It was all a bit unwieldy in my view.’

After reading Practical Junk Rig by Blondie Hasler and Jock McLeod, Martin decided that a conversion was in order.

Calculating that the new rig would be about 1.5m (5ft) shorter than the original, he started by buying a second-hand solid wooden mast for £40.

Battening timber appropriately made the battens, which were stiffened after some experimentation by some sections of bamboo to remove the S-bending.

Two men in a junk rigged boat

Martin Roberts finds that Applecross will mizzen and a tiller-line. Singlehanding is
often sail herself with the help of the easy; a crew is an optional extra. Credit: David Harding

The sail itself was a £15 builder’s tarpaulin. Martin did the necessary stitching on a sewing machine at home and secured the sail to the battens with cable ties.

His biggest expense apart from the mast was the blocks, from Classic Marine, which cost £40.

Martin has simplified the Hasler/ McLeod rig by removing some of the control lines.

He accepts that some efficiency might be lost but reckons that, for his sailing on the East Coast rivers, working the tides is far more important.

He has kept the original mizzen. It works as a trim tab to balance the boat, which will happily sail herself for lengthy periods with a little help from a line around the tiller.

His only concern about the mizzen is the vulnerability of the bumkin to being knocked by other boats.

With the new rig, Martin finds Applecross much easier to handle.

Originally, if it looked as though reefing might be called for, he would either reef before setting out or decide not to go.

Now he will go out – and reef under way if need be.

He reckons that any loss in performance is minimal and is more than offset by his ability to carry the right amount of sail for the conditions.

I bought the original rig second-hand from Germany

John Dinnin’s love affair with the Liberty started when he owned a Montagu whaler – a boat to which he had been introduced during his time in the Navy and which provided the inspiration for David Thomas when he designed the Liberty for Hunter Boats.

‘I was on the way out of Faversham in the Whaler when I passed a Liberty going the other way,’ said John. ‘My words at the time were, ‘When I grow up, I want to be like you.’

When the old Whaler started leaking and calling for more maintenance, John decided it was time to move on and buy the boat he had been longing for.

He found a Liberty called Alouette and got on well with her in every respect until the masts broke – first the mizzen and then the main mast.

John Dinnin’s Hunter Liberty, Alouette, has twin masts and new cambered-panel sails

John Dinnin’s Hunter Liberty, Alouette, has twin masts and new cambered-panel sails

Liking Alouette but wanting a rig that would give him no concerns, John found himself in a quandary: did he sell her and buy something else, or re-rig her as a Minstrel (the same hull with a gunter rig)?

His mind was made up after he met Hans Schaeuble, a junk-rig enthusiast from Germany who has travelled far and wide in his own Liberty: junk was the solution.

The problem was that conversion would cost around £7,000 if he had a new professionally-built rig.

That was the same as he paid for the boat.

John’s meeting with Hans resulted in more than just a decision to convert to junk.

A man wearing a hat on a boat

Alouette’s owner John Dinnin

Hans had sold his first Liberty, with both its original cat rig and the twin-masted junk designed by Sunbird Marine, to a new owner in eastern Germany.

The new owner had re-fitted the original rig, so John got in touch with Hans who negotiated the re-sale of the junk rig, with its flat but distinctively coloured sails, for a very reasonable price.

That was in 2006, and since the sails were ‘getting a bit holey’, John decided to replace them with new cambered-panel sails made by Sails and Canvas in Topsham.

Like jointed battens, cambered panels increase the efficiency of the junk rig by putting some shape into the sails.

The battens are rigid but each panel is cut with some fullness in it.

The pros and cons of each approach have been widely debated in junk circles.

John finds that the new sails provide appreciably more drive than the originals and is delighted with the junk rig.

‘I wouldn’t dream of setting out in a Force 6 with the original Liberty,’ he told me. ‘It’s much more forgiving like this and shortening sail is so much easier.’

We have ways to get the best from a flat sail

One of the more performance-orientated boats to sport a junk rig, Taimen was bought new by her French owner and sailed with her original rig before being converted in 1998 by the late Robin Blain, who ran Sunbird Marine, designing and fitting junk rigs as well as acting as secretary of the Junk Rig Association.

Philip Corridan and Martin Lloyd knew the boat from when she had sailed across the channel to take part in a JRA rally, and didn’t hesitate when they heard she was for sale.

Philip has a long-standing association with junk rigs and had already converted an Iroquois catamaran, which he sailed around the world with her original rig in 1991-1993.

The Iroquois, with a mast in each hull and a recently-added mizzen, is based in Greece, while the Etap remains in the UK.

Martin too had junk experience before the Etap, having owned a Kingfisher 22.

A boat with a junk rig sail

The Etap 26 Taimen was given a conventional junk-rig conversion in 1998. Credit: David Harding

He wanted something bigger and reckoned that a fast hull with a junk rig should be a good combination.

Philip and Martin accept that the rig, with its conventional flat sail and flexible battens (in GRP tube of a section selected by computer program) is less efficient than the later jointed-batten or cambered- panel types, but they have found ways of overcoming its limitations to a certain extent.

They bring the traveller fully to windward in light airs to induce camber and twist into the sail.

As the sail becomes fuller in a freshening wind they drop the traveller down.

Offwind in fresh conditions they slide the sail forward over the mast – a technique regularly employed in junk-rig circles – to move the centre of pressure forward and inboard; otherwise the bend in the battens and increased fullness encourages the boat to round up.

Were they starting from scratch, neither Philip nor Martin would have the rig that’s fitted to Taimen, but they’re both experienced sailors who know how to get the best out of what they have.

One thing they have found to make an enormous difference, below the waterline this time, is their feathering Maxprop, which has added a good knot to the boat’s speed under sail.

After years with a junk rig I would never go back to Bermudan

An engineer with sailing experience in a wide range of boats, from the Tornado catamaran and Flying Dutchman to barges and fishing smacks, Bob had always wanted a Hunter Liberty.

He sailed Liberty for seven years with the yacht’s original unstayed cat-ketch rig.

Then he met the late Robin Blain of the Junk Rig Association, read Annie Hill’s book Voyaging on a Small Income, and the die was cast. ‘After we had started talking about junk rigs, that was it – I just did it.’

Bob decided to make his own rig but adopted a relatively high-tech approach.

He enlisted the help of Philip Corridan (see above), a structural engineer, builder of his own junk rigs, to calculate the section needed for the mast (he opted to have one rather than two).

A man sailing a junk rig yacht with a red sail and blue hull

Orlando, a Hunter Liberty with a single, jointed-batten sail. Credit: David Harding

He found two sections of aluminium tube of the right diameter and, with the help of some machining and a two-ton winch, joined them together.

Keen to avoid the performance compromises associated with a traditional flat junk sail, Bob also decided to make his own jointed battens.

Unlike conventional battens, these are tubular with joints (usually two) along their length that allow them to curve to a shape determined by the angle of the joints.

A junk rig sail

On Orlando, the jointed battens help induce camber into the sail…..

The joints were machined from Delrin plastic, each having a shoulder in the middle and a cone at each end with angles of 4° for the forward joint (giving a total of 8°) and 3° aft (a total of 6°).

Flexible, non-jointed ‘keep’ battens support the sail on the other side.

Bob bought the cloth for the sail, laid it out in the local village hall, marked and cut it and took it to his local sailmaker with instructions about how it should be joined together.

A red junk rig sail

….while flexible battens on the other side provide support and smooth out the curve. Credit: David Harding

The total cost for the mast and sail came to around £1,000.

Three seasons on, Bob is delighted with the new rig.  ‘It’s so forgiving and so interesting,’ he says. ‘I would never go back to Bermudan.’

He does, however, have reservations about the term ‘junk rig’.

He maintains that, strictly speaking, it should be called a fully-battened lug rig and that the junk is the type of boat to which it was originally fitted.

Enjoyed reading this article?

A subscription to Practical Boat Owner magazine costs around 40% less than the cover price.

Print and digital editions are available through Magazines Direct – where you can also find the latest deals.

PBO is packed with information to help you get the most from boat ownership – whether sail or power.

        • Take your DIY skills to the next level with trusted advice on boat maintenance and repairs
        • Impartial in-depth gear reviews
        • Practical cruising tips for making the most of your time afloat

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter