Definitions vary from era to era and place to place. Current usage,
though tends to reserve it for fore-and-aft rigged yachts of moderate size,
setting only a mainsail and one headsail. A few hundred
years ago a sloop, insofar as rig was concerned, would have had a short fixed
bowsprit while a Cutter would have had a longer but reefable bowsprit. The
cutter could thus carry more sail in light airs and tended to be the choice
when speed was required – as in smuggling. Speed was also required by the
revenue men to chase the smugglers, so they adopted the cutter rig too. Today,
usage links ‘cutter’ with a two-headsail rig (staysail and jib), and that is
not infrequently allied to a fixed bowsprit much shorter than those of the
old-time cutters. At the same time, the modern sloop has lost her bowsprit
completely and sets her single headsail to the stemhead. But note that her
overhanging bow may carry the stemhead farther forward than that of the
old-fashioned sloop with her straight-up stem – in effect many a modern sloop
has integrated a short bowsprit into the hull structure itself. (See also: