Thursday, 12 April 2012

Gunter Rig Sailboat

Give me a Gunter

Has the Bermudan sloop taken over the world? In dreaming about that boat I intend to buy, renovate and cruise, one of the ‘nice to have’ options will be a mast I can raise and lower with relative ease. One of the voyages I am planning will involve a trip across Brittany by canal. Sailing across the English Channel to get there and sailing out into the Atlantic at the other end. An easy mast therefore has to be high on the list of needs. A ‘Gunter rig’ might be just what I need.

In effect, with a Gunter rig design, you get a short mast attached to the deck in a tabernacle for easy raising and lowering and a lighter, shorter spar attached, to the mainsail. When you raise the mainsail, the shorter spar is hauled up into the bargain adding significantly to the total height.

Gunter has a lot going for it. When both masts are lowered, they are no longer than the length of the hull, so there are no protrusions when the masts are down and you are moving under engine power. You get the same benefit when road trailing – nothing sticking our fore or aft. Another benefit is that reefing in a strong wind is more effective. Essentially when you haul down on the mainsail to put a reef in, you are also lowering the top-mast. So the mast height is reduced and this in turn lowers the boat’s centre of gravity, making her stiffer on the breeze.  In light airs, you can slacken the top-mast and make your mainsail baggier to catch every bit of breeze, and in strong winds, the added flexibility of the top-mast allows you to spill wind out of the sail.

So, why aren’t there more Gunter rigged boats to choose from? Well, part of the answer seems to be about ‘fashion’.  By definition, Gunter rigs are ‘fractional rigs’, the short main mast limits the size of foresail you can carry. This is unpopular with racing types who often want to carry foresails as tall, if not as big, as the mainsail. In racing, windward performance is everything, so the Bermudan triangular main and a foresail flown from the mast head rule. In effect racing style and the priority given to windward performance tends to dictate what is available to the rest of us.

To be fair, Gunter has a few downsides. The lack of a single tall mast means that backstays can’t be used. Gunter rig designer tend to pull the spreaders further aft but this doesn’t fully compensate for the absence of a backstay. When you’re running downwind therefore you have to be a bit more careful but for the kind of cruising I intend to do, the benefits still seem to outweigh the disadvantages.