The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting


In the last two chapters I covered why a true cutter is a great rig for short-handed offshore voyaging and how to decide if the cutter rig is right for you.

Now I’m going to cover what it takes to successfully convert a sloop or even a ketch to get most, or maybe even all, of the benefits that we true cutter owners are so damned smug about.

Also, if you have a cutter, but are less than happy with her, read on. Making a cutter rig work really well, like so many things in offshore voyaging, requires getting the details right, and that’s what this chapter is all about.

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More Articles From Online Book: Sail Handling and Rigging Made Easy:

  1. Six Reasons To Leave The Cockpit Often
  2. Don’t Forget About The Sails
  3. Your Mainsail Is Your Friend
  4. Hoisting the Mainsail Made Easy—Simplicity in Action
  5. Reefs: How Many and How Deep
  6. Reefing Made Easy
  7. Reefing From The Cockpit 2.0—Thinking Things Through
  8. Reefing Questions and Answers
  9. A Dangerous Myth about Reefing
  10. Mainsail Handling Made Easy with Lazyjacks
  11. Topping Lift Tips and a Hack
  12. 12 Reasons The Cutter Is A Great Offshore Voyaging Rig
  13. Cutter Rig—Should You Buy or Convert?
  14. Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting
  15. Cruising Rigs—Sloop, Cutter, or Solent?
  16. Sailboat Deck Layouts
  17. The Case For Roller-Furling Headsails
  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability
  20. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing —Performance, Cost and Safety
  21. The Case For Hank On Headsails
  22. Making Life Easier—Roller Reefing/Furling
  23. Making Life Easier—Storm Jib
  24. Gennaker Furlers Come Of Age
  25. Swept-Back Spreaders—We Just Don’t Get It!
  26. Q&A: Staysail Stay: Roller Furling And Fixed Vs Hanks And Removable
  27. Rigid Vangs
  28. Rigging a Proper Preventer, Part 1
  29. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  30. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
  31. Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes
  32. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  33. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
  34. Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe
  35. Ten Tips To Fix Weather Helm
  36. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 1
  37. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
  38. Two Dangerous Rigging Mistakes
  39. Rig Tuning, Part 1—Preparation
  40. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
  41. Rig Tuning, Part 3—6 Steps to a Great Tune
  42. Rig Tuning, Part 4—Mast Blocking, Stay Tension, and Spreaders
  43. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
  44. 12 Great Rigging Hacks
  45. 9 Tips To Make Unstepping a Sailboat Mast Easier
  46. Cruising Sailboat Spar Inspection
  47. Cruising Sailboat Standing Rigging Inspection
  48. Cruising Sailboat Running Rigging Inspection
  49. Cruising Sailboat Rig Wiring and Lighting Inspection
  50. Cruising Sailboat Roller Furler and Track Inspection
  51. Download Cruising Sailboat Rig Checklist
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Rick Snell

Thanks John, that’s a lot of thought and education for me with my old wooden cutter. Up to now I’ve been thinking of the staysail and the running backstays as generally more of an impediment than a help, especially when single handed, but you’ve made me realise I should be paying more attention to them, and maybe even start using the winches!
Keep up the good work.

Edward Schwiebert

Thank you, John. Gratitude is a Brewer 44 ketch. She is rigged with a baby stay and tracks that look (from the pictures) like they are well placed. We have dual winches on each side and have a staysail, which we (sorry to admit) have never flown because, when we are offshore, the dinghy is on the foredeck and there is so much stuff up forward. Do you have any experience running a Brewer as a “cutter”? Ted Brewer insists it not be called a cutter ketch, but rather an ketch rig with a double foresail plan. Any thoughts and recommendations would be welcome as, when we are offshore, there usually is enough time to tinker with a rig!

Bill Robinson

Hi John,
Great article, I love my cutter, and find that my boat points at least 5 degrees higher when sailed as a cutter, rather than as a sloop.( I have a removable inner forestay with a Highfield lever for tensioning it) . I have a hanked on staysail , which I prefer on smaller cutter, say under 40 ft. This allows one to have a hanked on storm jib, if things get seriously windy. I appreciate the need for a furling staysail on larger boats, but would always prefer a hanked on storm jib. I have been thinking about replacing my 1x 19 SS running backstays with Spectra or Dyneema. I have not seen any cutters yet that have done so, but there could be a lot of advantages. Any thoughts on that?

pat synge

I’ll mention the old fashioned boomed staysail again here since it can eliminate the sheeting track issue and also offers other advantages.

We have a wishbone boomed staysail that sheets to a fixed point. We use twings that lead aft through blocks attached at the inner shroud chainplates for fine adjustments when the wind is forward of the beam and use a preventer when it’s further aft.

The twings don’t need winchs since we can ease the sheet slightly, adjust the twing to its pre-marked position and harden in the sheet again. Excellent sail control on all points of wind.

Like any other system there are disadvantages but it really works well for us and is another option worth considering.

Stein Varjord

Hi Pat
I’m attracted to the wishbone boom as it makes self-tacking elegantly simple and does away with a lot of deck gear. It limits the area to non-overlapping, but that I would easily accept on a staysail. My main concern is how to carry the loads from the forward end of the wishbone boom. Is yours attached to the stay? Wouldn’t that push the stay forwards at that spot, causing deformation of the sail? Or has the sail been shaped with that in mind? Or have you got some other smart system I haven’t yet thought of?

pat synge

Hi Stein
The forward end of our wishbone connects to a SS tube that slides up the 7×7 wire rope stay. It is slightly bowed, has flared ends and a plastic inner sleeve that extends above and below to better distribute the distortion of the stay.

Yes, our sail is cut to allow for the distortion of the stay but I’ve seen a number of wishbone staysails where the piston hanks were simply attached with different lengths of lashing to allow for this.

Stein Varjord

Hi Pat
That attachment method seems good. I think the wear on the wire will be no more than it is at the exits of the terminals, so it will most likely not reduce the working life of the wire. But I still have some questions. 🙂

A sail shaped for the bend in the stay or adjusted at the hanks, will of course be just as well shaped as with any other configuration, but how is the behaviour with different loads and trim tensions on the sail? If you tension the boom outhaul (if that’s the correct English term?) it will increase the push on the stay. Will that make the sail shape uneven so you have to tension the stay, or am I wrong?

Also, I assume you don’t reef the staysail, but keep it either full or take it down? If you reef it, I guess the boom must come down with the sail? Do you know of methods to facilitate reefing?

pat synge

Hi Stein
I haven’t noticed any significant distortion of the luff area due to thrust of the wishbone on the forestay when adjusting outhaul tension.
I must admit I am not a fanatic sail trim person but the sail always looks OK.
I don’t reef my staysail (I’ve never had to) but can see no reason why not and may well put reefing points on the next one. The bottom portion would remain in place and you would reef the luff and leech down to the boom.

pat synge

Hi John
I understand your dislike of clutter but have found that when it’s not in use the wishbone is a useful handhold amidships when moving about on the foredeck . When it’s in use it’s no more ‘in the way’ than the sail itself.

Stein Varjord

Hi John.
Another good post, as always.

I’ll just give a comment on the polyester vs epoxy topic, and health issues. There is no doubt that epoxy is a better material. Tolerates higher compressive loads, is stiffer but still stretches more without cracking, adheres better, impregnates the fibres better, is watertight (polyester is as watertight as a very dense sponge) and more.

Of course I prefer epoxy, but still there are potential problems. One should be careful with relatively fresh polyester. Even up to a couple of years old, it may in some cases contain enough styrene to damage the epoxy. The styrene evaporation is what gives the stench when polyester hardens, and the characteristic “plastic” smell in new boats. In sufficient amounts, it will soften the epoxy structure permanently.

Most epoxies will cure fine in room temperature with no added pressure and mechanical properties clearly better than any polyester. Still, if cured under pressure (like vacuum bagging) and high temperature (preferably at least 50 degrees C / 120 F) the strength will normally double or triple. Applying those conditions are normally close to impossible in an existing boat. As mentioned, epoxy is still better than polyester, but many boat builders will relate to how it “should be done” and then advice for polyester. They can be honest and even not lazy, just “emotional”. 🙂 Polyester also hardens faster, so the work process is faster, thus cheaper. With epoxy, you frequently have to wait overnight or more.

For self-builders, there is another big problem with epoxy: It’s an extremely strong allergen. Polyester smells really bad, so it’s easy to notice that one should not inhale the fumes but use ventilation and protective gear. Most epoxies make way less fumes and they don’t smell strong, even while curing. Still you need to be more careful. Epoxy fumes and uncured epoxy is serious stuff. If you get wet epoxy on your skin, nothing much happens, normally. It’s sticky but not too hard to wash off. Use water and soap. Alternatively the cleaning stuff used by car mechanics etc. NEVER use any solvent to clean your skin. It will penetrate your skin and bring both solvent and epoxy into your blood. It’s like drinking it!

If you’re sensitive or are repeatedly exposed to epoxy, you will sooner or later get serious skin rashes or blisters. This is an allergic reaction, which epoxy provokes very efficiently. The trouble is that when you had that reaction once, you’re permanently allergic to epoxy, and frequently you will trigger other allergies too. I’ve managed to escape this, by being totally “nazi” with cleanliness and protection, but many of my sailing friends have serious problems with allergies from epoxy exposure. They do have continuous problems with it and wish they had been more careful.

One common bad thing to do is sand hardened epoxy and inhale some of the dust. At “room temperature” 23 degrees Centigrade, 73 Fahrenheit, almost all epoxies will need more than a week to cure fully. The “fast cure” ones too. The epoxy will harden much sooner, but a full cure takes time unless the temperature is significantly higher. Also, a complete cure depends on a thorough mixing of the resin and hardener. If you breathe in not fully cured epoxy dust, you get chemically active particles in your lungs. Not good. After a full cure, it’s way less harmful.

I’m not trying to say that you should avoid epoxy, but I can’t overemphasise this: You are dealing with a chemical reaction that is a really bad match for your body. Being relaxed about it is not smart. To make things worse, being totally clean when working with epoxy is hard. You need to establish methods that work for you and your specific task. If you work inside a boat, I’d use a hose to extract air from further inside the boat than where you are working. That way there will be a continuous flow of air across the work area and away from you. A vacuum cleaner is good enough. Placed it outside the boat, away from where fresh air flows in, with a long hose. Preferably remove the dust collecting bag etc, to increase flow.

You need to use gloves, of course. I normally use “surgical gloves”, those you can buy in most pharmacies. Latex is useless, as epoxy will penetrate them quickly. Vinyl is clearly better, but will also be penetrated. The by far best is “Nitrile rubber”. If you wear thin cotton gloves inside, it will increase the duration of the gloves. Sweaty hands will speed up penetration. Either way, change cloves frequently, depending on how much exposure, but at least every 10 minutes if you get epoxy on them. Use a blocking cream on your hands and lower arms. Use clothes you can dispose of or clean efficiently. Make sure you breathe fresh air. In some situations, a full face mask is smart, those plastic sheets that just cover. Cheap stuff. Make sure you can work without stress. Stress will make you cut corners. Then you will be exposed.

If you take proper care, epoxy is an amazing material and building stuff is great fun! Good luck!

Stein Varjord

Hi John
You are completely right on what cure methods mean for this type of use. Epoxy is a structurally very good material no matter how it’s cured. The reason for using higher temps and pressure is not that it’s necessary but that it’s possible and gives improvements. These improvements are important when the epoxy is used like with carbon in a mast, where its physical properties need to be fully exploited.

All epoxies, also West, change their properties with higher temp cures. The data sheets for professional users show this. It’s a property of the base resin. It gets harder and at the same time tolerates more compression and stretch. The purer the epoxy is, the stronger this effect is. The main reason for mentioning it was that it might be why pro users are hesitant to using epoxy in areas they can’t get the max strength out of it. That reason is irrelevant, though. Just a bad excuse to avoid a more work intensive material.

The West Epoxy is primarily aimed at amateurs, so they are good at adapting to that. Lots of good info. I would also recommend their products. Another producer that has some of that focus, but not quite as good on the info, is SP Systems. They also work some with the high-end pros, have a larger spectrum of products and own some of the factories themselves.

Both of these are definitely high on price though. Buying from other sources via industrial channels may lower prices to less than a fourth, or much more, but normally means you need to buy it in barrels and the level of service, users equipment and info is as much lower as the price. You’re expected to know more than the provider. For the use we are talking about here, this is normally a bad solution and West etc will be better even on price, as you can buy small quantities.

Bill Robinson

Hi John,
Yes, that is a problem I have with my SS runners. My method of securing them in the stowed, unused, position, entails passing a hook with a wire strop through the lower eye, and then tensioning them aft ,with a small tackle. It can be a bit of a struggle in rough seas. When you mention ” high tech” rope, what exactly are you using? I too, am totally against staysail booms, bloody dangerous things in my experience. The dangers far outweigh any self tacking benefits, especially offshore.
I have a 6500nm delivery to N.Z. on a nice cutter later this month, looking forward to that.

geoff skinner

Hi John,
We sail a cutter formatted Hylas 47. Two up this sail plan is a dream. I was considering changing my runners to high tech line but am flummixed about how they would get attached up aloft. Currently the rigging wire versions are on T terminals, which fit into slots in the mast. I suppose there must be T terminal fittings that can attach to line but I have not managed to find any – maybe not looked hard enough?
any thoughts / ideas would be welcome.

Eric Klem

Hi Geoff,

I believe that you are looking for a “T ball bail”. There are a few different types that will show up if you google it but then you can splice directly to it or form a thimble through the bail.


Rob Snelling

Great article, and pertinent to my situation. I have a Whitby 42 (that you may know, BTW) that had the mizzen decommissioned. The two static aft stays, I believe, could act very much like running backstays. The removable inner forestay was replaced with a permanent unit (secured below as you mentioned), but does not stand parallel to the forestay/furler. I’m cognitive that this could cause issues with tacking/gybing, but wonder what other performance/trim issues this might present?


Dick Stevenson

Stein, Wonderful dissertation on safety and some of the characteristics of the adhesives.
Bill, We use high tech rope for our runners and have been very happy with them.
Stein, I would also argue against a wishbone rig for all the reasons mentioned. The staysail is just much to easy to tack: with good timing I hand snub most of it in and winch the last few inches, to warrant the extra gear and the danger of something hard flailing about the foredeck.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Stein Varjord

Hi Dick
Thanks. 🙂
I agree that a staysail is very easy to tack, but it still takes one person to do it at the right moment. Sailing alone, that’s not always easy, so self-tacking has its value and I have used a lot of different systems that work ok, but not yet tried a wishbone boom, so finding someone with experience makes me curious. I mostly sail multihulls, like solo sailing and I’m a total speed addict, so I know my priorities are not the same as normal cruisers, but maybe still interesting to explore the possibility. Wishbone booms interest me for three reasons:
1. A track is the normal alternative for self-tacking, but clutter the decks badly, are ugly, expensive, vulnerable and unreliable.
2. The wishbone boom has no friction, so the sail will tack without trouble.
2. The sail will be perfectly shaped even at wider angles. Just let out the sail and it’s ready to work at another angle. No need for barber hauls and non-stop balancing of multiple ropes.

To me, it seems that a wishbone boom might give some big advantages that might be important enough to accept the disadvantage of having something moving around there. We either way accept that the main sail must have a boom that is a much bigger risk to us, as it’s mostly moving in the same area as our heads. 🙂

pat synge

“The sail will be perfectly shaped even at wider angles. Just let out the sail and it’s ready to work at another angle. No need for barber hauls and non-stop balancing of multiple ropes.”
This was what I hoped for but hasn’t been my experience and by the sounds of it you are much keener than me!
I use haulers when close hauled to adjust leech tension and control sail twist and I usually use a preventer when off the wind.
So, yes, there are lines to adjust but these can be done at your leisure after tacking.

Stein Varjord

Hi Pat
I used to do racing as a profession, so I’m more keen on trim and details than most sailors. Meaning that I can be quite annoying when cruising. 🙂 But I still do enjoy cruising, as long as the boat works well and is used right. That’s why I’m interested in discussions here.

Preventers will naturally be useful, but I’d assume nothing else that needs attention after a tack…? An adjustable rope from the rear end of the wishbone boom, along the foot of the sail and attached to the base of the head stay, could keep the leech and twist as you want it.

pat synge

Hi Stein
Yes, I’m sure you would be maddening when cruising – constantly adjusting sail trim :).

Yes, a vang should theoretically keep the leech as wanted but will not control twist effectively. Sheeting from a central point limits control. I don’t find the barber haulers a problem since we are very rarely tacking repeatedly.

Rob Gill

Hi Stein,

I think you may be better served with a self-tacking jib idea. Many production cruisers are now offering neat implementations ( have a look at Hanse for ideas) where the track is moulded onto the coach roof, with a narrow sheeting angle. The only compromise is the staysail/jib cannot overlap the mast which may reduce performance. I do not believe modern self-tackers clutter the decks since they do not come out beyond the line of the coach- roof.

We would have fitted a moulded track on our sloop and gone with a self-tracker, but we have no runners and instead a foreward “baby stay” to stop the mast inverting in extreme conditions, which prevents this.
I’m with John on the jib boom idea.


pat synge

Hi Rob
Having sailed a Hanse sloop with a self tacking headsail I comment that it is not a good solution.
It may be better for a staysail.

Rob Gill

Interesting, this hasn’t been my experience in NZ Pat, but anyway – not my problem as we didn’t go down this track!

Stein Varjord

Hi Rob
I’ve tried a lot of different self-tacking systems. On small boats some of them work fairly ok if they are maintained well. On bigger boats, especially for long distance, I strongly doubt that it’s smart to have any of those. Those tracks are quite vulnerable. A bit of sand will destroy it quickly. Even the slightest disturbance will stop the automatic tacking. When you have to run on deck to kick them over, you don’t feel helped…

I’ve never tried a wishbone boom solution, apart from on windsurfers, but they are interesting in several ways. The most important advantage over tracks, apart from being much less vulnerable, is that it will let the sail keep its shape even at very wide angles with no barber hauls etc. The short tracks in the cabin top of some cruisers are only suitable for max upwind. That’s not frequently useful for cruising.

I’m a big fan of the cutter rig, but I’m also investigating alternative layouts, mostly suitable for fast catamarans, where overlapping sails are generally not too useful either way. That (and general curiosity) is my reason for being interested in details about wishbone solutions.

Rob Gill

Hi Stein,

I agree the sheeting can be narrow narrow, and needs to be coupled with an off wind sail like a Code zero. In stronger winds (especially on a cat) I think the sheeting angle will be sufficient and the jib/ staysail being open in the head will not be a big issue. I raced on a 10m yacht class here in NZ with self-tacking jibs, and never had an issue. Why should jib tracks jam any more than mainsail tracks which nearly every yacht has?

The thought of a substantial jib boom sweeping our foredeck at knee height is much more worrying to me than any self-tacking jib issue. In the final analysis, we chose to keep things simple and opted for a conventionally rigged 100% jib. This tacks so quickly that a self-tracker / jib boom didn’t offer enough to warrant the cost/ added complexity.


Stein Varjord

Hi Rob
Self tackers and wishbones are probably off topic, and I feel guilty for keeping this going on, but one more comment:
I love simplicity almost as much as I love speed, 🙂 so I think a convensional sheet system on a cutter staysail is a good solution, probably the best in most cases. My interest in a wishbone boom is mostly connected to other rather uncenventional layouts, but Pat here likes his setup, so it must have some merit.

I’ve sailed racing multihulls with heavy duty mainsail tracks, longer than the LOA of some cruisers. Even those do jam slightly sometimes, but the consequences are normally minimal. The mainsail traveller only needs to move in gybes etc, when the sheet is looser, friction lower and the power pushing them out is always sufficient, as long as there is any wind. Upwind it stays in the centre. No movement.

A jib track needs to move under max tension, has much tighter angles and must move to the exact same spot every time. It gets less push the closer it is to the end stops and frequently rope tension increases at the same time. Good jib tracks with good control systems do do it perfectly, most of the time, but a trickier task means they fail way more often. A long distance cruiser can easily live with that, but I think the advantages are not worth the disadvantages. I think we agree on most of this topic. 🙂

pat synge

Hi Rob
The Hanse set up wasn’t bad with full sail and going to windward.
With it partially furled or off the wind I found the sheeting point was far from ideal.

Richard s (s/v lakota)

my cutter experience is essentially nil hence this basic question re cutter tacking: I’m sure the stay sail tacks easily but not so with the Genny or the job top ? seems will need to furl this in enough to clear the inner stay then roll it back out once on the new tack ? pls pardon my ignorance on this…also do you know if matt has seen my question about sail drive prop efficiency I posted on his recent article re props ? would appreciate having his take on this when he can…cheers

richard in Tampa bay

Marc Dacey

We were out on another test sail yesterday and found even with a staysail stay relatively close to the forestay (about two feet or 60 cm.), it was fairly straightforward to tack (we haven’t done it for some time). To gybe is a different story, but the idea of letting the staysail back until the jib topsail is through (and in fact using the staysail as a sort of ramp to “help” the process) is quite practical. I explained “#8” to my wife and she grasped it immediately and wondered why a lot of people furl to tack. This pleased me.
I also agree about staysail and main. Sure, you can’t point well, but it’s a lot more stately a progress if things are getting a touch hairy.


John … Great piece on cutter rigs – i’ve been following this closely after considering a conversion (currently have 135 Genoa and 10o Staysail, both on furlers) for a Hylas 49 … Been trying to solve several problems, boat tacks like a dog getting the 135 through the slot, frequently I’m short handed (my wife and I) and the 135 gets to be a handful in a blow, sails are pretty blown out anyway – so looking for a new set…. Have you ever seen you recommended arrangement (100-110 Yankee + Staysail ) rigged on a Hylas 49 ?

Bill Bowers

Great article John.
In TS Bill 25-35+ close reaching in the meander in Marion Bermuda this year with our brand new 9oz full dimension staysail we often unrolled our 133% #2 laminate Genoa which became a small topsail. For reaching the staysail is trimmed to the Genoa track just aft of the shrouds and the reefed jib is sheeted to the rail.
As the aging #2 Genoa breathed its last just as we crossed the line at St Davids, we will be ordering a harmonious topsail for the staysail. The new adjustable Genoa cars will move to new staysail tracks on the coach roof as you suggest. Since our J42 may be slimmer at the waist than Morgan’s Cloud, could you please let us know the sheeting angle close hauled of your staysail and topsail? Some proportioning will help sighting our new cabin tracks.
SV ComverJence

Pedr Turner

To Geoff Skinner
I have T fittings with an eye to facilitate splicing line, from Gibb via Sailing Services, Miami.
You have to know the size of your socket.
Fair Winds

Pedr Turner

To Geoff Skinner
re: T end fittings with ring are actually by Alexander-Roberts to fit Gibb sized sockets
I sourced them from Sailing Services in Miami

Conor Smith

(and other cutter savvy readers)

As always, a knock out interesting article that I have been pondering for some time that introduced new viewpoints that I had not considered before. For instance, the diagram that shows why the deck sweepers are such inefficient reaching sails because of the catch 22 of needing to move the sheet lead forward and aft at the same time…amazing!

I was wondering (probably along with other readers) about weather helm and tricks (sail trims) you use to reduce it on a cutter rig. We have a wonderful Brewer 12.8 with cutter rig, but I struggle to reduce weather helm when close reaching. Besides putting on some backstay tension, easing the vang a bit to allow the main to twist, and reefing the main, do you have cutter specific things you learned to help balance the boat?

Our jib is probably best described as high clewed genoa. It is a big sail, but the sheet angles are similar to that of a yankee, with the leads close to the center cockpit.

Thanks in advance. You the man!

Lane and Kay Finley

Hi John,
Great article and comments. It’s amazing how little information is available about cutter rigs. I was pleased to see a picture of Mai Tai in the beginning of this article representing the cutter family. I do want to mention something that may be worth a look:
Cutter rigs have two sets of spreaders on the mast to give side or lateral support to the rig at the point where the “inner forestay” attaches. The second or higher set of spreaders is where the inner forestay should attach. If there is only one set of spreaders you will have to attach the inner forestay at such a low point that the staysail area will be reduced beyond effectiveness. Running back stays should be used to prevent fore and aft pumping of the rig but they will not provide enough lateral stability to hold the mast straight when flying the staysail. So there is more to converting a sloop to a cutter than first meets the eye. Intermediate shrouds need to be added and a second set of spreaders. This means chain plates in the hull, more wire rigging, turnbuckles and two more spreaders. Personally, I would buy a cutter to begin with and forget the conversion.

Cheers from New Zealand
Lane and Kay Finley


Dear John,
I have a Pan Oceanic 46 cutter designed by Ted Brewer and I am in the process of making a new set of sails for my Genoa and staysail with Lee Sails in Hong Kong. I do not have much experience sailing cutter when I bought her (SV Sunrise), her set of sails were too old (and baggy) for me to make any deductions of what to ask for in my new set of sails. I have read your post on how the 2 sails should work together and will certainly discuss that with Lee Sails. However, I do have one observation that I am not sure if it is worth pursuing to improve upon; Sunrise does not go to close haul well. The best angle with the set of baggy sails is 45 degrees with about 18-20 degrees of heel. I mentioned that I am not sure if it is worth pursuing is because many opinions I got from the internet indicates that (1) cutter are generally not designed to sail close haul as a major consideration and (2) a semi-full keel are likewise not designed for close haul. But then again, there are opposing comments (to some degree) to the above. Hence I am exploring maximizing Sunrise’s close haul ability to sail as close to the wind as much as possible with a new set of sail since I am replacing them anyway. Your views and of others sailors are very much appreciated.

One other thing I notice is that the clew on SV Morganscloud is high compare to a conventional Genoa. It is more like a high cut Yankee. I thought that it is best aerodynamicall for the clew to be as low as possible (ie decksweeper) to maximize efficiency (less spillage at the foot and low centre of pressure of the Genoa equals less heel). The clew is raised on a cruising boat to allow forward view when sailing which is owner dependent. What may be your reason for a high cut Yankee as oppose to a conventional Genoa?

Please direct me to the correct page in your website if these topics have already been discussed as I cannot seem to find them on the search engine. Thanks much,


Hi John, have read the chapters. Very informative and addictive read. I should get back to work really! Ok, while preparing for the long cruising voyage (could be 4 to 7 years time) we as a family have to do with coastal sailing on our blue water cruiser. Many times the wind is on our nose and how i wish Sunrise could point higher and get there a little faster. Hence my exploration to increase the close haul performance. I can see the benefits of a true cutter for a short handed crew (basically, only my wife and I as our toddlers are a liabilities) and when the time comes for more reaching and downwind sailing arrives, I am really thinking how one can improve the upwind performance of a cutter rigged cruiser. Well, it gets worse. When we bought Sunrise, she came with a behind the mast roller furling main (Famet system which is now defunct). I know that is a very inefficient sail but a lot our sister boat owners advise against getting rid of it because of the ease of handling the main from the cockpit because the main is a big sail to hoist and handle on the conventional system. I have done some research and think that the Antal system is the way to go. But the system is expensive and I dont have the budget for it right now (including new gooseneck, reefing system etc). So I am “putting up” with the furling main until the kitty is more full but my wife thinks that I shouldnt for a short handed boat. Anyway, that is for another day. Meanwhile, I just play with the sails..

Marc Dacey

Rob: For what it’s worth, I have a steel full keel cutter with a largish staysail and a Yankee cut jib on a shortish bowsprit. I concur that 45 degrees is not unreasonable, but you can experiment with stay tensioning and certain techniques, such as backwinding the jib, to make your tacks more efficient, if not much higher. Tuning’s a bit of an art, but one well worth learning, in my view.

I just installed a Tides Marine track, full batten cars and “slippery” slugs on our new main and so far we are very pleased with the sail handling. The cost was about $1,000 for the gear, which was about 25% of the cost of the new main. You may wish to stick with the old main until you’re ready to commit. Were it me, I would change things up all at once.


BTW, how high does Morganscloud sail upwind to as a true cutter?


Hi Marc, Thanks for the advice. You boat sounds a bit like my boat except for the sails which I am about to make a decision on. I have not ventured to rig tuning yet but will do once the new sails are on. I have never heard of Tide Marine but I will check it out. The Antal system I looked at for a 46ft boat is in the region of $4000 excluding the sail!

Marc Dacey

Antal (and Harken) make fine products and on a different boat I would be happy to have them. The Tides Marine external track (which one measures with the special kit they send first) is sturdy and allows full battens and smooth dousings. It was a compromise but as we were getting an ocean-grade main, it was a logical one. Be prepared to grind your slug gate a little larger, however, should you choose to go this route. You may find this and the links off it instructive:

Lastly, if you are tuning in earnest for the first time, remember to check and snug up your chain plate bolts first and to take it easy and to get a racing sailor aboard to help. Employ rum if needed.


Hi John, yes you are right. We close haul at 45 degrees to apparent wind. The one that is indicated on the Raymarine dial. Our system isnt wired (yet) to indicate True wind to us. Therefore we use the apparent wind angle as an indicator because when the boat moves, it is the wind angle that she sees. About Sailmaker. I live in Singapore and we do not have a local sailmaker here as the sailing community is not big enough. Lots of powerboats. Lee Sail in Hong Kong is just about the nearest and I was about to make a decision on a lowish cut Genoa until I read your posts. Our boat was designed as a true cutter and at one time i wanted to convert her to a full sloop for better upwind sailing. I am now doing a lot of rethinking and rereading your posts…

Marc Dacey

I have a low-cut genoa for strictly light air, but the standard sail is a high-cut Yankee. It is very versatile and only starts to get useless when 50% rolled up or so. The staysail can, if desired, have a set of reef points put it for truly hairy conditions. Some prefer both jib and staysail to be on furlers; I prefer the bulletproof (to me) hank-on staysail and storm staysail. With these two, we can run off in 50 knots. The trick to loving a cutter is to sail it in all weathers. Then you learn its qualities and forget stuff like the big old tacks you have to make.

Marc Dacey

Good spotting, John. I thought he meant 45 degrees either side of the true wind, meaning a 90 degree tack, or close reach to close reach, I suppose.


Hi Marc and John, thanks for the advice. Will discuss Yankee jib and a low cut staysail with my sail maker and see what they come up with…


Hi John, I am working on my new sail in earnest. Can you explain what do you mean by ” the staysail stay should be parallel to the headstay and set about 30% of the foretriangle base (J) back from the headstay.” My boat’s main sail is a behind the mast roller furling sail with batten and has a straight leech. I know it is not an efficient sail but offer the convenience not getting out of the cockpit on a shorthanded boat. On its own, it does not give much forward speed to the boat. Say for a 10 knot wind, the boat moves only 3 knots (assuming no current). The genoa was the main driving force. Now, if I were to go for a Yankee jib and staysail combo, how do I get them right to compensate for an inefficient main. Bigger sail area?


Hi John, ok, thanks. Rob


Hi John, I am about to make a purchase of my Yankee jib and staysail. For the staysail Sail maker recommended a 9.4oz cross cut furling Dacron (10.76m luff x 3.9m foot x 9.6m leech). I think that should be ok as it is not a very big sail. The Yankee is a bit tricky because I am deciding on the cut and material. Sail maker recommends a 8.8oz cross cut furling Dacron (15.45m luff x 7.6m foot x 12.09m leech) or a tri-radial cut 9.1oz USwt Challenge Warp Drive dacron(WD9.11). The tri-radial cut is 50% more expensive than the cross cut option. I know you mentioned that the tri-radial cut is the way to go but my reservation is on the material (which I have not heard of anyone who has used it before) and a first timer converting to a true cutter sail plan and of course the cost. How much different in sailing performance is there between the cross cut and tri radial cut?

Marc Dacey

My understanding is that the differences in cut distribute the sailing forces differently across the sail. The weight and strength of the material (is “Warp Drive” equivalent to “HydraNet”, which is Dacron beefed up with Ultra-PE?) is a separate metric. I went with a fairly robust weight of regular Dacron for my new main because of my reefing habits; my cutter’s Yankee is also stock Dacron, but were I to replace it, I would opt for a tri-radial cut as I suspect you can reduce stretch and bag over time. Me, I prefer a lighter cloth for the Yankee and an earlier furl.

If you don’t have money for the more expensive sail, moderation of your sailing habits to more conservatism is the cost of keeping the sail an equal number of miles at sea, I would think.


Hi Marc, very sound advice. Yes, I must admit that money is not on my side with so many things to do on the boat plus a family. I would like to go for a Dacron tri-radial cut but my sail maker does not do a Tri-radial cut with the standard Dacron. He would use laminates of Wrap Drive. But there is so little that can be found on Wrap Drive on the internet. Is it as good as the Hydranet? (my sailmaker does not use Hydranet, only Challenger material I think). So, is Wrap Drive worth the 50% increase in price? Not a question to you but to myself. But I appreciate the spirit of your honest sharing. Cheers mate,


Hi John, interesting that you mention that laminates are “pretty reliable”. All the feedback I got is to steer clear from it as it has a life of at most 5 years plus all the problems with mild dew. The only sailors I know who uses them are racers. In fact I do not know of any cruiser who uses laminates. Most use standard Dacron and Hydranet. Wrap Drive is not a laminate but Dacron with “wrap yarn” (whatever that is) to perform like laminate. I am uncertain of the maintenance requirements/issues, ease to repair and durability of the material to really make an informed decision. I think it is too new in the market. And yes, point taken on the tri-radial cut for a Yankee.

Leech line. most times it is difficult to reach the clew to adjust it while sailing. How does one do it on a Yankee which has an even higher clew. A friend of mine suggested using “over the Head” leech line where the lines goes over the head of the sail, comes along the luff to the (near) tack. It has a small block at the head to facilitate the acute turn of the leech line at the head. Have you had any experience or comments on this system of leech line?


Hi Marc, this is from Curisersforum : “Warp is pretty much a marketing play to get you to pay 40% extra for a dacron sail. It’s still simply a woven dacron cloth and it will stretch on the bias just like any other (good tight weave) dacron cloth. In no-way will it perform (low stretch) like a laminate cloth.

There have been numerous attempts to make a woven dacron that is strong in one direction into good sails and they have all failed. Using Pentex fibers (a high modulus dacron) in one direction was all the marketing a rage a while ago. However, ALL woven cloth will stretch on the bias (that is at 45 degrees across the weave) no matter how low stretch the fibers or un-crimped the weave is. This is just a simple fact of the physics of weaving. And this is true if its cross cut or tri-radial. These attemps have tended to produce sails with shorter longivity than regular dacron cross-cut (because they try to use the low stretch in one direction and overload the bias direction).”

I guess the best advice is from someone who has actually used it.


Hi John, Thank you for taking the time to read into Wrap Drive. I really didnt expect you to as you already have a lot on your plate looking after your website. I was hoping perhaps some sailors in this discussion would have some experience. I am taking your opinions and advice thus far very favourably and seriously. Cheers,


Hi John, sunstrip protection for sails. Do you have any experience of using Challenge UV150 and Sunbrella as sunstrip for the Yankee and staysail? Of course in terms of performance, it is preferred not to have any sunstrip at all as it leaves the trailing edge of the sail relatively smooth. But in the tropics, some protection is needed. There is another option of using a laced up “sock”. But that needs another halyard plus more fabric to stow… And advice would be most appreciated. Thanks,


I am refitting a 1990 Cabo Rico 34 cutter with new sails and have been advised by my sailmaker that a 135 jib top “will give her more power up wind” whereas my internet research into the few other CR34 cutters that I could find shows those boats have anywhere from 110s to 130s for the jib top. Do you have an opinion on the 135 versus a smaller sail? And radial versus cross cut? I am also converting the staysail from hanked on to roller furling and dispensing with the boom. Any reason to consider retaining the boom as opposed to free footing the staysail? Of course I want to retain good self tacking ability as I single hand a lot. Thanks for a great website/resource.