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Hey Sloopy! Ketch Yawl Schooner or Later!

Topsail schooner
Topsail schooner. Photo: Todd Duff

Hearing some cruising sailors propose that one particular rig is far superior to another, or that one type of hull form or boat type is the best, is really quite amusing if you think about it.  If getting from one port to the next the fastest and easiest way possible is so important, then why are we out there sailing in the first place?

Sailing is not about efficiency, but about the experiences we have and the feelings we get from the process.

If we are to analyze what makes one particular boat or rig our favorite, then it is necessary to decide if only logic shall be used as a baseline, or if emotions or aesthetics can come in to play. To many of us, these ethereal conditions play a large part of what makes sailing worthwhile. If one is only concerned about moving from point A to B in the easiest and most efficient manner, then we would take an airplane, right? So sailing is illogical to begin with. Granted, sailing can take you to places that cannot be reached by airplane, but one could always hire a powerboat and reach anywhere on the planet, so obviously logic has nothing to do with the decision of what kind of a boat we must sail.

Since we have thrown out logic as our criteria for the type of boat we choose to sail, we can now concentrate on other really important and compelling aspects of what makes one type of boat suitable where another would be, well, just totally wrong. For example, If you see yourself as a Jack Sparrow type, with a swashbuckling charisma with the ladies (or men) and a devil may care attitude, then a heavy displacement pirate ‘shippy’ type boat like a Vagabond, Island Trader or CT ketch are the only boats for you.

If you imagine yourself as a sea captain of old, piling on the canvas as you round The Horn with a full crew in the rig tending to ten or fifteen sails, then only a schooner or brigantine will do.

If you imagine yourself setting transatlantic speed records and screaming past every other boat on your horizon, then you must have a high performance trimaran—and yet if you wish to be the grand master of a large crew of wild partygoers, all scantily clad or jumping naked from the cabin and cockpit, then a large catamaran is your kind of a boat.

Seeing yourself with a pipe clenched in your teeth and a sou’wester hat pulled tight as you singlehandedly battle the elements in huge raging seas presupposes that your boat is a mighty double ended cutter, and if you love the bragging rights at the yacht club bar, then a maxi race boat is the only type of craft to consider.

So, maybe we can tell a lot about a person simply by the type of boat they sail. Of course, when looking at a charter fleet this becomes more difficult. Place a hundred charter boats in the Sir Francis Drake Channel on a busy Saturday, sailing every which way, and you have to look harder for clues as to what kind of sailors are really aboard these vessels. A quick glance at sail trim may tell you whether they are out there more for the party or for an efficient sailing experience. A look at the flag halyards might show a jolly roger fluttering in the breeze. These are the Jack Sparrow wannabes. Watch out for a broadside with water balloons and some real wenches on the winches.

The cats may have six ladies sunbathing topless on the foredeck with the men all crowded around the helm trading stories about their frat days. Anchor close by them later and you won’t need to play your own music; you can enjoy theirs until well after 0200.

The Beneteau 50 with four couples in life jackets might be soon-to-be divorcees and new former best friends. Still, ask them what they sail back home and you might get a better idea of who they really are. The crew in life jackets may all be small boat sailors from Kansas who sell insurance for a living. The Catamaran people might run a modeling agency in Toronto and the Jolly Roger set may all have boats with pinrails and lots of teak sitting patiently back in their home marinas awaiting their crews’ return.

Whatever your lifestyle, there is a vessel that can tell the world who you are. Set your sails on a boat that makes you happy and on which you feel comfortable and at home. The cut of your jib really may well speak of who you are in more ways than you had at first imagined.

After knocking around the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of South and Central America followed by a leisurely cruise through the Bahamas, Todd Duff and Gayle Suhich are now back in the Eastern Caribbean aboard their classic Westsail 42 ketch Small World.

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