Sails for these rigs are often high-tech, and the rig is easy to tend shorthanded. Sheet loads are amazingly light as a result of the balancing effect of the jib, and reefing is a snap. Windward performance is better than adequate, but not spectacular. Off the wind, though, these boats fly, as the rig can be set square to the wind. There’s no call for challenging downwind sails and no chafe. And if you’re hit by a squall, easing the sheet spills as much wind as you like, even on a dead run.
It’s vital to be certain of the integrity of any unstayed mast, and the bearings on these swivelling spars require some maintenance. AeroRigs have made plenty of successful long passages, however, and have proven seaworthy.
Carbospars, which owned the AeroRig name and brought the concept to the fore in the 1990s, is no longer in business, but naval architect Gerry Dijkstra, among others, is using the rig on big luxury yachts.
The Chinese have used the junk rig for millennia. Back in 1960, the English war hero Colonel “Blondie” Hasler created a modern version for his 25-foot Folkboat, Jester, which he sailed in the first Singlehanded Transatlantic Race. Junk rigs use full-length battens to shape and control the sails, which are semi-balanced with some area projected forward of the mast (often unstayed). Junk rigs on modern boats generally have one or two masts; twin-masted junk schooners have the advantage of being able to sail wing-and-wing off the wind.
Junk sails are very low tech and are cheap to build and easy to repair. Many junk rigs have been entirely home-built, sails included. The sails are sheeted from each batten, and loads are light because a significant portion of the sail is forward of the mast. Chafe is minimal because the rigs are freestanding. Reefing is easy; the sail drops into its lazyjacks like a window blind. While the junk rig is not especially lightweight (most use wooden spars), some assert that, as with gaff rigs, the weight aloft contributes to a seakindly motion. Junk rigs generally lack power sailing close-hauled compared to a marconi rig, although care in design, a hull that can point, and attention to the battens can offset this.
For a century or more, the gaff rig was the rig of choice for both pleasure and working boats because there was no viable alternative in terms of power, ease of handling, and close-windedness. Many sailors today still find it aesthetically pleasing and highly entertaining to sail. Off the wind, a gaff rig can be more efficient than a marconi rig.
The gaff rig’s large, low-aspect quadrilateral mainsail is ideal for driving heavy-displacement boats that are not especially close-winded by modern standards. The sails have a high stall tolerance, so they can be oversheeted without killing performance. The reduced rig loads produced by the comparatively short mast are easy on the hull, plus lower sheet loads eliminate the need for massive winches.
As a gaff sail is reefed, its center of effort moves forward less than that of a three-cornered marconi sail. This means that heaving-to becomes a surefire formula for gale survival, with no effort from the crew other than to brew coffee.
Except in their most-refined forms, gaff rigs don’t like pointing much above 45 or 50 degrees true. Off the wind, however, a gaff rig can be more efficient than a marconi rig. But a gaff rig is also a chafe monster; great care has to be taken on long light-air downwind passages. Extracting the best from a proper gaffer demands higher levels of seamanship than many sailors can muster. Modern developments include carbon-fiber gaffs, which lower the rig’s high center of gravity, but purists argue that lightness aloft spoils the boat’s motion and makes it harder to lower the sail.