Which Boat? Cutter vs. Sloop Rig?

When we were boat shopping, we had a spreadsheet with all the features that we imagined an offshore sailboat would require to keep us (the inexperienced crew) from killing ourselves.  We read, read and read some more and then studied different boats and their advantages and disadvantages.

We quickly learned that every boat is a compromise so we had to decide which things we thought were the most important.  We talked to boat builders, other cruisers, anyone who would listen … and we discovered, as you may already know, sailors tend to be the most opinionated people on earth and theirs is the only right opinion – just ask any sailor the anchor of choice question!  🙂

One of the areas we did not want to compromise was safety.  We wanted a solid, heavily built, blue water cruising sailboat, preferably with a full keel (or so we thought) or at least a long keel, no fin or wing keels.  We also wanted a cutter rig (actually I would have preferred a ketch rig, but my captain thoroughly disagreed, so our compromise was to look for a cutter rig.

Why did I want a ketch rig and compromise for a cutter rig – on our wish spreadsheet?  Because everything I read said that smaller sails were easier to handle.   And that the ketch rig offered the most alternative sail configurations for heavy weather … and the cutter rig was a good compromise because it offered the smaller inner sail which together with a reefed main brought the center of gravity inboard and was safer and offered more control in elevated winds.  Everything I read made perfect sense.

Then we started boat shopping.  We looked at literally dozens of different boats, and continued our research.

All the research only put us into a tizzy until we had NO idea of what we really wanted,  but we had pretty much settled on a Bob Perry designed cruising boat.  At the time the Perry-designed Valiants were one of the premier offshore designs.  Only one problem, we couldn’t afford one.

We did the next best thing and hired Bob Perry as our boat-buying consultant.  (Perry Boats has designed over 5,000 cruising designs and the consulting service is still available – it was a great deal for us, check it out if you’re in the boat buying process.  Click here.)

Long story short, we finally were deciding between a Tashiba, cutter rig and a Passport 37, sloop rig.   Both of us preferred the Passport EXCEPT for the sloop rig.  So I called Bob.

His input was we shouldn’t be so concerned about the rig.  I inquired about adding an inner forestay to add to the sailplan options.  Bob got a bit huffy with me, but offered a compromise ….

“Put a 95% working jib on the boat, then go sail for a year.   If you still think you need an inner forestay, I’ll send you the plans, but it’s not what I recommend for this boat.”

So being good Perry-disciples, we did exactly as Bob said.  We needed new sails anyway (the originals were from 1985 and this was 2001) so we added a 95% working jib and a 3 reef point full battened main from Mack Sails.  We sailed it for a year.  The working jib was small enough that it was relatively easy to handle in heavy air, I never had a problem reefing it with the roller furling.  The boat was well balanced.   We sailed it for a year and before the year was over, we had completely forgotten about an inner forestay.

Now 12 years and close to 12,000 miles later, we’ve never missed an inner forestay.

On the other hand, in light airs, we often think we should put the 135 genoa back on so we can make better time, but then some wind will come up or something will happen to convince us that giving up a bit of speed is well worth it for the unpredictability of the weather and the versatility of that 95% jib.

THANKS Bob!   As usual, your advice was (and is) spot on!   Sail on!!!

(P.S.  Anyone who’s ever dealt with Bob knows how much he HATES cruisers cluttering up a graceful beautiful design like our Passport 37 — we’re probably the worst offender especially with our kayaks.  It was brought home recently when a sailing dinghy sailed by and said “that boat has beautiful lines, if you could see them under all the kayaks and dinghy onboard”.   🙁  Too many toys, but they all get used, so se la vie…. apologies to Bob for ruining his beautiful Passport 37 design!)

Comments on sloop vs cutter or other rigs?  Please leave a comment and share!   Cheers!   Jan



  1. Keith Davie says:

    The best design for a cruising boat is the one that gets you out cruising! An over-simplification, yes, but it sure is easy to over-plan and end up going nowhere!
    Looks like you did it just right!

  2. We have a Tartan 42 with a cutter rig and we love it. It does reduce the space you have on the foredeck when the cutter rig is hooked up, but it gives you the most versatility to deal with weather. We leave the bigger jib on the roller and have 2 different staysails to use on the cutter stay.

    S/V Kintala

  3. Sail what you like and youll like what you sail. You first have to have the affection to take your boat where you want to go. If you love a boat you will put up with all its nuances and love doing it. Just because a boat may be easier faster or prettier to someone else youll still live yours more. And once your miles offshore youll find this is what really matters.

  4. John Russi says:

    Can anybody please tell me how does boat balances his weight even though after getting lots of load in it.

  5. Thank you for posting this article. It’s 2016 now but it’s as relevant as ever. My Irwin 37 came with a working jib and a BIG genny. My experience correlates with yours – life is much simpler in general to just stick with the jib, and I never get the out-of-control feeling that sometimes comes with the genny, and praying that the furling works again so I can tame the monster.

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