This post has several beginnings.  It is partially a logical follow-on post to my recent posts about John MacGregor and the ‘Rob Roy’ sailing canoe. After the sailing and paddling canoes MacGregor did also develop a small canoe-yawl as a cruising boat. Before going any further with MacGregor’s workthough allow me to explain this post’s several beginnings.  It is also a post that iv’e wanted to write for a long time and one of the delays was down to waiting for some books on the subject.

Firstly, my boat is all-but a canoe yawl in concept except that the mizzen stick is in the wrong place and i happen to think that the boat would work better if i moved it aft and concentrated sail area into the mains’l.

Secondly that the historical type of small cruising boat, first developed in this country by a group of sailors at the Humber Yawl club is also strikingly similar to the concept of the Liberty today.

Thirdly that some of the original Canoe Yawl’s i think are some of the prettiest small cruising boats around.  If you aren’t familiar with the type then go and look at some of the Canoe Yawl designs from the board of Albert Strange or George Holmes.

Sheila , by Albert Strange.



Just so that you have some idea whether or not this post might be of interest to you i am thinking about modifying the Liberty’s rig and mainly to get the mizzen mast away from the companionway where it is mounted as standard. This would be a longer term project than the one i am doing now with the rig, messing around with sprits and snotters.    Right now the mizzen mast, or more specifically the mizzen boom is in the way when i am working the boat, especially when i am doing any sail handling on the mains’l .

The halyard, vang and control lines are all mounted on the cabin top just to one side of where the mast is supported against the bulkhead and are difficult to access under the mizzen boom when it is on that side.  Even more of a problem is the mizzen boom which is always in the way until i am actually sailing with it.  The gooseneck height is such that the boom is always in the way when i want to stand in the cockpit , for example when i am mooring the boat.

Furthermore the mizzen and it’s boom are noticeably in the way when i am at anchor and especially because it’s position doesn’t allow me to have a proper sprayhood to protect the cockpit and companionway or to allow me to have a sun awning/rain shelter over the cockpit.  With my intention to spend a lot more time aboard i want to be able to use the cockpit as a living area and it would be very useful to have sun and rain shelter so that i can keep the main hatch open more often.  This post then, is a first look at the potential solutions to achieving a clear working area in the cockpit.


Part one, what we have so far and what i want to achieve.

The little Liberty is an unusual boat in many respects and one of those is it’s rig which as standard is a cat-ketch.   There was some confusion about cat-ketches and cat-schooners recently on the sailing Fb page that i post on and the problem seems to stem from people reading ‘cat’ as catamaran and not realising that it also refers to a rig.  Some people refer to this kind of rig as a ‘Freedom’ rig as though it originated with Gary Hoyt who designed the ‘Freedom’ range of boats : it doesn’t and the rig is actually quite an old one.

Basically my boat has a pair of light alloy unstayed masts in a ketch configuration. The foremast or main-mast in a ketch configuration is right in the bow as seen in the various photographs here and the mizzen is mounted essentially in the cockpit.  The rig as standard just uses 2 sails, so main and mizzen, some owners do fly a small mizzen staysail downwind and there are other members that have experimented with other rig variations from junk schooner to single mast junk and so on.  There is a second, alternative rig which was put on the boat when it was re-marketed as the ‘Minstrel’, that’s a gunter rig and requires a compression post right in the middle of the cabin….and i am not going to do that to an already small space.

Early on in this design’s history the masts did tend to break and following that most of them had internal sleeves added, at the same time many of the boats were re-ballasted to make them a bit stiffer upwind.  As far as i can tell my boat has had both modifications done already.  One thing i have never liked is the excessive height of the goosenck and boom, with the initial project i am working on lowering that to reduce the heeling moment while keeping the same sail area.  The modification i am playing around with right now could reduce the tack height off the deck by a good foot or so.


The pro’s and cons.

The cat-ketch is an unusual rig for anyone that is used to a conventional, generic bermudian rig.   There are both advantages and disadvantages with both the ketch layout and unstayed rigs generally. The original masts weren’t strong enough for the job : carbon fibre would have been better but wasn’t well known at the time these boats were made.  The carbon masts on most of the Freedom range, for example, are much stronger. The opposite consideration is that the rigs on these boats are very lightly loaded and once they have been sleeved seem to be ok.

The split rig does mean that both sails are really quite small and the overall centre of effort thus kept reasonably low.  Having a mizzen rig does mean that the boat will heave-to easily and that messing around with the combination of 2 rigs and centreboard gives many options to balance the boat.  Both masts are light enough that i can get them in and out of the boat on my own, interestingly i find the longer main mast easier to step and unstep because it’s pivot is aligned fore and aft and the mast foot slides into a slot in the bow well.  The mizzen is a bit of a faff to step and unstep when i am working on my own…one potential modification has always been to move the mizzen mast pivot such that the mast could be lowered forward and the main mast aft.  That i thought was one potential modification to allow me to go into the broads if i ever get there.

The disadvantages with the split rig start for me with the mizzen mast and boom always being in my way whatever i am doing in the cockpit.  I don’t think that the mizzen produces much useful power but it does determine the balance of the boat.  As i have said before the boat is easy to heave-to, in fact sailing the boat always starts with hoisting the mizzen first to hold the boat head to wind.  Without the mizzen up it’s actually very hard to hoist the mains’l without the boat driving off the wind.  At anchor the larger main mast with it’s sail in a stack-pack tends to make the boat sheer all over the place and several times i have had to use the reefed mizzen to keep clear of other boats…notably boats that have anchored after me !

I like the idea of a split rig but now think that i would rather have more sail area and more power in the mains’l and to balance that with a smaller area right at the back of the boat and mainly for balance rather than power….essentially a yawl rather than a ketch but with an as yet undecided sail configuration.  What i am doing with this post is exploring the known options of potential sail configurations which would keep the main mast forward where it is and with a much smaller mizzen stick right aft.

Briefly then , here is what i am trying to achieve.

1.Clear the working area in the cockpit to make it more ergonomic and allow me to have a sprayhood/cockpit shelter arrangment.

2.Keep the ability to heave-to with the mizzen.

3.Increase overall sail area as the boat is generally underpowered in light airs.

4.Use the existing mounting position for the forward rig.

5.Consider all workable solutions for the sail plan but strive for the greatest simplicity.


Part 2 : what has been done before.  Readers please note that all the photographs from now on are ones that i have had to borrow from the internet.

First : the cat boat.

There is a historical design which uses a single mast right in the bow hailing from the east coast of the USA.   I won’t go into the history here except that the original ‘cat’ boats were intended as fishing and oystering boats.  The single unstayed and usually solid mast was mounted right up in the bow.  The actual rig was then most commonly gaff with a very long boom which hung over the transom.  The boats were shallow draft plus centreboard and usually very wide at the stern.  They are variously reported as ‘cranky’ boats to steer and usually needed a huge ‘barn door’ rudder to keep them from rounding up.

A lot of the cat boat problems came down to the hull shape and the extreme rig combined.  As i understand it they were raced but could capsize if pushed too hard. I wouldn’t go down the route of just having a single mast anyway for my cruising as heaving-to under sail is absolutely essential.

The more successful single unstayed rig forward has been used more recently and i have briefly covered one of those boats in a previous post : the Freedom 21 which also uses a carbon fibre mast.  However in the Freedom 21 and it’s larger sister, the Freedom 25 the mast is back from the bow and the boom proportion much more moderate.  By all accounts and from what i have seen both of the small Freedom’s sail well.

Cat boat. Big rig, bigger rudder to maintain control.


There are some modern designs, this one i believe is from Radford designs, i’m pretty sure that will be a carbon fibre mast and utilises a wishbone instead of a boom.


Freedom 21.  The rig proportions look a lot more moderate and modern…more like a Laser dinghy.  Nice little boat btw.


Next the split ‘cat’ rigs.

Cat Yawl.  If a lot of the cat boat’s problems came from the extreme rig coupled with a difficult hull shape then one solution was to make both more moderate and another solution was to split the rig into 2 components with the main mast forrad and a smaller mast aft.  Thus we go from the cat (sloop) and get the cat-yawl or cat-ketch, the differences being where the mizzen is situated.  Technically a yawl has the mizzen aft of the rudder post, my boat would still officially be a ketch but with rig proportions much more like a yawl.   This is kind-of getting to where i want to be with a big, efficient and powerful rig forward and a balancing rig aft.

One of the late Phil Bolger’s prettiest designs, this is one of his ‘Chebacco’ boats with a cat-yawl rig.  This is just about where i want to go and i think demonstrates neatly the mizzen as a riding sail.  Also here what would be good is that the main mast is a short and stout one… i guess this must be gunter or lug rigged.  As it happens i have a copy of the late designer’s book kicking around somewhere and i think he drew one of the Chebacco designs at about the same size as the Liberty so that might be a good lead-in to the rig proportions.  Below is , i think, the Chebacco 20 which if it is, carries 170 sq ft of sail area in the gunter main and that’s what i would need to be shooting for.


The second inspiration for this project then comes in from left-field with one of Iain Oughtread’s designs : the Caledonia Yawl.  This boat is one that definitely ‘talks’ to me and is a boat i would love to sail.       If….if i were a lot younger and really had the time this one would be competing hard for my open boat/adventure boat slot and maybe a self build too.  For now it’s a good look at the rig proportions of a yawl , lug rigged forward and with a simple triangle aft.  Once again that rig layout would allow for a shorter mast forward but that could also carry more sail area lower down than the current rig, it also looks right and by all accounts would sail well too.  Once again this seems to be on the right lines, would allow me to keep my forward mast mounting position.  It would need a stronger mast forward just as the gunter option would so that would be a mast build project and would require me to work out the problems of mounting a mizzen mast somewhere aft.


So far….so good, if at the moment i say that the best likely solution to my requirements is some version of a lug yawl then the next stage is to think about the details. The main decision seems to then be between having a tall mast forward, rigged as sloop or a shorter mast but rigged with a yard or gunter and boomed or boom-less.  For now though lets go sideways a bit and just look at other potential solutions as there are some more out there.

If the absolutely best solution is to get the mizzen mast as far aft as possible so that it is completely out of the way most of the time then the second best option is to move it out of the companionway , onto the rear face of the cabin bulkhead and get rid of the conventional boom.  Of the 2 problems it’s really the boom that is a total pain as it’s just about always where my head and shoulder needs to be when i am working the boat. One solution could be to swap the conventional boom for a down-angled sprit just like the boat in the above photograph.  The inboard end would need to be at least another foot higher than the existing boom and could be simply topped up with a topping lift when not in use.   A similar solution would be to build wishbones for both rigs.

So, let’s look at some technical details.

My boat, the Hunter Liberty is pretty low on sail area with a total of just 170 sq ft and that is divided between 100 sq ft in the mains’l and 70 sq ft in the mizzen.  My rig comprises of 2 hollow, sleeved , unstayed masts and conventional booms. I haven’t measured the lengths as yet but think the main to be around 26 feet.

The Chebacco yawl has a mains’l area of just over 170 sq feet plus the small mizzen, i only have a sail plan in the book and the numbers are almost too small to read but the mizzen looks to be about another 18 sq ft.  Using the Chebacco’s rig proportions would add about 10 % to my sail area which doesn’t seem too far out.  On the sailplan dawing i can’t see the length of the main mast but laying a pair of dividers on it shows it as being slightly shorter than the overall length of the boat which is 20 feet. The gunter (yard) is shown as just over 12 feet and the boom similar.

Iain Oughtread’s Caledonia Yawl shows as having 164sq ft in the lug (main’sl) and 15sq ft aft so that is close as well.  As with the gunter rig the standing main mast would be shorter but would need a similarly long yard.  I can’t quite extrapolate the dimensions of the various parts of the lug rig as yet.  Of the lug options i particularly like the boom-less versions which would be very similar to luggers in this area.  From memory Nigel Irens did the same thing with his luggers ‘Roxanne’ and’ Rommilly’

Practical considerations.

To get this done i would have to build 2 masts to start with and then either the lug yard or gunter and boom for the main and the sprit for the mizzen.  That would be a total of 5 new spars with the most complex version which would be the gunter yawl.  The limit with the main mast would be it’s diameter which would have to be the same as the existing one although if cocked aft a bit could have a pair of shrouds and even a forestay going to a short bowsprit.  Although adding work a short bowsprit would allow me to fly a small balancing jib which is said to improve the Liberty’s upwind performance and would enable me to hang the hook off a position further forward.  Both lug and gunter options would reduce the forward height and therefore wind resistance of the main mast which currently makes the boat sheer at anchor : reducing that tendency would be useful.

As an intermediate step before building new masts i might have a go at rigging the boat with down-angled sprits instead of it’s conventional booms.  As i write i am in the process of making 2 very simple wooden sprits, working out a way of moving the mainsail track down and working out how to rig the reefing lines and ‘snotter’……i always fancied having a boat with a ‘snotter’.

Part 2 . The canoe yawl.

This post naturally takes me into a discussion of one of my favourite boat types and those are the canoe-yawls which really were the starting point of small boat cruising and with the earliest canoe/sailing clubs such as the Humber yawl club.  Today, there aren’t many canoe-yawl’s of that type in existence and i don’t know of any local ones at all.  My boat is much more a modern version of a canoe yawl than say a sharpie which some people wrongly refer to the Liberty as being.  While i continue to work on the rig project, and the next thing is to draw out each option over a Liberty sail-plan i would also like to start a longer post about the history of the early canoe-yawls.  Recently i bought a copy of a book on the subject and am slowly collecting material.

Canoe yawl, unknown boat and photographer.

image (1)

As always i like to dive into my own past to see what’s stowed away in my own memory.  In this case i go back to the years when i was hanging around the Hamble in between big-boat work and voyages.  At one time i did start looking for a small cruising boat of my own and tended to kick around the back row of the several boatyards in the area.  One time i found a small wooden yawl of around 21 feet , double ended and shallow draft.  It turned out that the broker, who was in the yard, asked me if i would like to have a look at her and of course i jumped at the chance.  Sadly i don’t have any photographs of her today but she was one of the neatest small boats i have ever been aboard and i could easily imagine sailing her.  On that boat, although small, everything seemed to fit somehow.

I checked with the broker and for sure the boat was well outside my minimal budget of the time but i found that little canoe yawl….for canoe yawl she was, a huge inspiration. She was something akin to the boat above except that she also had a raised cabin and just enough room inside to sit comfortably.

Today, if i had the means to build a small boat from scratch it would most likely be a larger version of one of of Albert Strange’s designs or maybe a Bolger Chebacco as in the title photograph only larger.



    1. Thanks and nice of you to comment. I actually think it was one of my worst recent posts because i set out to do too much in one post. I recently got a copy of the book ‘The Canoe Yawl’ by local guy (Richard Powell) which was a bit disappointing also. A Chebacco 19 came up on ebay and sadly i didn’t get a chance to drive over to Lymington to photograph it. It went quickly….had i been in the market for a dayboat with a small cuddy i would have snapped it up.


      1. It was certainly dense but I enjoyed a warm refreshing and took my time — one for the connoisseur and regular reader who follows your posts and videos I think! Pity you missed the photo op. I have to agree that they are very attractive and practical vessels. Looking forward to seeing you out testing Wabi once you’ve got the job done.


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