A yawl (from Dutch Jol) is a two-masted sailing craft similar to a sloop or cutter but with an additional mizzen mast well aft of the main mast, often right on the transom. A small mizzen sail is hoisted on the mizzen mast.
The yawl was originally developed as a rig for commercial fishing boats, one good example of this being the Salcombe Yawl (a traditional small fishing boat built in Devon). In its heyday, the rig was particularly popular with single-handed sailors, such as circumnavigators Harry Pidgeon and Francis Chichester. This was due to the ability of a yawl to be trimmed to sail without rudder input. Modern self-steering and navigation aids have made this less important, and the yawl has generally fallen out of favor.
In the 1950s and 60s yawls were developed for ocean racing to take advantage of the handicapping rule that did not penalize them for flying a mizzen staysail, which on long ocean races, often down wind, were a great advantage, the best example of this being Olin Stephens' Finisterre.
Yawl vs. Ketch
The yawl is often confused with the ketch, which also has two masts with the main mast foremost. The common view is that a ketch has the mizzen mast forward of the rudder post whereas the mizzen on a yawl is aft of the rudder post. This definition is a relatively recent definition and the historical definition is likely to be quite different.
In practice, on a ketch the principal purpose of the mizzen mast is to help propel the vessel, while on a yawl it is mainly used for the purposes of trim and balance. In consequence the mizzen sail of a yawl tends to be smaller, and the mainsail larger, when compared to a ketch of similar size. The mainsail of a yawl will be similar in size to that of a similarly sized and proportioned sloop.
Derivation of "yawl"
The above is an accepted modern definition, but it may not be correct within a historical context.
YAWL, n. A small ships boat, usually rowed by four or six oars. (Webster's dictionary 1828)
The seminal American Yacht Designer of the first half of last century, Francis Herreshoff, reflected this traditional definition of a Yawl was as "a ship's boat resembling the pinnace" set up to be primarily rowed.
To add a sailing rig to a rowboat the masts must not interfere with the rowers. The Mainmast is placed well forward and the mizzen as far back as possible. The mizzen has to be small in size to keep the sail area balanced around the hull's centre of lateral resistance to ensure the boat will sail in a straight line without excessive correction.
According to Herreshoff "yawl" had nothing to do with rudder placement relative to the mizzen - a yawl rig is the sail and mast configuration that suits a yawlboat.
Derivation of "ketch"
Ketch was a "catch" or fishing boat. (Ketch from Middle English cache, from cacchen, to catch; see catch. ) The mizzen is bigger to hold the bow (front) of a boat toward the wind and oncoming waves. The mainsail at the front of the boat would have been dropped and the mizzen trimmed tight on the centreline. Set up this way most boats will point directly into the wind in a reliable way. It is also possible to ease the mizzen slightly to allow the boat to move slowly forward.
In a fishing boat this attitude allows the nets to be handled without the boat becoming "broadsides" to the waves allowing them to break over the sides of the boat. Fishnets can then be handled without putting the boat at risk.
For enough sail area to propel a fishing boat the mizzen mast has to move forward toward the middle of the boat which allows its sail to be bigger without upsetting the sail balance or distribution.
A "Ketch Rig" is simply the rig that matches the function of a "Ketch" or "Catch" or fishing boat.
Rudder oriented definitions
The common definition of Yawl and Ketch using the rudderpost does not reflect the nautical tradition and was created by much more recent developments of a handicap system for racing yachts.
The CCA (Cruising Club of America) rating rule was developed following World War II to allow different styles of boats to race against each other with a handicap calculated from measurements of each boat. It was later combined with the RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club) rule to become the IOR (International Offshore Rule) rule in the late 50s which was used to handicap international racing until the late 1980s.
The CCA and the following rules used the rudder post definitions of ketch and yawl so they had a cut and dried definition for measuring sail so boats could be handicapped with boats fulfilling their new and arbitrary definition of Yawl and Ketch receiving slightly different handicaps.
Humber Yawl Club
The purpose of the boats and the group was for recreational cruises along the coast of England over several days, camping on beaches and riverbanks. Some of the boats were small enough to be taken to Europe by commercial steamer and then used for travelling the canal, lake and river systems of Europe.
"Canoe Yawls" had a pointed stern similar to a canoe. Rudders were usually placed on the back of the boat which allows the rudder to be raised to allow the boat to be landed on a beach.
Despite the mizzen sail being ahead of the rudder the boats were termed Yawls because of their size and their good rowing capability.
- Maloney, Elbert S. (2006) Chapman Piloting & Seamanship 65th Edition, page 30. Hearst Communications. ISBN 9781588162328.
- Rule F.1.2 of [|International Sailing Federation], ed., Equipment Rules of sailing (edition valid from 2009 to 2012 ed.), http://www.sailing.org/tools/documents/ERS%202009-2012_Final-%5B5953%5D.pdf, retrieved 2009-06-13
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- Brief History of the Humber Yawl Club
- A page on historical Canoe Yawls - many with ketch and some with sloop rigs
- Restoration of a Humber Yawl
- Luders Yawls