Bermuda rig

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File:Sloop Example.jpg
Diagram of a Bermuda or Marconi rig, in this case a typical monohull sloop.

The term Bermuda rig refers to a configuration of mast and rigging for a type of sailboat and is also known as a Marconi rig; this is the typical configuration for most modern sailboats. Developed in Bermuda in the 17th century, the term Marconi was a much later reference to the inventor Guglielmo Marconi, whose wireless radio masts the Bermuda rigs were said to resemble.[1]


The rig consists of a triangular sail set aft of the mast with its head raised to the top of the mast; its luff runs down the mast and is normally attached to it for its entire length; its tack is attached at the base of the mast; its foot controlled by a boom; and its clew attached to the aft end of the boom, which is controlled by its sheet.

Originally developed for smaller Bermudian vessels, and ultimately adapted to the larger, ocean-going Bermuda sloop, the Bermuda sail is either set as a mainsail on the main mast, or as the course (the principal sail) on another mast. The Bermuda rigging has largely replaced the older gaff rigged fore-and-aft sails, except notably on schooners. The traditional design as developed in Bermuda featured very tall, raked masts, long bowsprits and booms, and vast areas of sail. This is still seen, today, in the Bermuda Fitted Dinghy, which is raced in Bermuda, but elsewhere the design has omitted the bowsprit, and otherwise become less extreme (Bermuda sloops, especially the single-masted ones, were demanding vessels that required large, experienced crews. This fact was the reason the Bermuda Sloop Foundation chose a three-masted, rather than a single-masted, design for its newly-built Spirit of Bermuda, which is intended as a training ship for inexperienced youths).

File:Royal Navy - Bermuda Sloop.jpeg
A three-masted Bermuda sloop of the Royal Navy, typical of the design of Bermudian ships by the 19th Century.

A Bermuda rigged sloop with exactly one jib is known as a Bermuda sloop, Marconi sloop or Marconi rig. Bermuda sloop can also refer to a more specific type of vessel, small sailing ships, traditional in Bermuda, which may, or may not, be Bermuda rigged.

The foot of a Bermuda sail may be attached to the boom along its length, or in some modern rigs the sail is attached to the boom only at its ends. This modern variation of a Bermuda mainsail is known as a loose-footed main. In some early Bermudian vessels, the mainsails were attached only to the mast and deck, lacking booms. This is the case on two of the three masts of the newly-built Spirit of Bermuda, a replica of an 1830s merchant schooner. Additional sails were also often mounted on traditional Bermudian craft, when running down wind, which included a spinnaker, with a spinnaker boom, and additional jibs. This can still be seen today in the vast sail areas that can be carried by the Bermuda Fitted Dinghy.

The main controls on a Bermuda sail are:

  • The halyard used to raise the head, and sometimes to tension the luff.
  • The outhaul used to tension the foot by hauling the clew towards the end of the boom.
  • The sheet used to haul the boom down and towards the center of the boat.
  • The vang or kicking strap which runs between a point partway along the boom and the base of the mast, and is used to haul the boom down when on a run.

History of the Bermuda rig

File:Bermuda rig - 17th Century woodcut.jpg
A 17th Century woodcut of a triangular-sailed Bermudian vessel.

The Bermuda rig developed from leg-of-mutton sails in Bermuda during the course of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The design was very useful on the gusty Bermudian waters for the boats that were the mainstay of transport around the archipelago into the 20th Century. The mean wind direction is from the West, and as the islands lie in a line near to the wind, the ability to sail upwind, to the West was vital. As Bermuda turned to a maritime economy, after the dissolution of the Somers Isles Company in 1684, the rig was adapted to larger, ocean-going ships, the famous Bermuda sloops.

The development of the rig is thought to have begun with fore-and-aft rigged boats built by a Dutch-born Bermudian in the 17th Century. The Dutch were influenced by Moorish lateen rigs introduced during Spain's rule of their country. The Dutch eventually modified the design by omitting the masts, with the yard arms of the lateens being stepped in thwarts. By this process, the yards became raked masts. Lateen sails mounted this way were known as leg-of-mutton sails in English. The Dutch called a vessel rigged in this manner a bezaan jacht. A bezaan jacht is visible in a painting of King Charles II arriving in Rotterdam in 1660. After sailing on such a vessel, Charles was so impressed that his eventual successor, The Prince of Orange presented him with a copy of his own, which Charles named Bezaan,[2] The rig had been introduced to Bermuda some decades before this. Captain John Smith reported that Captain Nathaniel Butler, who was the governor of Bermuda from 1619 to 1622, employed the Dutch boat builder, one of the crew of a Dutch frigate which had been wrecked on Bermuda, who quickly established a leading position among Bermuda's boat makers (to the resentment of many of his competitors, who were forced to emulate his designs). A poem published by John H. Hardie in 1671 described Bermuda's boats such: With tripple corner'd Sayls they always float, About the Islands, in the world there are, None in all points that may with them compare.

St. George's Harbour, Bermuda, ca. 1864. The two boats at left are Bermuda rigged, one with a bowsprit, one without.

Ships with somewhat similar rigs were in fact recorded in Holland during the 17th Century. By the 19th century, the design of Bermudian vessels had largely dispensed with square topsails and gaff rig, replacing them with triangular main sails and jibs. The lightweight Bermuda cedar vessels were widely prized for their agility and speed, especially upwind. The high, raked masts and long bowsprits and booms favoured in Bermuda allowed its vessels of all sizes to carry vast areas of sail when running down-wind with spinnakers and multiple jibs, allowing great speeds to be reached. Bermudian work boats, mostly small sloops, were ubiquitous on the archipelagos waters in the 19th century, moving freight, people, and everything else about. The rig was eventually adopted almost universally on small sailing craft in the 20th Century, although as seen on most modern vessels it is very much less extreme than on traditional Bermudian designs, with lower, vertical masts, shorter booms, omitted bowsprits, and much less area of canvas.


  • Sailing in Bermuda: Sail Racing in the Nineteenth Century, by J.C. Arnell, 1982. Published by the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club. Printed by the University of Toronto Press.


  1. "Marconi rig". Yachting and Boating World. 31 December 2003. Retrieved 24 May 2009. 
  2. "New Ship: The Sloop". MM Hell. Retrieved 24 May 2009. 

External links

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