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Gaff rig master classes

Advanced Gaff Rig MAster Class - plenty of Choice

As a charter skipper of a gaff rigged boat for15 years it just seems like the normal way to go sailing, but if you were looking for a masterclass in gaff rig then you have come to the right place. Eve of St Mawes is an ideal boat to learn about gaff rigged sailing on.  


7 Sails to trim.

All the sails you need to learn with, Main sail with three reefing points. Staysail, three jibs of sizes, working being the biggest, No 2 for winds of F6 to F8 and storm jib, also known as a spitfire jib, for F8 and above. Though to be honest sailing in F8 or more is a rarity and dependent on having flat waters and an experienced crew. Eve is fine in such conditions but the crew really do have to know what they are doing.

Then there is the Gaff topsail, up to F5 and the last sail being the jib topsail that you would struggle with in anything over a F4.

Over the years the cut and size of the sails has been adapted to improve Eve’s sailing performance and we can show you how the trim of the sails on different points of sailing affects her speed through the water.

Sail Plans

Sail selection is a big decision and there are ways to cope with differing wind forecasts. For instance if you know you are going out into strengthening winds you can set the gaff topsail over a reefed mainsail. This enables you to cope with the current wind strength but quickly reduce sail by dropping the gaff topsail as the wind increases.

A good rule of thumb for reefing is, if you have thought about reefing more than once you should be doing it NOW.

Heaving to

There are two distinctly different approaches to this.

First is heaving to with the main right out and the headsails backed. You will almost completely stop forward motion but there is a lot swaying of the gaff boom and the boat will yaw up and down to the wind.

Secondly you can pull the main in as close to the centre line as possible with the headsails aback. Things are a lot quieter but you will have more forward motion and it might not suit in strong winds.


The main has three reef points and the geometry of the rig requires different actions on the throat and peak halyards.

Scandalising the main

If you need to reduce power quickly just  lower the peak to depower the main sail. Not very elegant but it does the job. If you want to see how it’s done you can watch the Falmouth Working boats as they dreg for oysters under sail between 1st October and 31st of March every winter.

Team work – no winches

Eve’s sails are trimmed without winches and so team work is very important but easily learnt. The great thing is that all ropes are easy to see and follow what they are doing. Nothing is hidden in the mast or lead to multiple jammers in a cockpit.


Helming Eve is simple with an elegant tiller and different techniques to cope with the changes in the wind strength. It is easy to tell if you have weather or lea helm and so direct the trim of the sails to correct these issues.

Jaws – throats and peaks

There are quite a few specific gaff sailing terms and we will endeavour to help you learn them.

Modern to old

If you  are already a modern yacht sailor you will find our Gaff Sailing Master Class a great introduction to gaff sailing. Out with the new in with the old!

Other Ways to learn

Day Skipper on Eve or Golden Vanity

A great course for boat handling under sail, even if you have already gained a day skipper on a modern yacht.  Picking up a mooring under sail might involve scandalising a main sail, or dropping a flying jib quickly. Staysail only is good for picking up a mooring where wind is against a strong tide.

Grabbing wildly a a pick up bouy with a boat hook on a 14 or 18 ton pilot cutter that still has way not going to work.  You need to get it right - and stop the boat.

RYA  Day Skipper on a gaffer - course descriptions, dates and prices

Pure Wind Power Challenge Voyages with James

Another great 3 day voyage on Eve of St Mawes in Cornwall for playing with sails, oars, and using mooring warps for leverage. Try and survive the whole 3 days with reaching for that engine switch.  Put a jib up in stops for old style version of a roller furling jib and sail off the dock.  Bring Eve alongside with sculling oar and rudder, or perhaps sail and ferry gliding.

Pure Wind Power Voyages on Eve - dates & prices

Race a Pilot Cutter

For a concentrated baptism by fire into the wonderful world of gaff rigged sailing come to a Pilot Cutter Review or gaffer regatta as crew. As well as the training from Classic Sailing skippers you can see the tricks the other vessels employ when sailing their gaffers to full potential. You will mix with boat builders, professional crews and experienced owners on the other boats at our pilot cutter events so you can pick their brains about the finer points of racing. 

Pilot Cutter racing on a gaff cutter - dates & prices

Shakedown & Lay Up Voyage - Learn the Rig

Voyages at the start  of season are good opportunities to tweak sails and make sure the rigging is set up right.  Called the shakedown for obvious reasons. See if you can spot the deliberate mistakes....

Taking the boat apart and labelling all the standing and running rigging is a good way to learn the jargon

"Topping Lift Purchase Upper Block" or "Starboard whisker stay - from bowsprit cap" are typical examples....

Eve offers shakedown voyages and help with lay up voyages which involve sailing too


Thinkgaff schooner oosterschelde under full sailing of buying a gaffer ?

All our skippers have sailed a great range of boats, but we are more likely to be able to advise you on wooden boats, gaffers, long keel traditional boats, yawls, classic schooners or ketches than modern cruisers.

Gaff Ketch with Two Masts

Sail balance is very different on a ketch with 2 masts.  Bessie Ellen is a Gaff Ketch and so are the Brixham Trawlers Leader and Provident.

Bessie Ellen has a fixed bowsprit. The Trawlers can run their huge wooden pointy things right in....and do it nearly every week.  Impresses the tourists on the quay.

Bessie Ellen Voyages - dates & prices

Gaff Schooner with three masts

If you want to learn about safe handling of huge gaff sails try tall ship Oosterschelde. There is a definate order to which sails to set first and how to reduce sail without messing up sail balance.

Hoisting large gaff sails takes co-ordinated teamwork.  Get it wrong lowering them and you might be on a fast trip up the rigging by your ankle....

Oosterschelde Voyage Schedule - dates & prices

Pick your Sailing Holiday

E.g., 23/04/2018

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