I am certainly no gaff rig expert. Try John Leather’s book “Hand,
Reef and Steer” (not the book, same title by Richard Henderson). If
you are building the boat yourself, you can rig things however you
want. The hard part is figuring out what the best way is.
My experience with traditional gaffers is limited to one race on
“ZISKA”, Ashley Butler’s 100 yr old traditionally rigged English
fishing cutter and a daysail on a Galway hooker, not quite so old. I
think the BCC gaffers are scarce (one or two?) plus “RENEGADE”.
Ziska carries no engine, no topsail, a retractable bowsprit, no
whiskers, bobstay on a tackle, headstay on a sliding ring. Her gear
looks like it came off a clipper ship or a farm, I am not sure which.
The hooker was similar minus the retractable sprit. Luff tension?
No. While both suffered from very old sails, I think most of us used
to modern rigs would be gravely disappointed in their windward
performance, tacking thru 120 degrees. Admittedly, they both went
like hell on a reach. The racing gaffers of the 20’s were much higher
tech with better windward ability, but then they suffer the same “lots
of little pieces to break” problems of the marconi.
The lore of the BCC states the sprit is retractable to lower
in-port charges. It can come aft 6 feet, not all the way. To drive
out the fid however, you have to loosen the rigging. With a furler,
getting the headstay/bobstay loose enough is challenging due to
headstay sag. Plus the whiskers need to be loosened. On my boat, the
anchor holder/roller prevents the sprit from sliding aft, so it has to
come out forward. I need to disconnect all the rigging, take in the
furler lines, take the lifelines off the pulpit as well as the
jacklines… I have done it if I am going to put the boat away for
the winter, but I do not know anyone who does it routinely. Some
places however do not charge for the sprit, only the hull length.
Most folks who are cruising extensively tend to anchor out rather than
go to marinas anyway.
Engines- My boat was born with an 18 HP Volvo. Prior owner found
it underpowered and switched to a 27 Yanmar. If you are building, you
have the freedom to choose and the peril of choice as well. I saw a
BCC advertised with outboard power only. Some owners are satisfied
with the Saab 10 HP monster. My feeling is if you are going to put up
with the trouble of an engine, get a big one and use it wisely. No
one ever complains their engine is too powerful. Inboards do attract
attachments, bigger alternators, compressors, etc. all of which take
In my view, building a boat appeals most to the less experienced,
but requires vast experience to know exactly what you want. I have
built a boat only to find my needs change during the years-long
process. I too thought about buildng a BCC from a hull and deck. For
me, it came down to whether I wanted to build a boat or sail a boat.
There is a great chapter on building in Annie Hill’s book “Voyaging on
a Small Income”. It is titled “Fools Rush In”, and gives some sound
criteria of when it makes sense to build your own versus buying used.