Gaff Rig and Bowsprit (and a sneak question about engines)

Hi there.

Like many on this list, I’m a BCC wannabee, and am considering building one from the hull and deck. This means I get to think about neat stuff like a different interior layout, engine size, a gaff rig and maybe a retractable bowsprit.

For those of you on the list who have a BCC gaffer (or for those that know!)… is the sail area comparable? Is the mast in a different location? How is the weather helm? I assume no boomkin since there’s no backstay? Is the topsail sparred?

With regard to the engine, would one smaller than the standard 27 hp Yanmar work? 20hp? 13? By work, I mean get a boat with simple systems (e.g. small alternator, no fridge) to hull speed in reasonable conditions. I know… define “reasonable”…

Finally (whew!)… Does anyone have a retractable bowsprit? Can you describe how it’s rigged? Does the geometry even allow it to retract given the location of the scuttle hatch, the bowsprit length and its clearance in the gammon iron? Marinas charge by length, and while the difference in cost compared to the boat without the sprit isn’t that high, slips for 37’ boats are in short supply in my neck of the woods.

Thanks in advance for your replies!



I saw your inquiry about gaff rig. I own Dilkara which is gaff rigged. I tried answereing in detail your questions, but I kept loosing the on-line connection. Give me a call if you are interested in discussing.

Larry Heitman 231 386 5135 (eastern time)

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.

John Churchill

I second what John said, though I must admit the “fools rush in” stung and
hit home.

For me it has become all about building the boat, which is just as well
because it would
be unwise for me to take my partner sailing if I want her to stay around and
if I go alone
no doubt she would go feral on me.

But this building has become a [life long] love affair. Frustration over not
knowing what I don’t know has led to putting the major projects on hold
while I gather
the knowledge to really do it right. No seriously, REALLY do it right. I’ve
enrolled in
the Macnaughton yacht design school and we are packing up lock stock and
boat to
move coast to coast into position to attend the Northwest School of Wooden

When she is done I’ll sail her a while then sell her and start another.
Perhaps one of
Lyle’s smaller wooden cutters.

Another side show project is an accurate BCC three dimensional interior
study using Rhino 3D.

John has some great comments. I just wanted to add an author Ashly Butler turned me onto. His name is Tom Cunliffe, not to be confusing but it is also by the same title: Hand, Reef, and Steer. He is highly regarded in gaff riggers in england and has several books out. Hand reef and steer is clearly written with some great pictures.

Good luck and have fun with the boat. If that means a gaff rig, then go for it.