Yawls

 
 

This site is about yawls, classics and plastics, big and small, old and new. It’s a celebration of a style that’s proven itself over the centuries to win races and cruise in comfort.


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 Joshua Slocum and Francis Chichester. This was largely due to the remarkable ability of a yawl to be trimmed to follow a compass course accurately despite minor wind shifts. 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 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.

We dropped the mainsail. With the sail nested securely in its lazy jacks, the boat rose to her sailing lines and, perfectly balanced, resumed making spritely progress upwind, riding the steepening seas like a gull. The boat was balanced because she was sailing with a jib and jigger...The ability to sail with just a headsail and a mizzen is one of several advantages of the yawl rig, which is seldom seen in new boats today.

- Sailing magazine

Today we tend to look at yawls as very traditional rigs. There are two very distinct advantages to yawls. The mizzen mast is a great place to locate the radar, and a fully battened mizzen sail can be left up at anchor as a riding sail, keeping the boat head to wind.

- Bob Perry in Sailing

The Magic of the Mizzen