Azores to Portugal: Day 6

A low pressure is passing by us and giving us some wonderful South winds. These are a welcome change as they mean we can make some East miles! 

We could use these South winds to run due North and make that distance needed, but why not try and get as far East as we can?

Our goal is not to hit a particular latitude, our goal is to hit Porto, Portugal. 

Traditionally, the winds in this area require you to sail North to around 47N, but that is not a hard and fast rule. The winds lately have been really weird, so the choice is to sail to an arbitrary point or try to sail to our destination.

For the sake of morale on board, we choose to sail towards Portugal and shave our distance to destination down a bit.

Is it a yawl?

The definition for a yawl is pretty clear cut:
A two masted sailboat where the aft mast is shorter than the forward mast and the aft mast is set aft of the rudder post. 

So what is this? 


This yacht is over a hundred years old and categorized as a yawl even though the mizzen is forward of the rudder post. Why?  

Well, first off, this yacht has a transom hung rudder, so the only way to get the mizzen aft of that is to set the mizzen on the end of the bumkin!  

The rules are pretty clear cut and yet at the same time, there are always exceptions. 

Yawl at Anchor

While I personally think that an anchored yawl is one of the most beautiful sights a mere mortal can see, second only to a sailing schooner, yawls with their little mizzen actually have a great advantage over their other sailing brethren. 


Some times, currents will push on your keel and position you broadside or even stern into the wind! This means that as you try and relax at anchor, you will be tossed around violently instead! 


Yawls have a built in method for countering this issue, their mizzen! Raising the mizzen while at anchor will act as a riding sail and hold the bow into the wind. If the current tries to push the yacht sideways or another angle to the wind, the mizzen will be pushed back by any present wind. This means that as you turn, the air on the mizzen will push you back and keep you comfortable. Since the mizzen offers no forward drive, you don’t have to worry about sailing up onto the anchor.

On a non-yawl, a sail set back there is called a “Riding Sail” and this sail requires gear and time to setup and raise the sail. A yawl has this setup built in with the trusty Mizzen! 

Mizzen Spinnaker

Mizzen headsails add a great amount of power to a yacht, but nothing beats the downwind performance of a spinnaker! Have you ever thought about adding a second spinnaker to your yacht? 


A mizzen spinnaker is a second spinnaker that is flown from the mizzen. This sail will generate a lot of power in te aft region on the yacht, which will actually create weather helm! It is very important to always fly this sail in conjunction with a spinnaker on the main mast to keep a very healthy amount of lee helm on the yacht and avoid any unexpected round ups. 

This setup allows a yacht to not only be pulled through the waves, but also to be pushed by the back of the boat along the seas! 


Full disclosure: I think a yawl is the second prettiest rig on a yacht (first is reserved for Schooners). 

Yawls are actually very old rigs, originally called Jol and were mainly used on fishing boats. This rig gained immense popularity in the 1960s thanks to a loophole in the racing rules at the time. This is the Yawl that we know today and the Yawl that we will be focusing on in this article.  


A yawl is a two masted sailboat where the aft mast is shorter than the forward mast. The second mast is also set aft of the rudder post. 

This definition is easy enough to comprehend but a little tricky to put into practice on a yacht in the distance since you can’t see the rudder or rudder post! 


While the rudder may be obscured by the seas, a yawl is still very distinguishable thanks to the fact that it has a normal sized rig and then a tiny little sail stuck on the back of the boat and hanging off the stern. 

The mizzen in a Yawl actually provides no forward drive, but instead simply balances the sailplan. The mizzen sail is trimmed not for power but for balance. Easing the mizzen will make it less effective and produce less weather helm. Over trimming the mizzen will make it more effective and produce more weather helm. The sail should honestly be thought of more as an air rudder than a sail.  

The Yawl was also favored for blue water cruising because reliable windsteering still wasn’t an easily purchasable commodity. Setting the mizzen on a particular wind angle would ensure that the boat would hold that course. If the boat veered from that course, the mizzen would then take the wind and push the stern back onto the correct course. This meant that a set wind angle could be held for long periods of time without any help from the crew or captain.  

In racing circles, the Yawl was favored because the sail area of the mizzen mast was not counted. The mizzen sail was not counted because it produced no forward drive, but a staysail or spinnaker could be set on the mizzen as well and that sail could produce a lot of power off the wind. All of this sail area was not counted in the race rating for that particular yacht, so this was literally ”Free Sailarea” for these yachts. 

As with any boat design that is race driven, as soon as the rules changed, so did everyone’s favor of these design characteristics. The yawl soon fell out of favor and quickly became a relic of the past, replaced by the next rule loophole.