Chebacco News 36

How to get the Best out of your Chebacco-20


Fraser Howell

Jamie Orr

Tim Smith

Bill Samson


These days, probably over 95% of 20 foot sailboats are rigged as Bermudan sloops, with a tall mast, supported by shrouds and spreaders, a triangular mainsail and a jib or genoa foresail, with, possibly, a spinnaker for downwind work.

In contrast, Phil Bolger’s Chebacco-20 is a cat-yawl, with a short, unstayed mast, a high-peaked gaff mainsail with a relatively long boom, and a jibheaded mizzen sail with sprit boom.

There are loads of experienced sloop sailors around, but very few experienced cat-yawl sailors to advise Chebacco owners how to get the best performance out of their boat under a variety of conditions.

The authors have pooled their experience of sailing their Chebacco-20s to produce this little document. We don’t necessarily agree on everything – Chebaccos tend to vary a little, depending on how they were built, how the sails are cut, and so on. Anyway, here goes!

First of all, a table of the rig arrangement that works best for various wind speeds:

Beaufort Number Wind speed (knots) Mainsail Mizzen
1, 2 and 3 1 – 10 no reefs set
4 11-16 One reef set
5 17-21 One reef furled
6 22-27 Two reefs furled
7 and up >28 Furled furled (use OB)


1. You may want to reef earlier (by one Beaufort number) if sailing single handed. The body weight of a crew can make a great difference to how the boat handles.

2. You might be surprised to read that the mizzen should be furled when the main is reefed. You might think that this would lead to lee helm, but in fact we have found that the tendency for the heeled hull to round up into the wind counteracts this and even gives some weather helm.

3. Leaving the mizzen set in strong winds makes the boat heel a lot, adds little to forward drive, and generally makes her harder to handle.

4. Under most circumstances it is perfectly OK to leave the mizzen furled, but you then lose the possibility of heaving to using the mizzen.

Heaving to

The mizzen sail helps you to heave to. All that needs to be done is to release the main sheet and centre up the mizzen so that the boat weathercocks. She won’t lie with her head directly into the wind, but will still lie pretty close, which is helpful if you want to drop the main to take in a reef. If you want to make sure she heaves to on starboard tack, shove the tiller to port – The boat wants to sail backwards when hove to, and this makes sure she settles down on the tack where you have ‘right of way’ – handy when reefing!


It’s much better to reef before setting out, than doing it on the water – especially single-handed. In other words, look at the weather forecast before setting out and reef according to the worst weather you’re likely to encounter on the trip. If you’re caught out, reefing is most easily done by heaving to, using the mizzen to hold the boat head to windward or, if you’ve got a crew, putting on the OB and heading to windward while one of you ties the reef in.

Furling the mizzen

The mizzen is very easy to furl and unfurl. Most people simply slacken off the snotter (the sprit tensioning line), line the sprit up along the leach of the sail (leaving it attached to the clew), then twirl the sprit so that the sail wraps itself around it. The end of the snotter can then be used to tie a half hitch or two around the mast and sail to keep it tidy. Unfurling is even easier; undo the half hitches holding the mizzen furled, and let it unwind (- the wind will help you). Be careful that the sprit doesn’t whack you on the head when eventually it comes out! The final step is to tension the snotter.

The Centerboard

The Chebacco-20 behaves just like a large dinghy. You’ll get the best out of her by lowering the centerboard for beating and reaching, and raising it for running before the wind. With the Chebacco being shallow hulled, though, a little bit of board left down, off the wind, can improve handling.

Partially raising the centreboard can help, too, when heavy weather helm develops.

Of course the Chebacco has a shallow salient keel, and is well mannered even when beating with the board up. She does make a lot of leeway in these circumstances, though.

Sailing Backwards!

If you live among crowded moorings, you might want to master the trick of sailing backwards from your mooring to get into clear water. This is achieved by letting the mainsail fly, and backing the mizzen. You can steer using the tiller – tiller to port to move the back-end of the boat to starboard, and vice versa. Once you’re in the clear, you can harden in the mainsheet and you’re sailing!

Sail trim

The Chebacco is capable of pointing pretty high, and should tack through 90 or 100 degrees in reasonable sailing conditions. It is fatal for performance, though, to strap the mainsail in tight. Remember that the boom is very long and that the main should lie at an angle rather like that of, say, a genoa on a conventional sloop. So the end of the boom should never come inboard of the corner of the transom or all you’ll get is a heeling effect with little forward drive.

The mizzen should be trimmed to give just a little weather helm. When the weather blows up you’ll find that the mizzen needs to be let out to such an extent that it’s flapping. That’s the time to furl it. Some of Phil Bolger’s designs have used fully battened mizzens, on the theory that they can be feathered without slatting. He has had varying reports on how effective this is. This would call for a halyard and other expenses and handling complications.

Using a jib?

It is possible to fit a jib to a Chebacco. Fraser Howell has added a short bowsprit and flies a 60 sq. ft jib which counteracts weather helm nicely, as well as giving extra drive. It is hard to manage the jib without a crew though.

Under Power

Maximum speed under power (4.5 hp) is 5.5 mph. Efficient speed under power is 4.5 mph, at which you’ll get approximately 9 mpg with a 4.5hp motor. The point being made is that a 5hp motor is perfectly adequate for reaching hull speed.

Short shaft motors are OK, but if you are sailing single handed and go forward to adjust things at the mast end, the prop will lift clear of the water. The same will happen in steep seas. If you’ve no worries about the OB grounding, then a long shaft motor may be preferable.


The above notes were prepared by a group of sailors with actual experience of sailing their Chebacco-20s in a variety of conditions. Anybody else with actual experience in a Chebacco is very welcome to add their two cents worth to this document.


Dear Richard,

First of all thank you very much for taking up Bill Samson’s newsletter and setting up such a wonderful new chebacco website. I found the new articles very interesting and looking forward to the next one.

Maybe a nice addition to the site would be some kind of Chebacco registry. It could have basic information (and maybe a picture) of the boat and contact info of the owner.

After a long gestation, KITTY HAWK our lapstrake chebacco, finally hit the water of the Venice lagoon.
She has been built as specifed in the plans except for the mast tabernacle (as designed in the “cruising version”) and a bridge deck (a-la-Story). Hull is painted black with cream deck, stained cabin sides and coamings, teak rub-, toe-rails and trims.

I am in the process of learning to sail her (playing around with halyards, outhauls, etc.) to get the most out of the sail). It seems to me that she could use a little more sail area-around here it is mostly light winds (or too  much wind) and  KITTY HAWK has a little trouble keeping up with the local fleet of flat bottomed traditional luggers. One of these boats of size comparable to a chebacco spreads about 300 sf of canvas! So far I have not been able to break the “5 knots wall” even in 15-20 knot winds”. She does have a bit too much weather helm in stronger breezes, so I think I’ll experiment with a jib (around 50-60 sf) on a bowsprit.

Nevertheless, I’m really impressed by the stability and maneuverability of the boat under sail. She is also great for camping, except for the gloop-gloop-gloop chortle on the laps that resonates in the cabin and takes some getting used to! She is a real beauty and is receiving a lot of attention from the other members of the sailing club where I keep her, which, aside from some handsome trad luggers is mainly populated by ugly duckling fiberglass boats. The tabernacle set up is essential for passing under bridges in and around Venice. It was made according to Bolger’s plans, but the whole thing is awkward to set in place single-handed and might have to be modified. On Sunday Kitty Hawk posed for a photo session under sail and will send you photos as soon as they’re developed.

keep in touch,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *