What is an Old Gaffer?
For centuries, sailing boats have favoured a sail with a spar at the top. Just think of
a Viking long ship or even the "Cutty Sark". These are known as "square
|A more handy development is the "fore and aft" rig, where sails
run the length of the boat rather than across. These boats can sail closer to the wind
than a "square rigger". There are numerous examples of this rig with all sorts
of variations. The Thames barge is fore and aft rigged but its mainsail is a spritsail, as
is the sail of the little Optimist dinghy in which thousands of youngsters have learned to
sail. There is also the lugsail which was very popular with fishing vessels before being
supplanted by steam. Although a powerful rig, it is rarely seen in the Solent, with the
exception of the little Scows, which are to be seen nipping about locally.
times of King Charles I, yachts and many fishing boats favoured the gaff rig, where the
mainsail has a spar at the top (the gaff, hence gaffer), and at the bottom, (the boom).
In the 1920's a new rig (Bermudan) was developed, which has a triangular mainsail with
a boom at the bottom only. Yachtsmen were initially reluctant to adopt the
"new-fangled" rig despite its simplicity and improved windward performance, but
now most yachts and dinghies have this rig. Many Gaffers, however, have been preserved and
today they are being built in modern materials.
In 1959 three Gaffer skippers organised their own race in the Solent and did so each
year with increasing numbers of entrants, until 1963 when another race was started on the
east coast with equal success. The two groups combined to form the Old Gaffers Association which now boasts
over 1,400 members in the UK.