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Cutter designation improperly used

Jan 13, 2010

To the editor: It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between the evolution of language and the deterioration of language. The use of the term cutter nowadays is, in my judgment, a good example of deterioration.

The definition of cutter, although having a multiplicity of historical roots, has long been understood to reflect mast placement fore and aft. Having two headsails is not the reason a boat is referred to as a cutter. It is mast placement. Most of the vessels described as “cutter rigged� or “cutters� in boating literature would be more accurately described as double-headsail sloops. This should not be dismissed as semantic splitting of hairs as cutters and sloops are quite different vessels in design and in sail handling. It is the cascading effects of the design choice of mast placement; fore triangle size, keel placement, headsail design, sail handling, heaving-to characteristics etc., which make maintaining an understanding of the term cutter important.

Even using the term “cutter rigged� to mean vessels with two headsails muddies the waters as the more accurate “double-headsail rigged� is readily available.

My observation is that there are actually very few cutters sailing nowadays relative to the numbers of sloops. I know of no production boat built anywhere in the world that is a cutter. On a semi-custom basis, Valiant’s are the only boats I am aware of that are built and designed as cutters. Every double-headsail vessel I know, aside from Valiants, are sloops. Designing in or retrofitting a staysail doesn’t change the mast position. It is mast placement that is the defining characteristic of a cutter.

â€"Dick Stevenson lives and sails aboard the Valiant 42 Alchemy with his wife Ginger. They are currently in Samos, Greece.