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This ship, the Keying, is an example of a Chinese commerce ship employing the junk rig.  It traveled from China to the United States and England for trading between 1846 and 1848.
This ship, the Keying, is an example of a Chinese commerce ship employing the junk rig. It traveled from China to the United States and England for trading between 1846 and 1848.

The junk rig, also known as the Chinese lugsail or sampan rig, is a type of sail rig in which rigid members, called battens, span the full width of the sail and extend the sail forward of the mast.[1][2]

While relatively uncommon in use among modern production sailboats, the rig's potential advantages of easier use and lower cost for blue-water cruisers have been explored by individuals such as trans-Atlantic racer Herbert "Blondie" Hasler and author Annie Hill.


The origin of the name junk rig is not directly recorded, but it is popularly attributed to the name of the traditional junk ship, where the rig was in use when first encountered by Europeans.[3] Though often thought of as applying to a Chinese ship, the chuan, the word "junk" itself was originally applied to a Javanese ship, the djong or jong.[4][5]:204 Paul Johnstone and George Hourani attribute the invention of this type of sail to the Austronesian peoples from Indonesia. They were originally made from woven mats reinforced with bamboo, dating back to at least several hundred years BCE. They were adopted by the Chinese after contact with Southeast Asian traders (K'un-lun po) by the time of the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE).[6]:12–13[7]:191–192 However, Chinese vessels during this era were essentially fluvial (riverine); China did not build true ocean-going fleets until the 10th century Song dynasty.[8][9] A UNESCO study argues that the Chinese were using square sails during the Han dynasty; only in the 12th century did the Chinese adopt the Austronesian junk sail.[8]

Comparison with Bermuda rig

Typical junk rig

The junk rig is a simple and effective rig. The rig contrasts starkly with the Bermuda rig which is prevalent on Western sail boats. In its most traditional form the junk rig is carried on an unstayed mast (i.e. a mast without shrouds or stays, supported only on the step at the keelson and the partners); however, standing rigging of some kind is not uncommon.

The cost to rig a boat with a junk rig would typically be a fraction of the cost of a Bermuda rig, due mostly to the lower number of parts and adaptability of the rig to cheaper materials (especially the sailcloth.)

The junk rig typically produces less drive than a similarly sized Bermuda rig at low angles of attack (e.g. when sailing upwind, close-hauled) and this is especially pronounced in light wind. Performance close-hauled is perhaps the strong point of the Bermuda rig — key to winning a race with an upwind leg or outmaneuvering an opponent in battle.

The junk rig typically produces more drive than a similarly sized Bermuda rig when running downwind without a spinnaker. A junk-rigged boat can let its sails out athwartships (and beyond). On a Bermuda-rigged boat the shrouds interfere with sails if the sail was let out until it was athwartship. The full battens of a junk sail prevent the sail from collapsing when running in light wind (dispensing with the need for a whisker pole.) On double-masted junk-rigged boats, the sails can be flown wing-and-wing (i.e. on opposite sides of the boat), even when on a broad reach, as can a Bermudan rig. The junk rig is well suited to downwind travel with its working sails.

The junk rig appeals to shorthanded sailing crews for many reasons, especially because the rig reefs very easily. To lessen sail ("reef") all that is required is to let out the halyard. In contrast, reefing sail on a Bermuda-rigged boat would typically require crew to move about the deck, which increases the chance of falling overboard, especially during a high-sea state which is typical of conditions which would encourage reefing.

It is typical to run the halyards (lines used to raise and lower the sail) and sheets (lines used to trim the sail) to the companionway on a junk-rigged boat. This means that typical sailhandling can be performed from the relative safety of the cockpit, or even while the crew is below deck.

Junk sails are typically carried on a mast which rakes (slants) forward a few degrees from vertical. The forward rake of the sail encourages the sail to swing out, which makes the use of a preventer unnecessary. Another way to say this is that the sail is stable when swung out and doesn't return to the middle of the ship when the wind drops.

Other benefits of the junk rig over the Bermuda rig include:

  • Less flogging of sails (quieter)
  • Less danger of an accidental jibe due to balance of the sail
  • Less danger from an accidental jibe with a lighter-weight boom (lowest batten), although in Bermudan cruising boats the boom is usually tied to the rail for long distance downwind sailing
  • More options when reefing - more "reef points"
  • The sail can be constructed by an amateur - the cut is entirely flat

Other shortcomings of the junk rig compared to the Bermuda rig include:

  • The shape of the sail depends on the flex of the battens, and the battens do the opposite of what would be most desirable: they bend only a little when the wind is light, and they bend a lot when the wind is strong. Consequently, the airfoil developed in light wind doesn't have enough camber to develop much lift at low wind speeds. Perhaps the chief shortcoming of the junk rig is that it typically produces poor drive to windward in light winds.
  • The sail may remain almost entirely flat in light winds and develop unacceptable drive to windward
  • The fully battened sail is much heavier than a sail made entirely of sailcloth with modern battens.
  • The stiff junk battens disturb laminar wind flow over the sail — especially important when sailing to windward, or a point free.
  • Junk sails are relatively low aspect ratio, resulting in a lower lift-to-drag ratio; consequently the ship can't tack as close to the wind.
  • A junk sail has more running rigging aloft, adding to weight, providing more wind resistance and disturbing wind flow.
  • A junk mast is normally of solid wood and very heavy for its short length.

Use with other ships

Filipino casco with a junk rig in the Manila Bay (c. 1906)
Filipino casco with a junk rig in the Manila Bay (c. 1906)

There are several ships in Island Southeast Asia that use junk rigs with local hulls instead of the Chinese junk hull. These include:

  • Casco - a flat-bottomed barge originally used by the Tagalog people along the Pasig River and the Manila Bay
  • Tongkang or "Tong'kang".[10] A light boat used commonly in the early 19th century to carry goods along rivers.
  • Twakow, a type of vessel with one mast and junk rig. They were a common sight in the Singapore river in the mid 19th century.[11]
  • Djong, the predecessor of chuan (the Chinese junk). The hull is pointed at fore and aft unlike the Chinese junk, and some are equipped with bowsprit and bowsprit sail.
  • Bedar, a type of ship from Malaya.
  • Pinas, a Malay ship. Formerly used western schooner rig configuration, but in the 20th century junk sails are used.[12]

Among the ships used on the coast of China:

Modern rigs

Modern junk rigs use the junk sail in configurations such as the catboat, ketch, yawl, schooner, or full-rigged ship.
Modern junk rigs use the junk sail in configurations such as the catboat, ketch, yawl, schooner, or full-rigged ship.
Colvin Gazelle: schooner junk rig with conventional jib sail
Colvin Gazelle: schooner junk rig with conventional jib sail


Each of the traditional sailing rigs can be achieved using the modern junk sail.

  • the catboat, characterized by its single mast and sail, is easiest to handle and is most likely seen on sailing dinghies and small boats, including the sampan.
  • the ketch, characterized by a two mast configuration with the largest main mast forward and the smaller mizzen mast aft. Both sails in the ketch are driving sails. For larger boats, this breaks down the sailing canvas into two smaller panels that are easier to handle compared to one huge sail.
  • the yawl, characterized by a two mast configuration with the largest mast forward, is distinguished from the ketch by the smaller size of the mizzen mast, typically aft of the rudderpost in traditional sailing craft, but is not a driving sail. The mizzen mast is used to assist steering the boat and balancing the helm.
  • the schooner, characterized by a two or three mast configuration, with the smallest mast forward and the main mast aft. The schooner rig is suitable for larger boats because it breaks down the sail into smaller canvas which is easier to handle. Some hybrid schooner rigs exist, for example the Colvin rig, which combine a fore-and-aft jib sail with junk-rigged main and fore sails. It is sometimes asserted that this improves the rig's ability to sail to windward.[14]
  • the ship rig, consisting of at least 3 masts, is suitable for the largest sailing craft. Modern junk rigged ships have multiple masts of equal size, where traditional Chinese sailing junks have 3 masts with a dominating main mast in the center.

Sail components

Components of the modern junk sail: including the spars, standing rigging, and sailcloth.
Components of the modern junk sail: including the spars, standing rigging, and sailcloth.

The junk sail is a low tech approach to sailing and requires only inexpensive components. Spars are typically of wood. Lines for running rigging are typically 3-strand cordage rather than dual core braid. The sailcloth materials are typically light canvas or tarpaulin, used Dacron from discarded sails, or even PVC sheeting.

The junk sail is composed of the following components:

  • the yard in context with the modern junk sail is the supporting spar along the head of the sail from the throat and peak. The yard is a stout spar relative to the battens because it supports the full weight of the sail when the halyard is hauled and the sail is raised. It also elevates the peak of the sail when trimmed.
  • several battens support the sail from luff to leech. A fully battened sail is quiet and steady during raising and reefing, making the junk sail a convenient cruising sail. The battens also make the junk sail rather flat, which detracts from the efficiency of sail drive in light and moderate winds, but is ideal in the trade winds.
  • the boom is the spar at the foot of the junk sail. It supports the sail directly at the tack and the clew, and holds the junk sail assembly down due to the tack line or downhaul. In modern rigs, the boom is controlled by the sheet and is responsible for the mailsail trim. However, in the junk rig, the boom is only partially in control of the trim of the sail, because the sheets are connected to both the boom and several of the battens.
  • the sailcloth panels in the junk rig do not need to be expensive low stretch materials as is required in modern sails. The junk sail makes a substantial driving force from a huge sail area, as opposed to the high efficiency curves built into small modern sails that depend upon Dacron, Mylar, or Kevlar to hold their shape.
  • the batten parrels are short lengths of line or strap that are responsible for holding the junk sail to the mast. They are quite long, allowing the fore and aft movement of the battens across the mast under the control of the running rigging.
  • the tack parrel and tack line secure the tack of the junk sail. The tack parrel will hold the tack into its horizontal position (parallel to the deck) as a snotter tensions a sprit. The tack line will hold the tack in its vertical position (down to the deck). The tack parrel and tack line can be rigged with either standing or running rigging. The latter, if chosen, will rarely be adjusted.

Sail assembly

The modern junk sail assembled: showing the 4 corners and the 4 sides necessary to understand sail trim.
The modern junk sail assembled: showing the 4 corners and the 4 sides necessary to understand sail trim.

The junk sail has essentially the same sides and corner names as the traditional gaff rigged 4-corner sail. Knowing the names of the sides and corners help understand the running rigging and sail trim of the modern junk sail.

The 4 corners of the junk sail are:

  • the peak or the top corner;
  • the throat down the gaff from the peak, close to the mast;
  • the tack at the base of the mast and boom, which is "tacked" on to the boat and does not move; and
  • the clew at the end of the boom, connected to the sheet.

The 4 sides of the junk sail are:

  • the head or top edge of the sail;
  • the luff or front of the sail, would be the first part of the sail to "luff" or shake when sailing too close to the wind;
  • the foot at the bottom, connected to the boom; and
  • the leach or trailing edge of the sail, where wind telltales might be found.

Running rigging

The running rigging for the modern junk sail can be divided between the "pull ups" (halyard and topping lift) and the "pull downs" (yard hauling parrel, luff hauling parrel, and sheets).  Not shown are optional downhauls for the yard, battens, and boom.
The running rigging for the modern junk sail can be divided between the "pull ups" (halyard and topping lift) and the "pull downs" (yard hauling parrel, luff hauling parrel, and sheets). Not shown are optional downhauls for the yard, battens, and boom.

The running rigging for the modern junk rig can be divided into two groups—the "pull ups" and the "pull downs." This is important because the action of hauling one line in a group will be resisted by the opposite group. For example, when raising the sail via the halyard, the pull-downs must be uncleated and free to run.

The running rigging which pulls up the junk sail are:

  • the halyard, whose purpose is to raise the junk sail up the mast. It is connected to the middle of the yard, runs up to a block on the mast, and down to the deck. Because it hoists the full weight of the junk sail assembly, the halyard is often rove in a multipart purchase (3:1 or 4:1) via block and tackle.
  • the topping lift, whose purpose is to hold the boom and junk sail up off the deck when the sail is not raised. The topping lift also serves to tame the junk sail during reefing and dropping because the spars and sailcloth will all drop into the cradle of the topping lift.

The running rigging which pulls down on the junk sail are:

  • the yard hauling parrel, whose function is to hold the junk sail yard close to the mast. It runs from the yard around the mast, and then down to the deck. The yard hauling parrel will control the lateral movement of the higher battens along the mast.
  • the luff hauling parrel, whose function is to tame the wrinkles in the junk sail cloth as a result of the middle battens creeping forward when the sail is trimmed. It is rigged from the luff of the sail at the batten to the mast in shoestring fashion such that when it is hauled, it will pull the middle battens aft;
  • the yard downhaul, whose optional function is to assist lowering the junk sail when it will not fall of its own weight.
  • the batten downhaul, whose function is to assist lowering the junk sail in addition to the yard downhaul.
  • and, the tack line, whose purpose is to secure the tack of the junk sail assembly in the vertical direction. It typically runs from the boom down to the deck or a block on the deck.

The running rigging that sets or trims the junk sail (controls the angle of attack relative to the direction of the wind) is the sheet. On a traditional Chinese junk rig, the sail is controlled by sheetlets—small sheet lines running from the battens to blocks that in turn are on lines running through a euphroe, a long piece of wood with holes in it. This helps maintain uniform tension in each panel of the sail. Western ship designers Tom Colvin, Michael Kasten and Herbert "Blondie" Hasler use the same technique, but others (such as Derek Van Loan and Phil Bolger) use a simplified design without euphroes.[15][16]

Sail handling for the modern junk rig

Sail handling on the junk rig is ideal for cruising sailors, particularly when sailing short- or single-handed.

There is no need to point "head to wind" when raising sail. When the sheets are sufficiently eased, the junk sail will rotate around the mast to any point of the wind. While sailing dead down wind is inconvenient for making sail, it is still possible to raise the junk sail with the sail luffing.

Raising the junk sail is done by easing the sheets until the furled sail is blown down wind. This will take the pressure off the sail and ease the raising. Then it is important to watch the lines that will run in while the sail is raised, including the gaff hauling parrel, luff hauling parrel, the downhauls if equipped, and the sheets. Hauling the sail with a 3:1 or 4:1 purchase will ease the burden, but the length of halyard will consequently be very long. The fully battened sail will remain calm in the lee of the mast during the hauling. Due to the weight of a huge canvas sail and its many spars, some junk sailors find a winch is needed for the last few feet. There is probably already a standing tack line in place, so the halyard is hauled until the tack line is taut, although there is no need to tighten up the leech severely to avoid scallops as in trimming the triangular sails. After hauling and securing the halyard, the fore and aft position of the leech is set by hauling the yard hauling parrel until the halyard is close to the mast. A short pull on the luff hauling parrel may be needed to extend the middle battens toward the leech to control wrinkles in the sail. The last act is to haul the sheets and set the sail to the wind.

Reefing a junk rigged sail is very easy. When sailing close to the wind, all that is needed is to ease the halyard. As the sail lowers by its own weight, the other running lines will also relax. The sail is lowered until the desired batten is along the boom. Then the gaff hauling parrel and luff hauling parrel are trimmed, and the sheet is hauled to reset the sail to the wind. When reefing on other points of sail, it is helpful to ease the sheet first to take the pressure off the sail, and then ease the halyard and trim the other running lines. When sailing dead down wind, it may be helpful to use a downhaul to reef larger sails.

Emergency furling is fast and simple. When the sheets and halyard are let go, the sail will blow down wind, drop into the cradle of the topping lifts, while being steadied by the full battens. While this is fast and easy, it will also make a mess of the halyards, boom hauling parrel, yard hauling parrel, and downhauls. They will have to be put in order before raising the sail again. For non-emergency furling, it is preferable to drop the sail with two crew so that the slackening lines can be hauled in and maintained in order. Alternatively, a single-handed sailor can lower the sail in stages and attend to the slack lines.

Points of sail

The points of sail: A. In Irons (head to wind); B. Close Hauled (against the wind); C. Reaching (across the wind); D. Broad reaching (downwind); E. Running (downwind).
The points of sail: A. In Irons (head to wind); B. Close Hauled (against the wind); C. Reaching (across the wind); D. Broad reaching (downwind); E. Running (downwind).

The junk rig brings unique characteristics to each point of sail.

When close hauled, the junk sail rig comes under harsh criticism. In a racer/cruiser world that favors speed and sport, the criticism is quite valid. The junk sail is very inefficient when sailing up wind. The rig cannot "point" as close to the wind, and the craft loses ground by sailing a longer path. In addition, the sails do not generate as much power per square foot of sail area because of the flatness of the sail induced by full battens.[17] In a practical junk rig, this is overcome by having larger sails. However, in a handicap racing situation, this criticism hits an extreme because the handicap is based on sail area: the handicap rating will punish the junk rigged boat severely. On a race course, the buoys are set to assure that the boats will battle directly upwind for half of the race. Thus the junk rigged boat must sail a longer race course to the up wind buoy, at a slower speed, and then is punished by its handicap rating.

In a cruising environment however, sailing up wind is judged differently. Slowing down when beating to windward is sensible cruising. The junk rig is also self tacking. None of the running lines need to be touched to tack the boat through the eye of the wind: one simply puts the helm down, and the sails will swing over close hauled on the new tack.

On the reach, the criticism of the inefficiency of the flat sail shape of the junk sail seems to apply again, but only in very light winds. This can be overcome with cruising spinnaker and gennaker on the junk rig. However, in moderate winds, both the larger inefficient junk sails and the small efficient modern sails will generate sufficient power to drive the hull near its hull speed. In high winds, the flatness of the junk sails is a benefit, where the modern rigged boat will require reefs. In a heavy blow, the ease of reefing will give the junk rig a clear advantage.

When running, the junk sail rig shows its advantage. When cruising, many sailors seek the trade winds and maximize their downwind routes. The huge sail area cross section of the junk rigged sail spreads a powerful wall of canvas far greater than a modern rigged boat, which will require a spinnaker to catch up. The junk rigged boat sails more easily downwind because it is self-jibing (just as self-tacking): just put the helm over to windward, and around she goes without touching anything. The center of effort on the junk sail can be adjusted by sliding the sail forward, exchanging sail area from behind the mast to before the mast: this improves the downwind balance of the sail and tames the jibe. Directly down wind, the junk rigged boat can sail "goose winged" (also known as "wing and wing," or even "wing and wong" by cruising sailors such as Annie Hill) with great ease and success. In this cruising environment, the junk rigged yacht is fast, easy to use, and inexpensive to set up and maintain.[18]

Heaving to in the junk rigged yacht is simple. Simply luff the boat into the wind with the sails close hauled and then put the helm down when the forward speed is spent. The battens will tame the luffing sails. Heaving to in severe weather is done by dropping the forward junk sails into their cradle and reefing the aft junk rigged sails—both tasks that are simplified by the junk rig. Heaving to in light winds can be difficult due to the lack of sail drive up wind.

Notable sailors

Annie Hill sailed a junk-rigged dory and wrote of its virtues in her book Voyaging on a Small Income. Her ship Badger was designed by Jay Benford.[19]

Bill King sailed the junk schooner (i.e. junk-rigged boat with two masts) Galway Blazer II in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race.

Joshua Slocum and his family built and sailed a junk-rigged boat Liberdade from Brazil to Washington, DC after the wreck of his barque Aquidneck. Slocum had high praise for the practicality of the junk rig: "Her rig was the Chinese sampan style, which is, I consider, the most convenient boat rig in the whole world."[20]

Herbert "Blondie" Hasler sailed a junk-rigged modified Nordic Folkboat to second place in the first trans-Atlantic race and was the author of Practical Junk Rig (ISBN 1-888671-38-6).

Kenichi Horie sailed across the Pacific Ocean in 1999 aboard a 32.8-foot (10.0 m) long, 17.4-foot (5.3 m) wide, catamaran constructed from 528 beer kegs. The rigging consisted of two side-by-side masts with junk rig sails made from recycled plastic bottles.

Roger Taylor has completed a number of high-latitude voyages in small junk-rigged yachts named Mingming and Mingming II.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Hasler & MacLeod, Practical Junk Rig, Tiller Publishing. [VM531.H37]
  2. ^ van Loan, Derek; Haggerty, Dan (2006), The Chinese Sailing Rig, Paradise Cay Publications, ISBN 9780939837700.
  3. ^ Why Junk?, Net, archived from the original on 2006-08-13.
  4. ^ Weekley, Ernest (1967). An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, Volume 1. Courier Corporation. pp. 794–795. ISBN 9780486218731.
  5. ^ Manguin, Pierre-Yves. (1993). 'The Vanishing Jong: Insular Southeast Asian Fleets in Trade and War (Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries)', in Anthony Reid (ed.), Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), 197-213.
  6. ^ Shaffer, Lynda Norene (1996). Maritime Southeast Asia to 1500. M.E. Sharpe.
  7. ^ Johnstone, Paul (1980). The Seacraft of Prehistory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674795952.
  8. ^ a b L. Pham, Charlotte Minh-Hà (2012). Asian Shipbuilding Technology. Bangkok: UNESCO Bangkok Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-92-9223-413-3.
  9. ^ Maguin, Pierre-Yves (September 1980). "The Southeast Asian Ship: An Historical Approach". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 11 (2): 266–276. doi:10.1017/S002246340000446X. JSTOR 20070359.
  10. ^ "Tongkang" – via The Free Dictionary.
  11. ^ "Association Of Singapore Marine Industries - Anchored in Singapore History : Made in Singapore".
  12. ^ Gibson-Hill, C. A. (August 1952). "Tongkang and Lighter Matters". Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 25: 84–110 – via JSTOR.
  13. ^ Shunshin Chin & Joshua A. Fogel, The Taiping Rebellion
  14. ^ Thomas Colvin naval architect
  15. ^ "Junk Sails: A Tutorial".
  16. ^ Kasten, Michael. "Consider The Junk Rig".
  17. ^ Dix, President Dudley (2013-09-23). Shaped by Wind & Wave: Musings of a Boat Designer. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 9781105651120.
  18. ^ *Voyaging On a Small Income ISBN 1-85310-425-6
  19. ^ "Benford Design Group".
  20. ^ Slocum, Joshua, The Voyage of the Liberdade, Press of Robinson & Stephenson, 1890. Reprinted by Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1894 and thereafter. Also available online
  21. ^ Taylor, Roger. "The Simple Sailor". Retrieved 6 January 2016.

Further reading

External links

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