Lateen rig sailing to windward

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    Can anyone tell me in round terms how the lateen sail compares with the square sail in efficiency when sailing to windward?


    A fascinating question. The difference might be difficult to quantify, and it depends on what type of fore-and-aft rig is being compared.
    The closest cousin would be the dipping lug. A peculiar facet of the lateen sail is the whippiness of the upper end of the antenna, and its ability to spill wind in a gust.
    I have never understood why sailors in the Med preferred the lateen sail, while those almost everywhere else went for lugsails, gaffsails and spritsails, etc.
    One of the best explanations of the working of lateen rig is found in a short article by François Beaudouin in Le Chasse Marée No. 6. It describes the handling of the absolutely simplest form of the rig, a single sail fitted in a dinghy, and hence very easy to understand. I have scanned this as a PDF file, and anyone interested in a copy can get in touch with me off-list. I believe that Paul Adamthwaite has translated this into English, but haven’t seen this.

    Frank Scott

    A question that does not have a simple answer, so I will split mine into several parts:
    1: square rig can be carefully designed to get much closer to the wind than the norm
    2: it is no good sailing ever closer to the wind if your hull design is such that your leeway increases to cancel out that gain.
    3: although the lateen can have a good windward performance, that is only so long as it stays on one tack. Even with small lateen craft changing tack is not as easy as with square rig, let alone as it is with gaffsails or lugsails.

    4: if caught aback the lateen can if anything be more awkward than a square sail.
    5: I am not sure of the largest size of craft fitted with lateen, but owing to the handling problems I suspect that the practical size limit was a significant issue.


    There is sailing (or was until very recently) a large lateen rig ocean-going feluca called San Guiseppe Due under the British flag. The only reference I can come up with so far is
    [an Italian-language site] where there are good pictures as well.
    In the past I have met the crew and listened to them extolling the sailing qualities. If they can be found some 20/21st century information will be available [from them].
    Try also this organisation:
    They organise races from Barcelona, Italy and Tunisia etc.


    I have sailed since 2000 as Master of the replica 16th century jacht Duyfken. The lateen mizzen is a poor sail when going to windward, lifting well before the square mainsail, foresail or topsails. So much so, that the sail is rarely carried except when topsails are not carried in stronger breezes, when it is needed for balance. The mizzen is a difficult sail to handle for its size as “dipping” it to the new tack is a handful on the narrow poop.
    All of this agrees with paintings of the era, which rarely show the sail carried. Duyfken is a very weatherly square rigger, pointing nearly as high as some gaff rigged vessels, the hemp standing rigging allowing the yards to be braced quite sharp. No other fore and aft sails apart from that lateen mizzen are carried.

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