Sunbird Yachts & Sunbird Marine Services

Sunbird Yachts introduced in 1977 the first production boat specifically designed for the junk rig, the Sunbird 32, with sloop or schooner rig offered. There were only around 12 of these built, but there are still quite a few around, some of which belong to JRA members, and have competed in offshore races such as OSTAR and AZAB. Yachting Monthly (February, 1981) reviewed two smaller offerings from Sunbird Yachts - the 22 and 28. They were based upon the Caravela 22 and the Colvic Countess 28 hull and deck kits, and fitted out by Fareham Quay Boatbuilders. They do not appear to have sold well, although the review by Yachting Monthly was favourable.

Sunbird Marine Services no longer produce boats but are a leading provider of design and conversion services for existing boats whose owners wish to convert to junk rig. By 1984 they were able to list 46 different yachts of all types from 19 to 50 feet in length for which they had designed junk rigs. They also maintain a brokerage list of used junk-rigged boats for sale.

The Sunbird rig continues to be popular, and many of the Western junk rigged boats around today are still sporting rigs designed, and often built, by Sunbird Marine. This is in no small part due to Sunbird's willingness to offer advice and support before, after and even without a purchase. Many of the earlier examples have flat sails, and the more recent ones have hinged battens.

The Sunbird 80's rig

During the 1980s most of the junk rigs on the European side of the Atlantic were of the type being recommended by Blondie Hasler and Jock McLeod, and those supplied by Sunbird were modelled on that type. These used stiff, near-horizontal battens and had no other means of introducing camber. In the USA Tom Colvin and others were using a more 'fanned' sail in the South Chinese tradition, but they were also cut flat, as they considered was traditional in Chinese sails.

The Sunbird 90's rig

Designed by Alan Boswell to Sunbird Marine specifications, this rig appears to be a combination of the Reddish and Fenix rigs (Bunny Smith called it a "Fenix look-alike design"). It had a lower aspect ratio than the rig used by Sunbird in the 1980s, and the batten angle increased markedly from bottom to top, though not to the same degree as those of the Fenix rig. Hinged battens were also introduced to provide controlled camber. Intended for inshore and offshore yachts, it was varied in detail to suit all boat sizes from 9ft to 70ft.

The Modern Sunbird Rig:

It is noticeable in this rig that the increasing batten angle of the Fenix-influenced 90's Sunbird rig has disappeared, and the planform resembles rather that of the Hasler-McLeod sail, with panel size gradually reducing bottom to top. Some of the features of the 90's rig are retained, however - the non-parallel luff and leech with curvature to the leech, and a higher yard angle. 'Keep battens' are present, along with upper and lower luff-hauling parrels. While this design has evolved to incorporate many of the advances of the last 30 years, it now appears to be reverting to a planform more like that of Hasler-McLeod, with which it began, with more shape and with camber introduced using hinged battens.

Sunbird recommend jointed battens for smaller boats sailing in confined waters and requiring good windward performance. For larger boats, GRP battens have been superceded by cambered panel sails as the GRP tube is heavy and only produced a radius from luff to leach.

One of the most recent examples is carried by Gigi, a Swallow Bay Cruiser 20 bought by Sunbird Marine's Robin Blain to be junk-rigged. She has carbon fibre yard and mast, built by Needlespar. The mast is hinged at boom height for single-handed lowering. The boom is poltruded GRP tube and the hinged battens are 1 inch OD alloy. Robin says, "I wanted something light and easily towed. From the first time I saw Swallows I knew they would love a junk sail. Gigi has an exhilarating, dinghy-like performance, planes without ballast, is very fast off the wind, typically 5.2 knots with 3 crew, and tacks through 90 degrees."

Although perhaps not as technically advanced as some other junk rigs, this rig utilizes the latest materials and represents the culmination of Sunbird's research and development expertise over the last 40 years, rigging many different boats (including China Girl) as Western junks. It has proved itself in coastal waters to be robust, reliable, and popular with owners.

The diagram below shows the typical layout of Sunbird's running rigging - the lines to control the sail, led back to the cockpit for ease of sail handling.

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Sunbird Sail Controls

The boom hauling strap is used to pull the sail across the boat when on a run or broad reach. It is also referred to as a kicking strap, preventing boom lift and potential 'fan-ups' that can cause upper battens to break. For more detail on the structure of the Sunbird rig, see the link to Gerry's Boats, above, which contains a great many detailed photos of the construction and rigging of various components of the Sunbird rig.

Note: The diagram above is for the Sunbird rig with hinged battens, for which Sunbird recommend fixed parrel only on the unhinged lowermost batten/boom. For flat sails, all battens should have fixed parrels, and possibly only the lower luff hauling parrel may be present.