A yawl is a two-masted sailing craft whose mizzen, or aft-most mast, is shorter than the mainmast. The word yawl was first recorded in the 1600s and derives from the Dutch jol. Historically the term was also used for a ship's boat with oars.
Compared to the similar ketch, a yawl's mizzen mast is set further aft and its mizzen sail is smaller, being about one quarter the size of the mainsail. On a ketch the mizzen sail is about half the size of the mainsail. A boat with a mizzen sail sized between that of the ketch and the yawl was called a dandy, although this term has fallen out of use. An advantage of the yawl's aft-positioned mizzen mast is that its boom does not swing across the deck.
The yawl was originally developed for fishing boats, for example the Salcombe Yawl. While the classic looks of the rig is considered attractive, it is less efficient than a ketch, and is rarely seen on modern yachts.
Yawls were built for yacht racing in the 1950s and 1960s because of a handicapping loophole where boats were not penalized for having a mizzen sail. The design became popular with single-handed circumnavigators like Francis Chichester and Joshua Slocum because the sail-plan was advantageous in a tail wind and helped keep the boat on course, although the latter function is today better performed by modern autopilot systems.
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