The Evolution of Sail
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are very few sailing ships around nowadays and most of those
are used for training purposes or, as here in the United Kingdom,
for the enjoyment and pleasure of the disabled through the Jubilee
Sailing Trust. Our sailing ships of note are the Royalist,
the Lord Nelson, the Malcolm Miller and the
Sir Winston Churchill, all built in recent years. The
best known and only survivor of the days of sail is the Cutty
Sark now permanently berthed at Greenwich, London as a
Before James Watt boiled his
kettle to make a cup of tea and, with pure genius, decided that
steam could be harnessed to drive ships the size of the Titanic
and the first Queen Elizabeth, wind was the only method
of propulsion apart from oars which were of no use for long
voyages of discovery.
use of sail over the years developed in line with the growth
in size of the ships being built. In medieval time ships had
one single square sail. The next step was to add extra masts,
the foremast and the mizen mast. Fighting ships had a platform
fixed to the top of the mainmast and it wasn't long before this
was converted to carry a topmast - a small upper square sail.
This became the topmast and first appeared on the late 15th
century carracks. In the very early 16th century a topgallant
(t'gal'nt) mast and sail were added to the topmast and in 1637
a royal mast and sail were added to the topgallant as seen on
the Sovereign of the Seas. Around 1812 a further sail
was added, the skysail and a few East Indiamen and extreme clippers
would set yet another sail which was referred to as flying handkerchiefs,
skyscrapers, moonrakers, moonsails, stardusters or stargazers.
The extra skysails were ineffective as far as adding to the
speed of the ship but the studding sails (stuns'ls), which were
set on booms run out from the yards, made a vast improvement
when the wind was light and abaft of the beam. In the 1850's
as ships got bigger a labour costs increased the top sails were
split in two to become the upper and lower topsails and eventually
the topgallants followed the same trend. At the same time the
skysails disappeared and, when stronger steel yards and rigging
replaced rope, with studding sails were dispensed with. Finally,
in the year of Queen Victoria's jubilee, the upper-most royals
were removed and the rig became known as the stump-topgallant
rig, the bald-headed rig or even the jubilee rig.
the 19th century sailing vessels were classified according to
their use, trade, hull type or to local practice so that there
were many different types of ship; the flyboat, the frigate,
the sloop-of-war etc. etc. Classification by sail arrangement
occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries. A sailing vessel
can have its sails either schooner rigged where the sails are
set fore and aft along the vessel's centre line, square rigged
where the sails are set at right angles to the centre line of
the vessel or a combination of both. Examples of some of the
rigs are as follows:-
< The Ship has three or more masts which are all completely
The Barquehas three or more masts all fully
square rigged except for the stern-most one, which is fore and
aft rigged. Although appearing at the beginning of the 19th
century it only became popular after 1860.
The Barquentine has three to six masts all schooner rigged except
the foremast which is square rigged. The rig appeared in the
1840's as it is more economical to run than a barque. Many barquentines
were ships or barques cut down for economy.
The Brig has only a main and foremast both fully square rigged
and was a successful coastal and deep sea trader during the
18th and 19th centuries being capable of calling at smaller
ports with smaller loads.
The Hermaphrodite Brig, sometimes called the brigantine, had
the foremast square rigged and the mainmast schooner rigged.
A useful rig for vessels of 60 to 120 feet in length.
The Topsail Schooner is basically schooner rigged but with one
or more square rigged sails on the foremast.