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Sail Ship Rigging

The sail plans of sailing vessels were many and varied. Beside differences in original design, a ship might undergo a number of changes, depending upon the whims of her owner, captain, or builder, the trade she was used in, or local traditions. These changes were introduced to improve sailing qualities and to provide a rig that could be handled by a smaller crew. Sailing ship rigs can be divided into two broad categories: the "fore and aft rig", in which the sails lie along the same plane as the ship's fore and aft line; and the "square rig", in which the sails are rigged athwart (across) the ship. Each rig had certain advantages. Rig types come and go in fashion and none are better than the other. They all are great in some situations but poor in others.

The square rig was normally an offshore rig used by vessels making long ocean passages and taking advantage of the prevailing wind and current patterns of the globe. These ships varied in size from the small handy brigantines and brigs of a couple of hundred tons to the great full rigged ships and barques of over two thousand tons. The square rig was also seen in the coastal trade, where brigs plied their trade up and down the seaboard.

The fore and aft rig, required only a small crew, and was generally used in the coastal and fishing trades. Ships with this rig could point higher into the wind and were usually more maneuverable when working in the changing winds along the coast. The rig was not limited to coastal schooners, and big fore-and-afters could be seen plying across the Western Ocean bound for European ports, the West Indies, or South America.

The term "sloop" has various meanings depending on time and place. From the 16th to the 19th century the British and US Navy used the term "sloop" to encompass a broad class of ships serving as auxiliaries , which did not fit into any other class of minor warships. A "sloop-of-war" was the smallest warships, which carried 10 to 20 guns. By the mid-19th century, the class was further divided into two groups: a ship sloop with three masts and a brig sloop with two masts. Each were vessels square rigged on both masts. By the end of 19th century yachtsmen redefined their vessels based on rig. Sloop was defined as a single-masted vessel fore and aft rigged with both a mainsail and a headsail.

The simplest of all forms of rigging is the dipping lug, a quadrangular sail hanging from a yard, and always hoisted on the side of the mast opposite to that on which the wind is blowing (the lee side). When the boat is to be tacked so as to bring the wind on the other side, the sail is lowered and rehoisted. One rope can serve as balliard to hoist the sail and as a stay when it is made fast on the weather side on which the wind is blowing. The difference between such a craft and the fully rigged ship is that between a simple organism and a very complex one; but it is one of degree, not of kind. The steps in the scale are innumerable.

Every sea has its own type. Some in eastern waters are of extreme antiquity, and even in Europe vessels are still to be met with which differ very little if at all from the ships of the Norsemen of the 9th and 10th centuries. When the finer degrees of variation are neglected the types of rigging may be reduced to comparatively few, which can be classed by the shape of their sail and the number of their masts.

At the bottom of the scale is such a craft as the Norwegian herring boat. She has one quadrangular sail suspended from a yard which is hung (or slung) by the middle to a single mast which is placed of a fully clothed mast. A very similar craft called a Ilumber keel is used in the north of England. The lug sail is an advance on the course, since it is better adapted for sailing on the wind, with the wind on the side.

When the lug is not meant to be lowered and rehoisted on the lee side, as in the dipping lug, it is slung at a third from the end of the yard, and is called a standing lug. A good example of the lug is the Chinese junk. A lug is a lifting sail, and does not tend to press the vessel down as the fore and aft sail does. Therefore it was much used by fishing vessels in the North Sea.

The schooner has a fore and aft rig. The sails on the masts have a gaff above and a boom below. These spars have a prong called the jaws, which fit to the mast, and are held in place by a jaw rope on which are threaded beads called trucks. Sails of this shape are carried by fully rigged ships on the mizzen- mast, and can be spread on the fore and main.

The number of masts of a lugger may vary from one to five, and of a schooner from two to five or even seven. A small lug may be carried above tbe large one, and a gaff topsail added to the sails of a schooner. A small-masted fore-and-aft-rigged vessel may be a cutter or sloop.

The pure types may be combined, in topsail schooner, brigantines, barquentines and barques, when the topsail, a quadrangular sail hanging from and fastened to a yard, slung by the middle, is combined with fore and aft sails. The lateen rig has been combined with the square rig to make such a rigging as the xebeca three-masted vessel square rigged on the main, and lateen on the fore and mizzen. Triangular sails of the same type as the jibs can be set on the stays between the masts of a fully rigged ship, and are then known as staysails. But it can only be repeated that the variations are innumerable. Studdingsails are pieces added to increase the breadth (spread) of sails, and require the support of special yards, booms and tackle.

The development of the rigging of ships is an obscure subject. It was the work of centuries, and of practical men who wrote no treatises. It has never been universal. A comparison of the four - masted junk with the figures of ships on medieval seals shows at least much similarity. Yet by selecting a few leading types of successive periods it is possible to follow the growth of the fully rigged ship, at least in its main lines, in modern times.

The Santa Maria, the flagship of Columbus, had only the fixed bowsprit, with a yard and a sail hanging from it, the spritsail yard and spritsail. The foremast has one course, the mainmast - a course and topsail, - the mizzen a lateen sail. Sovereign of the Seas, a British warship of 1637, has only the fixed bowsprit, but a small upright mast has been erected at the end, which serves to spread a sprit topsail. In some cases at least a sprit topgallant sail was used. The mizzenmast still carried a lateen sail, but topsails had been added, and the whole rigging had multiplied and developed.

Between the Sovereign of the Seas and the fully developed ship, the most apparent differences are in the rigging of the bowsprit and the mizzenmast. The sprit topmast has disappeared, and is replaced by the jib-boom. The square spritsail, which could not be trained fore and aft, and was of feeble effect in keeping the ships head from turning to windward, has been replaced by the jib. The spritsail yard (which continued in use till after 1850) has disappeared and was replaced by the spritsail gaffs, two fixed spars which slope downwards and help to support the jib-guys, the lateral supports of the booms. For a time, and after the use of spritsails had been given up, the spritsail yard continued to be used to discharge the function later given to the gaffs.

The changes in the mizzen have an obscure history. About the middle of the 18th century it ceased to be a pure lateen. The yard was retained, but no sail was set on the forearm. Then the yard was given up and replaced by a gaff and a boom. The new sail was called the spanker. It was, however, comparatively narrow, and when a greater spread of sail was required, a studdingsail (at first called a driver ) was added. At a later date spanker and driver were used as synonymous terms, and the studding-sail was called a ringtail. The studding-sails are the representatives of a class of sail once more generally used.

Three Masts Two Masts Single Mast

Fully Rigged Ship
has at least three masts, all square-rigged. Each mast has three parts, the lower mast, top mast and top gallant mast (three yards in which to hang sails.) The bowsprit is the spar jutting from the front of this ship in which sails and is also used to support the mast with stays, or support lines. Staysails could be set between the masts. Outboard of the square sails might be set studdingsails, and above the royals (uppermost sails) might be set sails with such names as skysail, moonraker, Trust to God, or Angel Whispers.

has two masts always, both of which are square-rigged. The brig is a very old and efficient sailing rig, and the class was still in use up to the very end of commercial sailing ships.

had one mast with one yard with one square sail. By the 12th century cogs were the dominant trading vessels in northern Europe. By 1400 the cog had changed so much that became a new shiptype, the holk. During the 15th century the holk could have up to three masts. With larger ships the use of additional masts was beneficial, so the Brig and the Barque gradually replaced the Cog.

has a minimum of three masts two of which are square-rigged, except the aft (mizzen) which is fore and aft rigged. The difference between a Ship and a Barque is that the Barque had fore and aft sails on the mizzen mast. The barque was a popular rig, and more of this type were built than all other square rigs combined. Some ships in later life were converted to Barques as they were easier to operate .

similar to a brig, has two masts, however, the aft mast is fore and aft rigged.

has at least three masts, which are all fore and aft rigged, except the foremast which is fully-rigged, including a square forecourse.

Hermaphrodite Brig
is a two-masted vessel with her foremast fully square rigged and her mainmast fore-and-aft rigged. These vessels are usually called brigantines, but strictly speaking a true brigantine should have square topsails on her main topmast. The hermaphrodite brig can be said to belong to the family of schooners; in Scandinavian languages the hermaphrodite brig is often referred to as a `square sail schooner.'

Three Mast Topsail Schooner
Three masts, gaff- and square-rigged, with foresails.

Topsail Schooner
Two-masts, gaff- and square-rigged, with foresails. Distinguished by square sails on the foremast, but differs from the brigantine and barquentine by having a gaft sail aloft the foremast.

Three Mast Schooner
Three-masts, with foresails. Schooners rigged with three or more masts have spars and rigging of uniform dimensions and scantlings for all masts, except the main boom of the aftermast which is heavier and longer.

fore and aft rigged vessel which can have between two and six masts. Two mast schooner has Foremast and Mainmast, with the Mainmast being the taller. The big problem with a small schooner is that the the main is harder to securely brace than a cutter or ketch, and the fore will usually be in the way of a bunk. You put an engine in a schooner, and nothing points as high as the "iron jib."

One mast, fore-and-aft sails. A vessel having one mast and fore-and-aft rig, consisting of a boom-and-gaff mainsail, jibs, staysail, and gaff topsail. The typical sloop has a fixed bowsprit, topmast, and standing rigging, while those of a cutter are capable of being readily shifted. The sloop usually carries a centerboard, and depends for stability upon breadth of beam rather than depth of keel. The two types have rapidly approximated since 1880. One radical distinction is that a slop may carry a centerboard.

Staysail Schooner
Three-masts, with a staysail and foresails.

Fore and Aft Schooner
a rig that is fairly modern, being popular still for some trades in the Pacific where sailing ships are still employed in small numbers. The chief advantage of this rig was that it was very economical with man power.

A sloop with the mast nearer the middle of the boat, allowing room to fly an extra jib. A cutter rig is the cheapest to erect, the easiest to securely stay. When designed with a moderate aspect ratio, a self-tending boomed staysail, and a jib, a cutter is the handiest and probably most efficient in more different situations than the other rigs.

Lateen Xebec
A small three-masted vessel of the 16th to 19th centuries, with a distinctive hull, which added a pronounced overhanging bow and stern, and rarely large than 200 tons in burden. The three mast Xebec with its lateen sails was used for centuries in the Mediterranean as a merchant ship because of its speed and shallow draught. Corsairs, the pirates of the Mediterranean, decided on the Xebec as their vessel of choice for attacks on merchant ships.

has two masts, each carrying a gaff-headed or jib-sail. They differ from the two masted schooner in that the larger mast and sail stand foremost, whereas in the schooner the reverse is true. The Mizzenmast is stepped forward of the sternpost. The rig was going out of favor with navies by the middle of the eighteenth century.

is a rig composed of only a single mainsail either gaff, lug or bermuda mounted upon a single mast placed well forward.

Luggers were popular craft, as they were built to live in any weather and they all had a reputation of being fast.

a fore-and-aft rigged boat, with the main mast stepped forward and a small mizzen mast stepped in the stern aft or behind the rudder-head. The only way the yawl and ketch differ is in the placing of the mizzen-mast, aft of the rudder-head on a yawl and forward of the rudder-head on the ketch.

Lug rigged small craft usually had three masts.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:41:05 ZULU