Unfamiliar as most of us are with the rigs and names of various kinds of sailing vessels of the present day, most of us are even more ignorant of the names and rigs of vessels of the period of the American Revolution. Many vessels were known by names which are no longer in use. In other cases, the names have continued to the present day but the rig of the vessel of the same name 150 years ago was entirely different. In this article the writer presents sketches and descriptions of some of these old vessels as they appeared in The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship, published in London in 1794 by David Steel.*
In those days it was apparently the custom to call the tallest mast the mainmast. Thus some 2-masted vessels had a main and a mizzen while others had a fore and a main. This fact is somewhat confusing to readers of old books for sometimes it appears that the wrong mast is referred to.
While the following list of ships is by no means complete, it is presented with the hope that it will be of interest and of value in conjunction with a study of naval history of the latter part of the eighteenth century. The sketches and descriptions of the oriental and South Sea craft, as they were known in England at that time, are probably somewhat less exact than those of the European vessels. However, the sketches are quite similar to some of the vessels as they exist today and it is probable that these vessels have not changed considerably in rig in the last century and a half. The description of the full-rigged ship is omitted as all the readers of the Proceedings are fully familiar with that type.
Snow.—This was the largest 2-masted vessel and was an extremely convenient vessel to navigate.
The sails and rigging on the main and foremasts were similar to those on the same masts in a ship. The braces of the sails on the mainmast led forward. The fore and mainmasts each carried three square sails. Immediately abaft the mainmast was a small mast which carried a gaff-headed trysail, resembling the mizzen of a ship. This mast, called the trysail mast, was fixed in a wooden step on the deck and the head was fixed by an iron clamp to the after side of the maintop. This vessel was also rigged for jibs and a spritsail.
There were vessels in the British Navy which resembled snows but instead of having a trysail mast, they had a rope horse set up abaft the mainmast with deadeyes and a lanyard, to which the trysail was bent by hanks and seizings, similar to the trysail of a snow.
Brig.—This was a 2-masted vessel whose masts were rigged about the same as the fore and mainmasts of a ship. The braces of the sails on the mainmast led forward. The foremast carried three square sails. The mainmast carried a fore- and-aft boom mainsail, gaff-headed, a square topsail and a square topgallant sail. The brig carried a crossjack yard instead of a main yard. Staysails and jibs were also rigged. The after main shroud was served from the masthead to the deadeye to prevent chafing by the main boom and gaff. The after backstay was fitted with a tackle which could be slacked off when the mainsail gybed or was bowsed forward by the boom pendant and tackle.
Hermaphrodite.—This was a 2-masted vessel which could be rigged sometimes as a snow and sometimes as a brig. It had two mainsails, a fore-and-aft boom mainsail only being used when rigged as a brig, while both the boom mainsail and the square mainsail were used when rigged as a snow. Sometimes the boom mainsail was bent to the mainmast as on a brig and sometimes on a trysail mast, as on a snow.
Bilander.—This was a merchant ship with two masts differing from others in the shape of the mainsail which resembled a settee sail. The head of this sail was bent to a yard, the yard passing fore and aft under the main shrouds. This method proved inconvenient and by 1794 was seldom used except by the Dutch.
Ketch.—This vessel had a main and mizzenmast. The mainmast (forward mast) carried a square mainsail, topsail, and a topgallant sail, and sometimes abaft the mainmast was a large gaff sail called a “wing sail.” The mizzenmast sometimes had a topmast and carried a square topsail. Abaft the mizzenmast was rigged a gaff sail, like a ship’s mizzen. The bowsprit was long and two or three jibs were set on it.
Schooner.—This was a small vessel with two masts and a bowsprit. The masts had a rake aft but the bowsprit was nearly horizontal and on it were set two or three jibs. The foremast carried a square foresail and topsail and abaft it was a gaff or boom sail. The mainmast carried a fore- and-aft boom sail and above it a square topsail. The mainstay led through a block at the head of the foremast and was set up upon deck by a tackle. Thus the sail abaft the foremast was not obstructed, when the vessel came about, as the peak passed the stay.
Schooners sailed very close to the wind and required few hands to work them. Their rigging was light, similar to that of a ketch, and topmasts were fixed in iron rings abaft the lower mastheads.
Lugger.—This also was a small 2- masted vessel with an almost horizontal bowsprit upon which were set two or three jibs. There was a topmast fixed on each mast, on the after side, as was done also on schooners. Each lower and topmast carried a lugsail. The lugs hung obliquely to the masts, being suspended at one-third their length. Luggers sailed well when close-hauled and sailed very close to the wind. The rigging was very light and simple. The masts were supported by shrouds and stays. The yards had halyards, lifts, and braces. To the lee clew was a tack, which was occasionally shifted as the vessel went about. When this was often repeated the vessel lost ground in stays.
Some luggers had a very small mast with a “ringsail” set to it over the stern. The foot of the ringsail was spread by a small boom.
In heavy weather luggers had small lugsails, the tacks of which hauled down by the mast, as large sails would have endangered them should they have chanced to get up in the wind.
Sloops and smacks.—These were vessels with one mast and rigged as cutters but much lighter.
Hoys and lighters.—These vessels sometimes had a bowsprit in addition to the one mast. Abaft the mast was a gaff- mainsail and before it was a foresail and a jib upon the bowsprit if so rigged. The little rigging they had was similar to that of sloops.
Sailing barges.—Sailing barges had one mast and sometimes a bowsprit. Those that had boom sails were rigged similar to sloops, but having few hands on board the boom and gaff were more easily hoisted or topped, the pull being increased by the addition of blocks. Some sailing barges were rigged with a sprit-mainsail. Large barges had a foresail, jib, crossjack yard, and a topsail similar to sloops. Sloops, smacks, barges, and lighters which passed under low bridges were fitted with tackle for lowering the masts.
Ships’ long boats or launches.—These were often rigged like small sloops or schooners.
Ships’ pinnaces and rowing barges.—These sometimes had lateen sails rigged with a sliding gunter, like houarios, or bent to yards and hoisted with halyards. Spritsails were sometimes used.
Ships’ cutters or yawls.—These sometimes had lugsails rigged with halyard like the pinnace and a sheet and tack like the lugger.
Cat.—This was a vessel with three masts and a bowsprit used by the northern nations of Europe. It was rigged like an English ship having, however, only pole masts (no topmasts) and carried no topgallant sails. The mizzen was rigged with a gaff sail. These vessels were sometimes used in the English coal trade.
Bark.—This was a Mediterranean vessel with three masts and no bowsprit. The foremast had a severe rake forward and carried a lateen sail. The mainmast was a pole mast and carried four square sails like the polacre. The mizzenmast was small although it had a topmast and carried a mizzen and topsail. The gaff of the mizzen was really a lateen yard rigged fore and aft. Lines to the forward end of it trimmed the gaff. Small English ships having no mizzen-topsail were also called barks.
Pinks.—These were also Mediterranean vessels. They had three masts carrying lateen sails and had long narrow sterns. They differed from the xebec only in being more lofty and not as sharp in the bottom, as they were freight vessels. English vessels with narrow sterns were also called pinks.
Polacre.—These were Mediterranean merchant vessels. They had three pole masts without tops, caps or crosstrees, and had a bowsprit of one piece. Bolsters were fixed on the masts as stops for the stays, shrouds, etc. The mizzenmast sometimes had a topmast. Their rigging was light as the mizzentopmast or the upper halves of the pole masts were unstayed and had no shrouds. Rope ladders were fixed from the mastheads down to the upper part of the lower rigging. They carried the same sails as a ship and had square yards, all of which except the lower yards were without horses. The men stood on the lower yards to loose or furl the topsails and upon the topsail yards to loose or furl the topgallant sails, as the yards were easily lowered for that purpose.
Polacre-settee.—This was a vessel with three masts which was usually navigated in the Levant or Mediterranean. It was generally rigged with square sails on the main and mizzenmast, and a lateen sail upon the foremast like a xebec. Sometimes the sail on the mizzenmast was also a lateen sail, square sails being rigged only on the mainmast. In all cases the mainmast was rigged the same as the mainmast of the polacre.
Xebec.—This was a small vessel with three masts, navigated in the Mediterranean. The fore and mainmasts were called “block masts,” being short and formed square at the head to receive sheaves, to reeve the jeers, etc. The mizzenmast was fitted with a topmast and all, similar to that in a small English ship. This mast was added to the xebec toward the end of the eighteenth century in order to keep the vessel to the wind better.
The xebec had no bowsprit, but rather a sort of bumpkin, woolded or lashed, and confined to the prow in an almost horizontal position to which led the bowlines.
Vessels with lateen sails would sail about one point closer to the wind than never sailed as well that way as they did would a square-rigged vessel. Xebecs, especially in France, were at times rigged in a manner similar to polacress, but they never sailed as well that way as they did in primitive rig.
Bomb-ketches.—These were 2-masted vessels used principally by the French in the latter part of the eighteenth century. English bomb vessels had at one time been rigged as ketches but by this time (1794) they were ship-rigged. The masts in bomb-ketches were placed and rigged with sails the same as the main and mizzenmasts of a ship. Upon the bowsprit, and between that and the mainmast, were rigged staysails and a very large jib.
These vessels discharged their shells from forward. When the shell was to be thrown they had an iron chain (instead of a mainstay), preventer shrouds, doubled backstays, and the yards were secured against the shock received.
Hoivker.—This was a vessel of burden with two masts (main and mizzen) which was used by the Dutch and the northern nations. The mainmast was a single stick, on which were hoisted three square sails as in a ship or only a course and topsail. The mizzenmast had a topmast and a topsail. Abaft this mast was a sail similar to a ship’s driver. They had a long slender bowsprit on which were set a spritsail and two or three jibs. The Danes had vessels of war called “howkers,” which were a sort of sloop of war with three masts.
Dogger.—The dogger was a sturdy 2- masted vessel used by the Dutch and others for fishing in the German seas and on the Dogger Bank. On the mainmast were set two square sails. On the mizzenmast was a gaff sail and above that was a topsail. The dogger also had a bowsprit with a spritsail and two or three jibs.
Koff.—The koff was a Dutch vessel of burden with a fore and a mainmast. A large fore-and-aft spritsail was set abaft each mast. Thus rigged they sailed very close to the wind. When the wind was aft they carried flying topsails and a square sail on the foremast. On the bowsprit were two or three jibs. A lee- board was frequently installed to enable the koff to sail closer to the wind.
Galley.—The galley was a vessel navigated with sails and oars in the Mediterranean. It had two masts similar to the fore and main of the xebec but stepped more nearly vertical. Abaft the mastheads were tops of a sort more like a crow’s nest. The mainmast was supported by ten pairs of shrouds and the foremast by five pairs. The shrouds were set up with lanyards, reeved through long, flat, double blocks, one fixed in the end of the shroud and the other by a toggle to the timberhead in the side. The yards and sails were lateen as in the xebec.
When the wind was moderate, a mainsail with a much greater surface, called the “large mainsail,” was substituted. When the wind was fresh a small mainsail called the “foul-weather sail” was used. Similar changes were made in the sails on the foremast. When the wind was dead aft, one lateen sail was set with its peak on the starboard side and the lower end of its yardarm and the bowline on the port (or larboard as it was then called) side. At the same time the other sail was set in the reverse manner. This was called “setting the sails in the form of hare’s ears.” When the wind was aft and very fresh, a square sail, called the “crossjack” was set on the foremast. When rowing against the wind, the yards were lowered and stowed amidships.
Half and quarter galleys.—These were rigged and handled the same as galleys and took their names from being much shorter.
Bombay galleys.—These were like the other galleys but smaller and were mostly used by corsairs on the coast of Barbary.
Settee.—The settee was a vessel used in the Mediterranean, and rigged and navigated similar to xebecs or galleys but fitted with settee sails instead of lateen sails. A settee sail was a quadrilateral sail whereas the lateen sail was triangular. The head of the settee sail was bent to a lateen yard which hung obliquely to the mast at one-third the length of the yard, the greater length being the upper portion. The bunt or foremast leech was so short, being only the depth of one reef, that at first glance the settee sail appeared almost the same as the lateen sail.
Felucca.—This was a small vessel, also used in the Mediterranean, which was rigged and sailed similar to galleys. However, feluccas were coasting vessels and seldom went out of sight of land.
Houarios.—The houario was a small vessel with two masts and a bowsprit, sometimes used as a coasting vessel or pleasure boat in the inlets and rivers of the Mediterranean. Abaft the masts were set what were then called “lateen sails with sliding topmasts” but were also known as sliding gunter sails. The lower part of the sail was bent to hoops which encircled the lower or standing mast. The upper part of the sail was laced to the topmast which slid up and down the lower mast by grommets or iron rings fastened to the heel of the topmast. The sail was fastened at the lower part with a tack to the mast and with a small earing at the peak.
The sail was hoisted by a halyard, one end fastened to the heel of the topmast and the other end reeved through a sheave hole in the lower masthead and then led down the mast to the heel where it belayed. The sail was extended by a sheet, fastened to the clew, and led aft. To the heel of the topmast was sometimes fastened a downhaul rope which led down to the heel of the standing mast. These sails furled in a close manner to the lower mast by lowering the topmast and confining the sail in folds by a furling line. On the bowsprit was spread a jib.
Bugalet.—This was a small 2-masted vessel used on the coast of Brittany. The foremast was very short. Each mast carried a square sail, and sometimes there was also a main topsail. This craft had a bowsprit on which were set one or two jibs.
Galliot.—The galliot was a large Dutch vessel of burden with a single mast and a bowsprit. The mast was supported by four or five pairs of shrouds and a stay which set up to the stem. Above this stay was another stay which led to the foremost end of the bowsprit. Abaft the mast the galliot carried a large gaff or spritsail. From the masthead was slung a flying topsail. The main stay carried a staysail and one or two jibs were set on the bowsprit. Sometimes a small mast was stepped in the extreme stern of the vessel and abaft it was set a gaff or spritsail hauled out to a boom at the foot.
French shallop.—This was a large, decked sloop of burden used in Holland and Flanders having one mast and carrying a gaff mainsail. On the forward side of the mast, above the gaff, was a short spar projecting forward to which was bent a long narrow sail. The tack of this sail was made fast to the stem, and the sheet to the side near the shrouds. On the bowsprit were set two or three jibs. A small mast was often fixed in the stern that carried a mizzen sail, generally a spritsail.
Dutch hoy.—The Dutch hoy was a small vessel with one mast and a short bowsprit. The mainsail was a spritsail. A jib was set to the short bowsprit and a foresail to the stem. Sometimes the Dutch hoy also had a short mast aft carrying a small spritsail. A leeboard was also used to sail close to the wind.
Dutch sloop.—The Dutch sloop was a small vessel used upon the canals of Holland. It had one mast, on which was hoisted a spritsail and a foresail, set close to the mast. There were many fishing boats in Holland rigged the same way with the addition of a bowsprit and a jib and they were then called “pinks.” The sails were generally tanned.
Buss.—The buss was a Dutch fishing vessel with three short masts, each of a single stick. On each was carried a square sail and sometimes a topsail over the mainsail. In fine weather they added a sort of studding sail to the lower course and driver. Occasionally they added a jib upon a small bowsprit or spar.
To shoot their nets they lowered the main and foremasts, which folded on deck by large hinges and stowed aft in crutches.
Fishing bark.—The fishing bark was a small vessel used for fishing by the Spaniards and others. On the single mast was set one square sail. A jib was set on the bowsprit.
Tartan.—The tartan was a small vessel navigated along the Mediterranean coasts. It had one mast and a bowsprit. The mainsail was a large lateen sail similar to that on the xebec. A single, but large, jib was used.
When the wind was aft the lateen mainsail was replaced by a square sail hoisted like the crossjack.
Bean-cod.—This was a small fishing or pilot boat used by the Portuguese and was like the tartan in rig.
Junk.—Junks were large flat-bottomed boats, from 100 to 500 tons burden, used by the Chinese. They had three masts and a short bowsprit rigged on the starboard bow. The masts were supported by two or three shrouds which at times were all carried on the windward side. On the fore and mainmast was hoisted a sort of lug sail, made of cane or bamboo. These sails were confined by iron travelers which encircled the mast and were fixed to bamboos at a number of divisions on the sail. The sail was kept to the wind by two ropes fastened to wood stirrups fixed to the foot of the sail and led to the masthead. The lee part of the sail was hauled aft by a rope that branched into short leaders and made fast to each fold of the sail. On the mizzenmast was a gaff sail, made of coarse cotton, and a topsail of the same was carried on the mainmast. Also a jib and a spritsail were set on the bowsprit.
Pardo.—The pardo was a vessel used in the Chinese seas, both for trade and war. It was not as large as a junk but was similar except that its sails were slackly laced by one side to the masts instead of being suspended by a yard.
Champan.—The champan was a small flat-bottomed vessel used by the Chinese and Japanese. It had one mast rigged the same as the mainmast of a junk with a single sail made of cane. It seldom exceeded 80 tons burden. It was constructed without iron or nails and was unfit for rough weather. This was about the same as the sampan of the present day.
Japanese bark.—The Japanese bark was a vessel similar to the junk, 80-90 feet long on one deck. It had but one mast which carried a square sail. Forward were two or three jibs made of cotton. Sails were only used on this craft when there was a good wind.
Caracore.—This was a light vessel used by the natives of Borneo and the adjacent islands, and by the Dutch as a “guarda costa” in those latitudes. The caracore was high at each end and propelled chiefly with paddles. To use paddles some of the men sat in the vessel and others on outriggers on narrow platforms of reeds. There were outriggers on both sides of the craft. By placing three or four rows of men on the outriggers and some within the hull considerable speed could be obtained. The mast was a tripod of bamboo supported by shrouds. There was but one sail, a quadrilateral sail bent to a bamboo yard at the head and to a boom at the foot. The boom was hauled aft by a sheet, and the yard had a bowline to keep it to windward. Also, there was a brace or vang which led aft from the peak or leeward end of the yard. The sail was rolled up or furled by a crank on the forward end of the boom.
Barks of Cracaloa and the Straits of Sunda.—These were vessels with flush decks, a high sheer, and a sharp bow. They had one mast and the sail used was similar to that of the caracore, being long and narrow. These vessels were kept from upsetting by outriggers on both sides.
Flying prow or prao.—This was a sort of narrow canoe, about 2 feet broad and 36 feet long, used in the Ladrone Islands. The prao had an outrigger on one side only. The float under the end of the outrigger was made of a hollowed log and was sharpened on each end. The outrigger was always kept to windward. The hull was unique in that the leeward side was flat and the weather side (the side on which was the outrigger) was curved in the normal manner. A bamboo mast was stepped on the weather gunwale at the mid-length. The outrigger extended out about 11 feet from the hull. To prevent the craft from upsetting in a stiff breeze, the men could go out on the outrigger. The mast had a stay to each end of the boat and had four shrouds set up on the four corners of the outrigger framework.
The craft had a settee sail of matting. The yard and boom were of bamboo. The lower end of the yard was confined in a shoe forward. In going about, the boat was maneuvered so that the bow became the stern. The sail was reversed by raising the yard and walking the lower end along the gunwale to the other end of the boat where it was fixed in a shoe as before. The boom was shifted at the same time by slacking off on the sheet, topping up the boom and then hauling on another sheet to the other end of the boat. The prao was steered by paddles at each end.
The prao of the Mulgrave Islands.—This craft differed from the previous one chiefly in having curved yards as may be seen from the plate.
Periaguas.—These were double and single canoes used by the natives of a number of islands in the South Seas. Their sails and masts bear so much resemblance to the praos already described that a reference to the plate will bring out the differences better than a description.
Bombay barks or dingas.—These vessels were used at Bombay and near-by places. They were sometimes propelled with paddles. They had one mast stepped one-third the length of the hull from the stem, and the mast had a considerable forward rake. On the mast was hoisted a sail bent to a long yard, resembling a settee sail. The tack was made fast to the head of the stem and the sheet to the heel of the mast. These vessels never tacked but always wore. In doing so they peaked the yard against the mast to shift the sail. At the same time they passed the sheet before the mast. The rigging consisted of a pair of halyards, a bowline, and a brace. The hulls were built with the keel very much hollowed upwards, or hogged, in order to avoid wholly grounding on sand banks.
Balsas or catamarans.—The catamaran was a raft made of logs of balsa, an extremely light wood, lashed together and used by the Indians and Spaniards in South America. The largest of these rafts were made of 9 logs, 70 or 80 feet in length, were from 20 to 24 feet wide, and were of from 20 to 25 tons burden. There was always an odd number of logs used, one longer than the rest being placed in the middle, projecting aft. The catamarans had but one mast, in a form of shears, whose heels rested on each side of the raft. A large square sail was carried. When a fore staysail was set a pair of shears was rigged forward.
These rafts ran with foul winds and steered as well as any other kind of a vessel by means of an invention similar to and perhaps the original of the “sliding keel.” They had for this purpose planks about 10 feet long and 15-18 inches wide, which slid vertically in the spaces between the logs of the raft. It was only necessary to immerse them more or less, or to place a greater or lesser number at the head or stern of the raft to make it either luff to, keep from the wind, tack, wear, lie-to, or to perform any other maneuver. If one of the planks forward was drawn up, the raft would keep away, and if one was raised aft, it would come into the wind. There were from five to six of these planks and their use was so easy that once being under way it was necessary to work but one plank, drawing it up or lowering it one or two feet at a time.
* The writer is greatly indebted to the Charleston Library Society, Charleston, S. C., for permission to reproduce these sketches and for the use of many other old books in its library.