Welcome to the NavList Message Boards.


A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding

Compose Your Message

Add Images & Files
    Sailing vessel types and rigs
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2001 Nov 27, 4:19 PM

    It's clear that several subscribers to this list take an interest in the
    sailing vessels of past eras. And there always seems to be much confusion
    about the names of the various types and rigs of sailing vessels.
    So when I came across a clear and succinct account of that complex topic,
    in answer to a query sent in to another mailing list (MARHST-L) it seemed
    worth reposting here for the benefit of NAV-L members. The author, Trevor
    Kenchington, has agreed to this, so here it is.
    Dr Kenchington also has an interest in astro-navigation, and I am pleased
    to note that he has just joined the NAV-L list. So if anyone wishes to
    comment or respond, they should do so to the list or to the author, but not
    to me.
    Here it is-
    Tom Brady asked:
    > So: what was a "sloop" in 1650, and how was it rigged?
    To answer that question, it is necessary to explore the processes by
    which the meanings of words evolve -- or at least the meanings of
    technical terms in semi-literate communities.
    The idea that vessel types should be defined by their rigs really only
    appeared (in English) in the second half of the 19th century. Before
    then, a lug-rigged boat (for example) might be termed a "lugger" because
    she had a lug rig but that was her rig, not her type (which might be
    locally known as a sixern, a coble, a punt or whatever). Working and
    fighting vessels, then as now, had type names based on their function
    and the hull form that went along with that function. Hence, there were
    "whalers", "colliers", "frigates" and so forth.
    Some rigs were so closely associated with particular function/form types
    that the name of the type became transferred to the rig. "Cutter rig" was
    one such that emerged in the 18th century. As late as the very end of
    working sail in Britain, the spritsail rig used on Thames barges was
    becoming known as "barge rig" (though the process was never quite
    finished before diesel too over). It was these terms for rigs that
    mutated into terms for rig-defined types, such that (after 1850) people
    began to term a vessel
    a "cutter" because it was cutter-rigged, even though it did not have the
    hull or function of a cutter. (I think, but cannot prove, that this
    change to rig-based definitions began with yachtsmen and never really
    penetrated the world of working sail.)
    The obvious exceptions to the above are "brig"/"brigantine" and
    "schooner". Without delving into the differences between brigs,
    brigantines and hermaphrodite brigs, all three terms clearly related to
    rigs from far back in time, yet they were used for the vessels carrying
    those rigs, just as we would use them as type designators (rather than
    rig descriptors) today. "Schooner" was likewise used for a type defined
    by its rig from at least 1750 onwards, though I suspect that it
    originally (i.e. circa 1720) meant a particular type of vessel,
    developed on Cape Ann, which had the two-masted fore-and-aft rig. The
    term was only later (if unusually swiftly) converted into one for any
    vessel having such a rig, regardless of its hull form or function.
    It is also important to understand that a fairly small number of
    type-terms has been employed for a very large number of boat and vessel
    types. Nor were the terms used at all economically, so that two very
    similar types might have quite different names, with each of those names
    being also used for several very different boat types. (For the proof of
    this, scan through either March's or McKee's books on British inshore craft.)
    As one result of this complex evolution of nautical terminology, the
    latter 19th century saw the old term "sloop" applied to both a British
    warship too small to be commanded by a Post Captain (without
    consideration of the rig) _and_ to various types of inshore craft in New
    England which carried single jibs and gaff mains. The latter seem to
    have passed the term onto any sailing vessel with the jib/mainsail rig
    while the former led to minesweeping and escort vessels of the 1930s
    (smaller than destroyers but bigger than the later corvettes) which were
    eventually eclipsed by frigates.
    Lest it be supposed that those two forms exhausted the 1850-to-1950
    usage of the term "sloop", there were others. The larger class of
    Brixham sailing trawlers, for example, were locally known in the early
    decades of the 20th century as "big sloops" even though they were dandy
    rigged (i.e. were modern yachtsman would call "gaff ketches") and had
    evolved from an earlier cutter-rigged type.
    That lengthy introduction is just a complicated way of stating that,
    before asking
    what a "sloop" was in 1650, one must first put aside all thought of what
    the term has meant in the last century or two. In particular, it is not
    worth asking either _what_ a "sloop" was, since the "sloop" types
    existed in the plural, nor how they were rigged, since there was no
    characteristic "sloop rig" for upwards of 200 years after 1650.
    As a word, "sloop" seems to be an Anglicization of the Dutch term
    "sloep" which itself shares a common origin with the English "shallop"
    -- "challupa" as the Spanish called them. Around 1650, all of those
    terms, and their equivalents in other languages, were applied to
    assorted rowing/sailing inshore fishing boats in various parts of
    western Europe. (The 16th-century Basque whaleboats were apparently
    called "challupas".) These boats would be lateen rigged if Iberian, lug
    rigged if English but perhaps sprit or even gaff rigged if from northern
    France or the Netherlands -- maybe with two masts if lug or sprit rigged.
    However, the term "sloop" seems already to have been applied (by the
    English) to larger vessels also. Specifically, they used it for some of
    the Dunkirk privateers -- rakish, undecked vessels somewhat between
    large boats and small warships, most likely with two- or three-masted
    square rigs but also with sufficient oars for movement in calm
    conditions. At a guess, such vessels had evolved from inshore boats
    (called "sloops", rather than "shallops", since they came from the
    Netherlands) and carried the Dutch version of the term into English usage.
    "Sloop" was also used in New England in the mid-17th century and again
    initially for Dutch vessels large enough to be used in the coasting
    trade. Whether those had the ship-like rigs of privateering sloops in
    European waters or the boat-like rigs of their fishing cousins is a
    matter for speculation alone.
    The colonies were operating vessels with single-masted gaff rigs in the
    later 17th century, as is confirmed by many illustrations. There is some
    evidence from written sources that at least some of those vessels were
    termed "sloops" before 1700, though it is likely that their owners still
    thought of them as sloops which happened to have single-masted rigs,
    rather than as sloops _because_ they had such rigs.
    To put all of that together, I guess that the short answer to Tom's
    question is that the term "sloop" had entered the English language by
    1650 (though it had not by 1600) but exactly what the vessels it was
    used for looked like is as clear as mud.
    Trevor Kenchington
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus@iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
                        Science Serving the Fisheries

    Browse Files

    Drop Files


    What is NavList?

    Join NavList

    (please, no nicknames or handles)
    Do you want to receive all group messages by email?
    Yes No

    You can also join by posting. Your first on-topic post automatically makes you a member.

    Posting Code

    Enter the email address associated with your NavList messages. Your posting code will be emailed to you immediately.

    Email Settings

    Posting Code:

    Custom Index

    Start date: (yyyymm dd)
    End date: (yyyymm dd)

    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site