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The History of Square Rigged Ships

By the 14th century, the construction of sailing ships really began to take off. As countries decided to expand their borders, they needed ships to carry people to distant lands and the ships they had at the time were inadequate. So they began building new types of ships.

  • The History of Sailing Ships: An interactive tour detailing how sailing ships evolved.
  • SailHistory: Discusses ships as well as rigging, sails, and anchors.

The Two Masted Ship

By the year 1200, most sailing ships had two masts. The main mast was always the tallest and the mast in front of it was known as the foremast. Two-masted ship always had full square rigging, and the masts were known as main-masts and mizzen-masts. Types of two-masted ships include schooners, brigs, and yowls.

  • Two Masted Ship: The Encyclopedia Britannica has a history of ship development and some information on two-masted ships.

The Carrack

In the 15th century, the Portuguese developed a ship known as the carrack. This ship had a high, rounded stern with specially placed decks: the aftcastle, or upper deck that was positioned behind the mizzenmast and a forecastle; the upper deck that was in front of the mainmast. These ships were considered the first ships truly capable of heavy sailing. They were large enough to be very stable even during terrible weather conditions and they could carry enough provisions to sustain a long voyage. The decks were perfect for placement of guns. They usually weighed around 1000 tons.

The Galleon

From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the galleon was king of the sea. On a galleon, the forecastle was lowered and the hull was elongated, which made the ship much more stable in the sea. It also made the galleon stronger and faster, because it weighed around 500 tons. Different parts of the ship were often made up of different woods: oak was used for the keel, pine for the masts, and other woods for the hull and decking. Larger galleons required four masts.

The Ship-of-the-Line

After the galleon came the ship-of-the-line. First constructed in the 17th century, they were built all the way through the 19th century. At first they were built to participate in a naval maneuver known as the line of battle, where ships would form a line, end to end, so they could fire from their sides without hitting any friendly ships. These were the largest and most powerful ships of their time. They were square-rigged, usually had three masts and were usually mounted with 50 up to 140 guns. The older ones were two-decker ships but later ships had three or even four decks that could carry many more guns. A typical fleet had 10 to 25 of these types of ships.

The Full-Rigged Ship

All of these types of ships are examples of full-rigged ships. These ships always had three or more masts, each of them square rigged with the sails carried on horizontal spars mounted on the masts. The masts on full-rigged ships, in order of how they were mounted are: the foremast (the second tallest); the mainmast (the tallest); the mizzenmast (third tallest); and if there was a fourth, the jiggermast, which was the smallest. These ships were always divided into upper and lower decks. In addition to being used as warships, full-rigged ships were often used to transport goods.

Eventually, metal warships were developed and square rigged ships died out. During their time on the seas, these ships were the masters, and many still survive today as a result of boat donations to museums as well as many instances of private boat donation.

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