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You are here: PortCities Southampton > Diversity of Ships > Ships in the age of sail > Coastal sailing ships > Single masted vessels

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Coastal sailing ships


Single masted vessels

Small, single-masted vessels had a variety of names, often more than one name being given to those of the same rig.  Both a smack and a sloop were rigged fore-and-aft.  There usually had four sails: a jib, a fore staysail, a fore-and-aft mainsail set from a gaff and, above the gaff, a fore and aft topsail.  If there was a square topsail rigged on a yard above the gaff supporting the main sail, the vessel could be described as a cutter.  A hoy had probably the simplest rig of all, just a fore staysail and a mainsail.

The term barge is applied to craft with flat bottoms, used in shallow water.  It is used for both a small sailing ship and a ship with no rig at all, the latter more accurately called a lighter.  A sailing barge could be rigged as a cutter or a hoy, but on the Thames the spritsail rig came to predominate.  A sprit is a long pole hinged near the base of the mast.  The main sail is attached to its outer end, so that the sprit replaced both boom and gaff.  The big advantage of the spritsail barge is that it could be sailed by a very small crew of just two men. This made it very economical, and ensured that the spritsail barge became one of the last types of sailing ship working in western European waters, trading right up to the 1960s.

 

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