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Ships and Barques

Barques and barquentines

The barque rig was similar to the ship rig on the fore and main masts.  On the mizzen, however, was just one large fore-and-aft sail, again usually called a spanker.  Why this relatively small difference?  Setting and furling square sails needed sailors to climb the masts and work out on the yardarms.  The relatively small crew on a merchant ship (compared with a warship) needed to move from yardarm to yardarm and from mast to mast, which took a long time.  The number of men needed could be reduced by replacing the square sails on the mizzen with one large fore-and-aft sail which could be raised or furled from the deck.

This process of replacing square sails with fore-and-aft sails was taken one stage further in the barquentine.  This had square sails only on the fore mast, both main and mizzen having a large fore-and-aft sail. 

Economising on crew

The reason for the change from ship- to barque- or barquentine-rig was to reduce the size of crew needed.  With fore-and-aft sails, less work needed to be done aloft, and so a smaller crew could be employed.  Another way of reducing the size of the crew needed was to replace a small number of large sails with more smaller ones.  Although that meant it took longer to adjust the sails, it could be done with a smaller crew, provided they were prepared to work harder.  Reductions in crew became important in the 19th century as steam began to compete seriously with sail. 

Another way sailing ship owners tried to stay competitive was by adopting new technology, particular iron and later steel for hull building.  This allowed ships to be much bigger.  Hence, sailing ships needed more masts, and four and five-masted barques became common.   


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