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Harnessing the wind

The fore-and-aft rig

In a fore-and-aft rig, one long edge of the main sail is attached directly to the mast.  The lower edge of the sail is fastened to a pole called a boom which is hinged near the foot of the mast.  The top of the sail is secured to another pole, the gaff.  In some fore-and-aft sails, especially on yachts, the sail is triangular and there is no gaff. 

Fore-and-aft rig is usually easier to adjust than square rig when a vessel’s direction needs to be altered, or when the wind direction changes.  These alterations can often be made from the deck, without sending the crew aloft.  For these reasons this rig was popular with ships which sailed in coastal waters, where changes in the direction steered, or in the wind direction, were more frequent than on deep-sea routes.  Another advantage of fore-and-aft rig was that a smaller crew could be carried.


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