Ship Types

The sail plans of sailing vessels are many and varied. Beside differences in original design, a ship might undergo a number of changes, depending upon the whims of her owner, captain, or builder, the trade she is used in, or local traditions. These changes are introduced to improve sailing qualities and to provide a rig that could be handled by a smaller crew, thus paying higher returns to shareholders.

The silhouettes of vessels overleaf represent different rigs of ships at sea. Sailing ship rigs can be divided into two broad categories: the "fore and aft rig" (above left), in which the sails lie along the same plane as the ship's fore and aft line; and the "square rig" (above right), in which the sails are rigged athwart (across) the ship. Each rig had certain advantages.

The Fore & Aft Rig

The fore and aft rig, or schooner rig, requires only a small crew, and is generally used in the coastal and fishing trades. Ships with this rig can point higher into the wind and are usually more maneuverable when working in the changing winds along the coast. The rig is not limited to coastal schooners, and big fore-and-afters can be seen plying across the Western Ocean bound for European ports, the West Indies, or South America.

Sloop A fore and aft rigged vessel with one mast is a sloop. Some large sloops trade with the West Indies, but most sloops are small inshore fishing vessels


Grand Bank Fishing Schooner Schooners have two or more masts with fore and aft sails. Similar to the famous Bluenose, our example, in addition to all the normal lower sails, carries a main gaff topsail and a fisherman's staysail set between the masts

Two Masted Fishing Schooner in winter rig. Her topmast and all light upper canvas have been struck, and sent ashore.

Square Topsail Schooner a combination of fore and aft sails and small square sails. They are popular for coastal trading. Prince Edward Island built a number of topsail schooners and many are sold in Great Britian.

Coastal Schooner, the work horse of our coastal trade. She is probably not much more than a hundred tons, and carries everything from timber and coal to bricks, general cargo, and a load of hay to offshore island communities. Our schooner is shown with only a main topmast, but many also carry a fore topmast. Note the yawl boat towing astern.

Ketch A two masted sailing vessel where the mizzen mast is ahead of the rudder. The rig is similar to a schooner but the main mast (the tallest mast) is the first mast, not the second mast. Ketches are common in Europe but rare in Nova Scotia.

Four Masted Schooner shown at anchor. This design attempts to reduce individual sail area, raise tonnage, and still manage with a small crew. She could operate with eight hands, and reached 500 to 700 tons.

Tern Schooner a three master built in great numbers all along our shores. These vessels are cargo carriers of between 200 and 400 tons, requiring a crew of six to eight. Our Tern is shown with all sails set except staysails between the masts.

The Square Rig

The square rig is normally an offshore rig used by vessels making long ocean passages and taking advantage of the prevailing wind and current patterns of the globe. These ships vary in size from the small handy brigantines and brigs of a couple of hundred tons to the great full rigged ships and barques of over two thousand tons. The square rig is also seen in the coastal trade, where brigs ply their trade up and down the eastern seaboard.

Brigantine, a two masted vessel square rigged on the foremast, with fore-and-aft sails on the mainmast. The drawing shows a typical Bluenose softwood vessel of about 220 tons. The brigantine is shown with two staysails set between the masts.


Brig, a two masted vessel square rigged on both masts. The brig is a very efficient sailing rig. Only a few brigs were built in Nova Scotia yards, but they are very common in European waters.

Barquentine, a vessel with the foremast rigged square, and the other masts rigged fore and aft. Our vessel is similar to the Maid of England of 750 tons built at Grosses Coques.

Barque or Bark , usually a three masted vessel, the fore and main masts square rigged and the mizzen mast or after mast rigged fore and aft. The four masted barque is a relatively common rig on the oceans. The barque is a popular rig, and more of this type are built than all other square rigs combined.


Full Rigged Ship, square rigged on all masts. Staysails could be set between the masts. Outboard of the square sails might be set studdingsails, and above the royals (uppermost sails) might be set sails with such names as skysail, moonraker, Trust to God, or Angel Whispers.


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