Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sail Plans, Single Masted Vessels

    Different types of sailing vessels have different arrangements of sails, giving each one different advantages and disadvantages in ship handling.  The most basic distinction to be made is whether the sails on a given mast are square-rigged (hung more or less perpendicular to the length of the hull) or fore-and-aft (hung parallel to the length of the hull).  Generally speaking, square-rigged sails allow faster speed when sailing downwind, while fore-and-aft sails allow better sailing into the wind and are a little easier to adjust to changing conditions (whether the wind changes direction often or the ship is changing its orientation with regard to a wind blowing steadily from the same direction).

    There's only so much that can be done with one mast, so this particular post will be pretty short.  As I've mentioned before, my personal inclination is to use vessels from more modern periods in my games, sort of anachronistically.  But, rather than just limiting this series of occasional posts, I'm going to open it up to earlier times periods as well.  Therefore, the vessels I will talk about today will be (in rough chronological order) cogs, caravels, sloops, cutters, and luggers.

  • Cog

By I, VollwertBIT, CC BY-SA 2.5,

        Cogs were developed in the early medieval period, putting them squarely in the standard D&D time frame.  Single-masted and square-rigged, they weren't very agile, but their flat bottoms made them useful for trade in those early days when ports were pure luxuries.  Just run it up on a shallow beach and you're good to go.  The standard D&D "small sailing ship" is almost certainly meant to be a cog.

  • Caravel
By Retábulo de Santa Auta - Museu de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Portugal, Public Domain,
This caravel has two masts, but you get the idea.

        Caravels generally had 2-4 masts, but the earliest ones sometimes had just one, so I'm including them here.  Caravels could have square-rigs or fore-and-aft rigs, and all had shallow keels that allowed them to run in shallow waters along shore or up rivers.  They made their first appearance in the early Renaissance era, and were of great importance in the early Age of Discovery.
  • Sloop
        Sloop is weird kind of term, meaning different things at different times, and typically including a variety of types (technically cutters and luggers are types of sloops, but I'm keeping them separate, at least for now; also, at one point in time, the British navy considered anything not worth shooting at by a line-of-battle ship to be a sloop).  For our purposes, a sloop is a single-masted, fore-and-aft rigged vessel with a single headsail (the triangular sail in front of the mast).  A sloop without the headsail is a catboat (and I guess it's probably slower and less handy sailing to windward).  

By Kevin Murray - self-made SVG, based on w:en:File:Sloop_Example_Other.jpg by Kevin Murray, CC BY-SA 3.0,

        A sloop's mainsail can also be a gaff type sail.  Gaff sails have more sail area than the triangular Bermuda sails shown above, but aren't as handy sailing to windward.

By Casito at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

        Technically a sloop can also have other sails.  I don't know if this monster is representative of anything that was actually built or if it's a hypothetical, but even if every one of these sails doesn't make its way onto a sloop, they are options.

By A loose necktie - Own work, CC0,
Sloop sail plan showing crossjack, swallow-footed square-rigged topsail, save-all sail, topgallant sail, ringtail sail, gaff topsail, mainsail, and watersail, as well as foresail, jib, and flying jib

  • Cutter
        Now's a good time to cut away to a vignette.

Together they stood on the jetty and watched the slow-moving vessel tacking towards her anchorage. She was some seventy feet in length, with a massive beam of over twenty. Single-masted, and with a rounded, blunt bow, she looked cumbersome and heavy, but Bolitho knew from what he had seen elsewhere that properly handled cutters could use their great sail area to tack within five points of the wind and in most weathers. She carried a vast, loose-footed mainsail, and also a squared topsail. A jib and fore completed her display of canvas, although Bolitho knew she could set more, even studding sails if required.

Midshipman Bolitho and the Avenger, Chapter 2, Alexander Kent

        A cutter is a type of sloop with multiple headsails.  They often have outsized bowsprits to support these headsails.  A naval cutter, like the one in the vignette here, carries square-rigged topsails, giving it downwind speed, while its headsails and gaff sail give it good handling to windward.  The studding sails mentioned here are extra square sails hung from extensions on the yards.  They're for added downwind speed.  You don't want them up when you're sailing across the wind because they cause the vessel to heel over more while making it more likely that heeling will cause the sails and rigging to dip into the water, a good way to damage the ship, reduce speed, and slew it around onto the wrong heading all at once.

By KDS444 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By Casito at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By KDS4444 - Own work, CC0,

  • Lugger
By Suzanne Maltais - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

        Here's another type of vessel that can be single-masted or can have multiple masts.  The distinguishing characteristic of a lugger is that it carries lugsails, which kind of look like gaff sails, but have some minor distinctions.  If you read a fair amount of maritime fiction, you see a lot of references to luggers, but they're rarely important to the story; luggers tend to be fishing vessels or coastal traders and apparently just aren't swashbuckling enough to enter into the story.  To be fair, though, according to Wikipedia at least, luggers were popular with smugglers, for pretty much the same reason they were popular with fishermen and merchants: they handle well to windward.  This is much more important along a coast, where the wind might change fairly frequently and where you might reasonably expect to sleep in your own bed (or at least in a nice dry bed on shore) at the end of your working day.  Square rigged vessels are more suitable for ocean crossings where the wind blows more steadily from one direction.

Right, anyway, I need to hammer out in-game distinctions for some of these concepts.  Pointing them out and listing them will help to systematize it all, instead of just letting random possible ideas bouncing around my skull until the end of time.  Maybe next time I'll have rules worked out, or maybe I'll just list some two-masted vessel types.  Either way will be progress, I suppose.

Things to work out:  Square-rig sailing speed downwind, fore-and-aft points of sail into the wind, shallower/deeper drafts, gaff rigs, catboats/under-sailed rigs, "extra" sails/stud sails, lugsails