schooner

schooner

[skoo-ner]
schooner, sailing vessel, rigged fore-and-aft, with from two to seven masts. Schooners can lie closer to the wind than square-rigged sailing ships, need a smaller crew, and are very fast. They were first constructed in colonial America and because of their speed became one of the favorite craft of the United States and Canada in the latter half of the 18th cent. and the first half of the 19th cent. Schooners were widely used in the North Atlantic fisheries and the North American coastal trade until World War I, when they were replaced by power-driven craft.

See H. I. Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships (1935); J. F. Leavitt, Wake of the Coasters (1970); N. Haley, The Schooner Era (1972).

Sailing ship rigged with fore-and-aft sails on its two or more masts. Though apparently developed from a 17th-century Dutch design, the first genuine schooner was built in the American colonies, probably at Gloucester, Mass., in 1713, by Andrew Robinson. Compared to square-rigged ships, they were ideal for coastal sailing; they handled better in the varying coastal winds, had shallower drafts for shallow waters, and required a smaller crew in proportion to their size. By the end of the century, they were the most important North American ship, used for the coastal trade and for fishing. After 1800 they became popular in Europe and around the world. Clipper ships married the schooner design to that of the old three-masted merchantman.

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A schooner is a type of sailing vessel characterized by the use of fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts. Schooners were first used by the Dutch in the 16th or 17th century, and further developed in North America from the early 18th century onwards.

Etymology

According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, the first ship called a schooner was built by builder Andrew Robinson and launched in 1713 from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Legend has it that the name schooner was the result of a spectator exclaiming "Oh how she scoons", scoon being a Scots word meaning to skip or skim over the water. Robinson replied, "A schooner let her be. According to Walter William Skeat, the term schooner comes from the word scoon, while the sch spelling comes from the later adoption of the Dutch and German spellings.

Construction

The schooner sail-plan has two or more masts with the forward mast being shorter or the same height as the rear masts. Most traditionally rigged schooners are gaff rigged, sometimes carrying a square topsail on the foremast and, occasionally, a square fore-course (together with the gaff foresail). Schooners carrying square sails are called square-topsail schooners.

Modern schooners may be Marconi, or Bermuda, rigged. In Bermuda, Bermuda rigged schooners had appeared by the early 19th century, and were known as 'Ballyhoo schooners'. Some Bermudian schooners of this period, such as the HMS Pickle, are historically referred to as Bermuda sloops, despite having a schooner rig. Some schooner yachts are Bermuda rigged on the mainmast and gaff rigged on the foremast.

A staysail schooner has no foresail, but instead carries a main staysail between the masts in addition to the fore staysail ahead of the foremast. A staysail or gaff topsail schooner may carry a fisherman's staysail (a four-sided fore-and-aft sail) above the main staysail or foresail, or a triangular mule. Multi-masted staysail schooners usually carried a mule above each stay sail except the fore staysail. Gaff-rigged schooners generally carry a triangular fore-and-aft topsail above the gaff sail on the main topmast and sometimes also on the fore topmast (see illustration), called a gaff-topsail schooner. A gaff-rigged schooner that is not set up to carry one or more gaff topsails is sometimes termed a "bare-headed" or "bald-headed" schooner. A schooner with no bowsprit is known as a 'knockabout' schooner.

The schooner may be distinguished from the ketch by the placement of the mainsail. On the ketch, the mainsail is flown from the most forward mast; thus it is the main-mast, and the other mast is the mizzen-mast. A two-masted schooner has the mainsail on the aft mast, and therefore the other mast is the fore-mast.

Schooners were more widely used in the United States than in any other country. Two masted schooners were and are most common. They were popular in trades that required speed and windward ability, such as slaving, privateering, blockade running and offshore fishing. They also came to be favoured as pilot vessels, both in the United States and in Northern Europe. In the Chesapeake Bay area several distinctive schooner types evolved, including the Baltimore clipper and the pungy.

There was no set number of masts for a schooner. A small schooner has two or three masts, but they were built with as many as six (e.g. the wooden six-masted Wyoming) or seven masts to carry a larger volume of cargo. The only seven-masted (steel hulled) schooner, the Thomas W. Lawson, was built in 1902, with a length of 395 ft (120 m), the top of the tallest mast being above deck, and carrying 25 sails with 43,000 ft² (4,000 m²) of total sail area. A two or three masted schooner is quite maneuverable and can be sailed by a smaller crew than some other sailing vessels. The larger multi-masted schooners were somewhat unmanageable and the rig was largely a cost-cutting measure introduced towards the end of the days of sail.

Essex, Massachusetts was the most significant shipbuilding center for schooners.. By the 1850s, over 50 vessels a year were being launched from 15 shipyards and Essex became recognized worldwide as North America’s center for fishing schooner construction. In total, Essex launched over 4,000 schooners, most headed for the Gloucester, Massachusetts fishing industry.

Operation

Schooners were used to carry cargo in many different environments, from ocean voyages to coastal runs and on large inland bodies of water. They were popular in North America, and in their heyday during the late 19th century over 2,000 schooners carried cargo back and forth across the Great Lakes. Three-masted "terns" were a favourite rig of Canada's Maritime Provinces. The scow schooner, which used a schooner rig on a flat-bottomed, blunt-ended scow hull, were popular in North America for coastal and river transport.

Three of the most famous racing yachts, America, Atlantic, and Bluenose, were schooners.

Famous schooners

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