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Encyclopedia > Sailing ships
Traditional wooden cutter beating.

A sailing ship is a wind-powered ship. Historically, sailing ships were the primary means of transportation across long distances of water (e.g. rivers, lakes, oceans) before the invention of the first workable steam engines. They were used for carrying cargo, passengers, mail, supplies etc. In modern times sailing ships are less common but are still used in some parts of the world, such as the Indian Ocean, as commercial vessels. Small sailing boats are still used for fishing in developing countries. There are also many tall ship training vessels that provide recreational sailing.

Sailing ships were also used for military purposes, particularly in the age of sail. The Spanish convoys bringing back gold and silver from the newly discovered Americas needed protection from the pirates and privateers. Large sea battles were fought between the United Kingdom, France, Spain and the Netherlands.

There are many different types of sailing ships, but they all have certain basic things in common. Every sailing ship has a hull; rigging; at least one mast to hold up the sails that use the wind and power the ship. Ballast weighs down the bottom of the ship, so the wind does not push the ship over. At one time the convention was that only a vessel with three or more masts was called a "ship", a single or two-masted vessel being called a "boat", but little notice is now taken of this supposed rule.

A sailing ship with sails down because of lack of wind.

The crew who sail a ship are called sailors or hands. They take turns to take the watch. Some sailing ships use traditional ship's bells to tell the time and regulate the watch system.

Ocean journeys by sailing ship can take many months, and a common hazard is becoming becalmed because of lack of wind, or being blown off course by severe storms. A severe storm could lead to shipwreck, and the loss of all hands.

Sailing ships can only carry a certain quantity of supplies in their hold, so they have to plan long voyages carefully to include many stops to take on provisions and especially fresh water.

The sailing ship was generally replaced by the steamship during the 19th century. The original reciprocating engine steam ships were in their turn replaced by ships with steam turbine and diesel engines. Today's cargo vessels are faster and more reliable than sailing ships, as they do not rely on sails or the vagaries of the wind. However, sailing ships are still in use in many parts of the world, both for pleasure and work.

Specific types of sailing vessels

A dizzying variety of names have been used, and many of them have changed in meaning over time.

See also

  Results from FactBites:
Tall Ship Charters, Corporate Sailing, Team Building, Tall Ship Experience Days (325 words)
Sail from Rouen to Liverpool with the Christian Radich
Sail with the Norwegian tall ship Christian Radich from Rouen to Liverpool for £385.
Ships are also available to charter as spectator vessels at the major international sailing events and maritime festivals, including Skandia Cowes Week, Volvo Ocean Race and the Vendée Globe.
Sailing Vacations and Tall Ship Cruises - Sailing Ship Adventures (408 words)
Caledonia, a square-rigged barquentine, is the largest sailing ship built in Canada in the last 100 years.
Our spotlight voyages are a small sampling of some of our most popular and exciting voyages ranging from learn to sail vacations to discount travel offers.
Tall Ships Challenge sailings from ASTA – In the summer months every year, the American Sail Training Association conducts tall ship races, cruises in company, and in-port rallies on the East Coast, West Coast or Great Lakes.
  More results at FactBites »



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