The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Rigs, Salt and Fresh
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 3 Mar 1934

Full Text
Schooner Days No. 236
Rigs, Salt and Fresh

By C.H.J. Snider

On the Great Lakes rigs of sailing vessels sharply differed from those on salt water. Sailors had a laugh the other day over some innocent letterpress about the model of the schooner Tern." Those of them who had been to the coast would know that, unless the man was talking about a schooner called the Tern, after a kind of gull, he would be meaning a tern-schooner, which is the standard coastal name for a three-master. On the lakes we called these three-posters, "three-'n'-afters." Two masters we always perversely called "fore-'n'-afters."

The lake three-and-after differed from the terns of the Maritime Provinces and New England seaboard in this: She was sparred like a ship would be, with reference to the eight of masts. The mainmast was the highest, the foremast next to that, and the mizzen the shortest. If, as did happen in a few instances on the lakes there was a fourth or even a fifth mast, these were slightly shorter again than the mizzen.

That is the way three-masted schooners used to be rigged on the seaboard a hundred years ago, but by the middle of the century that fashion had passed, and for as long as the grandfathers of salt water sailors can remember the tern schooners of the coast have been rigged with all three masts of the same height, but more sail upon the mizzen than on the others, because the mizzen boom, or spanker boom as they call it, was much longer than on the lakes. Even in four, five, for or seven-masters like the Thos. W. Lawson, the aftermost mast of all had the largest sail. In the Thomas B. Lawson this seventh lower sail was called the pusher. On the lakes the after-most mast of all has the smallest sail, if there were more masts than two.

In our lake three-'n'-afters the mizzen mast was a little spar, usually shooting up through the cabin, and always placed near the stern. Consequently the mizzen gaff and boom were short, so as not to project unduly behind the vessel. We liked all our projections, like all our cut wounds, in front! A lake schooner's jib boom was sometimes sixty feet long. Down on the coast they go in for shorter nose poles, but the tall mizzenmast is stepped well forward of the cabin, and the mizzen boom and gaff are long.

There are reasons for these customs. The salt water rig, with the largest sail aft, is better for working to windward. It will be noticed that fast-flying insects have their smaller wings in front. But the lake rig, with the biggest sail inboard, was quicker to hand. A small mizzen could be guyed out to either side to turn her around quickly; it could be stowed altogether in blowy weather, and was seldom reefed; or it could be carried in conjunction with the foresail, with the mainsail safely stowed. Many mizzens were made without reef points.

Also, the small mizzen was more serviceable running before the wind. It did not blanket the other sails as much or as quickly as the big mizzen or spanker does on salt water, and it was much easier to jibe over. The longer you live the more you will notice that local peculiarities have their particular uses. Our lake schooners had to navigate in channels and confined waters that would drive deep-sea man to anchor till a pilot and tug came to his rescue.

For the same reason many of our lakers had raffles - three-cornered sails spread on yards on the foremast. They were useful for many purposes, but their best was to box a vessel off making her turn sharply when the yard was braced aback. They were known on salt water, but rarely used. On the lakes they were common.

Our fore-'n'-afters also differed from the two masted schooners of salt water by having bigger foresails, and the mainmast farther aft. Foresail and mainsail were often of equal area. On salt water two-masted schooners the mainsail was always the biggest; again, better for windward work, but not so handy for quick turns, running before the wind or small crews. The Bluenose, for example, has a main boom twenty or thirty feet longer than any lake schooner of her tonnage, and her mainsail is twice as big as any laker of her carrying capacity would swing. What a handful! The last time she went out for a sail here the main sheet was never started, though she went all around the Island and had the wind aft for much of the time. But her fishermen crew knew their business; to overhaul for pleasure, and too many guests to get knocked overboard if the big boom jibed!

Snider, C. H. J.
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Date of Publication:
3 Mar 1934
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.65011 Longitude: -79.3829
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Rigs, Salt and Fresh