Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Strange Sails and Their Names: Schooner Days MCCLXXXIX (1289)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 19 Sep 1956
Full Text
Strange Sails and Their Names
Schooner Days MCCLXXXIX (1289)

by C. H. J. Snider

Answering Hails

"WHAT" hails N. L. Thompson, of Reed Shaw and McNaught, insurance, "are the names of the sails from the deck up, of the ship in this picture?"

Similar hails have come from other readers, interested in sail names of Schooner Days references to last July's training ship derby from Devonshire to Portugal.

Sails "from the deck up" on a square-rigged foremast are named:

1. Fore course or foresail.

2. Fore lower topsail.

3. Fore upper topsail.

4. Fore topgallantsail.

5. Fore royal.

6. Fore skysail.

The same names with "fore" changed to "main" or "mizzen," etc., as appropriate, are used for the square sails on the remaining masts.


Square rig means sails hanging like curtains from yards pivoting on the forward side of the mast. Fore-and-aft sails are hinged as it were to the after side of the mast or stay and are often extended by gaffs and booms. Skysails are the loftiest square sails set on yards. Clipper ships sometimes used triangular moonrakers or starticklers above skysails, but in most ships royals were the highest sails used.

The royal was the fifth from the deck if the topsail was divided into two, lower and upper topsail. In large modern ships the topgallantsail was similarly divided into lower and upper sails. Then the royal would be the 6th sail above deck, and the skysail seventh. Such cases were rare.


Another problem is naming the triangular sails on the bowstring and jib boom of a square rigger. These, working forward from the foremast, were called:

1. Fore staysail, seldom seen except in whalers or schooners.

2. Fore topmast staysail or "drummer."

3. Jib, sometimes "inner" or "middle" jib.

4. Outer or flying jib.

5. Jibtopsail.

6. Jib-o-jib.

All these were tacked to the bowsprit and jib boom. None was set "flying." Few ships had all six. Most used three or four, the fore topmast staysail and two or three jibs.

Even including the fore staysail, five "jibs" was the most headsail seen in lake schooners. The Erie Belle of Port Hope, (for which Schooner Days is indebted toAndrew Merrilees Limited for an excellent picture) had five, named thus from their particular arrangement.

1. Fore staysail to stemhead.

2. Inner standing jib, to mid bowsprit.

3. Outer standing jib, to bowsprit end from topmast.

4. Flying jib, to mid jibboom from topmast.

5. Jibtopsail, jibboom end to topmast head.


The Erie Belle was unique in this. All five sails were hanked to stays and set standing. Had the outermost been set flying and above the others it would have counted as a jib-o-jib in lake parlance, but it was a standing sail, as were all jibtopsails in lake schooners.

The Erie Belle was square rigged forward, but not a barquentine. She had square sails on the foremast, on three yards, but a gaff-and-boom foresail as well. Lake sailors called her, incorrectly a "barque."

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
19 Sep 1956
Language of Item
Richard Palmer
Creative Commons licence
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Copyright Statement
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Strange Sails and Their Names: Schooner Days MCCLXXXIX (1289)