Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Sails 'Tween Masts: Schooner Days MCCXC (1290)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 26 Sep 1956
Full Text
Sails 'Tween Masts
Schooner Days MCCXC (1290)

by C. H. J. Snider

FRIEND Thompson and other were asking about the triangular sail between the foremast and the mainmast of the square-rigger in his picture. Also about the name for the gaff-and-boom or fore-and-aft sail "like a yawl," as he said, on the third mast.

Taking the first, one fore-and-aft sail in that position was called the spanker or driver. It could have a gafftopsail above it. If this was all the sail a vessel had on her third or mizzen mast, and she was square rigged on the other two, she would really be a "barque" If, in addition to the fore-and-aft canvas she was square-rigged on the mizzen, she would be a "ship," in the sense of a full-rigged ship. Barques and ships might have any number of masts, from three upwards.

With the barque the two forward masts must be square rigged; with the ship, all three. The barque's driver or spanker was usually called the mizzen, "sail" being silent but understood. A ship's mizzen course, a square sail, was called the cross jack, pronounced chronic, but the square sails above the cross jack all carried the prefix "mizzen." Never "crojic."

Another curiosity in square rig nomenclature is that the square sails next to the deck were called "courses," as well as foresail, mainsail, etc. But no lower sail extended by gaff and boom was ever called a course.

The word is the same as corps, corpse, core, corse, corpus, even corporation, meaning body. It may have derived from the hide or skin which covered the beast's body and made the first sail. Or maybe the first square sail, used in the earliest ships, was regarded as the "body" of the ship's propulsion power. It had a head belly foot, wings (clews) and skirts, so why not call it a body?

All right bay me, but as fore-and-after lower sails, however large were never called courses. I fear the radar picture is so blurred we will have to try the deep-sea (pronounced tipsy) lead to find our way home.

Let us turn the problem of naming the sails between the masts.

These look like jibs but are always caked staysails. They get their particular name from masts from which the stays are set depend. From the deck up the nomenclature runs this:

1. Main for mizzen as the masts may be staysail.

2. Middle staysail.

3. Upper staysail.

4. Topmast staysail.

5. Topgallant staysail.

6. Royal staysail.

Royal stays auks were rare. The maintopmast staysail was and is commonest. Many lake schooners carried them, The four-sided staysail, called a "fisherman" by yachtsmen, was unusual in lake schooner,, but common on salt water, even in the smallest fore-and-afters and in the big ones like the Bluenose.

Square riggers of this century used only triangular staysails, but all these sails were square-headed originally, hanging from their stays between the masts like curtains, as the old pictures show.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
26 Sep 1956
Language of Item
Richard Palmer
Creative Commons licence
by [more details]
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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Sails 'Tween Masts: Schooner Days MCCXC (1290)