Early Sailing Vessels & Their Purposes

Methods of travelling the seas have moulded international trade, population migration and politics. Being able to harness the wind’s energy to travel to new lands with armies and come back with cargo provided a huge advantage for early civilisations, and was far more efficient than using man power alone to row large galleons across the world.

The Vikings developed the simple longboats, with a large square sails that were used in conjunction with huge crews of rowers who took over completely to travel upwind. The Arabian "dhows" possessed huge triangular sails which were useful in moving upwind. These ships required a vast crew compared to other ships, but this was not a significant problem given the widely available man power and relatively low cost of labour.

Early Chinese ships were known as lugsails, which were smaller, easier to repair and produce owing to the short mast and small woven sails. Hundreds of other designs of sailboat evolved, culminating in what is remembered as the most prolific cargo ship design, the clipper. The Cutty Sark is the most famous example of this type of ship with its characteristic sharp nose and vast sail area consisting of multiple sails emanating from a pair of central masts.

Yacht Sailing & The Rise Of A New Pastime The word yacht comes from the Dutch word for chase (jaghen). It came into use around the sixteenth century to refer to any light and fast ship, regardless of the boat’s primary use. Around this time the Netherlands was the world’s maritime leader, and so it is of no surprise that the hobby of sailing for pleasure began here. The yachts which were originally designed and used for transport and communication had begun to be used for pleasure by the time of the English king’s visit there in the seventeenth century.

He returned with a 50 foot Dutch yacht that was to become the prototype for all British yachts. It took just one year for the first race to take place between King Charles and his brother, the Duke of York, in 1661. The practice of racing yachts subsequently took off as a competitive pastime for the incredibly rich and, in just over half a century, the world’s first yacht club was established in Cork, Ireland.