Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Captain George Cannon: Sails, Masts and Yards

When reading Captain George Cannons logbook for the ship Iris, or in just trying to understand what his life as a sailor was like, it is helpful to know a little bit about the parts of a ship. The seaman needed to know hundreds of ship parts by name, needed to know how to tie 20 or 30 different kinds of knots, needed to know how to knot and splice lines, how to steer using a compass, and needed to know how to handle the ship's sails and rigging in all conditions.

In this post, I'm going to present diagrams labeling the sails, masts and yards of a sailing ship like the Iris in the late 18th century. First, is a diagram of a ship's sails. Each sail is labeled with a letter and a key below identifies the name of the sail by letter.
A.  fore course or foresail;          B.  main course or mainsail;
C.  mizzen course or mizzensail;  D.  fore topsail;                 
E.   main topsail;                         F.  mizzen topsail;
G.  fore topgallant sail;                H.  main topgallant sail;       
I.   mizzen topgallant sail;            J.  fore royal sail;
K.  main royal sail;                      L.  mizzen royal sail;                  
M.  main staysail;                        N.  mizzen staysail;                    
O.  fore topmast staysail;            P.   main topmast staysail;          
Q.  mizzen topmast staysail;        R.  jib;                                        
S.  middle staysail;                      T.  mizzen topgallant staysail;      
U.  main topgallant staysail;         V.  spritsail topsail;    
W.  spritsail

Next is a diagram of masts and yards. The masts are labeled with a letter and the yards are labled with a number, then identified by the key below.  
A.  fore mast;                      B.  main mast;
C.  mizzen mast;                  D.  fore topmast;
E.  main topmast;                 F.  mizzen topmast;
G.  fore topgallant mast;       H.  main topgallant mast;
I.   mizzen topgallant mast;    J.  fore royal mast;
K.  main royal mast;              L.  mizzen royal mast;
M.  jib boom;                       N.  bowsprit;
1.   fore yard;                       2.  main yard;
3.   mizzen yard;                   4.  fore topsail yard;
5.   main topsail yard;            6.  mizzen topsail yard;
7.   fore topgallant yard;        8.  main topgallant yard;
9.   mizzen topgallant yard;   10. fore royal yard;
11. main royal yard;              12. mizzen royal yard;
13.  spritsail yard.


  1. I see a sailing trip in your future. :-)

  2. I have recently got my hands on the Aubrey-Maturin books, and this pst has been INVALUABLE for my understanding! Thanks so much!

  3. Great information on different types of sails, thanks for sharing.