Sailing Vessel

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sailing Vessel


a vessel propelled by sails that catch the wind. Depending on its size, a sailing vessel may have from one to seven masts. Sailing craft are also distinguished according to the type of rig. A sailing vessel’s total sail area and the center of effort of its sails (the point acted upon by the resultant of the wind forces) are important determinants of the vessel’s sailing qualities and maneuverability. Sailing vessels are guided by the combined action of rudder and sails, which are used to effect changes in course and speed.

The history of the sailing ship goes back more than 5,000 years. In ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, China, Greece, and Rome, sails were used to provide auxiliary power on oar-driven military and transport vessels. Ships using sails as the principal means of propulsion appeared in the Scandinavian and Mediterranean countries between the tenth and 13th centuries. Drakes, nefs, carracks, and caravels are examples of such early sailing ships. In ancient Rus’, two shipbuilding regions formed between the ninth and 14th centuries: in the north, around the White Sea and Novgorod, and in the south, Kiev. The Eastern Slavs voyaged aboard sailing vessels called lod’i, kochi, and karabasy on the White, Barents, Baltic, and Black seas. They reached Tsar’grad (Constantinople) and sailed into the Mediterranean.

The development of the art of navigation, improvements in rigging and sails, and advances in shipbuilding and sail-handling techniques contributed to the great geographical discoveries and the expansion of world trade. In the 16th and 17th centuries the principal shipbuilding centers shifted from the Mediterranean to the North Sea countries—Holland and England. By the early 18th century, sailing ships had replaced oar-driven vessels everywhere. Merchant vessels with cargo capacities of several hundred tons and 100-gun battleships of the line with crews of approximately 800 men were built during the time of Peter I. The sailing fleet reached the height of its development by the mid-19th century, when it constituted the nucleus of merchant, fishing, and naval fleets. Thus, there were merchantmen with crews of 100, cargo capacities in excess of 5,000 tons, and gross tonnages of more than 1,500 registered tons. Clippers, the fastest sailing ships, exceeded speeds of 18 knots (approximately 33 km/hour).

Sailing ships lost their importance as the principal means of transport in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the use of steamships and diesel-powered vessels became general. They are now used primarily for yacht and dinghy racing, for carrying tourists, and for training.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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