you can have a boat on your ship, but you can’t have a ship on your boat

you can have a boat on your ship, but you can’t have a ship on your boat

San Francisco
September 5, 2012
281 days until the Arctic Circle expedition

So yesterday I promised to help us all avoid future humiliation when hanging out with sailors: what to call his or her vessel, or more importantly, what not to call it.

So the first distinction: boat or ship? Though there is argument about the particulars, there seem to be two main determinants: size and range. Ships are larger: hence, you can carry a boat on your ship, but you can’t carry a ship on your boat, well, unless you have one of those ships in a bottle in your boat, but come on, this is very serious. Ships are bigger than boats, which is not a comment about power, I mean a tugboat can push/pull a cargo ship out of the harbor. This is not a size contest, ok? Sheesh. Which is where the second determinant comes in: range. Boats are designed to stay near land, while ships are built to cross oceans.

But of course it’s not that simple. Now add masts and sails, and you have a whole new world of ships, barques, barkentines, brigs, brigantines, and sloops, oh and yawls, ketches, schooners, cutters and snows, caravels and something called a freedom. When I first saw this chart, I thought,  “Hooray!” But I was also that kid who liked to spend saturday morning watching cartoons and memorizing cat and horse breeds from one of those encylopaedic books. So I fully understand that “Hooray!” is not going to be the typical response to this chart. So, because I like you and want you to continue on this journey with me, I’ve provided crib notes below.

In the realm of tall ships, the word “ship” is very specific. Did you study the very simple chart I gave you yesterday?  Here it is again:

How to tell what a tall ship is called in three simple steps:
1. Count the masts.
2. What types of sails is it rigged with? (Square*, fore-and-aft**, or both?***)
3. If it has both types of sails, how many masts are square-rigged?****

*square sails hang on yards that are perpendicular to the mast, and are rigged perpendicular to the keel of the vessel.
** fore-and-aft sails are triangular, and are rigged parallel to the keel of the vessel.
**the long, triangular sails (jibs) hung on the bow do not count, only sails on the masts.
****although sometimes, with a topsail schooner, just the upper part of the foremast is square-rigged.

Don’t give up! Ships are like the English language: there seem to be more complications and exceptions than rules. There is always that silent e that makes the vowels go long, but seriously the music of language and the music of ships is totally worth getting it wrong.

So because I am feeling confident enough to offer some very basic rules about naming tall ships, and because I’m about to be late for work, I’m gonna break it down:

Three (or more) masts

1. A true “ship” has three or more masts, and they are all square-rigged. (#1 above).

2. If it has three or more masts, all square-rigged, except the last mast is rigged fore-and aft, you have a barque/bark). (#2 above).

3. If it has three or more masts, but only the first mast is square rigged, and the rest are fore-and-aft, you have a barquentine (barkentine). This is what we’re sailing the Arctic Circle on! (#3 above).

Two masts:

1. If you have two masts, both square-rigged, you have a brig. (#4 above)

2. If you have two masts, and only the foremast is square-rigged, you have a brigantine. (#5 above)

3. If you have two or more masts, and all are fore-and-aft rigged, you have a schooner. (#7, 8, 9, 10 and more above.)

One mast:

1. If you have one mast that is square rigged, you have a disaster.

2. If you have one mast that is fore-and-aft rigged, you have a sloop. (#16 above).
I fully expect (and deserve) to now be schooled by you die-hard sailors out there.