On Ships and Nautical Affairs: Rigging

In my last blog, I shared with you all that I’ve had to do a lot of research for my Amethyst book series, and that I am sharing some of what I’ve learned – because, to me, it’s incredibly fascinating! I also shared about the different categories of ships: merchantmen, warships, and pirate brigs (among others).

In this article, I’m going to share about rigging and how that affects a ship. Be prepared for a bit of sea jargon, but don’t worry, I’ll explain what the terms mean. Before I dive in, I’ll be honest. Rigging isn’t the one thing I spent the most time on. But it’s very important to know because ships in the Age of Sail were typically categorized by their rigging and it defined their specific capabilities.

If you’re wondering what ‘rigging’ even is, it’s essentially the system of ropes, braces, cables, etc. (depending on the age and type of ship) that both support and help to control sailing ships and their masts and sails. Within rigging, there are many different types and parts, but most commonly vessels are simply either ‘fore-and-aft rigged’ or ‘square-rigged’, or in some cases both combined which was called ‘full-rigged’. Often the only ships that were fully rigged where frigates, so much so that the term ‘frigate’ was interchangeable with a ‘full-rigged ship’. These are the references that are seen throughout the books.

A misconception that I had before my research, was that the names for the rigging were based on the shapes of the sails.  Often the type of rigging can also indicate the details of the sails, though this came about simply because of actual use than original meaning. But I’ll talk about the actual sails in a future blog.

For a ship to be ‘fore-and-aft rigged’, essentially the rigging is set along the ship from bow to stern, or front to back, as opposed to perpendicular to the frame. This allowed the sails to be moved side to side as opposed to up and down and provided able maneuverability in different situations, such as fleeing from enemies. Fore-and-aft rigging was most common in the Age of Sail, which is also why combinations between square and fore-and-aft rigging could be found.

Square-rigged ships were named so because the rigging ran perpendicular, or as they called it, ‘square’, to the ship attached to a system of spars, or rods, connecting to the masts. Square-rigging was used for most ships that had at least two but usually three or more masts. It helped the ships to attain maximum speed when with the wind.

In the books, most of the ships have either square-rigging or a combination simply because of their size and type. The various other ships with the common fore-and-aft rigging just didn’t get much recognition. Obviously, this article isn’t all informative or inclusive, but hopefully if you’re learning a bit, you found this helpful! Till next time…


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