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A question on working mizzen lateen sails


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My neighbor is finishing up his build of Corel's Wasa. I stopped by today to take a look at it and we got to talking. During our conversation, he pointed to the yard for the triangular lateen-style sail on the mizzen mast and said something along the lines of he couldn't understand how the crew would be able to use that sail.

It got me thinking about it. It's a subject I've never really considered before.

The yard has always been on the starboard side of every model I've ever built, but what would happen if the wind was from the starboard side? Would they shift the yard to the port side, as I imagine they do on Xebecs and other lateen-rigged ships, or would they just let it push against the mast. Wouldn't the shrouds get in the way of working the sails in most cases?

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Stevinne,

 

I believe that the lateen yard was worked around the mast so that the lateen sail was always on the leeward side of the mast.  This can be seen on contemporary paintings.  The shrouds may have been a problem in some points of sailing, but the lee shrouds could always be slacked off if absolutely necessary.

 

John

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I did a bit of research on this interesting question.  As I have pointed out, I was raised in West Texas, so an expert on boats I am not.  That said, what I found was that Lateen sails were used without moving from side to side if they were large.  When tacking, the turn where the sail rubbed the mast was called a "bad tack."  If you Google "bad tack" and then click the images tab, you will see a couple of examples of this type of situation-- along with photos of some stupid sailors.

 

On larger boats, this didn't affect their handling much, but on smaller boats, the distortion on the sail could cause quite a loss of air flow.  For that reason, on the smaller boats, the yard was hinged or tied to that the sail could be gathered and then the tall end of the yard stuck straight up and then swiveled to the other side of the mast.

 

Although I have no defensible basis for my opinion, I developed a belief that for a short tack, the sailor would put up with the sail rubbing and just live with it.  If you were in a situation where the wind direction was going to be bad for an extended period of time then you would swap it over.

 

The advantages of the sail type (ease of set up, ability to rapidly reduce clearance under bridges, etc) made up for this problem.

Anyway, that was what I gathered from my research.

Edited by PopJack
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I've always wondered this as well.  I think PopJack has the answer though.  It does look like the more perpendicular the yard is to mast and the bigger the sail the less a bad tack would matter.  Which maybe why they didn't change it on the big ships.  

 

bwport3.jpg

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I've always wondered this as well.  I think PopJack has the answer though.  It does look like the more perpendicular the yard is to mast and the bigger the sail the less a bad tack would matter.  Which maybe why they didn't change it on the big ships.  

 

bwport3.jpg

 

That ship looks familiar! See:

http://modelshipworld.com/index.php?/topic/2311-nina-and-pinta-reproductions-at-grafton-illinois/

 

Brian

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From what I know of portuguese caravels sailing the lateen yard was suspended abaft the mast,

instead of in front as the square yards are. So to change tack the lower extremity of the yard would come aft,

pass aft of the mast and swung to the other side, to avoid chaffing on the mast and keep the sail shape.

And I reckon the manoeuver stayed the same until it ceased to be used, it was not an easy manoeuver and so first

the portion of the sail forward of de mast was disposed of, keeping the loose footed sail aft and eventually adopting the gaff

and boom.

 

Zeh

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I can't find the exact place (of course, I never do), but I've read somewhere that while making short tack, the sail was left to one side, however, when longer distances were sialed, the sail was set at the leeside. This was at least normal havbit in early VOC-days (1600-1630). The foot of the mizzen yard was taken round the back of the mast and brought forward again on the 'correct side'.

Whether this practice was continued when sails got larger I don't know.

 

Jan

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Hi Fam,

 

Nice to have you back, and I think your drawings help.

 

As Wayne mentioned, they would normally have changed the lateen yard over to the other side of the mast when there was little wind in it, probably when tacking. A large sail like that could 'take charge' otherwise. I sailed on the Golden Hinde replica many years ago, and remember doing this – which took quite a few crew! The idea is to get the yard as vertical as possible, so as to swing the heel around the mast to the correct side, and then set it up again.

 

Incidentally, it's interesting to note that the lateen became part of the rig of North European ships, when seamen from those parts traded to the Mediterranean and noted it on dhows and other craft from that area and the east. They would have realised it's close-to-the-wind qualities, and it thus became set up on the mizzen mast of European ships.

 

As has been said, it was the forerunner of the gaff, which most likely developed from the difficulties of operating the long yard. The part of the sail in front of the mast disappeared first, the yard remaining full length for some time afterwards. I think this was because the lateen yard could be used as a replacement for yards on the other masts, if any of them was damaged, or shot away. I seem to remember the Victory retained a lateen yard until about the 1790's.

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