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Forgive me if this topic has been addressed before.

Several times I've come across references to a Snow Rigged ship, usually a 2 masted merchant vessel. The significant feature being another, lighter mast directly  behind the rear mast. The boom and gaff for the 'lateen' type sail is attached to the lighter mast.

What is the why and wherefore with this arrangement please?

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As I understand it, the snow mast allowed the gaff sail to be raised and lowered without interference from the main course spar and rig, and any bands or other features on the main mast. In this way the sail could be operated independently of the other sails and yards, much like the gaff sail on the mizzen mast of three masted ships.


The gaff boom and the sail were attached to and moved along the snow mast. On later ships the snow mast was replaced by a cable that the sail could ride on, and later still it was done away with entirely.

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2 hours ago, shipman said:

Dr PR, thank you for your explanation. Once you understand  this stuff, it's surprising how simple and logical it becomes.

Can't remember seeing a snow rigged model.

US Brig Niagara. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brig_Niagara. Model Shipways makes a model. There are a bunch build logs on the site.

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1 hour ago, gak1965 said:

US Brig Niagara. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brig_Niagara. Model Shipways makes a model. There are a bunch build logs on the site.

While the Niagara is considered to be a “snow-brig”, this refers more to the fact that she sets both a square main course and a trysail at the same time as a snow would. Traditionally brigs set either one sail or the other (if equipped with a crossjack), depending on the point of sail, until the early 19th century. 

Looking at photos of the replica Niagara, the remains of the snow mast (If any) is almost fully integrated into the main mast. By contrast in a true snow, the snow mast is set at some distance aft of the main mast. If you look at the video footage of the wreck of HMS Ontario (1780), at the 1:17 mark, it very clearly shows the relative positions of the two masts. 



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The snow-rig seems to have fallen out of fashion around the middle of the 19th century and its prevalence seems to have been unevenly distributed across the European regions and North America.


One reason, why one does not see many old models of snows is perhaps, that this is a rig largely associated with smaller merchantmen and not too many models of them were built at the time or have survived. On ship portraits, however, it is quite frequent.


Here is an interesting arrangement on the snow ELISABETH (1839) of Altona (Hamburg). The model was built in around 1900 from old plans by shipwrights and rigged by real riggers etc. The snow-mast is actually stepped on the gaff and not on the deck !



More pictures from this model in the Altona-Museum here: https://www.maritima-et-mechanika.org/maritime/hamburg/altona.html




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in a brig rig particularly a larger brig with a "made mast" it was difficult to get the hoops on the spanker to slide up and down over the mast bands and fish. The snwhad the spanker on a smaller diameter and more importantly smooth pole. In some snows the sail was laced to the mast and did not use wooden hoops. here is a detail from the sail plan of the USS Chipewa

USS Chippewa 1815 (16 brig) sail plan.jpg

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