History of Sailing – Part 2


In our last blog post we looked at the very beginnings of sailing, which of course dates back thousands of years. From the earliest known records around the time of the Egyptian era, through to when the Romans decided to join things, the world has seen significant developments. This time out we will take a closer look at sailing in the relative modern age.

Square Rigged Sails

The sails that were used around these times were made of square sheets and were thus given the name of square rigged sails. Sailing was all about mastering the wind. As these sails were designed to have the wind behind them which then propelled the boat forwards. While this proved effective when the wind was pushing you in your intended direction they were highly ineffective if the wind was going the opposite way to where you needed to go. The answer at this stage was to ensure you had a worthy crew to row for you. Which of course the ancient Egyptians and later the Romans were very adept on making happen.

Changing Materials

There were changes on the horizons for sails. Initially the shape that they were cut in developed from the square to a triangular shape. This helped to capture the wind from different angles and allowed mariners to plot courses that were unknown to them. Aside from the shape of the sails, the materials used also changed. Natural fabrics that worked well for many years such as cotton and hemp were replaced with man-made synthetic materials.

Steerings Oars and Rudders

Viking ship

Sailing and indeed navigation went from strength to strength, and with this was the need to get to the right place at the right time. The biggest developments that complimented the change in sails was when steering oars and boat rudders were introduced.  This meant that mariners would have much greater control on their destination. At the outset, the steering oar was nothing more than a basic lever attached to the middle of the starboard side.  The helmsman would be able to utilize this to ensure an improved degree of directional travel was achieved.

It was the Viking ships that predominantly adopted the steering oars. Whereas the stern mounted steering rudder was attributed to Chinese innovation. Western civilization followed suit, albeit some one thousand years later!

Celestial Navigation

Celestial Navigation

Boats had greater range with the improvements mentioned above. This of course meant that larger parts of the world had opened up for these early seamen. Travelling wasn’t purely a day time event. Ships needed to cover large areas of the seas when there was no light. During these times the navigators relied upon the stars to guide them along their way.It is not uncommon to read stories about celestial navigation that refer to mariners keeping certain star patterns on either their left or right sides as they searched for new locations.

The Keel

Without question one of the biggest factors that influenced the safety of sailing was the introduction of the keel. In essence the keel is a structural beam that runs the entire length of the boat, sitting lower than the rest of the hull. Brought to the fore by the intrepid Vikings, the keel was quite small; however, as the years went by they grew in size.Due to the nature of sailboats, when they track close to the wind there can be significant amounts of sideways movements. Thankfully the inception of the keel reduced these lateral movements and allowed the boats to navigate the waterways easier.