The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 8- Ship Types


Since the second century, Chinese junk ships have been used for extensive voyages. But none were so grand like that of Admiral Zheng He’s during the Ming. His 1405 voyage had 300 of these ships including treasure ships, house ships, supply ships, troop transports, Fuchuan warships, patrol boats, and water tankers. And unlike many of the great wooden ships, Chinese junks are still used today.

While this series mostly pertains to the massive wooden sailing ships from Europe that existed from the 15th century to the early 19th up to the American Civil War, wooden ships have been with us since the dawn of water travel. Mostly because most boats were made out of wood until the late 19th century when iron and steel ship construction became the norm. Nonetheless, they come in all different shapes and sizes from all over the world from the small fishing boats in the Pacific islands to the large junks of Imperial China during the Ming Dynasty. Ancient ships and medieval ships in the west were propelled by a single sail and men rowing oars. Age of Sail ships traded, found previous unknown worlds, helped their countries build empires, and fought naval battles that made men like Admiral Horatio Nelson household names. While smaller ships were often the choice of pirates wanting to rob a merchant ship to get a way.

Ship Types:

Apple-Stern- sailing ship with a rounded stern.

Balinger- a single-masted sailing ship used in the 15th and 16th century.

Baltimore Clipper- a 2-masted fore-and-aft gaff-rigged schooner-like ship carrying square sails on the foremast and often used as a blockade runner or privateer. The masts were set at extreme angles as it was believed to provide better speed.

Barca-Longa- a 2-3 masted Mediterranean ship carrying lugsails.

Bark- a ship square-rigged on all but the furthest mast which is fore-and-aft rigged. Usually 3-masted with some 4-5 masted. Before the mid-18th century, referred to any 3-masted ship not fitting any other accepted category or nomeclature.

Barkentine- a sailing ship with 3-5 masts in which only the foremast is square-rigged, with the others fore-and-aft rigged.

Bilander- a small 2-masted merchant sailing ship used mainly on Dutch coastal routes and canals. Rarely more than 100 tons. Carried a fore-and-lateen main sail bent to a yard hanging 45 degrees to the mast.

Boejer- a small single-masted Dutch ship with an extreme rounded stem and bow, normally carrying leeboards. Had a very shallow draft but relatively tall mast. Intended for use on canals, rivers, and coastal regions.

Bomb Vessel- a ship developed by French corsairs which used a high trajectory mortar instead of conventional guns. Had a strengthened hull to take the weight of 2 or more mortars and the foremast was completely omitted. Late 18th century bomb vessels had a full 3-masted rig and some were used for perilous polar expeditions since their sturdily built hulls held up well in ice.

Bootship- an 18th century 3-masted ship with a rounded bow and stern along with a flat or rounded tafferel. Developed of the earlier 17th century Fluyt, it was either square-rigged on all masts with a spanker on the mizzen or had a fore-and-aft gaff-rigged mizzen.

Brig Ship- a 2-masted square-rigged ship with the main mast carrying a fore-and-aft sail as well.

Brigantine- a 2-masted ship with square sails on the foremast and fore-and-aft sails on the main mast. Also referred to a variety of 2-masted square-rigged ships in the 17th century.

Buss- a relatively large 2 or 3 masted European ship from the 15th-17th centuries mainly used for the North Sea herring fishery. About 200 tons in size.

Caique- a light sailing ship used in the Easter Mediterranean. Also the name of a long, narrow rowboat used in the Middle East.

Caracore- a small, light, and swift sailboat with a single triangular or rectangular sail and an outrigger that originated in the East Indies. Also called a Proa.

Caravel- a relatively small but light maneuverable Portuguese ship from the 15th and 16th centuries setting lateen sails on 2-4 and sometimes setting a single square sail on the foremast. When lateen-rigged, it’s called a “caravel latina.” When square-rigged, it’s called a “caravel redonda.”

Carrack- a large 3-4 masted ship developed from the earlier cog. Used from the 14th to 17th centuries, usually with elevated structures at the bow and stem.

Clipper- a variety of merchant ships built between 1790 and 1870. Often thought of as some of the most beautiful and elegant ships ever built.

Coble- a small clinker-built open fishing boat from the northeastern English and Scottish coast. Characterized by a relatively high bow, exaggerated sheer and shallow draft, often setting a high lugsail.

Cocca- a Mediterranean equivalent to the cog from the 14th century which was a 1-2 masted square-rigged and clinker-built ship.

Cog- a single-masted, clinker-built ship with a single square sail, 3 decks, high sides, relatively flat bottom, and rounded bilge. Was used from the 900s to the 15th century.

Collier- a broad beamed and shallow draught merchant sailing ship designed to transport coal between ports.

Corvette- the smallest of the 3-masted square-rigged sailing warships. Used primarily for reconnaissance. Armed with 8-22 guns on only one deck.

Crayer- a small, single-masted and slow merchant vessel. Built solely for maximum hold capacity, not for its sailing qualities.

Cutter- a fast-sailing, fore-and-aft rigged, single-masted ship usually setting double headsails. Used for patrol and dispatch services. Ship of choice for English smugglers during the 18th century. Largest were up to 150 tons burden and could carry up to 12 guns. Also a clinker-built ship’s boat used for travel between ship and shore.

Dhow- a lateen-rigged sailing ship from the Middle East. Early dhows were usually shell-first construction. Come in several types depending on their hull shape. A ghanjah was a large 2-3 masted ship with a curved stem and a long sloping and often ornately carved transom from India. A baglah was a traditional 2-masted deep sea dhow with a transom usually having 5 windows and a poop deck similar to galleons and caravels. The smaller battil featured a long stem topped by a large, club-shaped stemhead and a sternpost decorated with cowrie shells and leather. The much smaller badan was a single-masted shallow draught used for fishing and oyster diving. Other large seagoing dhows were the double-ended boom with its large stem pointing to the heavens and a bowsprit flying a jib and the sambuk.

Dogger- a 2-masted fishing ship resembling a ketch.

Down Easter- a square-rigged merchant ship combining large carrying capacity with a relatively sharp hull. Built in Maine during the late 19th century.

Dromon- a medium-sized, fast-sailing Mediterranean galley armed with Greek fire for burning enemy ships.

East Indiaman- a large and heavily armed European merchant ship used for trade in the East Indies.

Felucca- a narrow, swift, and lateen-rigged sailing ship used on the Nile and Mediterranean.

Fifth Rate- a sailing warship with 32-44 guns.

Fireship- a ship or boat deliberately set on fire and steered to collide with a large enemy ship in order to set it on fire and destroy it. Often used in the 17th century to finish off disabled enemy ships.

First Rate- a sailing “ship of the line” warship with 100 or more guns on 3 gun decks.

Flagship- a sailing warship carrying the Admiral (or fleet commander) and his flag. Normally the most powerful ship in a squadron or fleet.

Fluyt- a classic 3-masted square-rigged merchant ship from the 17th and 18th century. Invented by the Dutch as an economical operation with carrying the largest cargo and smallest crew possible. Had a wide balloon-like hull rounding at the stem and bow as well as a very narrow, high stern. Due to being lightly armed, it was very ill-suited for dealing with pirates, privateers, or any other armed opposition.

Fourth Rate- a sailing “ship of the line” warship with 50-60 guns on 2 gun decks.

Frigate- a 3-masted sailing warship with 2 full decks but only one gun deck. Armed between 30-40 guns mostly on the gun deck and possibly some on the quarter deck and forecastle. Used in the 18th and 19th centuries as reconnaissance as well as myriad of other duties. Term was synonymous with warship in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Fully-Rigged Ship- a ship with 3 or more square-rigged masts.

Galeas- a 2-3 masted Scandinavian merchant ship from the 18th and 19th centuries, developed from the Dutch galjoot but with a square stern.

Galjoot- a fast sailing draught Dutch ship. Often used as a coastal merchant ship from the 17th and 18th centuries. Had a rounded stern and bow. Though thought of as a 1 ½ masted small ship, some were as large as 700 tons and had a full 3-masted rig. Also occasionally used as bomb vessels due to its stability and durability.

Gallea- a large, 3-masted galley/galleon hybrid of the 16th and 17th centuries that used both sails and oars. Derived from earlier galleys, it was a very powerful warship of its day, very successful at the 1571 Battle of Lepanto.

Galleon- a square-rigged, 3-4 masted sailing ship from the 16th to the 18th centuries. While most often identified with the Spanish and Portuguese, many other European nations used it.

Galley- an oared fighting ship in the Mediterranean used many centuries BCE until well into the 18th century. Also used in the Baltic and many other northern European nations, but not to such extent. A scaloccio galley was rowed by groups of 3-7 men on a bench pulling a single oar. An ala sensible galley was rowed by a single rower per oar, sometimes 2-3 on a bench. Top galley speed with full oar was usually estimated at 7-8 knots.

Galliot- a light and fast Mediterranean galley.

Ghost Ship- either a ship appearing as a ghostly apparition or one found floating at sea with no sign of the crew.

Gig- a 2-masted coastal vessel carrying lugsails. Or a wide-beamed 18th century ship’s boat often reserved for the captain.

Hermaphrodite Brig- a 2-masted ship with a square-rigged foremast and a fore-and-aft-rigged mainmast. Has a square topsail on the mainmast.

Hooker- a single to 3 masted coastal fishing ship similar to a smack but with square sails on the mainmast. Can also be slang for an outdated, obsolete, unwieldly, or just plain ugly ship.

Hoy- a single to 3 masted coastal merchant and fishing ship from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Hulk- a medieval ship with plank ends parallel to the stern and sternposts. Or a ship that’s fallen into disuse or is used in a static role like in a sheer hulk or a prison hulk.

Jaght- a 3-masted, lightly armed, and speed-built Dutch merchant ship from the 17th century. Often used in convoys to and from the East Indies as well as for exploration voyages. Usually slightly large than the fluyt.

Jagt- a single-masted Scandinavian inland and coastal merchant ship from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Junk- a Chinese sailing ship with bamboo sail battens and a long overhanging counter. Originally developed in the 5th century.

Ketch- a 2-masted ship with the mizzenmast stepped in front of the rudder head. Usually fore-and-aft rigged but could have square sails. Was usually a 100-250 burthen size. Often used as a bombard vessel.

Knarr- a clinker-built Viking ship that was exceptionally sturdy on the rough seas. Broader in the beam and had more draught than a longship. Also more reliant on using sails for propulsion rather than oars.

Koch- a Russian clinker-built ship used for Arctic expeditions.
Lightship- an anchored ship acting as a floating lighthouse where building a lighthouse wasn’t possible or impractical. Would display a light from the mast’s top and sound a fog signal in case of fog.

Lobya- a Russian river, lake, or sea vessel until the 16th century and later.

Longship- generally thought as the Viking warship, it was a 45-148ft galley with up to 40 oars on each side, a square sail on a removable mast, and a 40-80 man capacity. Double-ended and built shell-first with overlapping planks.

Lugger- a small ship rigged with one or more lugsails on 2 or 3 masts and 1-3 jibs set on the bowsprit. Usually outperformed square-rigged ships on coastal tideways but required a larger crew than one of similar size. Frequently used by smugglers and privateers around the English Channel during the 18th century.

Man O’War- a term applied to a ship specifically built for war.

Merchantman- any ship used for trade.

Monkey- a small 16th century coastal merchantman which carried a square sail on a single mast.

Nabby- a Scottish lug-rigged boat with an extreme rake to the mast, usually also setting a jib.

Nao- a classic medium-sized Spanish ship from the Age of Exploration. Had a fully developed 3-masted rig and often a small topsail on the mainmast.

Nef- also known as a roundship, a single-2 masted clinker-built ship in medieval Europe until the 15th century. Used as transporting soldiers during the Crusades. Descendant of the Viking longship, it still had a side-rudder and was used in northern regions a century or two longer with a sternpost rudder.

Packet- a generic name for a ship sailing in regular service between 2 ports.

Pattamar- a 1-3 masted lateen-rigged dhow like ship used off India’s west coast.
Penteconter- an ancient Greek galley with 50 oars, 25 on each side set in a single bank.

Pink- a 2-3 masted 18th century Dutch ship.

Pinnace- a variety of relatively small ships generally having 2 fore-and-aft rigged masts. Or a 17th century ship’s boat usually rowed by 8 oars.

Polacre- a 3-masted Mediterranean ship. Usually square-rigged on the main mast and lateen-rigged on the foremast and mizzenmast. Though some carried square sails on all 3 masts. Also typically carried one piece pole-masts with neither top masts nor topgallant masts present.

Polyreme- a variety of Phoenician, Greek, or Roman war galleys which had 2 levels of oars, each rowed by half the men indicated by the number.

Pram- a clinker-built small boat with a transom at both ends. Though the bow transom was usually smaller than the stern transom.

Privateer- a privately owned ship intent on raiding enemy shipping in wartime for the purpose of making a profit from the captured ships’ sale, including any cargo onboard. Unlike a pirate, a privateer was commissioned by a government like a mercenary. Dangerous business all around since a privateer would often mistake a “friendly” ship for fair game with the consequence of rapidly being promoted to pirate.

Qarib- a small 2-masted lateen-rigged ship. Common in Egypt in the 11th century sailing down the Nile from Cairo as far west as Tunisia and Sicily.

Quinquereme- a Mediterranean war galley with 3 banks of oars on 2 levels being rowed by 2 men each. Used by Greeks of the Hellenistic period and later by the Carthaginians and Romans from the 5th century BCE to the 1st century.

Retour Ship- generic name for a collection of different but heavily armed, and well-manned merchant ships of the Dutch East India Company. They were specifically designed for the long roundtrip voyage from the Netherlands to the East Indies.

Roundship- a clinker-built medieval merchant ship with a rounded stern and bow. Often had a 2-masted rig with a small foresail.

Schooner- a ship rigged with fore-and-aft sails on 2 or more masts. A topsail schooner sets 1-3 square sails on the foremast as well. Consists of many types like a Tern Schooner, Scow Schooner, Coastal Schooner, and Grand Banks Schooner. A Bald-Headed Schooner is a slang term for a schooner to have no set topsails at all.

Scow- a variety of flat-bottomed ships used for carrying cargo. Often had a sloping square bow and stern. Similar to a barge, has a simple hull construction and maximum carrying capacity.

Scow Schooner- a flat-bottomed square-ended schooner-rigged ship mainly used in the later 19th century Great Lakes on the North American coastal routes while carrying the bulk of the continent’s cargo. Often used centerboards or leeboards.

Second Rate- a sailing “ship of the line” warship with 84-98 guns on 2 or 3 gun decks.
Shallop- a 2-masted ship usually carying lugsails. Can also be a 17th century ship’s boat used as a tender. Had no keel but used leeboards instead. Can be propelled by oars or sails.

Sheer Hulk- a cut-down old ship fitted with a pair of sheers used to hoist masts up to another ship being built or repaired. It’s the maritime equivalent to a junkyard car used for scrap parts.

Ship- according to the 18th and 19th centuries, a first rank sailing vessel with a bowsprit and 3 or more square-rigged masts, each composed of a lowermast, topmast, and topgallant mast.

Ship of the Line- a sailing warship built to fight in the battle line with each ship forming a line allowing it to fire full broadside salvos at the opponent. Were usually fourth rate or above. But most were third rate of 74 guns.

Sixth Rate- sailing warship with 20-30 guns.

Slave Ship- either a purpose built or a common merchant ship retro-fit with irons to hold or accommodate securely holding “special cargo.” Slaves were often packed and shackled side by side to fit as many in the hold as possible. Life aboard a wooden ship sailing from Africa to America was perilous enough for the crew, let alone for the “passengers” being transported from the deck below. Scared, cramped, sick, alone dehumanized, the horrors slaves faced are unspeakable. Just enough care was taken to keep most of the slaves alive. It was just a very lucrative business for slave traders who transported and traded them like wheat and wool.

Sloop- a single-masted fore-and-aft rigged ship, setting a mainsail and generally a single jib or headsail. Generally had a mast located more forward than the cutter.

Sloop-of-War- a name given to the smallest sailing warships having 8-22 guns on only one deck. Either fully rigged as ships or as snows.

Smack- originally a relatively large cutter-rigged merchant ship. Later a small single or 2-masted coastal fishing or merchant ship that’s fore-and-aft rigged with a 2-masted variant similar to a ketch. Characterized by a long horizontal running bowsprit.

Snow- a square-rigged ship, differing from a brig only in that it has a trysail mast close behind the mainmast, on which a trysail was hoisted.

Spiegelschip- Dutch term for a ship with a distinctive flat stern and tafferel.

Tarides- a small sail and/or oar powered transport ship used from the Dark Ages to about the 12th century. Early equivalent of landing craft with doors used as ramps for loading and unloading men and their horses.

Tartan- a small and nimble single or 2-masted lateen-rigged ship originating from the Middle East and Africa’s north coast. Like the xebec, often associated with Barbarian corsairs.

Tender- a ship attending to another such as one ferrying supplies and personnel from ship to shore.

Tern Schooner- a 3-masted schooner of 200-400 tons used for carrying cargo in North America during the late 19th century.

Third Rate- sailing “ship of the line” warship with 64-80 guns on 2 gun decks.

Tjalk- a Dutch flat-bottomed ship with rounded ends and leeboards. Used to carry freight and often used as a pleasure yacht.

Triaconter- an ancient Greek galley with 30 oars, 15 on each side set in a single bank.
Trireme- a ancient Phoenician, Greek, or Roman war galley propelled by 3 tiers of oars on each side, each oar pulled by a single man. Used from the 7th to 4th century BCE. Had a shell-first, mortise-and-tenon hull planked with fir, cedar, or pine along a solid oak keel.

Turtle Ship- a 16th century Korean armored warship. Fitted with an iron shell top with sharp spikes for protection and to prevent boarding. Had a red pine hull and carried cannons. Developed and built by Admiral Yi Soon Shin in 1592 who led the Koreans to victory in the Im Jin War.

Van- the ship or ships leading a fleet or squadron.

Velocera- an Italian coastal merchant ship.

Vessel- a craft designed for water transportation.

Vinco- a 3-masted 19th century Italian ship with lateen sails on the main and mizzen masts and square sails on the foremast.

Vileboat- a small 3-masted ship with a broad beam, shallow draft, and a high narrow stern originating from the mid-16th century in the Netherlands. Though designed as merchant ships to navigate rivers and coastal waters, it was also used for exploration and military duties.

Well Found- a ship that’s all-around sound that’s well-built and equipped. With good and regular maintenance, a well found ship can have a lifespan up to 50 years. Lesser built ships only lasted 5-10 years.

West Indiaman- a relatively heavily armed European merchant ship used for trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

Whaler- a sturdy purpose built ship with a large hold. Though intended for capturing whales, many were used on polar expeditions and/or by navies around the world due to their sturdy nature.

Windjammer- a large 2-3 masted merchant ship built between 1870 and 1890 constructed with an all-iron hull and often displacing several thousand tons. The last of the large merchant sailing ships.

Xebec- a relatively small 3-masted lateen-rigged ship favored by the Barbary corsairs operating off the North African coast. Had a long and narrow hull and was fitted with oars like its galley predecessors. Adopted by French and Spanish navies.

Yacht- any of a variety of small sailing ships often used for personal transportation watercraft or a personal pleasure boat.

Yawl- originally a double-ended clinker-built Scandinavian ship, later a small 2-masted sailing ship with the mizzenmast stepped behind the rudder post. Also a ship’s small boat consisting of a sailboat with a main sail and one or more jibs. And usually containing 4-6 oars.

Zabra- a 16th century sailing ship which was used for dispatch, transport, and other utilitarian duties.

Zulu- a Scottish lugger with a straight stem and a raking sternpost.


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