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Ships and boats

History of sailing ships

A Spanish war galleon of the 16th centuryA Spanish war galleon of the 16th century The first sailing boats had single masts with square sails fixed to them. Over the centuries, boatbuilders arranged their boats' sails, called the rig, in various ways designed to catch the wind more efficiently. A square rig consists of sails hung on a spar across the boat. The fore-and-aft rig, with a triangular sail hanging from a spar parallel with the boat’s sides, is more effective at making the best use of wind blowing from side on. By the 15th century, many ships had a mixture of rigs: square-rigged sails on some masts and fore-and-aft sails on others. Ships (large vessels) could now sail across the oceans.


Simple boats could be made by hollowing out logsSimple boats could be made by hollowing out logs

The first boats

The first water craft, dating back thousands of years, must have been logs, used as buoyancy aids. Later, people tied logs together to make rafts, or hollowed them out to make canoes. Where there were no big trees, they made boats from locally available materials, such as reeds or animal skins. These early craft were propelled by simple paddles, or poles pushed into the river bed. 

Nile sailing boat, ancient EgyptNile sailing boat, ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt

The Nydam Boat, built in Denmark around AD 320, is the oldest clinker-built boat known. The oldest clinker-built ship that probably had a permanent mast and sail was built around AD 700.

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