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Micronesian proa with crab claw sail

File:Effie M. Morrissey 1894.jpg

The gaff-rigged schooner Effie M. Morrissey

The earliest fore-and-aft rigs appeared in the form of spritsails in Greco-Roman navigation.[1] Here a Roman merchant ship with spritsail (3rd century AD).

A fore-and-aft rig is a sailing rig consisting mainly of sails that are set along the line of the keel rather than perpendicular to it. Such sails are described as fore-and-aft rigged.[2]

Fore-and-aft rigged sails include staysails, bermuda rigged sails, gaff rigged sails, gaff sails, gunter rig, lateen sails, lugsails, the spanker sail on a square rig and crab claw sails.

Fore-and-aft rigs include:

  • Rigs with one mast: the proa, the catboat, the sloop, the cutter
  • Rigs with two masts: the ketch, the yawl
  • Rigs with two or more masts: the schooner

Barques and barquentines are partially square rigged and partially fore-and-aft rigged.

Historical development in Europe

The fore-and-aft rig began as a convention of southern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea: the generally gentle climate made its use practical, and in Italy a few centuries before the Renaissance it began to replace the square rig which had dominated all of Europe since the dawn of sea travel. Northern Europeans were resistant to adopting the fore-and-aft rig, despite having seen its use in the course of trade and during the Crusades. The Renaissance changed this: beginning in 1475, their use increased and within a hundred years the fore-and-aft rig was in common use on rivers and in estuaries in Britain, northern France, and the Low Countries, though the square rig remained standard for the harsher conditions of the open North Sea as well as for trans-Atlantic sailing.[3]:p.49 The lateen sail was more maneuverable and speedier, while the square rig was clumsy but seaworthy.

Similar phrases in other languages

"Fore and aft" is distinctly English maritime phraseology, but the Dutch (or Afrikaans) equivalent is "voor en achter", with a similar meaning.

See also

  • Square rig


  1. Casson, Lionel (1995): "Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World", Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 978-0-8018-5130-8, pp. 243–245
  2. Knight, Austin Melvin (1910). Modern seamanship. New York: D. Van Nostrand. pp. 507–532. 
  3. Chatterton, Edward Keble (1912). Fore and aft. London: J. B. Lippincott. OCLC 651733391. 

External links

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