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By James R. Williamson
Schooner Heritage is jamming the wind. The business of operating a large sailboat requires long hours of hard work but who would trade this job for anything?
A lovely lady of uncertain origin, fast and easy to handle, the schooner has won the hearts of seafarers plying rock bound coasts and braving the banks. Sails abaft the masts let these vessels lie close to the wind and tack quickly through narrow waters.
The basic two-masted schooner rig may be described as a purely fore and aft rig having a single headsail, gaff foresail (usually with a boom), and a gaff and boom mainsail wide in the foot and generally taller than the foresail. Other sails may be set: a jib or jibs; jib topsail; gaff topsails; a topmast staysail; and square fore topsails; without altering the type name of schooner. More masts may be added, three being common in Europe and between four and five in America, where six or seven masters were also built. Schooners were built for cargo carrying, fishing, pilot services, as minor warships, privateersmen, for surveying, smuggling and slave carrying.
The commonly quoted reference to the origin of the schooner is that it was devised at Glouster, Massachusetts, about 1713 by Andrew Robinson in a vessel at whose launch a spectator cried �Oh, how she schoons� and of course Captain Robinson instantly replied �A schooner let her be!� There is no word �schoon� in English and as the account was written on oral evidence in 1790 it seems quite improbable. It may be true, but extremely doubtful, that Robinson built the first schooner-rigged craft in North America but she was certainly antedated by vast numbers of English and Dutch craft which were not then named schooners but had previously developed the rig, which was probably taken to America by colonists from those countries.
June 5th, 2011
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