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USS Constitution sailing under bow to stern jibs , topsails, and spanker. On a square rigged vessel, a topsail is a square sail rigged above the course sail and below the topgallant sail where carried. A full rigged ship has either single or double "split" upper and lower topsails on all masts, the single or lower topsail being the second sail above the deck and the upper topsail where so rigged being the third.
The bottom edge foot of the topsail, like that of other square sails, is slightly concave. Although topsails of a kind were used at least as early as Roman times, they first came into use in Europe some time in the 15th century. Initially small and carried only on main and fore masts, they gradually increased in size and importance until by the middle of the 17th century and were the principal and largest sails of the ship, the first sails to be set and the last to be taken in.
It was quite common for a ship to sail with topsails and jibs alone; the position of the topsails well above the sea ensured that they received a steady breeze even if the seas were rough.
The larger topsails were difficult and dangerous to handle in strong winds. Sometime in the s, reef-bands were introduced to tie up part of the sail, with topsails eventually getting four of these, and reefing the sails became a regular occupation of sailors. In the mid 19th century, topsails of merchant vessels were split into separate upper and lower topsails that could be managed separately and far more easily by smaller crews.
Although Forbes strove to defend his rig, the Howe rig dominated. Howe had the foot of the upper topsail closely attached to the lower topsail yard. In the British clipper Ariel introduced a gap there. The clipper Climax built in under the supervision of Howes was the first ship with Howe rig. The gaff rig has been largely superseded by the Bermuda rig , which has no topsails.
On a gaff-rigged sailing boat, topsails may take a few different forms: A jib-headed topsail is generally a triangular sail set between the gaff and the top of the mast or topmast. A gaff-rigged vessel might have a gaff topsail above any or all of its gaff sails. Early 19th-century topsail yards were set almost horizontally, but gradually increased in angle until they became almost vertical extension of the topmast.
A jack-yard topsail may also have the aforementioned vertical yard, although this makes for a very large topsail. The heel of the yard fits immediately about the gaff and is kept in place by a tackline called a timminoggy.
A brigantine is a two-masted vessel with a forward course. Schooners carrying square tops are referred to as "topsail schooners"; gaff topsails are taken for granted on gaff-rigged vessels and pass without comment in a vessel description. Spritsail rig[ edit ] Spritsail rig The use of the topsail in Thames sailing barges is significantly different. It is a fore and aft rig , where the mainsail is controlled by brails. In confined waters, the barge will sail under topsail and mizzen, taking advantage of the clear air above the lee of the buildings.
The jib topsail a staysail set between the topmast and the bowsprit. Other uses[ edit ] On rigs having multiple jibs or staysails of which at least one is set high, such as many late 19th and 20th Century racing cutters , the uppermost of these, set flying or on a topmast stay , is often called the jib topsail.
Roman navigation[ edit ] Topsails Greek : sipharos; Latin : siparum in the form of an isosceles triangle set above the square mainsail were used in Roman navigation. Forbes to Captain Bradbury, ". Letter from R. Forbes to Captain Bradbury, The Maritime History Virtual Archives. Retrieved March 23, Bradbury to R. Forbes, ". A Letter from Geo. Forbes,
The Gaff Rig Handbook: History, Design, Techniques, Developments. by John Leather
The Gaff Rig Handbook: History, Design, Techniques, Developments
The Gaff Rig Handbook by John Leather