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What is a Schooner?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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A schooner is a type of sailing ship with two or more masts rigged in a variety of ways. There are a wide range of uses for the schooner, which was historically employed in a number of industries. Modern schooners generally take the form of charter boats or replicas of historic ships, since they have been replaced in commercial use by engine powered ships. It is often possible to see at least one schooner in a large harbor, especially along the East Coast of the United States, or at a festival of tall ships.

Several things distinguish a schooner. In order to qualify as a schooner, the ship must have two or more masts, with some schooners historically having as many as six. The front or fore mast is shorter than the rear or aft mast, and the main sail is attached to the aft mast, rather than the fore mast, as is common in some rigging plans. The sails are also fore and aft rigged, meaning that they run along the line of the keel.

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The design of a schooner makes it very easy to manipulate, both on the open ocean and along a coastline. In a pinch, some schooners can be run by a single sailor, and in general only a small crew is required to handle the ship. Schooners also typically have a shallow draft, allowing them to take harbor in a wide range of locations. The versatile ships were used extensively all over the world through the 18th and 19th centuries.

The design and name of the schooner appear to have originated in Gloucester, Massachusetts, once a center of American ship building and ocean-based commerce. By 1716, the trade term “schooner” was being used, and the concept as well as the name spread to Europe by the mid 1700s. The origins of the name itself are a bit murky, and it may be related to the Scottish slang word scoon, which means to skim or glide along the water, as in “how she scoons!” The altered spelling is probably borrowed from the Dutch.

Sailing in a schooner can be an exhilarating experience, since the ships can seem to fly over the water. When the ships were in mass commercial production, they allowed New England traders to move quickly between locations, working both in the ocean and in large inland bodies of water. Schooners were also used extensively for fishing.

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MedicineBall
Post 2

@zeak4hands - Sailing schooners is not as hard as it looks. A lot of the rigging can be set up and left alone. It still takes more than one man to run, but schooners are pretty easy going boats.

I assume that your dad and his friends do most of the sailing. There really aren't that many places that offer training for sailing schooners, so you might just want to learn mostly from your dad. You're lucky enough to already know a schooner sailor.

I recommend minimum passengers while you're learning, since it adds an additional risk of capsizing. Schooners are hard to tip over, but it can be done. Four crew and you should be fine.

zeak4hands
Post 1

My dad owns a schooner and every summer, we go out fishing on it with a group of friends. We can sail out really far and fish for awhile then go back and anchor along the beach for a summer bonfire.

Out of all of the boats I've sailed on, dad's schooner is my favorite. I'll probably buy one sooner or later, I just have to learn how to sail it. It has two sails and a lot of ropes running around on deck, which makes it look complicated to me.

The article is right -- schooner sailing is like flying. It's the closest thing to flying that I'll ever get, since I hate flying.

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