Category Archives: Nautical Terms

Studding Sails

Studding Sails

A studding sail, or stun’sl(pronounced stuns’l /ˈstʌnsəl/) is an extra sail on a square rigged vessel for use in fair weather. It is set outside the square sails, using stun’sl booms which run out along the yards.
It is named by appending the word studding to the name of the working sail alongside which it is set, for example, “fore topsail studdingsail”

The origins of studding sails are relatively uncertain. The earliest reference is in 1655, but precise information on how these early examples were rigged is unknown. It is not until 1790 that this is available. Some changes in the detail of design and usage occurred over succeeding years.

All ordinary working square-rigged vessels were usually fitted out to set stun’sls by the start of the 19th century. This started to change in the last quarter of the 19th century. As steamers took over routes and cargoes that needed fast passages, sailing vessels competed by being able to cut costs much more easily. Crew sizes were reduced, so there were fewer experienced hands to set and take in stun’sls. Any ship which pressed on in rising winds risked breaking a stun’sl boom or damaging sails–if the owner had all or some of the stun’sls sent ashore, there was less to break and these repair costs avoided. Clippers on the routes to China continued to race against each other with large crews and full suits of sails (which included stun’sls) until they also had their trade taken over by steamers in the years following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. As these ships took other routes, most of them had the same economies applied.
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Ratlines, pronounced “rattlin’s”, are lengths of thin line tied between the shrouds of a sailing ship to form a ladder. Found on all square-rigged ships, whose crews must go aloft to stow the square sails, they also appear on larger fore-and-aft rigged vessels to aid in repairs aloft or conduct a lookout from above.

Lower courses in a ratline are often made of slats of wood (battens) for support where the distance between shrouds is greatest. These wooden boards are called rat-boards. In some instances, holes in these slats guide and organize low-tension lines between the deck and the rig.

Block and Tackle

A block is a set of pulleys or sheaves mounted on a single frame. An assembly of blocks with a rope threaded through the pulleys is called tackle. A block and tackle system amplifies the tension force in the rope to lift heavy loads. They are common on boats and sailing ships, where tasks are often performed manually.

In the diagram shown here, the number of rope sections of the tackles shown is as follows:

  • Gun tackle: 2
  • Luff tackle: 3
  • Double tackle: 4
  • Gyn tackle: 5
  • Threefold purchase: 6

Note that the gun tackle, double tackle and threefold purchase all have the same number of pulleys in both blocks (one, two and three, respectively) whereas the Luff tackle and Gyn tackle have mis-matched blocks with differing numbers of pulleys.