The History of Sailing For each of these subcategories of the History of Sailing, we will define how the ships were made, what they were made of, their uses, and their significance with respect to the sailing society.

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First Occurrence of Sailing The Egyptians were the first people known to develop a sailboat, using one large sail which was called “the bipod.” This milestone in sailing history gave rise to the prominence of sailing among the Romans. Bundling papyrus together to row and steer boats up and down the Nile River granted the Egyptians unprecedented amounts of mobility. They found even more mobility when they attached sails to these row boats. Their sailboats generally had one square sail. The earliest record of a ship under sail is depicted on an Egyptian pot dating back to 3200 BC. These boats were made of either native woods or conifers from Lebanon.

Small papyrus rafts served the population throughout much of Egypt's history, for as long as the raw material was readily available. They were cheap to make and did not require great expertise to build. Papyrus died out in Egypt and was reintroduced in the 20th century.

In a historical account of Egyptian culture, Herodotus writes,

"Down-stream they travel as follows: they have a door-shaped crate made of tamarisk wood and reed mats sewn together, and also a stone of about two talents weight bored with a hole; and of these the boatman lets the crate float on in front of the boat, fastened with a rope, and the stone drags behind by another rope. The crate then, as the force of the stream presses upon it, goes on swiftly and draws on the baris (for so these boats are called), while the stone dragging after it behind and sunk deep in the water keeps its course straight. These boats they have in great numbers and some of them carry many thousands of talents' burden."
Herodotus, Histories 2, 96


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The Vikings were raiders from Scandinavia (Norway, Denmark and Sweden) who came by sea or up rivers in their fast and beautiful longships to attack and seize treasures from monasteries, towns, and churches. Only when they were raiding were they "vikings": They were basically farmers who raised livestock and fishermen, some of whom went "a-viking" in the summer. When they came back from their travels in the early fall, they became farmers again. The Vikings were also known as the Norse or Northmen. Their language was Old Norse. The Norse were also traders, skilled craftspeople in wood, jewelry, stone, and ivory, as well as poets, singers, and storytellers. The Viking Age was the period of raiding as well as creating far-flung trade networks, of settlements by Scandinavians throughout Europe and across the North Atlantic Ocean to Iceland, Greenland, and briefly to the North American Mainland. By the way, not all Vikings or Norse were tall, blond, and blue-eyed. They were short, medium, and tall, had black, brown, red, and blond hair, and their eyes were brown, green, grey, and blue. There were more with light-colored hair and eyes than dark, but a number had brown hair, as is the case today in Scandinavia

The Viking Way of Naviagtion

The Vikings used to sail mainly along the shores of Scandinavia. They sailed during the day while at night, they took the boat to the shore, put up some tents and slept in them. The ships were also hauled by the crew when navigating up the larger rivers and arriving at a waterfall or at shallow water. When traveling at a greater distance from the shore, they slept inside the ship. The ship had to be large enough to carry provisions for the days the crew was at sea. Each man on board had a chest where he kept his owing and which was used for sitting on when rowing.
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The Vikings also relied on clouds. When approaching land, some cloudy formations like a fog can be seen. Also, the clouds have different colors and forms above sea or above land. This is due to the difference between the way in which clouds are formed and the evaporation of water. Another help for sailors was represented by the seabirds. Birds like the Gannet which live on the shore, leave their nests to hunt fish during the day. In the evening they return home and the direction of their flight meant for sailors that there is land. Seaweed and the color of the sand which could be learnt by attaching a piece of wax to the pole used for sounding the depth, could also tell the position of the ship to an experienced sailor. Vikings navigated the oceans with sundials aboard their Norse Ships. But on an overcast day, sundials would have been useless. Many researchers have suggested that the on foggy days, Vikings looked toward the sky through rock crystals called sunstones to give them direction.

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Sailboats were popularly used by privateers from 1500 to 1800 AD.
Privateers were an accepted form of piracy used by countries usually at war to destroy each others trade routes. A government would authorize privatewarships with letters of marque to attack enemy trade ships, though as the method became more underhanded, nations would use privateers on other governments that perhaps only rivaled them in an economic or imperial fashion. Sir Francis Drake, one of the more famous privateers, responsible for the defeat of the Spanish armada as well as the destruction of Spain's trading system and settlements in the Americas. At the Declaration of Paris, most European nations signed into the abolishment of Privateering. The US was one of the only major powers at the time not to sign and took part in privateering in the war of 1812.

Privateers were of great benefit to a smaller naval power, or one facing an enemy dependent on trade: they disrupted commerce, and forced the enemy to deploy warships to protect merchant trade. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without spending public money or commissioning naval officers. Some privateers have been particularly influential in the annals of history. The captured cargo and the prize vessel itself, if serviceable, would be sold at auction with the proceeds distributed among the privateer's owners, officers and crew; sometimes the vessels were commissioned into regular service as a warship. They would not have been nearly as efficient without the help of the sailboat. Privateers generally sailed independently, but it was not unknown for them to form squadrons, or to co-operate with the regular navy. A number of privateers were part of the English fleet that opposed the Spanish Armada in 1588. Privateers generally avoided encounters with warships as such encounters would be at best unprofitable. Still, such encounters did occur.

Modern Sailing

The Industrial Revolution: The Roots of the Modern Sailboat

The industrial revolution also gave way to a revolution in sailing technology. It made the use of more efficient materials possible. This allowed for longer journeys, which enabled the British to build an empire in the far reaches of the Western Hemisphere. The desire to explore the far reaches of the globe, led to a need for even more innovation in sailboat design. Part of these new developments were greatly increasing the size, speed, and reliability of ships to meet demands for a world with a new thirst for global trade.

Sailing goes yachting - from cargo to aristocrats

In the 16th and 17th century, a new trend appeared. Sailing for pleasure rather than transportation of cargo, exploration or warfare arose. The origin of this pastime probably arose in the Netherlands, by then it was a vast trading empire. Dutch merchants’ prosperity and their culture of maritime endeavors attracted them to begin sailing for amusement.

Dutch Jaght

The modern English word “Yacht” is derived from old modern Dutch word ”Jaghts”, which were light and easily navigable ships. The first Dutch yacht arrived in England in 1660 as a gift to King Charles I. The sport soon caught on with the royalty and eventually aristocrats I general. Within a year, two more yachts had been built: “Catherine”, a second yacht to King Charles, and “Anne” for the King’s brother. The King and his brother raced between Greenwich and Gravesend and back along the Thames and thereby, did the first recreational sailing race in history.
In 1720 Ireland built the first yacht club, known as “The Water Club of Cork”. Within a century England followed suit with the founding of its “The Royal Yacht Club”, which boasted prestigious members such as King George IV.

Golden Age of Yacht Clubs
By 1828, there were already three royal yachting clubs in the United Kingdom: “The Royal Yacht Squadron”, “The Royal Cork Yacht Club”; which had originally been named “The Water Club of Cork” and “The Royal Thames Yacht Club”. Sweden started the first non-British club in 1830. New York started its first club in 1844.

Pictured below is the Royal Cork Yacht Club, located in Ireland
Royal Cork Yacht Club

Throughout the 19th century, prestigious yacht clubs began sprouting up all over Europe and the Americas. In 1851, the schooner “America” visited England and attended a race, beating the best British yacht and won the “Hundred Guinea Cup”, which was re-named into “America’s Cup” in honor of the ship. The America’s Cup is considered to be the oldest trophy in the World of international sports.

Sailing Diversification
The latter part of the 20th century brought about more changes in the design of the sailboat. The form started to be made out of plywood, which greatly decreased the cost and allowed for a diversification of sailboat consumers and users.
In the 1960s, sailboat manufacturers began using glassfibre to build their vessels. This created an even more flexible and reliable boat. Using carbon based materials has led to even more innovative designs and continues the trend of breaking previously set records of reliability and speed.

Sailing Today

The modern sailboat owes its design to the ingenious of two ancient civilizations, not modern innovators. While the Arabs were perfecting the sail, the Vikings of Europe were making voyages to undiscovered lands with keeled vessels, which impeded them from slipping sideways in the water. The Viking hull was just as important advance in the evolution of the sailing ship as was the Lateen rig. It wasn’t until the 1800s that these two innovations were combined into one super sailboat, but what their conjoined effort made is our modern sailboat. This composition of masterful design allows for what is known as “windward” sailing, which means sailing close-hauled to the wind.

These types of boats are known as Lug rigs. Today, the most popular type is the Marconi, also known as the Bermuda rig. It uses triangular sails and often consists of a Jib and a Mainsail.

These days, there are many different types of sailboats, ranging from small personal sailboats like Sunfish to ones like we will be staying on during our trip. From sport
 to commercial uses, sailboats have certainly not disappeared as a result of better, 
more economical transportation methods. As a matter of fact, sailing is more popular than it ever has been, in the form of a pleasure sport.
Professionals compete for prestigious trophies, such as the America's Cup. There hundreds of thousands sailing-enthusiasts all over the world.

America's Cup Winner 2009

America's Cup Winner 2009

Sailing is also a readily available to the typical 
consumer. While yachting still appeals primarily to the more wealthy, due purely to large cost. Cruiser racing has become widely popular. Whether you would prefer to be on a cruise manned completely by a 
crew, or you prefer the solitary sailing provided by your own personal vessel, 
there is one thing for certain. There are more options out there than ever for the 
modern sailor.


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