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A polacca (or polacre) is a type of seventeenth- to nineteenth-century sailing vessel, similar to the xebec. The name is the feminine of "Polish" in the Italian language. The polacca was frequently seen in the Mediterranean. It had two or three single-pole masts, the three-masted vessels often with a lateen hoisted on the foremast (which was slanted forward to accommodate the large lateen yard) and a gaff or lateen on the mizzen mast. The mainmast was square-rigged after the European style. Special polaccas were used by Murat Reis, whose ships had lateen sails in front and fore-and-aft rig behind.

Some polacca pictures show what appears to be a ship-rigged vessel (sometimes with a lateen on the mizzen) with a galley-like hull and single-pole masts. Thus, the term "polacca" seems to refer primarily to the masting and possibly the hull type as opposed to the type of rig used for the sails. Two-masted polaccas were referred to as brig-polaccas with square sails on both masts. Three-masted polaccas were called ship-polaccas or polacca-settees. [1]

Capt. Jack Aubrey in HMS Sophie captures a French polacre heavily-laden with gunpowder in Patrick O'Brian's first Aubrey-Maturin novel, Master and Commander (1969).

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Sailing ship Large wind-powered water vessel

A sailing ship uses sails, mounted on two or more masts, to harness the power of wind and propel the vessel. There is a variety of sail plans that propel sailing ships, employing square-rigged or fore-and-aft sails. Some ships carry square sails on each mast—the brig and full-rigged ship, said to be "ship-rigged" when there are three or more masts. Others carry only fore-and-aft sails on each mast—schooners. Still others employ a combination of square and fore-and aft sails, including the barque, barquentine, and brigantine. Sailing ships developed differently in Asia, which produced the junk and dhow—vessels that incorporated innovations absent in European ships of the time.

Sail plan diagram of the masts, spars, rigging, and sails of a sailing vessel

A sail plan is a set of drawings, usually prepared by a naval architect which shows the various combinations of sail proposed for a sailing ship. Alternatively, as a term of art, it refers to the way such vessels are rigged as discussed below.

Brigantine Vessel with two masts, the forward of which is square rigged, the main mast rigged a gaff mainsail and at least a square topsail

A brigantine is a two-masted sailing vessel with a fully square rigged foremast and at least two sails on the main mast: a square topsail and a gaff sail mainsail. The main mast is the second and taller of the two masts.

Xebec type of Mediterranean sailing ship that was used mostly for trading

A xebec, also spelled zebec, was a Mediterranean sailing ship that was used mostly for trading. Xebecs had a long overhanging bowsprit and aft-set mizzen mast. The term can also refer to a small, fast vessel of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, used almost exclusively in the Mediterranean Sea.

Barque type of sailing vessel with three or more masts

A barque, barc, or bark is a type of sailing vessel with three or more masts having the fore- and mainmasts rigged square and only the mizzen rigged fore and aft. Sometimes, the mizzen is only partly fore-and-aft rigged, bearing a square-rigged sail above.

Galleon Ship type

Galleons were large, multi-decked sailing ships first used by the Spanish as armed cargo carriers and later adopted by other European states from the 16th to 18th centuries during the age of sail and were the principal fleet units drafted for use as warships until the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the mid-1600s. Galleons generally carried three or more masts with a lateen fore-and-aft rig on the rear masts, were carvel built with a prominent squared off raised stern, and used square-rigged sail plans on their fore-mast and main-masts.

Caravel type of sailing ship

The caravel was a small, highly manoeuvrable sailing ship developed in the 15th century by the Portuguese to explore along the West African coast and into the Atlantic Ocean. The lateen sails gave it speed and the capacity for sailing windward (beating). Caravels were used by the Portuguese and Castilians (Spain) for the oceanic exploration voyages during the 15th and 16th centuries in the Age of Discovery.

Lateen boomless triangular sail used as both main and head sail

A lateen or latin-rig is a triangular sail set on a long yard mounted at an angle on the mast, and running in a fore-and-aft direction.

Mast (sailing) pole of wood, metal or lightweight materials used in the rigging of a sailing vessel to carry or support its sail

The mast of a sailing vessel is a tall spar, or arrangement of spars, erected more or less vertically on the centre-line of a ship or boat. Its purposes include carrying sails, spars, and derricks, and giving necessary height to a navigation light, look-out position, signal yard, control position, radio aerial or signal lamp. Large ships have several masts, with the size and configuration depending on the style of ship. Nearly all sailing masts are guyed.

This is a partial glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries. See also Wiktionary's nautical terms, Category:Nautical terms, and Nautical metaphors in English. See the Further reading section for additional words and references.

Course (sail) lowermost sail on a mast

In sailing, a course is the lowermost sail on a mast.

Square rig generic type of sail and rigging arrangement

Square rig is a generic type of sail and rigging arrangement in which the primary driving sails are carried on horizontal spars which are perpendicular, or square, to the keel of the vessel and to the masts. These spars are called yards and their tips, beyond the last stay, are called the yardarms. A ship mainly rigged so is called a square-rigger.

Full-rigged ship sailing vessel with three or more masts, all of them square-rigged

A full-rigged ship or fully rigged ship is a sailing vessel's sail plan with three or more masts, all of them square-rigged. A full-rigged ship is said to have a ship rig or be ship-rigged.


A foresail is one of a few different types of sail set on the foremost mast (foremast) of a sailing vessel:


A jackass-barque, sometimes spelled jackass bark, is a sailing ship with three masts, of which the foremast is square-rigged and the main is partially square-rigged and partially fore-and-aft rigged (course). The mizzen mast is fore-and-aft rigged.

Settee (sail) Type of sail (quadrilateral shape)

The settee sail was a lateen sail with the front corner cut off, giving it a quadrilateral shape. It can be traced back to Greco-Roman navigation in the Mediterranean in late antiquity; the oldest evidence is from a late-5th-century AD ship mosaic at Kelenderis, Cilicia. It lasted well into the 20th century as a common sail on Arab dhows. The settee sail requires a shorter yard than does the lateen, and both settee and lateen have shorter masts than square-rigged sails.

Bracera traditional Croatian coastal cargo sailing vessel

A bracera or brazzera is a traditional Adriatic coastal cargo sailing vessel originated in Dalmatia and first recorded in the 16th-century chronicles. Along with its larger sisters - trabakuls and peligs, braceras formed the backbone of the commercial fleet on the Adriatic Sea with one masted one being the most prominent and best known. This solid and very mobile boat with wide hips and blunt bow was particularly suitable for commerce and communication between the many islands of the Adriatic as well as neighboring coasts. Already in the 19th century over 800 of them were listed in the Austro-Hungarian fleet register covering vessels of the Dalmatian and Istrian coasts. Adriatic braceras distinguish from the vessels carrying same/similar names like, for example, in the Aegean Sea. Unlike there, on the Adriatic the term refers to the entire boat, the system that consists of the hull and the rig as well, and not merely the sail.

Square-rigged caravel

The square-rigged caravel, was a sailing ship created by the Portuguese in the second half of the fifteenth century. A much larger version of the caravel, its use was most notorious beginning in the end of that century. The square-rigged caravel held a notable role in the Portuguese expansion during the age of discovery, especially in the first half of the sixteenth century, for its exceptional maneuverability and combat capabilities. This ship was also sometimes adopted by other European powers. The hull was galleon-shaped, and some experts consider this vessel a forerunner of the fighting galleon, by the name of caravela de armada.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to sailing:


  1. King, Dean (2000). A Sea of Words (3 ed.). Henry Holt. p. 343. ISBN   978-0-8050-6615-9.
*Polacras (spanish)