The History of Sailboats

The earliest boats recorded, and their sails were made from animal hides and reeds (papyrus). The Egyptians improved the sail efficiency by being the first to use woven cloth. The first crude “boats” were rafts made from logs or reeds bound together. The Egyptians and their neighbours, the Phoenicians, started with these crude boats in about 4000 BCE. In 2000 BCE the boats were used in the transport of cargo, later evolving into ships sailing to all parts of the Mediterranean Sea, able of carrying a large load.
The Phoenicians were the first to use multiple masts, which improved speed and manoeuvrability. The Romans started transporting soldiers and passengers with the cargo and developed boats up to 60m long. The ships of the time included the Trireme which had multiple levels of slave rowers and the Quinqueremes which had three levels of oarsmen – about 300 in total. The largest Roman cargo ship was 46m long and had a capacity of 60 tonnes.

From the 10th century

By the 10th century, different sails were being designed to suit different boats and various weather conditions. By the 11th century the Vikings were dominating the seas from the Mediterranean, past England in what is today known as the English Channel, and up to the North Sea, raiding, looting, abducting women, trading, and colonising wherever they could. It is believed that they were the first Europeans to sail to the Americas sailing in their iconic, open decked boats, rowed, not by slaves, but by their warriors, and predating Columbus by centuries!

The 15th century

In the 15th century, the Bark was designed with sails across the beam at right angles to the hull. In 1720 King Charles was the influence behind the start of the Royal Cork Yacht Club. Germany claims that their club, the Neva Yacht Club in St Petersburg is the oldest, but it is a freshwater club. In 1797 the USS Constitution was launched – a three-mast, wooden-hulled frigate. Over the next 100 years, Barquentine boats were designed with three or four masts, the Star of India is launched a fully square-rigged ship. In the early 1900s, the acceptance of yachting in the Olympic Games programme increased interest in yachting.

The 19th century

In the 1920s designs for speed were being launched leading to many innovations for hull aerodynamics and in 1930 the J-Class of racing yachts became famous when they started dominating the America Cup Race. Unfortunately, most of these beautiful boats were scrapped to aid with the Second World War effort, but a few have survived.

In 2000 a steel-hulled, five mast clipper becomes the largest square-rigged ship ever built. The clipper design became famous for the yearly contest between boats from the East to Europe, bringing the season’s first shipment of tea. In the later years, these clippers were beaten by steam-driven boats to the demise of the iconic clipper.