Bermuda sloop
The Bermuda sloop is a type of fore-and-aft rigged sailing vessel developed on the islands of Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

 in the 17th century. In its purest form, it is single-masted, although ships with such rigging were built with as many as three masts, which are then referred to as schooners. Its original form had gaff rig
Gaff rig
Gaff rig is a sailing rig in which the sail is four-cornered, fore-and-aft rigged, controlled at its peak and, usually, its entire head by a spar called the gaff...

ging, but evolved to use what is now known as Bermuda rig
Bermuda rig
The term Bermuda rig refers to a configuration of mast and rigging for a type of sailboat and is also known as a Marconi rig; this is the typical configuration for most modern sailboats...

, which had been used on smaller Bermudian boats since the early 17th Century, making it the basis of nearly all modern sailing yachts. Although the Bermuda sloop is often described as a development of the narrower-beamed Jamaica sloop, which dates from the 1670s, the high, raked masts and triangular sails of the Bermuda rig are rooted in a tradition of Bermudian boat design dating from the earliest decades of the 17th Century.

History of the Bermuda rig

The development of the rig is thought to have begun with fore-and-aft rigged boats built by a Dutch-born Bermudian in the 17th Century. The Dutch were influenced by the mediterranean lateen rigs introduced during Spain's rule of their country. The Dutch eventually modified the design by omitting the masts, with the yards of the lateens being stepped in thwarts. By this process, the yards became raked masts. Lateen sails mounted this way were known as leg-of-mutton sails in English. The Dutch called a vessel rigged in this manner a bezaan jacht. A bezaan jacht is visible in a painting of King Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 arriving in Rotterdam in 1660. After sailing on such a vessel, Charles was so impressed that his eventual successor, The Prince of Orange
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

 presented him with a copy of his own, which Charles named Bezaan. The bezaan rig had been introduced to Bermuda some decades before this. Captain John Smith
John Smith of Jamestown
Captain John Smith Admiral of New England was an English soldier, explorer, and author. He was knighted for his services to Sigismund Bathory, Prince of Transylvania and friend Mózes Székely...

 reported that Captain Nathaniel Butler
Nathaniel Butler
Nathaniel Butler was an English privateer who later served as the colonial governor of Bermuda during the early 17th century. He had built many structures still seen in Bermuda today including many of the island's coastal fortresses and the State House, in St...

, who was the governor of Bermuda from 1619 to 1622, employed a Dutch boat builder, one of the crew of a Dutch frigate which had been wrecked on Bermuda, who quickly established a leading position among Bermuda's boat makers (to the resentment of many of his competitors, who were forced to emulate his designs). A poem published by John H. Hardie in 1671 described Bermuda's boats such: With tripple corner'd Sayls they always float, About the Islands, in the world there are, None in all points that may with them compare.

Ships of somewhat similar design were in fact recorded in Holland during the 17th Century. The rig was eventually adopted almost universally on small sailing craft in the 20th Century, although as seen on most modern vessels it is very much less extreme than on traditional Bermudian designs, with lower, vertical masts, shorter booms, omitted bowsprits, and much less area of canvas.

Merchant and privateering use

The fore-and-aft rig was particularly useful in manoeuvring upwind, and was very useful to Bermudians who used boats as the primary means of moving about their gusty archipelago into the 20th century. The rig was as useful in maintaining trade and emigration links to the North American colonies, directly upwind to the West (prevailing wind direction is to the East), which were and remain Bermuda's primary trading partners. After Bermudians turned wholesale from agriculture to a maritime economy, following the dissolution of the Somers Isles Company
Somers Isles Company
The Somers Isles Company was formed in 1615 to operate the English colony of the Somers Isles, also known as Bermuda, as a commercial venture. It held a royal charter for Bermuda until 1684, when it was dissolved, and the Crown assumed responsibility for the administration of Bermuda as a royal...

 in 1684, the windward capabilities of Bermudian vessels became the primary enabler of the salt
In chemistry, salts are ionic compounds that result from the neutralization reaction of an acid and a base. They are composed of cations and anions so that the product is electrically neutral...

 industry which was to be the central leg of Bermuda's economy for the next century. Bermudian vessels sailed south-west (more-or-less upwind) to the Turk Islands
Turks and Caicos Islands
The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory and overseas territory of the European Union consisting of two groups of tropical islands in the Caribbean, the larger Caicos Islands and the smaller Turks Islands, known for tourism and as an offshore financial centre.The Turks and...

, where salt was harvested. This salt was carried to North American ports and sold at high profits. Bermudian vessels also developed a trade in moving goods such as grain, cocoa, brandy, wine and more from the Atlantic seaboard
Atlantic Seaboard
The Atlantic seaboard watershed is a watershed of North America along both*the Atlantic Canada coast south of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence Watershed &*the East Coast of the United States north of the watershed of the Okeechobee Waterway....

 colonies to the West Indies.

The Bermuda sloop became the predominant type of sailing vessel both in the Bermudian colony and amongst sloop rigs worldwide as Bermudian traders visited foreign nations. Soon, shipbuilding became one of the primary trades on the island and ships were exported throughout the English colonies on the American seaboard, and in the West Indies, and eventually to Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. Bermudians built roughly a thousand ships during the 18th Century. Although many of these were sold abroad, the colony maintained its own large merchant fleet, which, thanks partly to the domination of trade in many American seaboard ports by branches of wealthy Bermudian families, and partly to the suitability and availability of Bermudian vessels, carried much of the produce exported from the American south to Bermuda and to the West Indies. Bermuda sloop design strongly influenced the development of vessels built by the Chesapeake builders, and Bermudian features like the raked mast began to appear in American schooners.

The Bermuda sloop differed from other sloops partly in the form of its hull, which was very stiff. This stiffness was a result partially of the shipbuilding skills on the islanders, but also thanks to the availability of large quantities of Bermuda cedar
Juniperus bermudiana
Juniperus bermudiana is a species of juniper endemic to Bermuda. This species is most commonly known as Bermuda cedar although, like most "cedars" it is not a true cedar ; a more botanically accurate name would be Bermuda juniper, but this term is extremely rare.It is an evergreen tree growing up...

, which has superior qualities of rot-resistance, low density (making the ships lighter and faster) and high strength (making the ships more durable). Designed to sail primarily on the open ocean, their relatively deep hulls gave them superior seaworthiness by comparison to similar vessels, such as the Baltimore clipper
Baltimore Clipper
Baltimore Clipper is the colloquial name for fast sailing ships built on the south-eastern seaboard of the United States of America, especially at the port of Baltimore, Maryland...

, which were intended to operate in coastal waters. Despite this, single-masted Bermudian sloops were optimised for speed, and were very demanding craft to sail. In rough weather, they were easily swamped. The vessels carried little fixed ballast, which allowed the carriage of large cargoes.

During wartime, much of Bermuda's merchant fleet turned to privateering, a lucrative activity for which the fast sloops were well-suited. They often carried sufficient crew out to return with several prizes, and these extra crew were useful both as movable ballast, and in handling the labour-intensive sloops. The threat of piracy and privateering was a large problem for mariners of all nations during the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was also as widely popular an enterprise. Bermudian mariners excelled at the activity, thanks largely to the speed, especially to windward, and manoeuvrability of the Bermuda sloops, which suited them well to the role. The same abilities allowed Bermuda sloops to escape from better-armed privateers - and, even more so, to escape from larger men-of-war, which, with their square rig
Square rig
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...

s, could not sail as closely to windward. The ability of the sloop rig in general to sail upwind meant a Bermuda sloop could outrun most other sailing ships by simply turning upwind and leaving its pursuers floundering in its wake. This evasiveness meant they were highly prized amongst merchantmen. Of course, these qualities also made Bermuda sloops the ship of choice for the pirates themselves, earlier in the 18th Century, as well as for smugglers.

Despite Bermudian privateers preying heavily on American shipping during the American War of Independence, some historians credit the large number of Bermuda sloops (reckoned at well over a thousand) built in Bermuda as privateers and sold illegally to the Americans as enabling the rebellious colonies to win their independence.

The American War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

 was to be the encore of Bermudian privateering, which had died out after the 1790s, due partly to the build up of the naval base in Bermuda, which reduced the Admiralty's reliance on privateers in the western Atlantic, and partly to successful American legal suits, and claims for damages pressed against British privateers, a large portion of which were aimed squarely at the Bermudians. During the course of the American War of 1812, Bermudian privateers were to capture 298 ships (the total captures by all British naval and privateering vessels between the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

 and the West Indies was 1,593 vessels).

Naval use

The characteristics of the Bermudian vessels were such that, the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 began building up its establishment in Bermuda, following US independence, it commissioned large numbers of these vessels from Bermudian builders, and bought many more up from trade. As the long-boomed, single-masted designs were such demanding sailors, the navy favoured multiple-masted designs as they did not require the large, very experienced crew demanded by the single-masted designs (this was the same reason the Bermuda Sloop Foundation chose a three-masted design for its new Spirit of Bermuda
Spirit of Bermuda
The Spirit of Bermuda is a modern-built Bermuda sloop. She is a replica of a Royal Navy Sloop-of-war, depicted in a well-known 1831 painting.-History of the Bermuda Sloop:...

, which is a sail training ship for youths). They also had the advantage of longer decks, which carried more guns. Although, today, these vessels might be considered schooner
A schooner is a type of sailing vessel characterized by the use of fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts with the forward mast being no taller than the rear masts....

s, and some might debate the use of the term sloop
A sloop is a sail boat with a fore-and-aft rig and a single mast farther forward than the mast of a cutter....

for multiple-masted vessels, the Royal Navy rated such vessels as sloops-of-war
In the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term sloop-of-war actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the...

. The first three built, HMS Dasher, HMS Driver, and HMS Hunter, were each of 200 tons, and well-armed
with twelve cannons. They were intended to counter the then-extant menace of French privateers, which the Navy's ships-of-the-line were ill-designed to counter. Eventually, Bermuda sloops became the standard advice vessels of the navy, used for communications, reconnoitering, anti-slaving, and anti-smuggling, and other roles to which they were well suited.

The most notable examples of these were HMS Pickle
HMS Pickle (1800)
HMS Pickle was a topsail schooner of the Royal Navy. She was originally a civilian vessel named Sting. of six guns, that Lord Hugh Seymour purchased to use as an armed tender on the Jamaica Station...

, which raced back to England with news of the British victory and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson at the end of the Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar was a sea battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars ....

 (it had also been Bermudian picket boats which had given warning of the enemy fleet), and HMS Whiting
HMS Whiting (1805)
HMS Whiting was a Royal Navy Ballahoo-class schooner of four 12-pounder carronades and a crew of 20. The prime contractor for the vessel was Goodrich & Co., in Bermuda, and she was launched in 1805...

, of 79 tons and four guns, which lowered anchor in the harbour of Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads is the name for both a body of water and the Norfolk–Virginia Beach metropolitan area which surrounds it in southeastern Virginia, United States...

 on 8 July 1812. She was carrying despatches from Portsmouth, and, while her captain was being rowed ashore, the American privateer Dash, which happened to be leaving port, seized the vessel. The crew of the Whiting had not yet received news of the American declaration of war, and her capture was the first naval action of the American War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

. (The Americans released her but a French privateer captured her almost immediately thereafter.)

Slavery and the Bermuda sloop

The commercial success of the Bermuda sloop must be credited in part to the contribution of Bermuda's free and enslaved
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

 Blacks. For most of the 18th Century, Bermuda's agricultural economy was reliant on indentured servants, most of whom were White. After 1684, Bermuda turned wholesale to a maritime economy, and slaves, Black, Amerindian, and Irish (the various minorities merged into a single demographic group, nominally Black), played an increasing role in this. Black Bermudians became highly skilled shipwrights, blacksmiths and joiners. Due to the number of White Bermudian men who were away at sea at any one time (and possibly due as much to fear of the number of Black Bermudian men left behind) it was mandated that Blacks must make up a percentage of the crew of every Bermudian vessel.

By the American War of Independence, the use of many able slaves as sailors added considerably to the power of the Bermudian merchant fleet, and these included the crews of Bermudian privateers. When the Americans captured the Bermudian privateer Regulator, they discovered that virtually all of her crew were black slaves. Authorities in Boston offered these men their freedom, but all 70 elected to be treated as prisoners of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

. Sent to New York on the sloop Duxbury, they seized the vessel and sailed it back to Bermuda.

There was also an irony in the use of Bermuda sloops, built largely with slave labour, to counter the Atlantic slave trade, to which end the Royal Navy frequently applied them.

Many of the shipwrights who helped to develop shipbuilding in the American south, especially on the Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 shore of the Chesapeake
Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. It lies off the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay's drainage basin covers in the District of Columbia and parts of six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West...

 (Bermuda, also known as Virgineola, had once been part of Virginia, and had maintained close connections ever since), were Bermudian slaves, and the design and success of the area's schooners owes something to them, also.

Present-day examples

Although no example of a Bermuda-built ship survives today, there is a replica of HMS Pickle (converted from a cutter) in Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

. She was built to take part in the celebrations commemorating the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar was a sea battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars ....

 in 2005. Chartered to the Ocean Youth Trust East, she operates as a sail-training ship for youths. Her owners have currently offered her for sale.

Also, in 2006 the Bermuda Sloop Foundation launched a replica of the Royal Naval sloop-of-war, shown in the 1831 painting at the top of this page, which was constructed by a US contractor from modern materials. Known as the Spirit of Bermuda
Spirit of Bermuda
The Spirit of Bermuda is a modern-built Bermuda sloop. She is a replica of a Royal Navy Sloop-of-war, depicted in a well-known 1831 painting.-History of the Bermuda Sloop:...

(not the first noteworthy vessel of the name), she operates from Bermuda primarily as a sail-training ship for youths.

Bermudian work boats

Although the term Bermuda sloop is applied to refer specifically to the type of small sailing ships discussed above, the term also was used to describe the small working boats used for moving freight about Bermuda's islands, for fishing, and other coastal activities. Motor vehicles were banned in Bermuda until after the Second World War, and the roads were few and poor until the requirements of that war advanced their development. Boats, as a consequence, remained the primary method of moving people and materials around Bermuda well into the 20th Century. The Bermuda rig had begun its development in such small boats in the 17th Century, before being adapted to ships, and by the 19th Century the working boats of the island conformed to an almost pure design, with high, raked masts, long bowsprits, and vast areas of sail. They were, in appearance, scale models of the seagoing sloops. Although such small sloops are rare, today (the one pictured at right is a 19th Century survivor), the design was scaled down to produce the Bermuda Fitted Dinghy
Bermuda Fitted Dinghy
The Bermuda Fitted Dinghy is a type of racing-dedicated sail boat used for competitions between the yacht clubs of Bermuda. Although the class has only existed for about 130 years, the boats are a continuance of a tradition of boat and ship design in Bermuda that stretches back to the earliest...

, a class of racing vessel used in traditional competition between Bermudian yacht clubs. The term Bermuda sloop has come to be used outside of Bermuda, today, to describe any single masted, Bermuda rigged boat, also known as Marconi sloops, although most are far less extreme in their design than was once the norm in Bermuda, with bowsprits omitted, masts vertical and shortened, and booms similarly shortened. Spinnaker booms and multiple jibs are rarely seen. The reduced sail area makes modern boats much more manageable, especially for small or inexperienced crews.

External links

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