Lateen Sail Print E-mail
Monday, 24 January 2005

100 years ago, the lateen rig reigned supreme, for small and medium sized craft throughout the Mediterranean.

Fishermen used barques of varying sizes, usually rigged with a single lateen mainsail and one foresail, but there were many variations on the theme. In Tuscany, for example, the mainsail was smaller than in most other places and the mainmast mounted closer to the stern. Forward, the boats had a bow sprit and no less than three jibs. In Marseille, a narrow jib was mounted directly on the stem. In Toulon, no foresail was used and the mainsail was considerably large than most. The Toulon boats, which were usually sailed by one man, had a formidable reputation for being able to withstand the most violent mistrales.

The balancelles, carrying two or three masts, each with a very rounded lateen sail were in widespread use as cargo vessels  throughout Catalonia. The sail plan gave a very low centre of pressure and these craft had a reputation for seaworthiness. In the days when large ships carried square rig it was often said that a small Spanish balancelle was a better heavy weather boat than the big square rigger.

The houari rig, which looks not unlike a gaff cutter with top sail, was popular among pleasure craft and especially among the racers, as it enabled a yacht to sail closer to the wind and was easier to handle. A houari rigged boat could carry as much sail as a cutter rigged craft.The only drawback to the houari rig was that it lost out to the cutter in following winds.

The chebec was a popular sail for small boats fishing in sheltered waters and for tiny pleasure craft, as it is very easy to handle, being easier to put on the correct tack than some other lateen rigs.

Many consider the tartane to have had the purest form of lateen rig, as it was virually unchanged from the oldest known. In this case “pure” is not synonymous with “good” for the very large mainsail was difficult to handle and it was impossible to change the antenne from one side of the mast to the other. Some tartanes were large boats -150 tonnes or more—and the weight of the upper part of the antenne was considerable. It was not unknown for this to cause a boat to be dismasted in a heavy swell, even when under bare poles.

Today, commercial use of the lateen rig is unknown in the northern Mediterranean, though it is still widely used in Egypt and Tunisia. Pleasure use is mainly restricted to enthusiasts, who have restored, or created replicas of commercial craft.


Last Updated ( Monday, 24 January 2005 )
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