Friday Whimsy: The Zulu Class Sailing Drifter

fidpl2.pngIn the mid 1800's, the world was still running on sail.  It was the height of the era, often called the golden age of sailing.  Steam boats were a curiosity, and the great clipper ships were racing around the world with their cargo.  During this time, the humble fisherman would collect their wares on sailboats.  

For Scotland, this meant sailboats were working boats.  Today we think of sailboats as great yachts that sail for pleasure.  But back then it was the only way to move about.  To get out of the harbor you would use great oars, then hoist the sail.  

In the US, we used gaff sails on our schooners.  These great ships were fast, versatile, and used for everything from fishing to carrying cargo.  In Europe, the great trade ships used square-rigged sails, with gaff sails for moving closer into the wind.  Your great clippers, brigs, barques, and brigantines all used square sails.  But in the far north, in those countries influenced by Viking shipbuilding methods, the lugsail rig was developed.  

Lugsails were developed from the original square Viking sail rig, turning the sail on it's side and angling it for height. There was a question of whether or not they were a development from the lanteen sail rig from the Middle East and Italy, as that right was older by several thousand years and looks similar, but I don't think that's the case.  Just because they are similar doesn't immediately suggest they are derivative.  The physics of sailing would be the same then as now, and adapting the most common (in the region) square rig into a lugger rig would be more likely than trying to adapt a less familiar rig into the lug.  

The benefit of the lug rig was it's simplicity: you basically only have two pieces of wood for your sail, and don't have a boom swinging across the work area, just fluttering sail.  That makes it easy to reef in higher winds, and with the smaller craft easy to tack and jibe (though the larger ships needed to lower the sail in order to tack).  For fisherman, particularly those herring drifters of the late 1800's and early 1900's, they needed a rig that required the minimum amount of people to handle, so the rest can haul in the nets.  

The early herring fishermen in the North used open boats and fished close to shore, but as larger ships were built and decked, they could range further out.  In Scotland they had Skaffies, starting of 20 feet long and a single mast or two (a main and a mizzen).  Eventually they developed into 40 to 80 foot Fifies, and finally the Zulus of the late 1800's.  The benefit of the Zulu class was a straight, nearly 90 degree bow from the Fifie that would blow through the waves instead of bouncing like the skaffies.  But they also had a steeply raked stern for maneuverably.  Muirneag Model

So what about the capabilities of the ships?  When fully rigged, they could make between 11 to 15 knots, which was handy for shooting off to port with the freshist catch.  Their holds, for the big ones (80 foot long, 64 foot keels, and 20 foot beams) could haul 80 tons.  The accomodations were for a crew of 10, and storage was ample in the forecastle.  The deck was mostly flat because it was a working ship, so as long as you are off and running you had plenty room to spread out and enjoy the journey. 

But what about distance sailing with a lugsail rig?  Surely a fishing drifter wouldn't go far off shore right?  Well, a 36 foot lugsail historically and recently made a trip from Cornwall to Australia, and there is historical evidence of luggers trading for the Spanish along the West coast of the Americas during the raids of California's only known pirate, Hippolyte de Bouchard.  So the lugsail was found all over, probably because it was such a simple rig that was used in Ireland, Scotland, France (Brittany and Normandy), Holland, Basque country, and other Northern European countries.  

So what interest do I have in this type of sail, particularly the Zulu class?  Well, they are prime working sail boats that could see a resurgence in the new, emerging zero-carbon shipping trend that seems to be developing. They can carry a lot of cargo of, well, anything.  They are easy to sail, don't need a lot of crew, and can plow through rough seas.  Under an experienced hand, the craft could cross all oceans and travel far and wide.