Ships and Ship Terms

At this point in the history of Sartorias Deles, there are two main differences between the tall sails of Earth and those here:

1) No one besides the Venn was able to calculate longitude, thus charts were of primary importance. There was a magical item that would show the position of sun or moon through clouds (a cooler, wetter world than Earth, cloudy weather was frequent enough to be a given) but that was only good for determining latitude. Thus most southern hemisphere ships stayed close to shorelines, which made piracy far easier.

2) There is no cannon warfare. Gunpowder, due to a mix of atmosphere and magical interference in historical times, never ignited, and thus interest in developing it vanished. So ships are somewhat lighter in build than the Earth equivalents, but most of all, between decks construction is permanent, as fighting is conducted from the deck and the tops—all fighting ship masts had good-sized platforms for bow crews.

Venn ships at this time have a longship profile, that is the curving prow, and they are navigated by a whipstaff instead of a rudder, but they are square rigged. Venn warships are best described as a blending of frigate and longship: three masts with three sections, studdingsails when needed, and a shortened jib sail arrangement connected to the prow. No bowsprit or jibboom.

Southern hemisphere ships and non-Venn ships of the north were all fore-and-aft rigged, though many had square foretopsails; raffees had square foresails with triangular (raffee) foretopsails.

Ships could, and did, vary in structure and rigging, but here are basic types:

MERCHANT BRIG, or ‘MERCH,’ could be either two or three masted, the foremast smaller than either main or mizzen, with either a square foresail or else a square topsail above a forestay sail. The main or foremast and mainmast had stay or gaff mainsails and topsails. These masts are usually in two segments, with masthead platforms at the join and at the top. These ships were also built with rounded hulls, meant to carry as much cargo as possible. They have poopdecks as well as forecastles. The forecastle was generally where the mates had their quarters, freeing up more of the hold for cargo; passenger ships usually had their cabins in forecastle and poop, sometimes below. (The PIM ships never carried passengers, as being too costly for profit.)

BRIGANTINES were essentially three-masted brigs, but with taller masts and bigger sails. War ships as well as the bigger pirate ships had strongly reinforced keels and hulls in order to support cut-booms, which when deployed used the hull as brace for a steel-edged boom that extended out to sweep and cut the shrouds of an enemy. War ship building was always a trade-off between narrow build, which advanced speed, and enough hold to carry stores for the large crews necessary for both sailing and fighting a ship.

CARAVELS were old-fashioned round-hulled merchants, usually with very high fore and aft castles. They were roomy inside but very slow and hard to handle in rough weather.

TRYSAILS were very long and narrow, usually flush-decked, just about always used for war, sometimes for royal yachts. The sails were huge, bent from stays; most of them had a single, enormous jib spanker at the back that could be boomed out and when the wind was entirely aft, this and their elaborate flying jib sails were enough to move them through the water. They were thus extremely maneuverable.

RAFFEES were gaff sail ships. The “raffee” was a triangular boom sail on the foremast, again to catch the wind when it was entirely aft. Raffees had a square fore mainsail, which gave more power when the wind was aft. They were usually flush decked, extremely narrow-built, for speed, thus they tended to be favored by pirates.

SCHOONER was a two or three masted ship; when two-masted it had the foremast higher (which means it’s called the main mast), which differentiated it from a brig. When three masted it was appreciably smaller than other three-masters. Also it was built for speed, rather than cargo, so it did not have the characteristic round hull of the merchant brigs. Schooners were usually gaff-rigged, with a square topsail. They often had a half-sized poopdeck and forecastle, or were flush forward.

CUTTER: Single masted ship with sails both fore and aft. Rigging could vary tremendously; the Vixen has as its main sail a single sail cut in a curve similar to what we call a “Bermuda” sail, very difficult to cut and keep taut, but lends tremendous speed. It also has forward sails.


(Military ships have their own organization)

The jobs of the officers vary in name and responsibility not only from country to country, but often from ship to ship. There are some general traditions, though; these are the ones Inda encountered:

The owner of merchant ships hires the captain, and in big trading cities, negotiates with sea-guilds for the hiring of the purser and bosun (boatswain), steward, carpenter, cook, purser, and sails (sailmaster or mistress). Sometimes these warrant officers, who hold their promotion through their guild, come in teams—a sailmaker would prefer working with a certain bosun and purser, who always got what they required in canvas, etc. None of these officers stand a watch—nor do they command a place on the quarterdeck. They all get their own cabins (even if small) and mates; they will turn up on the all hands call, because that almost always means immediate danger.

Sometimes the captain hires crew, sometimes the owner. Hands-on owners like Mistress Pim, and owner-captains, hire everyone, but the captain, whether owner or not, is permitted to rate and disrate crew as needed. Negotiation with the other officers takes place when they desire new mates.


CAPTAIN: Commands ship, holds charts, navigates. Takes a watch when he or she wishes.

FIRST MATE (or MASTER on some ships): Gets daytime watch, no matter what the rotation for others. Works with captain on navigation, logbook, chart-keeping, and oversees crew. On some merchants, the first mate is in charge of what defense there is, and likewise is responsible for punishment.

MATES: Depending on size of ship and wishes of owner, there can be a number of mates, but ideally there is one for each watch. They get a tiny cubicle off the wardroom, barely enough for a hammock and trunk, with a canvas door in most ships, but it affords a semblance of privacy. They are in charge of the ship during their watch, but on orders from the captain; they carry out the captain or first mate’s orders. The mate of the watch can order work parties in accordance with the captain’s orders.

MIDS, MIDDIES: Youngsters who are being trained either as warrant officers or mates. They berth together, but with slightly more room and air than the shiprats, the young boys and girls first hired on, who either get promoted to mid or are rated as sailors. Mids oversee work parties and help train shiprats, they are in charge of work parties given specific tasks; they cannot give orders except within the context of their given task. In most merches they are roughly equivalent to the sail captains.

SAIL CAPTAINS: These are experienced sailors, and highly prized. They pick their watches. The captain of the tops means the top sails; the captain of the forecastle is in charge of the anchors as well as the head sails, the decksail captain is in charge of the main and mizzen sails.

WARRANT OFFICERS: (mess with mates)

BOSUN: In charge of ship, both supplies and cargo. A faint echo of the Earth bosun remains in this officer blowing the whistle for commands. But for merches, the bosun’s most important job is cargo, and that means dealing with guild officials in port. The bosun can command sailors when in port, overseeing stowage and supply on and off-loading. The bosun does not command sailors at sea, except through the captain or first mate. The bosun is not required to keep a watch in the sense of sailing the ship, but does stay on deck during the day, overseeing work that relates to the ship: the bosun in most ships is responsible for rigging, though in some the sailmaster is.

STEWARD is a position only on larger or wealthier ships. The steward is in charge of serving the mess and what could be termed general housekeeping, which includes overseeing all the gear not related to sailing the ship. On smaller or poorer ships, the steward’s job is divided among bosun, cook, purser, sails.

CARPENTER and COOK are self-explanatory; the PURSER is in charge of the ship’s money. The purser is usually with the bosun when negotiating cargo in port. SAILS is in charge of the making and maintenance of the sails, and on some ships, the ropes and rigging as well. Each of these will have as many mates as needed, or that the owner will pay for—these mates are assistants, and have no authority; they are differentiated from ship’s mates by their officer’s title: cook’s mate, sails’ mate, carpenter’s mate, purser’s mate, etc.

ARMORER is a position seldom held on merchants; if there is an organized marine or defensive force, this officer is in charge of weaponry, including cut-booms. Otherwise the captain and the first mate oversee this aspect.


These vary from ship to ship, of course, since there is no land authority overseeing them. For pirates there is no law whatsoever. Independents who follow privateer customs are generally treated like privateers of an enemy country: if they confine their depredations to ships, supplies, and cargo, the crews, when caught, aren’t usually executed. They either serve time in prisons or on galleys for those kingdoms that have galleys.

Independent or pirate, the ship’s work has to be done, and here is roughly how the work is parceled out.

CAPTAIN is supreme. Whatever he or she says goes, unless the ship belongs to a larger fleet. Independent or pirate captains will often act as their own pursers, but will have the Sailing Master handle navigation and chart duties. Captains usually act as their own cargo masters, as well; as they are dealing with illegal gains, they only land in free trade, independent, or pirate ports, where the economics are different.

MASTER, or FIRST MATE takes whatever jobs the captain wishes, and keeps the night watch, unless the lower mates are really trusted. (On most pirate ships, in particular, the captain and the first mate who sleep at the same time often end up dead.) Many times the Master (called the Sailing Master) takes the bosun’s job, overseeing ship supplies and even navigation.

ARMORER: The second most important position, but this job is sometimes taken by the captain or first mate. Oversees weaponry, sometimes training, can command small parties under the captain’s eye.

MATES and CREW have to be fast, strong, and more or less trusted by the captain and first mate. Promotion to captain on a pirate ship especially is just about always by violence; hiring is at least as often by force as by promise of loot to come. Punishment is usually summary and violent, but at the same time the captain needs hands to work the ship, so there is a constant tension between holding control and gaining enough crew to sail and fight. Pirate and independent crews are usually trained both in sail and fighting; they seldom maintain just a fighting force, as specially trained fighting forces have a tendency to mutiny and take the ship, but sometimes it does happen.


Ship terms are largely the same as those in English, to make reading simpler. One variation is ‘captain’s deck’ which is ‘quarterdeck’ in English. In the ships of Sartorias-deles this means whatever deck the captain reserves for his or her space, just about always aft of the mainmast, but sometimes it has been the forecastle. In navies there are strict rules about the captain’s deck and who may or may not step onto it, also in some merchant services, but otherwise the custom varies so much, including the very location—sometimes wherever the wheel is, sometimes the poop deck above the wheel—that this distinction is simpler.

BINNACLE: Housing near the wheel. Sailors on this world never developed the compass, even if they’d crossed worlds and seen one used; (they understood the principles, but there are too many magnetic anomalies on this world to make one work trustworthily). So the binnacle came to be the place to house the charts and spyglasses, as most ships sailed in sight of land whenever they could. A lantern was also there at night, the logboard, and the ship’s bell and sandglass, the latter permanently fixed so it just had to be flipped. On bigger ships the sandglass, bell, and logboard were kept by the mid on watch; smaller craft, independents or privateers might require the person at the wheel to manage them all at night, if the weather was fine, it being a good way to keep them awake. Wealthier ships had various magical time-keepers, and glowglobes, etc.

BOOM: Fore-and-aft sails were run on booms as well as gaffs; booms were used, with tackle, for loading and unloading. Cut-booms were extra long steel-tipped booms that were braced against the hull and used to sweep the sides of enemies to cut their shrouds.

GAFF: A wooden pole extending out from the mast on which fore-and-aft sails can be set, if they are not set on STAYS.

HELM/WHEEL: The concept of the wheel was early developed, the easier to control the long tiller necessary to drive bigger ships, mostly used in the south. The Venn actually used a koldar (whipstaff) for centuries, and it was not until after Inda’s time that the use of the wheel became adapted to Venn ships. Some southern ships had crossed tiller ropes, some did not, therefore there was no standard set of commands; “helm to weather” on one ship meant the captain wished to sail downwind and another into the wind. “Helm to starboard” or “Helm to larboard” generally was a command to move the wheel in those directions; the captain and crew of a given ship knew that that meant. Likewise “Hard over!” meant “Opposite direction—now!”

MASTS are the segmented poles on which the sails are set; they are set into the keelson of the ship. Ships having more than one mast generally also have upper segments called ‘topmasts’ which have their own set of ‘shrouds’ extending to the masthead platform. (‘Mastheads’ are located at the top of each segment, the larger ones at the top of the courses, smaller ones above the topsails. Rare fore and aft ships even have a third set, called the topgallant. It is from the masthead platforms that the bow crews shoot.

NAVIGATION (SOUTHERN): Southern shipping relied mostly on charts and the sun, sometimes the stars, though weather on this world is generally so cloudy that star charts are usually only bought by the wealthy, or for those who are trying to cross from one continent to another. Ships stayed close to the coast, and steering required watching the horizon, the pennant on the mainmast (or mast) and the charts. Ships were narrower, fore-and-aft rigged, and tended not to drift too far too leeward; captains and masters were good at gauging current, especially when sailing for islands. Unless desperate, most ships rode out storms, unless the winds happened to run parallel to the coast, sending the ship in the direction it would go anyway. Everyone was afraid of being blown off course, into the deeps.

NAVIGATION (VENN): Controlled by magic, enabling the Venn to sail the deep seas. Their ships were also square rigged, which handled the deep sea storms better than the narrower fore-and-aft rigged craft of the south.

SHROUDS: The lines leading from the mast to the sides of the ship: the lower, larger sails are attached by metal-reinforced ropes to the hull, and the upper (top) sails to the outer edges of the masthead platforms.

STAYS: Lines extending forward and backward, holding up the masts. Sails can be set on these lines; the line forward is the ‘forestay’ and the line leading aft is the ‘backstay.’

TILLER: Guided smaller vessels, from cutters on down.