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A tall ship is a large, traditionally-rigged sailing vessel. Popular modern tall ship rigs include topsail schooners, brigantines, brigs and barques. "Tall Ship" can also be defined more specifically by an organization, such as for a race or festival.
Traditional rigging may include square rigs and gaff rigs, usually with separate topmasts and topsails. It is generally more complex than modern rigging, which utilizes newer materials such as aluminum and steel to construct taller, lightweight masts with fewer, more versatile sails. Most smaller, modern vessels use the Bermuda rig. Though it did not become popular elsewhere until the twentieth century, this rig was developed in Bermuda in the seventeenth century, and had historically been used on its small ships, the Bermuda sloops.
Author and master mariner Joseph Conrad (who spent 1874 to 1894 at sea in tall ships and was quite particular about naval terminology) used the term "tall ship" in his works; for example, in "The Mirror of the Sea" in 1903. If Conrad used the term, it is fairly certain "tall ship" was common parlance among his fellow mariners in the last quarter of the 19th century.
While Sail Training International (STI) has extended the definition of tall ship for the purpose of its races to embrace any sailing vessel with more than 30 ft (9.14 m) waterline length and on which at least half the people on board are aged 15 to 25, this definition can include many modern sailing yachts, so for the purposes of this article, tall ship will mainly refer to those vessels rated as class "A".
By the 21st century, "Tall ship" is often used generically for large, classic, sailing vessels, but is also a technically defined term by Sail Training International for its purposes and of course, STI helped popularize the term. The exact definitions have changed somewhat over time, and are subject to various technicalities, but by 2011 there were 4 classes (A, B, C, and D). Basically there are only two size classes, A is over 40 m LOA, and B/C/D are 9.14 m to under 40 m LOA. The definitions have to do with rigging: class A is for square sail rigged ships, class B is for "traditionally rigged" ships, class C is for "modern rigged" vessels with no "spinnaker-like sails", and class D is the same as class C but carrying a spinnaker-like sail. The STI definitions can be found here and a ship database here.
All square-rigged vessels (barque, barquentine, brig, brigantine or ship rigged) and all other vessel more than 40 metres Length Overall (LOA), regardless of rig. STI classifies its A Class as "all square-rigged vessels and all other vessels over 40 metres (131 ft) length overall (LOA)", in this case STI LOA excludes bowsprit and aft spar. STI defines LOA as "Length overall measured from the fore side of stem post to aft side of stern post, counter or transom".
|Amerigo Vespucci||Italy||1931||3||Full rigged ship||82.4||15.8|
|Capitain Miranda||Uruguay||1930||3||Staysail Schooner||50.3||7.9||X|
|Christian Radich||Norway||1937||3||Full rigged ship||62.5||9.7|
|Cisne Branco||Brazil||1999||3||Full rigged ship||60.5||10.7|
|Constitution||United States||1797||3||Full rigged ship||62|
|Danmark||Denmark||1932||3||Full rigged ship||59.8||10.1|
|Dar Młodzieży||Poland||1982||3||Full rigged ship||94.8||14.0|
|Druzhba||Ukraine||1987||3||Full rigged ship||94.2||14|
|Eugene Eugenides||Greece||1959||3||Topgallant Schooner||9.2|
|Georg Stage (II)||Denmark||1935||3||Full rigged ship||42||8.5|
|Gorch Fock (I)||Germany||1933||3||Barque||73.7||11.9|
|Gorch Fock (II)||Germany||1958||3||Barque||81.2||11.9|
|Großherzogin Elizabeth||Germany||1908||3||Gaff Schooner||53||8.2|
|Juan Sebastián Elcano||Spain||1927||4||Topsail Schooner||94.13||13.1|
|Kaiwo Maru II||Japan||1989||4||Barque||89.0||13.8|
|Khersones||Ukraine||1989||3||Full rigged ship||94.8||14.0|
|Libertad||Argentina||1960||3||Full rigged ship||91.7||13.7|
|Lord Nelson||United Kingdom||1985||3||Barque||40.2||8.5|
|Mir||Russia||1987||3||Full rigged ship||94.8||14.0|
|U.S. Brig Niagara||United States||1988||2||Brig||37.5||9.8|
|Nippon Maru II||Japan||1984||4||Barque||89.0||13.8|
|Pallada||Russia||1989||3||Full rigged ship||94.2||14.0|
|Sørlandet||Norway||1927||3||Full rigged ship||56.7||9.6|
|Spirit of New Zealand||New Zealand||1986||3||Barquentine||33.2||9.0|
|Stad Amsterdam||Netherlands||2000||3||Full rigged ship||62.4||10.5|
|Star of India||United States||1863||3||Barque||62.5||10.7||X|
|Stavros S Niarchos||United Kingdom||2000||2||Brig||40.6||9.9|
|Surprise (ex Rose)||United States||1970||3||Full rigged ship||54.6||9.8|
|Thor Heyerdahl||Germany||1930||3||Topsail Schooner||42.5||6.5|
|Young America||United States||1975||2||Brigantine||7.2|
|La Grace||Czech Republic||2010||2||Brig||32.8||6.06|
|Alexander von Humboldt||Germany||1906||3||Barque||Sold|
|Bounty||United States||1960||3||Full rigged ship||Sunk 2012|
|Dunay||USSR||1928||3||Full rigged ship||Burned 1963|
|Prince William||United Kingdom||2001||2||Brig||Sold|
Traditionally rigged vessels (i.e. gaff rigged sloops, ketches, yawls and schooners) with an LOA of less than 40 metres and with a waterline length (LWL) of at least 9.14 metres.
Modern rigged vessels (i.e. Bermudan rigged sloops, ketches, yawls and schooners) with an LOA of less than 40 metres and with a waterline length (LWL) of at least 9.14 metres not carrying spinnaker-like sails.
Modern rigged vessels (i.e. Bermudan rigged sloops, ketches, yawls and schooners) with an LOA of less than 40 metres and with a waterline length (LWL) of at least 9.14 metres carrying spinnaker-like sails. There are also a variety of other rules and regulations for the crew, such as ages, and also for a rating rule. Here is list of tall ships as of 2011, really just a snapshot, since, while many ships are regulars, many have also come and gone over the course of the tall ship races. There are other sail festivals and races with their own standards, the STI is just one set of standards for their purposes.
An older definition of class "A" by the STI was "all square-rigged vessels over 120' (36.6m) length overall (LOA). Fore and aft rigged vessels of 160' (48.8m) (LOA) and over". By LOA they meant length excluding bowsprit and aft spar.
Class "B" was "all fore and aft rigged vessels between 100 to 160 feet in length, and all square rigged vessels under 120' (36.6m) (LOA)".
See also a list of class "A" ships with lengths including bowsprit.
Tall ships are sometimes lost, such as by a storm at sea. Some examples of this include:
The USCGC Eagle in 1998 (US Coast Guard).
The N.R.P. Sagres (Portuguese Navy).
ARA Libertad (Argentine Navy)
Greif in drydock
Tall ship Kruzenshtern
The defining feature of square rigged tall ships – going aloft to set and stow sails.
More than 36 tall ships participated in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in Portsmouth, part of the fleet of 167 naval, merchant and tall ships from 36 countries
The masts and yards of a brig, a typical tall ship.
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