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The spritsail

sail at front of ship

Detail of the spritsail from 'Man of War in a Harbour'

An interesting feature of the mid 18th century sail plan was the 'spritsail', depicted here as the large sail in front of the flagship's bow, its lower border almost at sea level even in the calm sea prevailing. In this instance a close examination reveals the presence of two holes, one near each lower corner. Almost concealed by darkened varnish prior to conservation, their significance might easily have been misinterpreted.

In fact the spritsail was never a wholly satisfactory concept, as it was often submerged when the vessel pitched and then buried her bow. The bunt of the spritsail then filled with water, the holes were intended for drainage. Despite various modifications the spritsail remained impractical and before long was abandoned.