Sometimes when we are reading about history, we come across terms that we don’t understand. It may not be a question of lack of education or breadth of experience. It sometimes has to do with not understanding the technical details of a technology that is no longer commonly used. Imagine someone a few centuries into the future having to try to piece together through context the difference between a Toyota Corolla and a Honda Civic, a PC and a Mac, or an XP versus a Windows ME. They probably would realize that the first two were some kind of motor vehicle and the last four had something to do with computers, but the subtle differences would be lost on them.
I have been reading about the War of 1812, and I regularly come across terms like “a hermaphrodite brig”, or a brig or a felucca or a sloop or a schooner or a brig goelette, and in my mind, for some time, I have just been translating these terms into “some kind of ship or boat.” But then if you read a sentence like: “They converted the brig into a hermaphrodite brig,” you really start to wonder. Does that mean that a hermphrodite brig isn’t a “kind of brig”? And if not, what’s the difference?
When I looked up hermaphrodite brig in the wikipedia, I was directed to the entry on “brigantine”. Apparently brigantine is the modern day term for a hermaphrodite brig. It denotes a ship with two masts, where only the forward one is square rigged. Here is a picture from the wikipedia:
In case you are wondering what it means to be “square rigged”, it refers to sails that have horizontal spars that are perpendicular to the mast. The spars are also sometimes also called yards, and the tips that go beyond the sail are called “yard-arms”. Apparently, a square rigged sail is more aerodynamic, compared to its non-square equivalent. Here is a picture from the wikipedia of a square rigged mast.
A hermaphrodite brig has two masts, and only one of them is squared: the forward one. But a brig, on the other hand, is a ship with two masts both of which are squared. Here is a picture from the Wikipedia of a brig:
The question is: if you’ve got a brig, why would you convert it to a hermaphrodite brig? If square rigging is the most aerodynamic, why would you choose to make one of the masts less aerodynamic?
Brigs were used as cargo ships as well as warships . When in battle they could carry as many as eighteen guns. With both masts square-rigged, a bigger crew was required to man the same sized ship. So if you wanted to use a smaller crew, then converting to a hermaphrodite brig, with only one square mast, was a good choice.
A brig would normally require a twelve man to sixteen man crew. This begs the question: How few hands could a hermaphrodite brig or brigantine be crewed by? The wikipedia is unclear on this point. If you know the answer, please post it in a comment.
The best way to learn about ships and boats is to experience them for yourself. However, there are neither brigs nor brigantines for sale on Amazon today. The closest vessel I have found that you can buy online is this:
If you want to do research about types of sailboats, here is a good book to buy:
© 2o11 Aya Katz