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A barque (U.S. bark) is a sailing vessel with at least three masts all of which are square-rigged, except for the aft-most (the mizzen) which is fore and aft rigged. Fore and aft sails (staysails) could be set between the masts and it was common during the height of the age of sail to see four or more headsails set from the foremast to the bowsprit.

The form originated in the Middle Ages with a lateen sail instead of gaff-rig on the mizzen. Over the years the original single large square sails on each of the main- and foremast separated into the smaller sails of the “classic” 18th and 19th century sailing ship. A three masted barque could be sailed with less than 20 crew and it became the workhorse of the cargo trade for long voyages well into the age of steam – steel or composite steel and wood hulled barques with up to six masts were still being built in the 20th century, mainly for the South American nitrate trade. Many are still in operation as sail training vessels in the world’s navies or act as floating museums.

James Cook chose barque rigged colliers (coal carriers) for his voyages of discovery for their sturdiness and versatility.

A barquentine is a similar vessel, but square-rigged only on its foremast.


  • Aft: nautical for after, towards the stern. At the back of the boat. If it is relative, it should be “abaft” as in “a yawl’s aft mast is abaft the tiller post.”
  • Mizzen refers to the aft mast. The one at the stern.
  • Staysail: refers to a triangular sail set between two masts with two corners attached to the aftmost. (This corner is called the clew and it is here that the sail is trimmed by tightening or loosening it.) If set from the foremast it is called a headsail or forestaysail. If there is only one on the foremast that sail is called the jib. If more than one headsail, then jib refers only to the topmost.
  • Gaff-rigged refers to a spar attached, by means of a fixture that allows it to swivel and be raised and lowered, to a mast. To it can be “hung” a square sail with its bottom corners usually attached to a boom. This is “gaff-rigged” and is one of the two common forms of rigging for the mainsail on yachts and other fore and aft rigged boats and ships. (The other is Bermudian.)

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