An Insight into the Operation of the Star Clipper

22nd April 2015

Star Clipper

Climb aboard the Star Clipper and you’ll instantly notice the spider’s web of ropes and sails that are synonymous with the entire tall ship fleet. Put simply, they aren’t just there for decoration – each and every rope and sail you see on board the Star Clipper has a purpose. To understand the true beauty of this tall ship is to understand the purpose of every part of the rigging. This blog will provide an insight into the day to day operation of the four-mast Star Clipper.


The Star Clipper is officially regarded as a four masted barquentine, meaning that only the front of the four masts carry square sails whilst the other three carry triangular sails (otherwise known as stay sails). These four masts, from front to back, are the foremast, main mast, mizzenmast and jigger mast.

The foremast features before the main mast, which is usually located in the centre of the ship and is the tallest of all. The mizzen-mast is the third mast and is usually shorter than the main mast. Star Clipper’s final mast is the jigger-mast, which is usually the shortest and last mast on any ship with more than three masts.

On the jigger mast, sometimes you may see something known as a “spanker”, which is a steering sail that resembles a rudder in the wind.


Yards are the wooden poles (otherwise known as spars) which run across the mast and are where the square sails are set. In ascending order, the square sails set on the fore mast are: the course yard; lower topsail yard; upper topsail yard; lower topgallant yard; and the upper topgallant yard. The square sails are then named according to which yard they are placed – for example, a square sail on lower topsail yard is the lower top sail.

Underneath all of the square sail yards are footropes, which run parallel to the yards and are supported by short straps known as stirrups. These provide a place for crew members to stand and work upon each individual yard. At the end of each yard arm, there is a loop of wire known as a Flemish horse, which provides an area to stand when the foot rope comes to end.

Square Sails

Broken down, think of the square sails as a canvas. The uppermost (and longest) side is simply referred to as the head; opposite is the foot and the two shorter sides of the sail are the leaches. The head of the square sail is attached to its yard by robands and the two lower corners are the clews. These clews are attached to sheets which draw down the lower corners of the square sails and are positioned relative to the wind.

It is important that before any square sail is set, the yards are braced round to the correct angle to the wind. Each of the square sails are assembled in a prescribed order: Lower topsail, Upper topsail, Course, Lower Topgallant and Upper Topgallant. By assembling the square sails in this order, the sail that is assembled first will be taken in last. The lower and upper topsails are considered to be storm sails and will be the last to be taken in, when the wind decreases. Higher sails will catch more of the wind, and are therefore taken in first as wind decreases.

Triangle Sails

Headsails (fore main mast staysail, inner job, outer jib and flying jib) and the many other staysails are all triangular, fore and aft sails. In order to operate correctly, all triangular sails need: a halyard, which is attached to the head of the sail to hoist it up (set the sail); a downhaul, to haul it back down again (furl the sail); two sheets, placed port and starboard to control the clew of the sail; and a tack pendant, placed on staysails and attached to the deck or mast at one end to limit the travel of the sail along the stay.

They are assembled from the rear of the ship, going forwards: Fore staysail; Inner jib; Outer jib; Flying jib. As the wind speed increases, these sails are taken down in reverse order as necessary. Additionally, the fisherman sails are placed between the main and mizzen masts and are currently the largest sails you can find on any tall ship anywhere in the world.

Standing Rigging

The rigging of the Star Clipper is broken into two categories: Standing rigging and Running rigging. Standing rigging is immovable and once it is set up, it is occasionally tightened to keep it at the correct tension.

It can be defined by shrouds, stays and backstays. Multiple shrouds provide lateral support to the masts and the first set of these run down from the futtock band, just under the top (the first platform above deck level on each mast), to the sides of the ship where they are attached to the chainplates. Top put it briefly; the shrouds bring stability to the masts and can be found in multiple sets at different heights of each mast.

Stays are ropes, wires or rods that run fore and aft along the centreline of the masts to the hull, deck bowsprit and to other masts. They are named individually (except for jibs) based on the mast they are supporting. Likewise, backstays do the same job as stays but in the opposite direction to prevent the masts from falling forward.

Running Rigging

In contrast to standing rigging; running rigging is used to position yards and, as the name implies, it “runs” or moves. Braces are used to pivot the yards around the masts as if to trim them and ensure they are set in the correct direction to angle the wind. Every yard features a pair of braces, one which is placed port and the other to starboard. The braces are always used in pairs and will allow the ship to sail in different angles to the wind.

The standing rigging and running rigging combined will allow the masts to be held firmly in position and provide the ideal framework to support the sails at the correct angles to the wind.

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