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1 Probably from the German hulla or hulle, a cloak or covering, the main body of a ship apart from its masts, rigging, and all internal fittings, including engines, etc. It consists virtually of the upper deck, sides, and bottom of a ship. Hull-down, a ship so far distant that only its masts and/or sails, funnels, etc. are visible above the horizon.

Before the 18th century merchant sailing vessels were traditionally classified by their hulls, not their rigs. In 1768 Frederik af Chapman, a naval architect, published a book, Architectura Navalis Mercatoria. This divided the various hull shapes into five categories: frigate, hagboat (or heck-boat), pink, cat, and bark (barque), and each of these could have any of the rigs by which sailing ships were later identified, i.e. schooner, brig, brigantine, etc.

The change to identifying a ship by its rig was gradual, though by 1769 William Falconer in The Dictionary of the Marine was writing that most of the different categories of hull form were becoming very similar and that the term ‘bark’ was ‘a general name given to small ships; it is, however, peculiarly appropriated by seamen to those which carry three masts without a mizzen topsail’.

2 When used as a verb, to hull a ship is to penetrate its hull with shot; to strike hull, in a sailing vessel, is to take in all sail in a storm and to lie with the helm lashed a-lee so that it could heave to; and a ship is said to be hulling when it drives to and fro without rudder or sail or engine power.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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