A narrow triangular sail, probably of Arab origin, set on a very long yard of which the forward end is bowsed well down so that it sets obliquely to the mast and produces a high peak. The origin of the word is obscure, though it has been suggested that it comes from latin, meaning Mediterranean. The first known depiction of it is in a Byzantine manuscript, c.ad 880, and it seems certain that it was in general use by the 9th century, though it could have been in use in pre-Christian times. It was used very effectively by the Portuguese in their caravels from the 15th century, and became common in the West Indies.
There are two types: the triangular which is found only in the Mediterranean, and the more primitive seltee-lateen, with a short luff, found throughout the Indian Ocean. The yard of the former was formed of two or more pieces bound together so that the outer ends would whip more easily than the middle. Because no forestay could be fitted, the mast usually had a pronounced rake forward, and the yard was held to the mast by a form of easily released slip knot. Two bow tackles were used to haul down the forward end of the yard. The seltee-lateen, having a short luff to the forward edge of the sail, is a four-sided sail. The yard on which the sail is set is often longer than the ship itself, on occasions by as much as one-third.
It is not a handy rig to tack as the crew, which needs to be a large one to perform this task, must first turn their boat away from the wind and at the same time bring the yard, or yards, round the front of the mast(s), and the stays supporting the mast must also be moved across to the new windward side. In a strong wind the sail, or sails, have to be lowered to perform this manoeuvre, during which a lot of ground is always lost to leeward. The rig can still be seen on the Nile River, and the northern waters of the Indian Ocean. It is the typical sail of the Mediterranean felucca and the Arabian dhow. The later driver and spanker evolved from it. See also settee.
Subjects: Maritime History.