A vessel, during the days of sail, used for the transport of masts. They were ships which had extensive square ports, sometimes known as raft-ports, cut in the stern, and occasionally also in the bows, so that the larger timbers intended for the manufacturer of lower masts and topmasts could be loaded inboard through them. The traditional countries supplying suitable timbers for this purpose were those bordering the Baltic Sea, and the special mast ships carried on a flourishing trade from there through the centuries during which sail was the primary motive power of all shipping. However, with the great expansion of commerce during the 18th and early 19th centuries the Baltic countries were unable to meet the full demand for masts, and a second source of supply was discovered in North America, where the vast forests of firs proved an apparently inexhaustible reservoir of suitable timber. It was then that attempts were made to construct temporary mast ships made entirely of timber suitable for mast-making, by lashing them together in the rough shape of a ship's hull, setting up three masts, and trying to sail them across the Atlantic, the idea being they could be broken up into individual mast timbers on arrival. However, the lashings usually parted as the timbers worked in the sea, so that the ‘ship’ disintegrated en route; but properly constructed mast ships continued to operate until iron and steel replaced timber.
Subjects: Maritime History.