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A long spar which stretches diagonally across a four-sided fore-and-aft sail, called a spritsail, to support the sail's peak. In the typical barge rig, its heel or inboard end is held in a snotter near the base of the mast.

Reliefs dating from the 2nd century bc show that the sprit was known to the Greeks and Romans for small boats. The first representation of it in western Europe is on the seal of the city of Kiel, dated 1365, though not all experts agree that this is what it is. The seal shows two sprits, shaped as a V, supporting a square sail, a type of sprit rig long associated with boats in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. This kind of sprit may well have been transmitted from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean in classical times as some of the reliefs mentioned above show V-shaped sprits.

The single sprit was not used in western Europe for seagoing ships until the early 15th century. It was almost certainly introduced by the Dutch at that time as a rig for smaller, coastal craft, proving much more weatherly than square-rigged vessels in the shoal and tidal waters off the Dutch coast.

Thames barge with sprit

Subjects: Maritime History.

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