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A small three-masted vessel of the 16th–19th centuries which originated in the Mediterranean. It is similar in many respects to a polacre but with a distinctive hull which had a pronounced overhanging bow and stern. They were greatly favoured by Mediterranean nations as corsairs, and for this purpose were built with a narrow floor to achieve a higher speed than their victims, but with a considerable beam to allow them to carry an extensive sail plan. They had a rig which varied with the strength of the wind. In normal conditions they were square rigged on the foremast and lateen rigged on the main and mizzen, but when the wind was light extremely long yards were hoisted on the main in place of the lateen yards and immense square sails were spread on them. When sailing close hauled, a full lateen rig was substituted, but with over-length yards which were replaced by normal ones in strong winds. When used as corsairs, xebecs could carry a crew of 300–400 men and mounted up to 24 guns. That xebecs covered great distances for their day in search of plunder has been proved by the discovery of the remains of one close to the Cornish shoreline, and they also spread to the Baltic.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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