Age of Sail
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The Age of Sail was the era when sailing ships were an important means of transporting goods and people including slaves. The term is normally used to refer to this era in Western countries, lasting from the 16th to the 19th centuries, with the 19th century peak called the Golden Age of Sail. However, in the Middle East and Far East the dominance of sailing ships began far earlier, in the 3rd or 2nd millennium BCE.
Middle East and Far East
Seafaring exploration began during the rise of ancient civilizations including Mesopotamia, the Far East and the Cradle of Civilization. The Arabian Sea has been an important marine trade route since the era of the coastal sailing vessels from possibly as early as the 3rd millennium BCE, certainly the late 2nd millennium BCE up to and including the later days of the Age of Sail. By the time of Julius Caesar, several well-established combined land-sea trade routes depended upon water transport through the Sea around the rough inland terrain features to its north. These routes usually began in the Far East with transshipment via historic Bharuch (Bharakuccha), traversed past the inhospitable coast of today's Iran then split around Hadhramaut into two streams north into the Gulf of Aden and thence into the Levant, or south into Alexandria via Red Sea ports such as Axum. Each major route involved transhipping to pack animal caravans, travel through desert country and risk of bandits and extortionate tolls by local potentiates. Southern coastal route past the rough country in the southern Arabian peninsula (Yemen and Oman today) was significant, and the Egyptian Pharaohs built several shallow canals to service the trade, one more or less along the route of today's Suez canal, and another from the Red Sea to the Nile River, both shallow works that were swallowed up by huge sand storms in antiquity. The red sea canal was redug and existed in Egypt until the Islamic era.
In western countries, the Age of Sail is the period in which international trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing ships, lasting from the 16th to the mid-19th century. This is a significant period during which square-rigged sailing ships carried European settlers to many parts of the world in one of the most expansive imperialistic movements, one of the most significant eras in recorded history as the onset of the modern world, defined largely by foreign invasions, colonialism and human migrations.
Like most periodic eras, the definition is inexact but close enough to serve as a general description. The age of sail runs roughly from the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the last significant engagement in which oar-propelled galleys played a major role, to the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862, in which the steam-powered ironclad CSS Virginia destroyed the sailing ships USS Cumberland and USS Congress, culminating with the advance of steam power, rendering sail power in warfare obsolete.
Sailing ships continued to be an economical way to transport cargo on long voyages into the 1920s. Sailing ships do not require fuel or complex engines to be powered; thus they tended to be more independent from requiring a dedicated support base on the mainland. Crucially though, steam powered ships held a speed advantage and were rarely hindered by adverse winds, freeing steam-powered vessels from the necessity of following trade winds. As a result, cargo and supplies could reach a foreign port in half the time it took a sailing ship. It is this factor that drove sailing ships aside. Sailing vessels were pushed into narrower and narrower economic niches (see disruptive technology) and gradually disappeared from commercial trade. Today, sailing vessels are only economically viable for small scale coastal fishing, along with recreational uses such as yachting and passenger sail excursion ships.
Golden Age of Sail
In Europe, the Golden Age of Sail is generally agreed to be the period in the 19th century when the efficiency and usage of commercial sailing vessels was at its peak and immediately before steamboats started to take trade away from sail. The Golden Age of Sail could be argued to be the clipper ship era which a began in 1843 as a result of the growing demand for a more rapid delivery of tea from China. It continued under the stimulating influence of the discovery of gold in California and Australia in 1848 and 1851,and ended with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.
When fully rigged and riding a tradewind, a clipper ship had peak average speeds over 16 knots (30 km/h). Their speeds have been exceeded many times by modern yachts, but never by a commercial sail vessel. The Great Tea Race of 1866 showcased their speed.
In the Royal Navy the fastest sailing-ship, logging 14.4 knots (26.7 km/h) running, was HMS Endymion. She was a 40-gun fifth rate that served in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 and during the First Opium War. She was built to the lines of the French prize Pomone captured in 1794. She was the lead ship of her class of six 24-pounder frigates.
"The Golden Age" may also refer to Golden Age of Piracy, the time period from 1690 to 1725 when well-known pirates such as Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and Bartholomew Roberts were preying on mercantile ships, and sometimes even blockading ports, on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the United States, the Golden Age of Sail has been said to be between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, or approximately 1830 and 1880, a time during which sailing vessels increasingly adopted steam engines, making overseas shipping more reliable.
- Age of Discovery
- Naval tactics in the Age of Sail
- Sea lane
- Maritime timeline
- Naval history
- Columbian Exchange
- Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, "Sailing Ship Rigs"
- THE CLIPPER SHIP ERA, Clarke, Arthur H., 1912
- David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates, (Harvest Books, 1995), pp.xvi–xvii