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For the series of games, see Age of Sail (video game).
The Battle of Terheide (1657) by Willem van de Velde the Elder, depicting a 1653 naval battle between the Dutch Republic and the Commonwealth of England
A Ship of War, Cyclopaedia 1728, Vol 2

The Age of Sail was 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 human migrations in recorded history.

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[edit]

In Europe, the Golden Age of Sail is generally agreed to be the period in the 19th century when the efficiency and use of commercial sailing vessels was at its peak (clippers, tall ships, etc.) and immediately before steamboats started to take trade away from sail.[citation needed] Some would say that the Golden Age of Sail relates specifically to the clipper ship era, while others put the Golden Age of Sail between 1850 and the early 1900s when sailing vessels reached their peak of size and complexity.[1] "The Golden Age" is also a term used to describe the 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.[2]

In the United States, the Golden Age of Sail has been said to be between the War of 1812 and the Civil War,[3] or approximately 1830 and 1880,[4] a time during which sailing vessels increasingly adopted steam engines, making overseas shipping more reliable.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, "Sailing Ship Rigs"
  2. ^ David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates, (Harvest Books, 1995), pp.xvi-xvii
  3. ^ nautarch.tamu.edu
  4. ^ museum.gov.ns.ca
  5. ^ ncdcr.gov

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52 news items

San Diego Source (subscription)
Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:07:30 -0700

Cannon Battles -- Join the crew for a cannon battle at sea and experience naval warfare during the age of sail! Several ships will engage in cannon battle reenactments on San Diego Bay during the festival. Individuals can purchase tickets to be on ...

Maritime Matters

Maritime Matters
Mon, 21 Jul 2014 07:03:45 -0700

The museum was established in the 1950s, mainly to preserve material from the age of sail. Åland was one of the last strongholds of tall ships, with the local shipowner Gustaf Erikson known as the King of Sailing Ships. In 2012 the museum building was ...

Kent Online

Kent Online
Tue, 22 Jul 2014 02:11:15 -0700

Galleries, including an interactive Namur exhibition, will be created to reveal the story and significance of Chatham's Dockyard and its defences during the age of sail. Work will also include a discovery play area, the excavation of the Brunel Canal ...
Tue, 22 Jul 2014 13:37:30 -0700

“Whaling in the Age of Sail,” by Curtis Martin, 3 p.m. Wednesday, Brewster Ladies' Library, 1822 Main St. 508-896-3913. · “The Real Story Behind the Fiction: The Old Cape House,” with author Barbara Eppich Struna, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Hyannis Public ...
Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:52:30 -0700

... ship from China to San Francisco that went down 1850 off Mendocino; Bob Benner's collection of historical navigation instruments; displays on Age of Sail and documentary on Frolic's history, produced by students in Advanced Lab for Visual Anthropology.
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
Wed, 16 Jul 2014 20:56:15 -0700

ISBN 978-0-465-01962-5. Award-winning Portland naval historian George Daughan's third non-fiction book about the early American navy tells of the remarkable voyage of the U.S.S. Essex in 1812-1813, “an oceangoing saga unsurpassed in the Age of Sail.”.
Cumberland News Now
Tue, 15 Jul 2014 11:45:00 -0700

“Thanks to organizations such as Ship's Company Theatre, the Parrsborough Shore Historical Society, the Age of Sail society, and the Fundy Shore Auto Club for events such as Old Fashioned Saturday Night and Old Home Week, we are able to keep our ...
Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:26:15 -0700

... from China to San Francisco that went down in 1850 off Mendocino; Bob Benner's collection of historical navigation instruments; displays on Age of Sail and a documentary on Frolic's history, produced by students in Advanced Lab for Visual Anthropology.

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