L'HERMIONE'S SPRITSAIL, SYMBOL OF ANCIENT NAVIGATION January 14, 2014
IN THIS ENGRAVING, THE SPRITSAIL IS THE LITTLE, SQUARE-SHAPED SAIL ON THE BOW, OR THE VERY FRONT OF THE VESSEL.
IN THIS IMAGE OF THE SANTA MARIA, THE SPRITSAIL IS SQUARE SAIL LOCATED TO THE FAR RIGHT; WITHOUT IT, COLUMBUS'S SHIP MIGHT NEVER HAVE REACHED THE NEW WORLD IN THE FABLED VOYAGE FROM SPAIN IN 1492!
HERE, ABOVE, IS THE ORIGINAL 18TH CENTURY ENGRAVING DEPICTING THE DESIGN OF THE SPRITSAIL THAT WAS INCORPORATED INTO THE OVERALL DESIGN PLANS OF L'HERMOINE.
L'HERMIONE'S CREW PREPARES TO UNFURL THE SPRITSAIL. AT ALMOST 1,400 SQUARE FEET, IT POSSESSES TREMENDOUS POTENTIAL POWER; ITS STRONG LINEN SAILCLOTH, BORDERED BY HEMP ROPE, WAS ASSEMBLED AND STITCHED BY ARTISAN ANNE RENAULT, WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR PRODUCING ALL THE SAILS ON L'HERMIONE.
Since ancient times, the SpritSail was called “dolon” in Greek, then “dalum.” We even find in a Roman-era text: “minimum velum ad proran fixum” or “small sail fixed to the prow.”
A SpritSail is a form of a four-sided or square sail that rides below the bowsprit bent to a small yardarm.
This little sail has survived for thousands of years, and made its way across all of Europe.
Literally, and figuratively, crossing millennia, the SpritSail is progressively adopted in all of Europe. In Provence, the SpritSail takes the name of “civadiero,” probably comparing it to the sack of oats that is often hung around a livestock’s head to feed it. The sail evolves progressively across the later centuries of square riggers, but its usefulness continues to elude most. In fact it begins to impact the stability of the ship as more and more square feet of sails are added.
Whatever its etymological origins, the SpritSail itself evolved over the centuries, with its essential purpose intact: To drive a vessel forward under strong winds. In fact, the SpritSail contributed to the vessel’s essential balance and design integrity even as its size continued to swell in overall dimension.
In 1779, the Hermione still carried a sail that was in declining use. In this pivotal period the bow sprit was home to two types of sails but the simplicity of the jib, its efficacy and its ease of maneuvering helped it win out as the sail of choice for the bow.
The SpritSail is the first one to be added to L’Hermione as a historic symbol. Aside from its usual location it differentiates itself from other sails by her shape of crossed sections that help prevent the risk of “trawling” (dragging sail in the water). If the ship is running in heavy seas and the three holes in the bottom of the sail help to dump water in the event that the sail collects water.
The SpritSail aboard L’Hermione is 126m2 (1,357 sq. ft.). As with her other sails, this one is made of the traditional linen sailcloth and bordered by hemp rope. It is the first symbol of L’Hermione’s “wings” made by the attentive work of Anne Renault, the only sailmaker who is painstakingly creating each sail by hand, including leech, head and foot lines, reinforcements, clews and eyes…
Yann Cariou, Captain