Sailing has been instrumental to the development of humanity from its first inception and although nobody actually knows how or where it began, it is pretty easy to work out why sailing was invented – to transport people and goods across water from one land mass to another.
Sailing in some form or other has been with us since Caveman days when rudimentary logs were used to cross water obstructions. The first recorded instance of a ship under sail was an image on an Egyptian vase that was dated as three thousand five hundred BC.
The First Sailing Boats
There are records that date back as far as five thousand BC of visual descriptions of sailing boats that were on carved discs from the ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia. These sailing boats were using the Nile River as a thoroughfare, they were simple-craft made from reeds with square rigging and one sail. The other ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all used some form of early sailing boat, and many subsequent cultures from around the world have contributed to the development, science and technology of sailing over time.
Great nautical nations spread all over the globe including the Polynesians who used canoes to colonize the Pacific Islands. Indian, Chinese and Arab cultures all utilized some form of boats in trade and war, and the Vikings used their great sailing prowess to cross among the Atlantic’s islands with a mixture of sail and oars. And as the great European cultures grew they used sailing boats to conquer other nations and grow their empires in far flung places thousands of leagues from home. And in this blog we learn of the great innovations in sailing that changed a world.
Steering the Ships
The early sailing nations saw the importance of sailing and these ancient cultures began to make great innovations to the development of sailing. And one of the first most crucial innovation was a way to steer. The steering oar was the first way that a craft could be directed where the helmsman wanted the boat to go. This oar predated any of the stern rudders that would come in later years. This oar was a kind of a lever that was normally housed in the middle of the ship at the side.
Good examples of this can be seen on Viking ships, and today steering oars can still be seen on smaller river crafts especially on English waterways. They are normally used on calm water that is inland and are still popular. The Chinese invented the stern-mounted rudder around the 1st Century AD, which was the time of the Han Dynasty. This innovation was not adopted as the standard way to steer a ship for another thousand years by Western cultures.
In part two of this blog on the history of sailing we look at even more great inventions that helped the development of sailing through the centuries. We look at the first great navigation aids and how sailors managed to cross great oceans and explore new lands.