A brig is a type of sailing vessel defined by its rig: two masts which are both square-rigged. Brigs originated in the second half of the 18th century and were a common type of smaller merchant vessel or warship from then until the latter part of the 19th century. In commercial use, they were gradually replaced by fore-and-aft rigged vessels such as schooners, as owners sought to reduce crew costs by having rigs that could be handled by fewer men. In Royal Navy use, brigs were retained for training use when the battle fleets consisted almost entirely of iron-hulled steamships.
The South Shields collier brig Mary, painted by John Scott in 1855, showing two views of the same vessel. A Bentinck boom is fitted to the foot of the fore-course as a labour saving device when tacking.
A small trading brig entering the Bristol Avon, painted by Joseph Walter
Brigs were prominent in the coasting coal trade of British waters. 4,395 voyages to London with coal were recorded in 1795. With an average of eight or nine trips per year for one vessel, that is a fleet of over 500 colliers trading to London alone. Other ports and coastal communities were also be served by colliers trading to Britain's coal ports. In the first half of the 19th century, the vast majority were rigged as brigs, and that rig was retained for longer in the northeast of England.: 49
Brig sails are named after the masts to which they are attached: the mainsail; above that the main topsail; above that the main topgallant sail; and occasionally a very small sail, called the royal, is above that. Behind the main sail there is a small fore-and-aft sail called the spanker or boom mainsail (it is somewhat similar to the main sail of a schooner). On the foremast is a similar sail, called the trysail. Attached to the respective yards of square-rigged ships are smaller spars, which can be extended, thus lengthening the yard, thus receiving an additional sailing wing on each side. These are called studding sails, and are used with fair and light wind only. The wings are named after the sails to which they are fastened, i.e. the main studding sails, main top studding sails, and the main top gallant studding sails, etc.
The brig's foremast is smaller than the main mast. The fore mast holds a fore sail, fore top sail, fore top gallant sail, and fore royal. Between the fore mast and the bowsprit are the fore staysail, jib, and flying jib. All the yards are manipulated by a complicated arrangement of cordage named the running rigging. This is opposed to the standing rigging which is fixed, and keeps mast and other objects rigid.
A brig is "generally built on a larger scale than a schooner, and may approach the magnitude of a full-sized, three-masted ship." Brigs vary in length between 75 and 165 ft (23 and 50 m) with tonnages up to 480. A notable exception being the famous designer Colin Mudie's 'Little Brigs' (TS Bob Allen and TS Caroline Allen), which are only 10m long and weigh only 8 tonnes. Historically, most brigs were made of wood, although some later brigs were built with hulls and masts of steel or iron. A brig made of pine in the 19th century was designed to last for about twenty years (many lasted longer).[better source needed]
Development of the brigEdit
The word "brig" has been used in the past as an abbreviation of brigantine (which is the name for a two-masted vessel with foremast fully square rigged and her mainmast rigged with both a fore-and-aft mainsail, square topsails and possibly topgallant sails). The brig actually developed as a variant of the brigantine. Re-rigging a brigantine with two square-rigged masts instead of one gave it greater sailing power. The square-rigged brig's advantage over the fore-and-aft rigged brigantine was "that the sails, being smaller and more numerous, are more easily managed, and require fewer men or 'hands' to work them." The variant was so popular that the term "brig" came to exclusively signify a ship with this type of rigging. By the 17th century the British Royal Navy defined "brig" as having two square rigged masts.
Brigs were used as small warships carrying about 10 to 18 guns. Due to their speed and maneuverability they were popular among pirates (though they were rare among American and Caribbean pirates). While their use stretches back before the 17th century, one of the most famous periods for the brig was during the 19th century when they were involved in famous naval battles such as the Battle of Lake Erie. In the early 19th century the brig was a standard cargo ship. It was seen as "fast and well sailing", but required a large crew to handle its rigging. While brigs could not sail into the wind as easily as fore-and-aft–rigged vessels such as schooners, a trait that is common to all square-rigged ships, a skilled brig captain could "manoeuvre it with ease and elegance; a brig could for instance turn around almost on the spot". A brig's square-rig also had the advantage over a fore-and-aft–rigged vessel when travelling offshore, in the trade winds, where vessels sailed down wind for extended distances and where "the danger of a sudden jibe was the large schooner-captain's nightmare". This trait later led to the evolution of the barquentine. The need for large crews in relation to their relatively small size led to the decline of the production of brigs. They were replaced in commercial traffic by gaffsail schooners (which needed fewer personnel) and steam boats (which did not have the windward performance problems of square rigged ships).
HMS Pilot, a Cruizer-class brig-sloop launched in 1807. While commanded by John Toup Nicholas off southern Italy in 1810–1812, Pilot participated in the capture or destruction of over 130 enemy vessels. In 1815 she fought the last naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, fighting to a draw the French frigate Légère.
The Bonanza of Liverpool, built as a barquentine in 1830 and converted to a brig in 1841.: 79–80 The first ship to bring a cargo of Peruvian guano to the UK, in 1841, setting off decades of a lucrative export trade.
Mercury (Russian: Меркурий) An 1819 Russian navy 18 gun brig painted twice by Ivan Aivazovsky. On May 14, 1829, Mercury engaged in an uneven battle against 2 Turkish ships of the line, Selimiye (110 guns) and Real-Bei (74 guns) and emerged victorious from that battle, damaging both Turkish sufficiently to be not able to chase Mercury and disengaging the battle.
HMS Beagle was built as a brig in 1820 for the Royal Navy. She was deployed as a survey vessel to survey the coasts of South America, Australia, and Africa. A mizzen mast was added prior to the 5-year voyage with Charles Darwin to increase manoeuvrability in the shallow coastal waters that she would explore.
The Telos, built in Bangor, Maine in 1883, was reportedly the last brig to join the American merchant marine, and was "considered to be the finest vessel of her class ever constructed in Maine". She was wrecked on Aves Island, off Bonaire in the Caribbean, in 1900.