Reply To: The Crotchet-Yard

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Frank Scott

Although the mizzen mast at first only carried a fore-&-aft lateen, by 1600 or so it had been augmented by the square mizzen topsail, spread at its foot by the Cross-jack yard. So it easily precedes any English Maritime Dictionary (see below).
In the sailing world ‘Jack’ was used quite often a prefix or suffix for various items of rigging. Thus you have the ‘jack-yard’ gaff topsail, ‘jack-stay’, ‘jack-line’ reefing, luff ‘jack-line’, ‘lazy-jacks’, and so on.
Well into the eighteenth century the mizzen was still set on a Lateen yard, and with this physical obstruction there was no practical way that a sail could be set on the mizzen lower yard. Consequently the sole purpose of this ‘cross-jack’ yard was as a tool (or jack) to spread (or cross) the foot of the mizzen topsail. Interestingly, even when a gaff came to be substituted for the lateen, bending a sail on the cross-jack yard did not become common for many years. Indeed at the end of the age of sail some Captains still would not set a sail on this spar.

The French term for this yard is ‘vergue sèche’ or ‘vergue barrée’, which roughly translates as the dry yard or the obstructed yard.

Falconer is good in its way, but it provides no feel for how rigging evolved. For that you are much better to consult James Lees, Masting and Rigging of English Ships of War, 2nd revised edition (London 1984), and John Harland, Seamanship in the age of Sail (London 1987).
For definitions in the early modern period John Smith would not be my choice. More useful is G.E. Manwaring & W. Perrin (editors) The Life and Works of Sir Henry Mainwaring Vol II, NRS Volume 56 (London 1921), which contains a much fuller and slightly earlier Seaman’s Dictionary (circa 1622). Valuable as a cross-reference is W. Perrin (ed.) Boteler’s Dialogues, NRS Volume 65 (London 1929).