By Definition

schooner (/ˈskuːnər/) is a type of sailing vessel defined by its rig: fore-and-aft rigged on all of 2 or more masts and, in the case of a 2-masted schooner, the foremast generally being shorter than the mainmast.

A Bit of History

Schooners first evolved in the late 17th century from a variety of small two-masted gaff-rigged vessels used in the coast and estuaries of the Netherlands. Most were working craft but some pleasure yachts with schooner rigs were built for wealthy merchants and Dutch nobility. Following the arrival of the Dutch monarch William of Orange on the British throne, the British Royal Navy built a Royal yacht with a schooner rig in 1695, HMS Royal Transport. This vessel, captured in a detailed Admiralty model, is the earliest fully documented schooner. Royal Transport was quickly noted for its speed and ease of handling, and mercantile vessels soon adopted the rig in Europe and in European colonies in North America. Schooners were immediately popular with colonial traders and fishermen in North America with the first documented reference to a schooner in the United States appearing in Boston port records in 1716. North American shipbuilders quickly developed a variety of schooner forms for trading, fishing and privateering.

They’re Not All The Same

Although all of the vessels racing in the GCBSR are classified as schooners, their forms, functions and designs are diverse.

Baltimore Clippers

A Baltimore Clipper, an 18th-century sailing ship, was extremely versatile on the seas. She could engage enemy ships, seize their cargo, and cross an ocean all in one voyage. These factors made them excellent revenue vessels as well as privateers!

Virginia Pilot Schooners

A Virginia Pilot Vessel was an early 20th-century sailing ship whose purpose was to send harbor pilots out to incoming ships as they entered the Chesapeake Bay. Her primary mission was to sail as fast as possible to get her pilots onboard the incoming vessels before any other ship could.


Pungy Schooners

An 18th-century Chesapeake Bay Pungy Schooner was designed to be a fast sailing cargo ship. Her lower freeboard made her cargo easy to quickly load and unload, which made her adept at carrying perishables such as seafood and produce.


Ram Schooners

Chesapeake Ram Schooners were the 18-wheelers of their day. Originating in the 18th century, they were general cargo schooners designed to move bulk goods along the coast. They were typically built with three masts (fore, main, and mizzen) and featured a centerboard and a shallow draft for work in the Bay.