Postcard - Russian Xebec

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Le Teich, France

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It is unusual to see the racy silhouette of these typically Mediterranean hybrid ships, symbols so feared by the Westerners as immediately associated with barbary pirates who raided the southern coast of Europe and merchant ships at the beginning of the Renaissance. True thoroughbred, the elegant xebec was a derivative of the galley, with the difference that the oars had been removed in favor of a very consistent sail, Latin, then by evolution, mixed, entirely square alternately to a Latin sail. Related to the Polacca, which is a modern evolution, but also to the smaller Tartanes, the Spanish Felucca, the Mistic and the Warbler, the Pinque, the Xebec (Sciabecco in Italian) remains one of the symbols of the Mediterranean. Continuing to draw on this heritage in order to try to adapt it to the Baltic Sea, closed sea a priori suitable for this kind of ships, Catherine of Russia, inspired by Peter the Great, called on Spanish builders to build a few dozen of these boats and half-xebecs to oppose the heavy Swedish ships during the second Baltic war in 1788-90.

The Russians were thus barely modified copies of these ships which were also built and used in the French navy. Their draft was weak, their hulls narrow but without making them an unstable ship, their masts short, not composed or “to pible” and light carrying large Latin sails on antennas completed by jibs on the “bowsprit”, or a partially square sail, with a Latin veil at the front, a light square in the middle and a brigantine aft. The demi-xebec was a shortened version, with two masts instead of three, wearing a Latin sail at the front, a brigantine aft surmounted by a square topsail. All were also maneuvering to rowing in case of flat calm, very practical to move in the sandy shallows of the islands of the Gulf of Bothnia. The crew of these ranged from 200 to 240 men, the half-xebecs with less than 150 men on board. The latter, more agile, carried an artillery reduced to 8 pieces of iron or advantage, while the xebecs aligned as standard 24 guns. They had the advantage of more artillery than the galleys.

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xebec mediterranean russian galley

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