The bowsprit, or boltsprit, of a
sailingvessel is a pole extending forward from the vessel's prow. It provides an anchor point for the forestay(s), allowing the fore-mast to be stepped further forward on the hull.
tall ships the bowsprit may be a considerable length and have several forestays attached. When not in use the foresails are stowed by being tied onto the bowsprit. The crew must then work out on the bowsprit to stow or prepare the sails. To minimise the risk of the bowsprit (and any crew working on it) being buried in large waves, the bowsprit is normally angled upwards from the horizontal.
Early ocean-going vessels tended to tilt the bowsprit at a high angle, and hung one or two square
spritsails from yards. In the 17th century and early 18th century a vertical sprit topmastwas added near the end of the bowsprit and another square sail added to it; this was not a particularly successful design however, the mast tending to carry away in heavy weather. Fore-and-aft sails known as jibs hung from the stays proved more useful for speed and maneuvering, and the basic bowsprit was lengthened with a jibboomand then even further with a flying jibboom, resulting in bowsprits of tremendous length, up to 30 meters total.
On smaller vessels, where the bowsprit is not used for stowing sails, it is often horizontal. Bowsprits are rare on modern
yachts, the forestay merely running down to the tip of the bow, though they were typical of traditional Bermudian design; the Bermuda righaving become the most common yacht rig during the 20th Century. On some modern racing yachts and dinghies, the bowsprit is retractable and primarily used to fly an asymmetrical spinnaker.
The very end of the bowsprit is traditionally painted white on
tall ships, unless the ship in question has ventured into either the Arctic or Antarctic circles, in which case it is painted blue (i.e. bluenose). Fact|date=June 2007
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