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A sailing vessel with two masts, the recognized description being that the mizzen is stepped before the rudder head, while in a yawl it is stepped abaft it. However, this is not an exact definition, the true difference between the two rigs depending more on the size of the mizzen-sail; if the difference depended on the position of the mizzen-mast, most of the yawl-rigged beach boats, including the well-known Norfolk yawls, would be ketches. From the ketch rig were also developed the hooker and the dogger.

The original name in England was ‘catch’, but although this suggests that they were used primarily for exploiting local fisheries, their main use was in fact as small coastal trading vessels. Suggestions have also been made that the name indicated vessels used to chase or pursue others in time of war, but this appears to be negated by a description of them written in 1625 that ‘catches, being short and round built, be very apt to turn up and down, and useful to go to and fro, and to carry messages between ship and shore almost with any wind’.

They were small vessels, originally of 50 tons or less, square rigged on both masts, but they roughly doubled in size during the reign of Charles II (1660–85), who used the ketch design for his royal yachts. Large numbers were built by the English, French, and Dutch navies during the wars of the late 17th and early 18th centuries to act as tenders to the fleets, and the design was also adopted by the English to serve as bomb ketches, the large open space forward of the mainmast being an ideal place for the large mortar which fired the bombs. For this particular use the length of the average ketch was increased, and as a result they became fast and weatherly, and a new use for them was developed as packets.

With the wide naval use of bomb vessels dying out in the mid-19th century, the naval value of the ketch diminished and it largely resumed its original use as a coastal trading vessel, though some specially strengthened bomb ketches for use in ice were used during the many expeditions to the North-West Passage and elsewhere. With the growing popularity of yachting during the second half of the 19th century, and the weatherly qualities of a ketch as a fore-and-aft rig, it became popular amongst yachtsmen.

See also dandy-rig.

See also dandy-rig.

Gaff ketch

Subjects: History

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