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The word cutter has two principal meanings: -

  • A ship's boat, usually 25ft (7.6m) in length. This type of cutter could be either rowed or sailed; in the latter case it carried two or occasionally three short masts, each with a single fore-and-aft sail which might be either triangular (lateen) or of lug form (i.e. an irregular quadrilateral). Ships of fifth and higher rate would carry two cutters, hung from davits on either quarter; smaller vessels might have a single cutter carried transversely at the stern.
  • A small independent vessel with a single mast carrying both square and fore-and-aft sails, the former consisting of mainsail, topsail and sometimes topgallant, the latter of jib, staysail and gaff. A cutter could be rated at up to 200 tons, with 14 small guns and a crew of 60, and would normally be commanded by a lieutenant. This pattern was developed from a swift-sailing model used by traders and smugglers off the coast of Norfolk in eastern England; its popularity in the Navy rapidly increased in the early nineteenth century and it was also favoured by the revenue service.
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