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A schooner is a sailing vessel of at least two masts, all with gaff-rigged courses, i.e., the sails on the lowest masts were connected to a spar extending aft from the mast. The term thus refers to the masts and rigging of a vessel rather than to its hull, an ambiguity often lost upon Stephen Maturin.

The designation of the masts on a typical (two masted) schooner are fore and main, the main being taller than the fore.

There are also topsail schooners which carry one or more square rigged sails above the fore and aft sails, usually on the foremast.

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