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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.

Square-topsail schooners carry one or more square rigged sails above the fore and aft sails, usually on the foremast. The topsails on gaff-topsail schooners have their luff fixed to the topmast and their foot to the gaff of the course.

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