Re-creating the success of the Barbary pirates: sailing closer to the wind

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The seamanship of the Barbary pirates of North Africa was for two centuries as renowned as their cruelty as they plundered Mediterranean shipping lanes for slaves and treasure.

The key to their hit-and-run tactics was the fast getaway. They were able to sail far closer into the wind than the Europeans left trailing in their wake. The pirates ceased to be a problem after the French conquered their raiding base, Algiers, in 1830 —- and the secret of their crucial advantage was lost.

Now a tall ship with a full set of sails based on the pirates’ ships has successfully completed sea trials. TS Pelican, a 150ft converted trawler, has been fitted with the masts and sails of a polacre xebec —- a design last seen plundering shipping nearly two centuries ago. The Pelican, whose trials took place in Weymouth Bay [off the Dorset coast, England], did what no European square-rigged vessel could do before or since...

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