The term “Tall Ship” has been used occasionally since Shakespearian times. Most agree, though, that the term was first used regularly following the organization of the first Tall Ship races. Today, the term is used frequently as a generic description of traditional sailing vessels of all rigs.
There are many different types of sailing ships, but they all have certain basic things in common. Every sailing ship has a hull, rigging, and at least one mast to hold up the sails that use the wind to power the ship. Ballast weighs down the bottom of the ship so the wind does not push it over. At one time the convention was that only a vessel with three or more masts was called a “ship”. A single or two-masted vessel was called a “boat”. Little notice is now taken of this supposed rule.
In 1955 a London solicitor, Bernard Morgan, had the idea of organizing a race to bring together the last of the world’s great square-rigged ships. He obtained the support of Earl Mountbatten and together with influential people in the sailing world an organizing committee was formed and went to work. The result was a spectacular race from Torbay to Lisbon in 1956 which caught the imagination not only of the public but also of the media who coined the phrase “Tall Ships’ Race.” It was judged to be such a success that the Committee drew up articles of association and formed the Sail Training Association (STA) in order that the Races could be put on a permanent footing.