In my fantasy world I have a humanoid species that can work pretty much non-stop. Assuming he has enough energy, can one of these creatures do most of the necessary things on a 25 meter long cog to sail it successfully? There would usually be about 4 other people on board who are competent at sailing, so they could help out when extra hands are needed, but could the tireless creature and maybe one or two others do the bulk of the work, or are there too many stations to be manned? I haven't done much research about ships yet, so I don't know what all the different tasks on board would be, but the purpose of the ship would be either for traveling or transporting cargo.

  • $\begingroup$ Need to know what is required to be done on the ship. I assume this is related to your ship towing question. $\endgroup$ – Trevor Jul 8 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ Distance of travel? $\endgroup$ – Michael Kutz Jul 8 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ How is this different from real world solo circumnavigation record holders? $\endgroup$ – Michael Kutz Jul 8 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ No automation or any kind? It would be difficult to be at the helm and trim sails at the same time. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 8 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ I have friends who live on a 50 foot sailboat. When they sailed from one American coast to the other (yep, Panama Canal), they only had one person on night watch, with others of course present in the case of an emergency. They had 4 adults of varying skills and 3 kids during waking hours. Since you allow for extra people when needed, the answer is, yes, you can do this. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Jul 8 at 18:50

From the real world, a sloop the size of your "cog" can be singlehanded for long voyages, even circumnavigations.

The reason I specify "sloop" is because the rig is designed to be easy to sail; the number of controls is minimized with only mainsail and jib (you wouldn't bother with a spinnaker in this situation, and they're generally only used for racing anyway). The tiller or wheel can be "lashed" when the captain/pilot has to leave the cockpit to change the set of sail, and for long ocean legs one will often hold the same tack for hours at a time anyway (you get the same effect if you sail fifty kilometers and then tack forty as if you sailed ten five kilometer legs and ten four kilometers ones the same headings).

By the late 19th century, there were even "autosteer" rigs using a wind vane to manage the tiller and keep the wind on the same point, allowing the singlehander to get a short nap without going adrift.

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    $\begingroup$ Yup I came here to point out that the rig was going to be of paramount importance to whether the ship can be single-handed and to what extent. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jul 8 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ 25 meter long single-masted sloop in pre-industrial era? I would say it's a push (but not an impossibility). $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 8 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ It should be noted that a single person can manage a multi-mast rig. The real question becomes how well they can manage it, and how much of an overall performance hit they will take doing so. While alone you would have to be far more conservative with how much sail you put out for given conditions, and how early you bring it in at the sign of a change in weather. [A schooner with two masts can still make headway with just a single sail up if that's all that can be managed at the time after all.] Plus a Cog typically has one sail anyway and is less efficient rather than harder than a sloop. $\endgroup$ – TheLuckless Jul 8 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ @TheLuckless a loose-footed square sail is at least twice as much work to manage as a sloop's mainsail or a lateen rig. There's a good reason Columbus (and nearly everyone else in his day) used lateen sails or lateen/square hybrids. Yes, a single hander can manage one, but if he's got a choice (and can spare the time), he'll rerig as a lateen or sloop (a couple hours work with a loose yard as commonly used on a cog). $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Jul 9 at 11:14

Speaking as a sailor, if we're talking a 75-footer on medieval technology, the answer is "not really." Even with the aforementioned four unskilled hands to pull line, there are tasks requiring skilled hands both managing the sails and the tiller. And in a storm, all bets are off: you need a skilled steersman on the tiller at all times, and people who know what they're doing around to deal with other tasks. In shallow waters, you need a leadsman to boot.

In fair weather, light winds, calm seas and deeper waters with light traffic, sure, you probably could manage. Anything else, that's a recipe for disaster.

  • $\begingroup$ If it could be done with one person during fair weather, with extra hands now and again as needed, or during poor weather, it fits the requirements of the question. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Jul 10 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ I like that this answer brings up storms and landings. $\endgroup$ – Trevor Jul 10 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ Mm, please reread my answer, Cyn. Storms or bad weather is exactly when you do NOT want crews of nearly exclusively untrained hands. Inshore work, you need a leadsman continually working the lead, and a trained quartermaster at the tiller, and someone ready to alter sail exactly right with very little hesitation. Operating merchantmen is absolutely NOT like driving a car. $\endgroup$ – Ravenswing Jul 10 at 18:15

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