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Related to: How would rudder protection against water elementals affect ship's performance

In a world with ordinary magic, military ships should be prepared for enemy fireball-hurling wizards. Is there some special quality required of good sails that might go against fire resistance?

If there is some real world material available with 15th or 16th century technology (minus gunpowder, plus magic able of producing high temperatures, pressure or other conditions used in chemical industry but unavailable then) that would resist ordinary fireball/ big pot with hot flaming oil and still is quite good for sails, I'd be glad for hearing of it. If it is vulnerable to some other hazardous factor (cold, acid etc.), it's important. If there is nothing like this (and the answer will give some reason why existence of such material is unlikely), I can still accept it - I can always state that there is some magical material for it.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the problem with burning through my upvotes so early in the day... someone posts a good question like this! $\endgroup$ – Liath Sep 18 '14 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Liath Upvoted for you :P $\endgroup$ – user31389 Sep 18 '14 at 18:31
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There would be very little impact on ship performance if they used sails woven from asbestos.

As far as I know that was never done in our history. However both the Greeks and Romans used asbestos cloth for such things as tablecloths, head dresses etc. The tablecloths were so fire resistant as to make throwing them in a fire an effective cleaning method - just throw them in and then take them out and all the food would be burnt away and the cloth would be left just as white as before. 1

With medieval safety that would cause problems in the production end - though Pliny the Elder did suggest using a respirator made from a bladder to decrease the lung damage from working with/quarrying asbestos. As cloth would be primarily made out of the long fiber type of asbestos there would be minimal danger to the crew working with the sails. Asbestos fabric is also quite strong and not very heavy. It can be combined with cotton to make a cheaper cloth with some of the benefits of asbestos - some increased durability, some fire resistance.2

Asbestos cloth is also highly durable under extreme conditions so it would probably last longer even with large storms so there could be benefits in regular usage as well as when under attack.

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You can look to non-magical methods (for example Greek Fire), and the countermeasures developed for it. As a starting point, take a look at the wikipedia page on Greek Fire. Apparently, felt soaked in vinegar was a useful countermeasure.

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