Ship Modelling

Rigging Patterns - The Cogs

Well, in fact we know almost NOTHING about the ancient cogs, even less than about the Viking Ships.

The German replica Kieler Hansekogge 2007 seen from the front (Source: Wiki Commons).
The ancient cogs were in use between 1200 - 1500 in Northern Europe (the Hansa era). The term "cog" and what type of ship it is used for is of course quite vague. With only two originals preserved, we can only speculate about the line of developement. Researchers state that until 1200, the "types" of Viking Ships was gradually transformed to the "cog" and/or the "hulc" - those were almost synonyms then. The contemporary iconography shows a variety of different "cogs" (size, masting, rigging).

The first cogs were single masted, later cogs had fore and poop castles, and up to 3 masts, as seen from the ancient iconography.

At least, there are some VERY rare wrecks rediscovered around 1950 by underwater archeology.

So, we know at least something about the hull and its construction. The rigging of course, did not prevail ...

Then we have some rare depictions, from the ancient iconography on coins and other historic relics:

Kogge Stralsund (Source: Wiki Commons)

No original masts are fully preserved. The masts were fixed in the keel and was too high to stand alone without a minimum of a stay and two backstays. Depictions show about 3-6 backstays. They were the first true standing rigging in Northern history.

Each mast carried only one sail. The square sail must have had at least a halyard, some kind of port and starboard braces and sheets. From the mere physical point of view, it was obviously possible to swing the yard from +80 to -80 degrees, in other words, this square sail could be used to sail "large", as well as a for-and-aft sail, and go very closed to the wind, like a schooner, even not as well as for the Viking ships.

(Staysails are not "reported"; those came up after 1700, on the Ships of The Line)

We can assume that, in order to set or furl the sail (they had only one), the yard was hauled up or veered down to deck. Topping lifts were not necessary, at least we have no evidence for them.

This is all we know.

Sources and Books

As said above, there are some rare relics preserved in the museums. Yet I have no books especially about cogs ...


The cogs´s rigging gives a basic example for a square sail, that had been used in Northern Europe "ever since" - in the Mediterranian, the Agyptian, Greek and Roman galleys also had a standard square sail, but later, they also used triangular Lateen sails.

  • The Stays and Backstays

    Staysails are not known.

    The fixing of the backstays is a matter of speculation. Obviously, the mast was too big to be taken down at sea, in contrary to the Viking ships..

  • The Halyard

    As the rigging is not preserved, we can only speculate that they used a simple block for the halyard.

    The modern technique on some replicas, of clewing up the sail and not to veer down the entire yard is historically douptful. But, this is what reconstruction is also about: many people make different conclusions...

  • The Braces

    Since the sail would be completely unstable without braces, and due to its size, we can assume simple braces, by using single ropes leading aft. Yet, there are no evidences at all for them ...
  • The Sail

    No sail is preserved, we can only speculate that it was of wool.

    Modern replicas take normal canvas for this purpose.

  • The Sheets

    Since the sail would be completely unstable without sheets, and due to its size, we can assume simple sheets, by using single ropes leading aft. Yet, there are no evidences at all for them ...
  • Belayings

    The rigging of a cog is simple, only a handful of lines (for each mast, there are cogs with 2 or 3). The most primitive belaying position is a clamp or a hook (shown on the Gokstad ship), which can be attached to the ships side or on a backstay.
Some cogs have been rebuilt as replicas. Due to the lack of evidence, modern rigging techniques (like dead eyes) were also used eventually.