rigging loft at mystic seaport museumThe work of the rigger was another shipbuilding trade that was of utmost importance in the Age of Sail. All of the lines and ropes on a vessel–for supporting the masts or for raising the sails–were installed by the rigger.

Working from plans or dimensions supplied by the designer, the riggers worked in the loft, while the ship was being built. There they made up the miles of standing (permanent) and running (movable) rigging required. Until 1850 natural fibers–hemp and manila–were used to make the rope of various types and sizes which they worked with. After that date, wire rope and chain were increasingly used, especially for standing rigging where greater strength was required.

As soon as the ship was launched, the rigger and his men went on board to step the masts and install rigging. Many of the tools in our Sail Loft Building were given by Captain William J. White of New London, who in his lifetime rigged more than 350 vessels.