We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is a Xebec?

By J.E. Holloway
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGEEK is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGEEK, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A xebec, also called a zebec, is a two- or three-masted sailing vessel common in the Mediterranean from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Xebecs were used mostly for trading, but could also be found as naval vessels and pirates. Like several other types of Mediterranean sailing vessel, they also sometimes used oars for propulsion.

The characteristic shape of the xebec comes from its protruding bowsprit and stern. These overhang the ends of the vessel, giving it a very long silhouette for its comparatively small size. Few xebecs displaced more than about 200 tons, although some naval xebecs could be larger, such as the 260-ton Indiscret, which served in the French navy in the second half of the 18th century.

Typical vessels of this type were lateen-rigged, meaning that they carried triangular sails set on yard running fore and aft at an angle to its masts. Lateen rigs allowed for greater maneuverability with a contrary wind than a square-rig. These vessels were not as fast or efficient running before the wind.

Although the main rig for xebecs was the lateen rig, some xebecs carried square-rigged sails. The polacre-xebec carried square-rigged sails on its foremast, with lateen-rigged sails only on the main mast and mizzen mast. The same was true of xebecs used for naval operations by European navies. Although they had the characteristic overhanging stern and bowsprit of xebecs, these vessels were square-rigged like frigates and were referred to as xebec-frigates.

The xebec was a popular vessel among the pirates or corsairs of the Mediterranean. Its maneuverability was useful in combat and pursuit, and its oars allowed it to be rowed to catch vessels which had been becalmed. Corsair xebecs could mount up to 40 guns, although many carried no more than 16 or 20, and carry a crew of as many as 400.

Probably the most famous naval action involving a xebec was the battle between Spanish xebec-frigate El Gamo and the British aloop HMS Speedy, which took place on May 5th, 1801. El Gamo displaced 600 tons, mounted 32 guns, and a crew of over 300. Despite El Gamo's superiority in both firepower and crew, British commander Lord Thomas Cochrane was able to use the element of surprise to capture the enemy vessel by boarding after a lengthy gunnery battle.

Although most xebecs sailed in Mediterranean waters, the fledgling U.S. Navy included one. USS Champion was an eight-gun xebec which formed part of an American squadron operating in the Delaware River area. It was burnt by its own crew in 1777 to keep it from falling into British hands.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.