Out of the few or many spars of a sailboat, perhaps the most important one is the sailboat mast. It is the one that determinates the sailboats height, as well as the type of sail. Many sailboats do not have just one sailboat mast. The number of sailboat masts depends on the type of sailboat, and the number of sails, which in turn depends on the purpose of the sailboat.
Although sailboat masts are made of synthetic materials now, that is just somewhat recent in the history of sailing. Most sailboat masts in history were made of wood.
When the first sailboats were invented, the sailboat masts that were used consisted in one piece of timber, carved out from a tree trunk. These were enough for several centuries, until the Europeans started to conquer the rest of the world in the 16th century, and the need for larger ships with big storage capacity arose. In addition, pirate ships increased in number and size, since they needed storage for the stolen goods and the cannons and ammunitions.
This created the need for taller and thicker sailboat masts, which could not be carved out of a single tree, or the type of trees that could have served for that purpose were not widely available. Engineers from different nationalities tried to come up with a solution. Several types of sailboat masts were designed, and while they all worked in normal conditions, they tended to fail when they were subject to extreme conditions, such as in the middle of storms, bad weather or in a fight against another ship.
Finally, a sailboat mast was designed that could resist reasonably all these conditions. This mast consisted in four smaller sections built into one bit mast. These sections were also known as masts. These were known as lower mast, top mast, topgallant mast and royal mast. The lower mast was the bottommost one, while the royal mast was the uppermost mast. In addition, the bottom and top masts needed to have enough thickness to support the topgallant and royal masts. Most of these ships have more than one mast, and the most common number of masts is 3. The one nearest to the bow (that is, the front of the ship) is called the foremast. The one in the middle is called the main mast, and is usually the tallest mast in the ship. Finally, the mast closest to the stern, is called the mizzen mast.
Today, these wooden masts are not used anymore. However, even with the invention of motor boats, sailboats still keep fascinating the true sailors, who enjoy using sailboat terminology.