xebec (IPA: ['zibek] or [zi'bek]; also written xebeck,
xebe(c)que, zebec(k), zebecque, chebec, shebeck (IPA:
chabec, now chebec,
xabeque, now jabeque,
enxabeque, now xabeco,
sciabecco, zambecco, stambecco,
شباك, šabbāk (meaning "a small warship") and
sunbeki; origin uncertain, but perhaps a fishing boat
originally: Arabic root means 'a net') refers to a small,
fast vessel of the 16th to 19th centuries, used almost
exclusively in the Mediterranean Sea.
Xebec existed from the mid 1600's to the mid 1800's, and was
used as both a merchantman and a warship. The average Xebec
carried 24 guns, displaced 250 tons, and carried as many as
350 sailors and soldiers. The Xebec under sail was noted to
be the fastest and most agile craft of the Mediterranean.
However, the ship was not suited to heavy weather due to its
low freeboard and shallow draught. As well, if it were
loaded with many armed troops, its range would be limited
due to the fact that the stores required would take up a
large amount of space. Being lightly built and of typical
Mediterranean materials, the Xebec was not a strong vessel.
As Thomas Jefferson put it, Algerian Xebecs were "so light
as not to withstand the broadside of a good frigate."
What the Xebec lost in strength it made up for in speed and
handling under sail. If the wind died, the Xebec could also
rely on a set of 10 to 20 oars. With that kind of agility,
it was easy for a Xebec to run circles around slower,
heavily laden merchant ships. In a time of crisis, it was
also quick to escape!
Many European states integrated the Xebec into their navies,
notably France, Spain, and Britain. France and Spain
utilized the design to fight the Corsairs (privateers) with
their own weapon.