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Space Sailing

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As has been established, Space Is an Ocean, and in fiction, naval and maritime terms are often applied to spaceships. Some works, however, take things further beyond metaphors, and make their characters go Space Sailing on literal ships IN SPACE! The reason for this? The Rule of Cool, and nothing else.

While, in Real Life, there are proposals for spacecraft with solar sails or magnetic sails, those are different concepts. Those would be spacecraft-with-sails but otherwise designed like any other spacecraft;note  these are literal oceangoing-type boats in space, with all the shape and features that implies.

A subtrope of this is the idea of a space Titanic, an oddly common meme. They are invariably doomed.

Interestingly, Space Ships don't go after Space Whales as often as you might think. They are quite likely to house Space Pirates, though.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Leijiverse: Particularly abundant; the anachronistic vehicles are partially what gives the shows their charm.
    • Captain Harlock has both Space Sailing and Space Trains. Not only does Harlock's Arcadia appear to have the back-end of a galley, she can effectively function as a submarine.
    • Space Battleship Yamato takes place aboard a risen-from-the seas and retrofitted-for-space World War II battleship Yamato.
  • Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam has the Mother Vanguard, which has broadside beam cannons, a sail that mounts more cannon plus missiles and a high-speed flight system, and a masthead statue of a woman made of gold. This fits with the series' general pirate aesthetic, even if the ship was built before the heroes decided to become Space Pirates.
  • Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water has none other than Captain Nemo take a Yamato-esque New Nautilus into space to battle a gigantic Atlantaean Flying Saucer named Red Noah. The scene in which the New Nautilus first breaks free of the ground it is imprisoned in is a direct and clear homage to a similar scene in the aforementioned Yamato.
  • Odin Photon Space Sailor Starlight begins with a scene showing lots of futuristic ships plying the spaceways — then brings on its masterstroke, a new, better space ship, which is... a wooden sailing ship, complete with decks and rigging and masts and such.
  • Sailor Moon: Had Toei Animation accepted the Toon Makers bid for remaking Sailor Moon (in the infamous "Saban Moon"), instead of DiC's dubbing, Americans would have gotten the Sailor Senshi battling evil by going sailing in space... on space-windsurfers... involving fights with such ships. Needless to say, they took the "sailor" part of the title a bit literally.
  • Sol Bianca revolves around a space "submarine", which "dives" and "surfaces" to enter and leave its cloaking effect.
  • Space Patrol Luluco: Lalaco's Cool Starship takes cues from stereotypical pirate ships, complete with sails and an anchor. She lends it to Luluco during the finale so she can go and confess to Nova.

    Comic Books 
  • Lucifer launches the Naglfar, a legendary Norse ship made from the fingernails of the dead and capable of making journeys "beyond the heavens".
  • Marvel Universe:
    • Captain Fate is a Flying Dutchman Space Pirate who travels through space in his golden age of piracy sailing ship.
    • The Mighty Thor: Jason Aaron's Thor: God of Thunder run features Thors from the past, present, and future sailing through the heavens together in a Viking longboat named Skithblathnir. Gorgeous art, plus space sharks.
  • Star Wars Legends: Jedi Vs Sith, set during Darth Bane's time, includes a wooden-hulled starship called the Fairwind.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Wonder Woman and the Holliday Girls end up captured aboard a Saturnian spy submarine which they soon afterwards discover is both submarine and spaceship.

    Film — Animation 
  • BraveStarr: In the movie, Bravestarr and JB travel on a spaceship with sails, which has leather couches, huge picture windows, and shelves of paper books.
  • Treasure Planet takes this to the extreme, featuring a direct transplant of Treasure Island in space, with immense spacefaring galleons crossing voids populated by great pods of Space Whales and stalked by Space Pirates Dressed to Plunder, and a quest for a hidden treasure cache on a secret planet with X-shaped rings.
  • WALL•E featured the Axiom, a "Starliner" with a design evoking that of a seagoing cruise ship.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Fifth Element: The Fhloston Paradise hotel does double as both a space and a (hovering-just-above-the-) sea vessel. It looks like a futuristic version of a steam paddleboat. The steam-stacks, however, may be just for show -— it is a luxury toy meant for the amusement of rich tourists, after all.
  • Message from Space takes this to the extreme. These space sailors sail wooden Renaissance-era ships, and the movie also includes Space Pirates and a musket-toting droid.

  • Alexis Carew: Ships are propelled through darkspace via charged sails that harness the "winds" of dark energy, which tends to flow towards massive objects like planetary systems. Since nothing electrical works in darkspace unless shielded with expensive gallenium, this means the sails have to be set by hand, and complexity and cost of sailplan governs the size of interstellar ships.
  • The Book of the New Sun: The spaceships of the Hierodules are described in terms almost identical to nautical vessels, with decks, sails, and rigging. They are almost certainly not supposed to look like nautical ships (for example, Tzadkiel's ship has a series of decks all around the ship, rather than deck, sides, and keel) but the reader must struggle to escape that impression given Severian's habit of not drawing distinction between nautical and space-going ships.
  • The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids has the "tachyonic sailing ships", which are interdimensional vessels that just so happen to look like 18th century sailing ships. They are lampshaded as Awesome, but Impractical, with only eccentrics using them anymore, while most dimensional travellers use less overdesigned Void Ships.
  • The Daedalus Series is set in an Alternate History where an alchemical invention made in the late 15th century allows ordinary sailing ships to fly through space. The story follows the adventures of an 18th Century British naval officer who is employed on a perfectly ordinary wooden, sail-driven frigate — that happens to be en route to the planet Jupiter.
  • Mark Delewen and the Space Pirates: Despite being in outer space, the pirates' ships look just like 18th Century pirate ships, with some modifications.
  • Ranks of Bronze: A follow-on novella, "Delenda Est Carthago" by Eric Flint, features the newly created space navy of Terra, based on stolen technology brought back to 21st century Earth by the survivors of Crassus' Roman legions. Said technology included a warp drive and Deflector Shields which would also work to keep the air in, resulting in humanity's first space fleet consisting of converted submarines, frigates, carriers, and battleships, pulled from the waves and into space. The battleship Missouri's part of the action is particularly reminiscent of Uchuu Senkan Yamato. There is, also, one ship included in honour of the returned Romans: a restored Roman galley.
  • Into the Looking Glass: The Human-Adar Alliance's first warp ship is a converted Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, the USS Nebraska (SSBN-739), and is mostly crewed by US Navy personnel who primarily use naval terminology except where the third dimension is involved.
  • Larklight: The starships are nothing more than Victorian sailing vessels with alchemical engines.
  • Mark Delewen and the Space Pirates: Although regular spaceships are also seen, the pirates use 18th century style ships.
  • RCN: The ships maneuver through a hyperspace with sails.
  • The Ship That Sailed to Mars: The ship constructed by the Old Man and the Fairies looks exactly like a sailing ship, only it can fly. Whenever it lands on a planet for a visit, it touches down on the water and sails like a typical watercraft.
  • The Two Space War: Hyperspace is literally two dimensional, and spaceships are sailing ships made of wood infested with an alien fungus.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Enlightenment": The Fifth Doctor and his companions find themselves on board a Sufficiently Advanced Alien Edwardian ship in space, powered via solar sails, which is participating in a race around the planets, along with other such ships from different periods from human history, including a Greek trireme... with rowers.
    • "Voyage of the Damned" features one of the aforementioned Space Titanics. It could be justified, though, since the aliens purposely made it to look like the Titanic, and many other spaceships in the series look nothing like boats. In other words, it doesn't look like a boat because space is an ocean, it looks like a boat because they wanted it to. The aliens, that is, not just the scriptwriters.
  • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger: Gokai Galleon of the Space Pirates Sentai. It's the Red Ranger's mech, the central piece to the Combining Mecha, and transportation (with pretty nice living quarters) for the entire team.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Commander Sisko built a lightship that employed a solar sail for propulsion — Bajorans had even traveled faster than light with these contraptions.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Star Fleet: The Skull, a space-going pirate ship complete with sails.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS: Spaceships discusses solar sails. You can even give space boats wooden hulls if the setting demands it or the characters are incredibly desperate. One example is the Star Galleon which uses astral sails to move through space and is designed to sail on a normal sea.
  • Spelljammer: Space is very literally magic here, and the ships crossing the Ptolomean solar systems and the great voids between the crystal shells containing them are typically wooden, sailed-and-rigged, and very ornate. Notably, sails only provide maneuverability — conventional means of propulsion has the same performance when strapped on almost any object of acceptable size.
  • Traveller: There's artwork where a space carrier appears with flight deck and island as if it was a seagoing one.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Eldar's ships use solar sails for propulsion, which means that, if you play as them in the space combat spin-off, Battlefleet Gothic, you'll have to keep track of which side of the table is sunward and adjust your movement rates accordingly.
    • In the regular game, Dark Eldar skimmers fit the trope to a T. Especially fifth edition ones released in November 2011.

    Video Games 
  • Lusternia: Aetherships allow players to fly through aetherspace. Since aetherships are customized entirely by the player who owns them, they run the gamut from hi-tech spaceships, to airships, to pirate ships, and even floating stately homes!
  • Rayman 2: The Great Escape: The robot pirates invading Rayman's world are headquartered on a massive galleon outfitted with rocket engines. Smaller flying pirate vessels can occasionally be seen in the game, and you eventually end up piloting one near the end.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire: Some of the TEC's ships are space liners refitted for combat. The Akkan Battlecruiser for one looks like a cruise ship.
  • Spore: A spaceship can be designed like a boat, jet-ski, submarine, tank, blimp, or a solid cube, and still function the same.
  • Starship Titanic features, well, a Space Titanic.
  • Steredenn: Most enemy ships have chunky, utilitarian designs, but the Cruiser boss and its regular enemy counterpart resemble seafaring vessels, with gun turrets on the top and a keeled hull on the bottom.
  • Super Mario Galaxy: Bowser's fleet of wooden, propeller-driven airships here flyes through space in quite a few of the levels, notably Bowser Jr's Airship Armada.
  • Tachyon: The Fringe: At least one freighter model has a strong resemblance to oceangoing ships.
  • Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon: Similar to the film it is a sequel to, ships resemble 18th to 19th-century ships, with the solar-sail powered ships resembling 18th to early 19th century ships, and the Ironclads resembling mid-19th-century Ironclads and late 19th-century Cruisers and Battleships.
  • Vega Strike has Hidalgo. It's a luxury yacht made by Highborn faction, so extra-extra-fancifulness is to be expected. And yes, it's one of Space Pirate ships of choice too.

  • Homestuck: Vessels capable of crossing the space between the players' planets, the Veil, and Prospit and Derse, such as Grandpa's battleship and the white and black armies' fleets, resemble WWII-era warships capable of moving through the void — although the Medium is not exactly space.
  • Oceans in the Sky features, very prominently, a sailing ship capable of space travel as a plot point.
  • Phoebus Krumm'': Thanks to "S-fields", starships are open-topped sail ships with no electronics on board. Not really any explanation why they're open aside from the field containing the atmosphere, and it seems like a rather bad idea since the field vaporizes organic matter that comes into contact.
  • Sluggy Freelance: The "Oceans Unmoving" storyline. This one isn't space either, but flying sailing ships in a place outside time itself, which sail above the frozen oceans of the title. This one is an interesting variation in that, although the ships' hulls look like those of sailing ships, they can have masts on the bottom as well with additional sails.

    Western Animation 
  • 3-2-1 Penguins!: "Runaway Pride at Lightstation Kilowatt" features an entire setup of this, with a giant cargo spaceship and a lighthouse-like beacon that's set up on a beach-like asteroid with energy waves floating off of it.
  • Bobobobs: The eponymous creatures traverse deep space on a wooden galleon outfitted with a glass dome to protect them form the vacuum of space.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door has this when the candy pirates "modify" their ship for space travel (the modifications consist of an air bubble... thing and engines)
  • Duck Dodgers features a spaceship designed to look like an eighteenth-century pirate ship assaulting a spaceship designed to look like a nineteenth-century cruise liner. Also, the Klunkian (not Klingon) warship resembles a Viking longship, complete with oars.
  • Futurama:
    • "A Flight to Remember" centers around the ill-fated voyage of the Space Titanic, a luxury spaceship resembling a nineteenth-century ocean liner in every detail except scale and medium traversed. It survives Zapp Brannigan's decision to take it through a field of comets ("Ah, yes, comets, the icebergs of the sky!"), but then he has to steer it near "that black-ish, hole-ish thing".
    • "The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz": A Dark Matter tanker, essentially a modern oil tanker in space, causes a major disaster when it crashes on Pluto's penguin reserve.
    • "Godfellas": At the beginning, the Planet Express crew is attacked by a Space Pirate dressed to the piratical nines and sailing in a galleon-like ship.
    • "Möbius Dick" has the crew hunting a very literal Space Whale after outfitting their ship with solar sails. To reach the beast, they need to brave the perilous Bermuda Tetrahedronnote  and fields of diamond "spacebergs".

    Real Life 
  • The closest thing even proposed in real life would be the Sea Dragon, an ultra-heavy lift rocket concept launched from the sea to simplify logistics requirements. But it's almost an inversion of the concept, a conventional rocket that's a ship rather than a ship in space.


Video Example(s):


Princesses! To Your Sky-Flyers

Clip of the Princess Warriors and Prince Darian attempting to fight / flee Queen Beryl

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / SpaceSailing

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