From at least the 5th century B.C. until the late-19th century, 90 percent of all ships’ sails were made from hemp. The other 10 percent were usually flax or minor fibers like ramie, sisal, jute, abaca, etc.
(Abel, Ernest, Marijuana: The First 12,000 Years, Plenum Press, 1980; Herodotus, Histories, 5th century B.C.; Frazier, Jack, The Marijuana Farmers, 1972; U.S. Agricultural Index, 1916-1982; USDA film, Hemp for Victory, 1942.)
The word “canvas”1 is the Dutch pronunciation (twice removed, from French and Latin) of the Greek word “Kannabis.”*
*Kannabis, of the (Hellenized) Mediterranean Basin Greek language, derived from the Persian and earlier Northern Semitics (Quanuba, Kanabosm, Cana?, Kanah?) which scholars have now traced back to the dawn of the 6,000-year-old Indo-Semitic European language family base of the Sumerians and Acadians. The early Sumerian/Babylonian word K(a)N(a)B(a), or Q(a)N(a)B(a) is one of man’s longest surviving root words.1 (KN means cane and B means two, two reeds or two sexes.)
In addition to canvas sails, virtually all of the rigging, anchor ropes, cargo nets, fishing nets, flags, shrouds, and oakum (the main protection for ships against salt water, used as a sealant between the outer and inner hull of ships) were made from the stalk of the marijuana plant.
Even the sailors’ clothing, right down to the stitching in the seamen’s rope-soled and (sometimes) “canvas” shoes, was crafted from cannabis. An average cargo, clipper, whaler, or naval ship of the line, in the 16th, 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries carried 50 to 100 tons of cannabis hemp rigging, not to mention the sails, nets, etc., and needed it all replaced every year or two, due to salt rot. (Ask the U.S. Naval Academy, or see the construction of the USS Constitution, a.k.a. “Old Ironsides,” Boston Harbor.)
(Abel, Ernest, Marijuana, The First 12,000 Years, Plenum Press, 1980; Ency. Britannica; Magoun, Alexander, The Frigate Constitution, 1928; USDA film Hemp for Victory, 1942.)
Additionally, the ships’ charts, maps, logs, and Bibles were made from paper containing hemp fiber from the time of Columbus (15th century) until the early 1900s in the Western European/American World, and by the Chinese from the 1st century A.D. on. Hemp paper lasted 50 to 100 times longer than most preparations of papyrus, and was a hundred times easier and cheaper to make.
Incredibly, it cost more for a ship’s hempen sails, ropes, etc. than it did to build the wooden parts.