"The Nellie, a cruising yawl"
Richard H. Lee's yawl Wendur (1883)
Public DomainRichard H. Lee's yawl Wendur (1883) - Credit: Nanthaniel Livermore Stebbins

A yawl is a two-masted sailing boat, rigged fore-and-aft, with a large mainmast and a small mizzen-mast (or rear mast).

The novel’s opening sentence sees Conrad already including autobiographical detail in a work which he described as a ‘record of experience… pushed a little (and only a very little) beyond the actual facts of the case’. During the summer of 1891, after his return from the Congo (see Setting), Conrad visited his friend G. F. W. Hope in Stanford, Essex, and made two trips in Hope’s yawl, the Nellie, along the Thames Estuary.