As a history dork -- as a particular kind of history dork -- I have a particular problem when I run my D&D game. I tend to swipe liberally from history, because why wouldn't you, but then I have this bad habit of assuming that one corner of the square implies the other three. So if I have, say, Viking-equivalents in my setting then that must necessarily imply all sorts of other things about the climate, ecology, technology, etc. of the setting such that Vikings or Viking-like cultures can exist reasonably.
And this is in a game where I have decided that I do not give the tenth part of a hang about reasonable. It's just a quirk. And it's not just my quirk either -- how many people are weirded out by the fact that the Song of Ice and Fire books take place in a setting that has a highly British/European culture but is environmentally much more like North America, with its redwood trees and icy north and alligator-infested swamps? Maybe none, hell, I don't know. But it's notable that D&D fantasy continents usually have wolves and bears but not, like, buffalo or elephants.
And that's OK -- some consistent grounding can be handy to avoid having to describe every damn thing. But at sea it is not going to fly.
See, when most people think of "sailing ships" they think of a particular period in maritime history, what you might call "the golden age of piracy," anywhere from the middle of the 17th century to the first quarter of the 18th. Or, failing that, the Hornblower/Aubrey era of the Napoleonic wars. But that's only one tiny part of the vast and bitchin' history of human sailing ingenuity, and honestly I think my game would be a lot less interesting if I didn't include some of these different vessels:
|Polynesia = surprisingly unrobbed for D&D!|
|No cannons in my fantasy world. Ramming speed!|
|Wait until we get to the bit about ship-to-ship weapons.|
|I mean, the sailing ones look a bit nicer than this.|
|Obviously the head contains some horrible weapon.|
|How do you solve a problem like Fireball?|
|Overheated scenario title: TREASURE SHIP OF THE PIRATE QUEEN!|
|Yet more galleys.|
|Good old Zheng He.|