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  #1  
Old 11-11-2010, 09:57 AM
Drum God Drum God is offline
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How did old sailing ships maneuver?

My son is building a model of the USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides". This got me to thinking, how did these ships maneuver themselves? There was, and is, transatlantic trade. However, the winds primarily blow from west to east. So, how did the ships make the voyage from Europe to the New World? Is there some way to rig the sails so that the wind propels you in the direction you want to go even if the wind is actually blowing the other direction?

When the ship got to harbor, how was it safely maneuvered up to the dock? There were no tugboats and the ships themselves obviously did not have bow and stern thrusters. Would a sudden gust of wind send the ship crashing through the pier?

So, in short, with wind being a variable source of power, how were people able to get where they were going with some reasonable degree of safety and reliability?
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  #2  
Old 11-11-2010, 10:05 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Same way as modern sailing ships do: the basic, non-sailor's answer is by a combination of the rudder and the sails, with the rudder providing (mainly) direction and the sails providing speed. Even those with "fixed" sails can use them to direct the ship, and while sailing straight into the wind can end in dead sails pretty easily (flopping and not pushing you anywhere), sailing diagonally into the wind is easy enough. If your route would take you straight into the wind, what you do is zigzag around that direction, so that the zig and zag compensate for each other and end up taking you where you want to be.

For large ships and harbors, manoeuvering into a dock would be directed by the harbor's own pilot, not by the ship's.

Check out some windsurfing videos. There is no rudder (the person acts as the rudder by leaning into/pressing down with his feet on the table to make it turn in the same way that planes do) but following how that single sail is used is easier than doing so in a video of a clipper.

Last edited by Nava; 11-11-2010 at 10:10 AM..
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:12 AM
Philster Philster is offline
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Google 'tacking' or

http://www.gosailing.info/Tacking.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacking_(sailing)

Explains how to sail into the wind....

Last edited by Philster; 11-11-2010 at 10:15 AM..
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:24 AM
Schnitte Schnitte is offline
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Originally Posted by Drum God View Post
Is there some way to rig the sails so that the wind propels you in the direction you want to go even if the wind is actually blowing the other direction?
The answer to that is beating. Contrary to what one might think, sailing ships are fastest not when the wind comes from straight behind, but when it comes sideways at a 90° angle; with smaller angles than 90°, you can still go ahead quite comfortably. If you want to travel into the direction the wind is blowing from, you can't do that directly; you can, however, sail at some angle, say 45°, to that, do this for a while, then make a turn, and keep doing this, zig-zagging across the ocean. Might sound complicated, but the graphics in this Wiki article should make the idea clear.
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:27 AM
tdn tdn is offline
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I think that a lot of people see the old sailing vessels and just notice the big square sails, and fail to notice the main and jibs. Those are the ones that do the primary work of getting around a good 270 degrees of direction. The big square sails act more like spinnakers.

Question, though -- through what range of direction are they useful? Surely they can't be used close-hauled?
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:32 AM
yabob yabob is online now
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BTW, the old square riggers couldn't point up into the wind very well. Fore and aft rigs are better in this regard, but square rigs were better at running before the wind, and working cargo ships in the age of sail had the trade winds and westerlies to take advantage of, sailing east in the lower latitudes, and west in the upper if at all possible.

Your typical modern day small sloop rigged sailboat manages about 45 degrees off the wind close hauled. They might actually do a bit better, but 45 is convenient - it means that when you tack, you're making a right angle. Look directly to your left or right over the high side rail - that's the way you'll be headed after the tack.
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:33 AM
Stan Shmenge Stan Shmenge is offline
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I would add that modern sailboats can sail a lot closer to the direction of wind than the old square riggers, and back in the day they would sail at different latitudes where the prevailing winds were more favorable to the direction they were heading.
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:37 AM
XT XT is offline
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Besides all the answers above that show how you can manuver (tack/wear and beat, which I mainly know from the Horatio Hornblower books)

Quote:
There was, and is, transatlantic trade. However, the winds primarily blow from west to east. So, how did the ships make the voyage from Europe to the New World?
They don't though. The winds are circular depending on the season, and the one's from Africa to South America blow east to west, while at higher latitudes they blow west to east. These were called Trade Winds IIRC, and depending on the season you could sail a triangle from Europe to Africa to the New World and back again.

-XT

Last edited by XT; 11-11-2010 at 10:39 AM..
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:42 AM
yabob yabob is online now
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Originally Posted by Stan Shmenge View Post
I would add that modern sailboats can sail a lot closer to the direction of wind than the old square riggers, and back in the day they would sail at different latitudes where the prevailing winds were more favorable to the direction they were heading.
The figure I've heard is that the old square riggers couldn't manage less than 60 degrees off the wind, at best. If they really HAD to follow a course in a direction directly into the wind, it was extremely slow going, zigging back and forth at a very shallow angle. There were many various rigs, of course, and various "hermaphrodite" (mixed square and fore/aft) rigs were popular. Ability to point into the wind was one of the tradeoffs to be considered.

Last edited by yabob; 11-11-2010 at 10:43 AM..
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  #10  
Old 11-11-2010, 01:22 PM
Kevbo Kevbo is offline
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In addition to trade winds already mentioned, the main part of the gulf stream ocean current circulates in a clockwise loop around the middle Atlantic. Not fast, but people were more patient in the age of sail.
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Old 11-11-2010, 01:30 PM
Tastes of Chocolate Tastes of Chocolate is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Drum God View Post
There was, and is, transatlantic trade. However, the winds primarily blow from west to east. So, how did the ships make the voyage from Europe to the New World?
Check out the Wikipedia article for Trade Wind and it's map of prevailing wind directions. North America --> Europe, winds from the west. Closer the Equator, winds from the east, Africa --> the Caribbean.

That's part of what made the US slave trade profitable. Start in Africa, pick up slaves. Take the tradewinds to the Caribbean, trade the slaves for sugar cane or rum. Sugar and rum go to either the US colonies or Europe, where they are traded for manufactured goods, which are taking back to Africa.
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Old 11-11-2010, 02:37 PM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is online now
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It seems like all the pictures you see of square-riggers have the yards (the horizontal beams the sails hang from) exactly perpendicular to the hull, but they don't have to be. There are lines called braces that are attached to the ends of the yards and extend aft and down to the side of the hull. If you haul on the port braces and ease on the starboard, you turn that whole stack of sails to catch the wind and propel yourself in the right direction.

Take a look at these two pictures, you can see the yards are turned to catch the wind coming from the starboard quarter.

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The figure I've heard is that the old square riggers couldn't manage less than 60 degrees off the wind, at best.
That's the number I've heard as well, from people who definitely know.

As for getting in to harbors, if the approach was directly upwind, you couldn't just sail in. You'd lower a boat and they take a rope, row forward and tie the end to a piling. The crew on deck would wrap that rope around the capstan (here, bottom left) and essentially winch themselves forward.
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Old 11-11-2010, 02:57 PM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is online now
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Here's a picture that shows the braces a little better. The ship is tied up to a pier (the red shack is on the pier, the pale yellow is the ship) and the picture is looking toward the bow. Just on the left edge, near the bottom, are three lines tied to the side of the ship, and they go up and forward to the yards. (The top two braces are close together, the lowest one doubles back through a couple pulleys.)

Those are the first lines you learn on a ship, along with how to haul, ease, and tie them off while working as a team.
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Old 11-11-2010, 05:12 PM
Drum God Drum God is offline
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Thanks for the pictures and explanations. That last pic, RobertArm makes me cold just looking at it. It would not have been fun working on the mooring of that ship.

So, suppose now I'm on a warship pursuing the enemy. The enemy has gotten out in front. Are there things that I can do to catch up and come alongside? I want to launch a volley from my starboard cannons.
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Old 11-11-2010, 05:43 PM
Malacandra Malacandra is offline
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It's not necessarily easy, or even possible. But some hulls will cut through the water better than others, and even if your ships are of identical design, you may have an edge if you have been able to scrape off the weed and barnacles recently. Longer waterlines spell higher speed, and so does more sail, so a two-decker "seventy-four" could often run down a frigate - and outgunned her handsomely too - she was a bigger ship and could spread more sail. Again, you might have to trim your ship for best results; if any weight you're carrying is unevenly distributed, you might be down by the stem or the stern, and make slower progress than if you were properly balanced. But it's an old maxim that "a stern chase is a long chase".
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Old 11-11-2010, 06:44 PM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is online now
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Originally Posted by Drum God View Post
Thanks for the pictures and explanations. That last pic, RobertArm makes me cold just looking at it. It would not have been fun working on the mooring of that ship.
Yeah, that was a chilly one, but IIRC, we set sail the next day.

Quote:
So, suppose now I'm on a warship pursuing the enemy. The enemy has gotten out in front. Are there things that I can do to catch up and come alongside? I want to launch a volley from my starboard cannons.
I'm not sure you'd necessarily want to come directly alongside; that puts you in the line of fire for their guns, too. If your ship is fast enough to pull alongside, you might do better to come up behind the other ship, turn 90 degrees to bring your guns to bear, fire a couple volleys, then start pursuing again.

I don't know the details, really, just that there was a huge science behind those sorts of battle tactics.
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Old 11-11-2010, 07:36 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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What you wanted to do is "cross their T" - you wanted to bring a whole broadside of your guns to bear on one of the little ends of their ship, where they didn't have any guns and you had the most opportunity to make a hit (more "ship" for your shot to traverse, as opposed to just across the narrow bit, if that makes sense.) It's a lot more fun to hit people who can't hit back except with a little popgun.
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Old 11-11-2010, 07:39 PM
yabob yabob is online now
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Originally Posted by Robot Arm View Post
...
I'm not sure you'd necessarily want to come directly alongside; that puts you in the line of fire for their guns, too. If your ship is fast enough to pull alongside, you might do better to come up behind the other ship, turn 90 degrees to bring your guns to bear, fire a couple volleys, then start pursuing again.

I don't know the details, really, just that there was a huge science behind those sorts of battle tactics.
Maybe. I seem to recall seeing a diagram of an old naval battle from that era, and the number of times one vessel crossed the other's bow was pointed out. That allowed you to deliver a broadside without them being able to return fire, as you note, and was something they tried very hard to do. But didn't some warships of that era have cannons mounted in the stern?
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Old 11-11-2010, 07:50 PM
Spiny Norman Spiny Norman is offline
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But didn't some warships of that era have cannons mounted in the stern?
They did, but very few - perhaps 2 or 4. If you crossed the stern of an enemy ship, having your gun crews fire in progression as their weapons came to bear, you'd get off an entire broadsides' worth of shot vs. the enemy's stern cannon. Also, you'd be firing directly into officer country, and stand a good chance of disabling the enemy's rudder, to boot.
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Old 11-11-2010, 07:55 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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Gain the weather gauge!

Raking, firing your broadside through his bow or stern would kill lots of people since the decks had few or no solid partitions.
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Old 11-11-2010, 08:00 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Probably a stupid question but I've always wondered.

On a sailing ship, you've got the mast, which is the vertical piece of wood, and you've got the yards, which are the horizontal crosspieces attached to the mast (I think I've got the terminology right).

Now if you want to change the direction the sails are facing to the wind, do you pivot the mast where it meets the deck or do you pivot the yards where they meet the mast?
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Old 11-11-2010, 08:04 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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The yards.
All sorts of rigging held the masts in place.
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Old 11-11-2010, 08:27 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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For his "Hornblower in Space" Honor Harrington books, David Weber went to the length of creating a FTL spaceship system that "recreated" the need for "up the skirt" shots, therefore producing space battles that mimic the Age of Sail tactics. (Rather well, really - he has a talent for narrating them that makes the "geography" clear in the reader's mind. It's pulp, but pretty good pulp as it goes. I stopped reading at some point, though.)
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Old 11-11-2010, 08:55 PM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is online now
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Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
What you wanted to do is "cross their T" - you wanted to bring a whole broadside of your guns to bear on one of the little ends of their ship, where they didn't have any guns and you had the most opportunity to make a hit (more "ship" for your shot to traverse, as opposed to just across the narrow bit, if that makes sense.) It's a lot more fun to hit people who can't hit back except with a little popgun.
I was going to say much the same thing, but I looked up crossing the T at Wikipedia and it says that tactic only came into fashion in the late 19th century, with the development of steam powered ships and rotating turrets. It seems like it would have been useful in the age of sail, too, but I really don't know enough of the details to say for sure.

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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
Probably a stupid question but I've always wondered.

On a sailing ship, you've got the mast, which is the vertical piece of wood, and you've got the yards, which are the horizontal crosspieces attached to the mast (I think I've got the terminology right).

Now if you want to change the direction the sails are facing to the wind, do you pivot the mast where it meets the deck or do you pivot the yards where they meet the mast?
The masts have to be pretty firmly attached to the ship. It probably goes down through the deck to attach to one of the lower decks or the hull, and there are taut cables called shrouds that attach to the sides of the ship. (Attach ratlines to the shrouds and it forms sort of a ladder for climbing up into the the rigging.) And the mast isn't usually one piece. The upper sections can be brought down for repairs or for clearance under bridges.

And there are different ways of attaching the yards to the mast. In the pictures I posted, the lowest yard had a double pivot; you could haul the braces to turn it left or right, or you could raise one end and lower the other (that yard is the longest, and you might need to move it like that to come alongside a pier with a warehouse, or something).

The next yard up was just a simple pivot, for bracing left or right.

The upper yards weren't really attached to the mast at all. The yard was attached to a collar that wrapped around the mast, and to set the sail, you'd haul on a line that would actually raise the whole yard. Look at this picture again; you can see two of the yards on the main mast are really close together. When that upper one is set, it actually goes about ten feet up the mast. The mast is a darker color where that collar wraps around it, and someone has to go up there every now and then and grease the mast. (Mike Rowe did it on an episode of Dirty Jobs, once.)

All that said, I've seen pictures of modern sailing yachts where everything is computer controlled. It looks like there's almost none of the traditional rigging, and I wouldn't be surprised if they do rotate the whole mast to brace the yards.

Is everybody getting tired of me geeking out on this subject yet?
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:05 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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That's fighting ignorance for you!
I thought crossing the T was what Nelson did at Trafalgar when the English broke the French line. Several ships in line astern firing broadsides at two single enemy ships. In other words, two ships had to take the fire of the entire line.
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:45 PM
Drum God Drum God is offline
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Originally Posted by Robot Arm View Post

Is everybody getting tired of me geeking out on this subject yet?
Not at all. I'm enjoying the conversation. So, the object then is to bring the broadsides to bear on the bow or stern of the enemy? That surprises me since I would think the short side of the ship would be hardest to hit. I hadn't thought about how it also gives the cannonball a longer target to hit as it descends.
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:49 PM
Princhester Princhester is offline
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Originally Posted by Drum God View Post
So, suppose now I'm on a warship pursuing the enemy. The enemy has gotten out in front. Are there things that I can do to catch up and come alongside? I want to launch a volley from my starboard cannons.
You need to read Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels. Start with Master & Commander (not the same story as the movie, though the movie was loosely based on the series) and in a few years when you have finished the whole series you will be able to stop turning pages and have a reasonable understanding of naval tactics in the days of sail. By all accounts O'Brian's understanding and research are outstandingly accurate and many of his battles are based on logs of vessels that actually fought the battles he incorporates in his books.
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:49 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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Originally Posted by Drum God View Post
Not at all. I'm enjoying the conversation. So, the object then is to bring the broadsides to bear on the bow or stern of the enemy? That surprises me since I would think the short side of the ship would be hardest to hit. I hadn't thought about how it also gives the cannonball a longer target to hit as it descends.
Raking your opponent was quite effective.

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Victory raked the Bucentaure's less protected stern killing 197 and wounding a further 85, including the Bucentaure's captain
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Old 11-11-2010, 11:02 PM
Princhester Princhester is offline
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Originally Posted by Drum God View Post
Not at all. I'm enjoying the conversation. So, the object then is to bring the broadsides to bear on the bow or stern of the enemy? That surprises me since I would think the short side of the ship would be hardest to hit. I hadn't thought about how it also gives the cannonball a longer target to hit as it descends.
The ball did not descend. Shots from cannon on sailing ships were fired direct on a flat trajectory, not by plunging fire. You would have no hope whatever of hitting a ship at any range on a ballistic trajectory in a seaway, firing from a rolling and pitching ship at a moving target.

The balls were heavy enough and moving fast enough (depending on calibre etc) to go straight through the ship, hull, bulkheads, and flesh and bone notwithstanding. If you fired at the ship's side the ball would have much less chance of doing damage because it would only cross the narrow dimension. If you fired at the bow or stern the ball would enter and pass down the length of the ship, and have far greater chance of hitting something crucial (and probably more than one thing).

Last edited by Princhester; 11-11-2010 at 11:03 PM..
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Old 11-11-2010, 11:08 PM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is online now
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Originally Posted by Drum God View Post
Not at all. I'm enjoying the conversation. So, the object then is to bring the broadsides to bear on the bow or stern of the enemy? That surprises me since I would think the short side of the ship would be hardest to hit. I hadn't thought about how it also gives the cannonball a longer target to hit as it descends.
My experience stopped well short of actual combat.
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Old 11-12-2010, 04:25 AM
kombatminipig kombatminipig is offline
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Alright, there are enough questions here that I won't attempt to answer them all individually, so I'll write a short essay instead

Full disclosure: My experience of sailing ships is a lifelong passion, as well as sailing a couple of weeks with the replica Götheborg, an 18th century Eastindiaman.

On tacking against the wind
As noted, square riggers fare far better before the wind than tacking. The main reason that square riggs were used for ocean going cruisers was the fact that most of the time was spent in a predictable and reliable trade wind, meaning that a square rig would end up making the best time on an ocean voyage. Note that as technology progressed, ships would gain more and more staysails (the triangular sails which allow tacking), allowing more flexibility. Ships more likely to encounter adverse winds such as trawlers, coasters and tramps would carry more staysails as well as gaff riggs, giving less speed on open water but more flexibility close to shore.

Note also that square sails can also be used in tacking, but are far less effective at creating a proper airfoil due to their shape, and are far more labor intensive than a gaff rigg of the same size due to the added complexity.

How to get a ship into harbor

Large ships did in fact rarely sail all the way into harbor, but would instead lay anchor in a good anchorage and then offload goods to coasters, barges and other small craft. Should a ship be required to go all the way in, it could be either pulled in by its own long boats or warped in, i.e. pull itself forward using small anchors that were dropped in front of the ship by its long boats.

When the steam boat was introduced, one of its first roles was as tug boat.

On holding the wind gage
In 18th century tactics, holding the wind gage meant being upwind and thus deciding when and where a battle was to be fought. The other side of the coin was that the fleet which was downwind always had the ability to retreat when it decided to. The English, seeking total naval supremacy, always tried to hold the wind gage and engage their enemy. The French on the other hand, having a far smaller navy than Great Britain, sought primarily to exist as a threat to English shipping, and avoided at all costs battles where the fleet might be lost.

Raking fire, stern and bow chasers
As noted, the ultimate maneuver in naval warfare was raking fire, where a ship would pass behind it's enemy and fire shot all through its length. The closer this maneuver was done the better, allowing double or tripple shot to be loaded, mixed with grapeshot if occasion allowed. The most famous example of this maneuver was, as was noted, Nelson at Trafalgar.

Ships carried guns in the stern, but this was as much a defense against gun boats and other small craft. A ship intent on escaping would have its full crew in the rig, while a ship intent on fighting wouldn't be showing its aft at all. Bow chasers were used much in the same purpose, but during pursuit could also be used to fire chains into a fleeing opponent's rig in order to slow them down. This was of course far from the rule, and the British would in later years use huge caliber carronades in the bow instead.

Note also that broadsides were not common, as they put enormous stress on the ship, and were primarily used at range in order to fire as the ship was on the up-roll. Normally, gun deck captains would order their guns to be fired as they bared.
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Old 11-12-2010, 05:09 AM
Princhester Princhester is offline
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Do you mean "weather gage"?

Also, at least according to Patrick O'Brian's characters (who I understand as above to generally be accurate) would describe firing all the guns on one side during one manouevre as they bear as a broadside: I have never heard his characters make a distinction by which it is only a broadside if the fire is simultaneous.
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Old 11-12-2010, 07:41 AM
kombatminipig kombatminipig is offline
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Originally Posted by Princhester View Post
Do you mean "weather gage"?

Also, at least according to Patrick O'Brian's characters (who I understand as above to generally be accurate) would describe firing all the guns on one side during one manouevre as they bear as a broadside: I have never heard his characters make a distinction by which it is only a broadside if the fire is simultaneous.
Weather gage, of course. Slight slip of the mind =)

I hold that broadside means firing a whole ship's battery at the same time though, as does wiki.
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Old 11-12-2010, 07:44 AM
UncleRojelio UncleRojelio is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Drum God View Post
Thanks for the pictures and explanations. That last pic, RobertArm makes me cold just looking at it. It would not have been fun working on the mooring of that ship.

So, suppose now I'm on a warship pursuing the enemy. The enemy has gotten out in front. Are there things that I can do to catch up and come alongside? I want to launch a volley from my starboard cannons.
You need to read the Aubrey/Maturin and/or the Hornblower books. By the time you are done you will be qualified to sail a ship under any conditions and raid shipping to your hearts content.
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Old 11-12-2010, 08:25 AM
Shodan Shodan is offline
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The ball did not descend. Shots from cannon on sailing ships were fired direct on a flat trajectory, not by plunging fire. You would have no hope whatever of hitting a ship at any range on a ballistic trajectory in a seaway, firing from a rolling and pitching ship at a moving target.

The balls were heavy enough and moving fast enough (depending on calibre etc) to go straight through the ship, hull, bulkheads, and flesh and bone notwithstanding. If you fired at the ship's side the ball would have much less chance of doing damage because it would only cross the narrow dimension. If you fired at the bow or stern the ball would enter and pass down the length of the ship, and have far greater chance of hitting something crucial (and probably more than one thing).
Another major source of casualties was splinter wounds, where jagged bits of the timbers hit by cannon shot went flying about inconveniencing passers-by.

Sometimes they would fire two cannon balls connected by a chain, to damage the rigging. And "canister" was an anti-personnel charge, which was a tin container full of musket balls fired from a cannon into groups of people. The tin disintegrated and it was like a really big shot gun blast.

One of the things I learned from the Hornblower books was that the sides of the ship were not a primary target. The rigging was. The idea being to disable the ship from being able to maneuver, and then get into position where you could fire at them but they couldn't hit back in return, and then just hammer them into surrender.

Read the account of the battle between the Lydia and the Natividad in the Hornblower book Beat to Quarters for a wonderful account of naval ship-to-ship combat during the Napoleonic period.

Regards,
Shodan
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Old 11-12-2010, 08:49 AM
muldoonthief muldoonthief is offline
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You need to read the Aubrey/Maturin and/or the Hornblower books. By the time you are done you will be qualified to sail a ship under any conditions and raid shipping to your hearts content.
And whip off a leg, or perform a suprapubic cystotomy.
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Old 11-12-2010, 09:45 AM
kombatminipig kombatminipig is offline
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Sometimes they would fire two cannon balls connected by a chain, to damage the rigging. And "canister" was an anti-personnel charge, which was a tin container full of musket balls fired from a cannon into groups of people. The tin disintegrated and it was like a really big shot gun blast.

One of the things I learned from the Hornblower books was that the sides of the ship were not a primary target. The rigging was. The idea being to disable the ship from being able to maneuver, and then get into position where you could fire at them but they couldn't hit back in return, and then just hammer them into surrender.
Nit picks: Canister shot was used by artillery. At sea the balls were larger (a bit over an inch in diameter, like a small cannon shot) and sown together in a cloth sack and referred to as 'grape'.

Also, it was a question of tactics of wether you fired into the rigging or hulls. The British had a long tradition of aiming for the waterline, and would rarely employ chain except when commerce raiding. The French, on the other hand, whose aim was to keep their navy sailing, employed chain to a greater degree, to great effect in the battle of Chesapeake Bay. This is just from memory though, so if I'm wrong then please correct me =)
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Old 11-12-2010, 10:56 AM
Sailboat Sailboat is online now
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Nit picks: Canister shot was used by artillery. At sea the balls were larger (a bit over an inch in diameter, like a small cannon shot) and sown together in a cloth sack and referred to as 'grape'.
Nitpick: sewn cloth has been stitched together. Sown seeds have been planted.

Also...I vaguely recall that one side (British) either stopped using, or actually banned, chain shot, on humanitarian grounds. I guess the dangers of having a limb lopped off by flying chain were regarded differently than the dangers of being eviscerated by splinters or holed by grape.
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Old 11-12-2010, 11:10 AM
kombatminipig kombatminipig is offline
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Nitpick: sewn cloth has been stitched together. Sown seeds have been planted.

Also...I vaguely recall that one side (British) either stopped using, or actually banned, chain shot, on humanitarian grounds. I guess the dangers of having a limb lopped off by flying chain were regarded differently than the dangers of being eviscerated by splinters or holed by grape.


In my defense, you do sow grapes, don't you?
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Old 11-12-2010, 11:51 AM
UncleRojelio UncleRojelio is offline
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Also, it was a question of tactics of wether you fired into the rigging or hulls. The British had a long tradition of aiming for the waterline, and would rarely employ chain except when commerce raiding. The French, on the other hand, whose aim was to keep their navy sailing, employed chain to a greater degree, to great effect in the battle of Chesapeake Bay. This is just from memory though, so if I'm wrong then please correct me =)
At the core of this issue is the British tradition of actually practicing gunnery. The gun crews took pride in increasing both speed and accuracy. So when it came time to duke it out with an opponent they would sail right up and fire directly into the quarry, quickly unmounting their guns and wreaking havoc on the crew.

The French on the other hand spent a lot of time being blockaded within their own ports and not able to practice much gunnery. Napoleon hogged most of the gunpowder anyhow. So when it came time for battle, they went for the sails hoping to slow the opponent down enough to get away. This didn't work out so well for them in most cases.

Last edited by UncleRojelio; 11-12-2010 at 11:51 AM..
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Old 11-13-2010, 12:09 AM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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I thought the Brits were out to sink and the French wanted to capture intact vessels.
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Old 11-13-2010, 02:44 AM
Malacandra Malacandra is offline
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I thought the Brits were out to sink and the French wanted to capture intact vessels.
Not really - the British also captured a lot of French ships. There are lists on this page - they're presented war by war rather than all together.
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Old 11-13-2010, 07:57 AM
EvilTOJ EvilTOJ is offline
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I was reading that wiki article on tacking and learned something new. I learned what "I like the cut of your jib" means. I mean, I knew it meant some kind of sailing term, but that's all. It means, literally, "I like the way we are moving fast in the water because you put the sails in a good position for it in relation to the wind" but that doesn't have the same kind of panache.
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Old 11-13-2010, 03:12 PM
compassionate_warrior compassionate_warrior is offline
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Sailing technology and techniques have already been covered well here. The one question that hasn't been answered is: how were the ships prevented from running into the dock/pier? They let down their sails to slow down.
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Old 11-13-2010, 04:09 PM
UncleRojelio UncleRojelio is offline
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Sailing technology and techniques have already been covered well here. The one question that hasn't been answered is: how were the ships prevented from running into the dock/pier? They let down their sails to slow down.
In all of the books I've read covering the age of sail, I don't think I've ever come across a single instance of a warship being tied up alongside a pier. In every case while in harbor ships anchored out in the anchorage away from shore. All personnel and stores came to the ship via smaller rowed craft. I imagine this is because it is such a pain the ass to get it alongside the pier. Also, it was probably a lot harder to get underway from a pier as well. The ship would need to warped away using rowboats.
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Old 11-13-2010, 06:01 PM
Icerigger Icerigger is offline
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Originally Posted by Shodan
Another major source of casualties was splinter wounds, where jagged bits of the timbers hit by cannon shot went flying about inconveniencing passers-by
.

Not to believe Mythbusters is an authority on naval history but they did try to replicate lethal wooden splinters in sea battles on the show and could not make it happen. The built a replicate of a ship's hull and fired a real canon at the target, they got a lot of splinters but none would be considered lethal. The canon was a civil war replica, perhaps it was not as large as the naval guns being discussed in the thread. I questioned their results because everything I have read about naval warfare in the age of sail notes just how dangerous the flying splinters were.

Last edited by Icerigger; 11-13-2010 at 06:01 PM..
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Old 11-13-2010, 06:07 PM
XT XT is offline
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They used a piece of field artillery, so I'm not sure about the results. For one thing IIRC it was a 6 lb cannon (maybe an 8), so that would be small for a large ship (though about right for a merchantman I suppose). That said, it would have had a higher muzzle velocity since it was Civil War era, instead of the earlier cannon used more during earlier eras.

A cannon with a larger shot probably would have thrown out more lethal splinters (larger at least), since it would have had more kinetic energy (they also needed to bring the range down, since a lot of the fighting took place at point blank range, at least in the novels I read). Maybe this will be one of the myths they revisit in the future if enough historical buffs convince them that their tests weren't representative.

-XT

Last edited by XT; 11-13-2010 at 06:08 PM..
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  #48  
Old 11-13-2010, 06:08 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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They did paint the gun deck red for some reason.
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  #49  
Old 11-13-2010, 06:57 PM
Malacandra Malacandra is offline
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Yup, naval guns circa 1800 were 6 and 12 pounders on frigates, 24 and 32 pounders on ships of the line - inconveniently large in the latter cases for field use. Some line-of-battle ships carried carronades which delivered still heavier loads - 68lb shot on the Victory - hence the nickname "Smasher". So I don't think Mythbusters' results should be considered canon.
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  #50  
Old 11-13-2010, 08:13 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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So I don't think Mythbusters' results should be considered canon.
Ouch!

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