East Indiamen and Others

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries several western European maritime trading nations established colonies or trading monopolies with peoples in South and East Asia. Luxury trade goods such as spices, silks, works of art, and, increasingly, tea were brought from India, China,

Japan, and Indonesia to be sold in the markets of Europe. The Dutch, French, and British granted trading monopolies to their own East Indies companies, who operated very profitably though inefficiently as a consequence. The British came to dominate this trade by the nineteenth century, by which point the specially commissioned merchant vessels—the East Indiamen—that transported their cargo across the world had become very large and prestigious vessels. With ornate interiors and gilded carving, they were the result as much of cozy monopoly as of maritime evolution. The ending of the monopolies in the early nineteenth century spurred evolution, as did American independence, resulting in even larger and more impressive merchant ships, as we will see.

But I am getting ahead of my story. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, merchant ships became better and better as new techniques and equipment were put into practice. By the end of the seventeenth century the high sterns of merchantmen had been reduced, and the ships' waists bridged by gangways at the side, thus presenting a more level profile. Aerodynamic drag was consequently reduced, and so was the tendency to heel over in a crosswind. Frame construction improved, with overlapping joints on the strakes. The improvements of the seventeenth century became more widespread in the eighteenth as their benefits became evident, and new improvements were added. Copper sheathing replaced pitch and tar, as we have seen. Also in the eighteenth century maneuverability was improved with the introduction of the wheel, which replaced the old steering lever used in galleons.

Most of the improvements occurred in the rigging. Fully rigged ships grew more and more sails. The bowsprit was extended by adding a jib boom to permit extra jib sails. Staysails proliferated in the eighteenth century to cover all the stays on a ship. Topsails grew larger than mainsails. Skysails were added to the fore and main, and royal sails to the mizzen masts. Stud sails appeared, like wings. In the 1600s the yards of a fully rigged ship would get smaller with height above the deck, but this difference lessened as the topsails (lower topsail, upper topsail, topgallant, royal and sky sails) became more important. We have seen that much of the incentive for improved rigging efficiency came from merchants' desire to reduce the crew size of their vessels, and hence the transportation costs of their trade goods. We have also seen that—even for a good, efficient, and well-designed ship—there were miles and miles

Ship Rigging 1600 Images

Figure 3.10. Rigging—miles of it, both standing and running: stays, shrouds, lifts, sheets, tacks, halyards, jeers, ratlines, blocks. It must have been essential yet almost impossible to keep it all ship-shape. Thanks to Bruno Girin / DHD Multimedia Gallery and to Mike Cawood for these images.

Figure 3.10. Rigging—miles of it, both standing and running: stays, shrouds, lifts, sheets, tacks, halyards, jeers, ratlines, blocks. It must have been essential yet almost impossible to keep it all ship-shape. Thanks to Bruno Girin / DHD Multimedia Gallery and to Mike Cawood for these images.

Mizzenmast Forestay Rigging TartanTall Ship Shrouds Seizing Labelled

Figure 3.11. Standing and running rigging of a fully rigged ship (not every yard and stay is labeled): (1) foremast, (2) mainmast, (3) mizzenmast, (4) topmast, (5) topgallant mast, (6) royal and skysail masts, (7) fore yard, (8) cross-jack yard, (9) lower-topsail yard, (10) upper-topsail yard, (11) topgallant yard, (12) royal yard, (13) skysail yard, (14) spanker gaff, (15) trysail gaff, (16) lower shrouds, (17) topmast shrouds, (18) backstay, (19) monkey gaff, (20) forestay, (21) fore-topmast stay, (22) jib stay, (23) outer-jib stay, (24) fore-topgallant stay, (25) fore-royal stay, (26) fore-skysail stay, (27) mainstay, (28) main-topmast lower stay, (29) main-topmast upper stay, (30) main-topgallant stay, (31) main-royal stay, (32) main-skysail stay, (33) lift, (34) lower-topsail lift, (35) upper-topsail lift, (36) topgallant lift, (37) royal lift, (38) spanker boom, (39) bowsprit, (40) jib boom, (41) flying jib boom, (42) dolphin striker, with martingales, or stays running forward to jib boom and flying jib boom, (43) bobstays, (44) back ropes, (45) braces.

Figure 3.11. Standing and running rigging of a fully rigged ship (not every yard and stay is labeled): (1) foremast, (2) mainmast, (3) mizzenmast, (4) topmast, (5) topgallant mast, (6) royal and skysail masts, (7) fore yard, (8) cross-jack yard, (9) lower-topsail yard, (10) upper-topsail yard, (11) topgallant yard, (12) royal yard, (13) skysail yard, (14) spanker gaff, (15) trysail gaff, (16) lower shrouds, (17) topmast shrouds, (18) backstay, (19) monkey gaff, (20) forestay, (21) fore-topmast stay, (22) jib stay, (23) outer-jib stay, (24) fore-topgallant stay, (25) fore-royal stay, (26) fore-skysail stay, (27) mainstay, (28) main-topmast lower stay, (29) main-topmast upper stay, (30) main-topgallant stay, (31) main-royal stay, (32) main-skysail stay, (33) lift, (34) lower-topsail lift, (35) upper-topsail lift, (36) topgallant lift, (37) royal lift, (38) spanker boom, (39) bowsprit, (40) jib boom, (41) flying jib boom, (42) dolphin striker, with martingales, or stays running forward to jib boom and flying jib boom, (43) bobstays, (44) back ropes, (45) braces.

of rigging (see Table 3.1 and figure 3.10). Figures 3.11 and 3.12 show the names and locations of the running and standing rigging and of the sails of a fully rigged ship.

So the East Indiamen that plowed through the oceans from India and China around the Cape of Good Hope to London, or from Indonesia to Amsterdam, were large, fully rigged ships (typically with three masts, two of them square-rigged and one a jib sail) and were faster than their predecessors. They were also large, at 500 tons, and growing in both size (to an average of 1,200 tons by the year 1800) and numbers. The East

Full Rigged Ship Sail Plan

Figure 3.12. Fully rigged ship under sail: (1) foresail, (2) mainsail, (3) crossjack, (4) spanker, (5) lower topsail, (6) upper topsail, (7) topgallant sail, (8) royal, (9) skysail, (10) fore-topmast staysail, (11) jib, (12) outer jib, (13) flying jib, (14) main-topmast lower staysail, (15) main-topmast upper staysail, (16) main-topgallant staysail, (17) main-royal staysail, (18) mizzen staysail, (19) mizzen-topmast staysail, (20) mizzen topgallant staysail, (21) mizzen-royal staysail.

Figure 3.12. Fully rigged ship under sail: (1) foresail, (2) mainsail, (3) crossjack, (4) spanker, (5) lower topsail, (6) upper topsail, (7) topgallant sail, (8) royal, (9) skysail, (10) fore-topmast staysail, (11) jib, (12) outer jib, (13) flying jib, (14) main-topmast lower staysail, (15) main-topmast upper staysail, (16) main-topgallant staysail, (17) main-royal staysail, (18) mizzen staysail, (19) mizzen-topmast staysail, (20) mizzen topgallant staysail, (21) mizzen-royal staysail.

India companies were founded around 1600, and the era of the East Indiamen encompassed the two centuries from 1620 to 1830. These ships were almost as heavily armed as warships because they carried valuable cargo through pirate-infested waters. Some carried as many as 60 cannons, though of small size compared with those of warships. Because of their armaments, East Indiamen had the tumblehome shape of warships.

I have mentioned the prestige attached to these merchant ships. As well as ornate decoration they carried wealthy and influential passengers in comfort, accommodated on two decks within the hull. Because of the passenger accommodation and the armaments, the hulls were not tapered near the stern. Although a wide stern was necessary to support the extra weight—East Indiamen were among the largest ships of their day— it was hydrodynamically inefficient and slowed down the ships. The length-to-beam ratio of 4:1 also slowed them down compared with later vessels, and so, even though East Indiamen were speedier than other merchant vessels of their period, they could make at most one return trip per year from Europe to Asia, limited by the prevailing trade winds.

Two factors combined to end the dominance of East Indiamen as the super freighters of the nineteenth century: U.S. independence and the end of the East India companies' monopolies. The British parliament terminated the cozy monopoly of the ''Honorable East India Company'' on trade to India and China in 1833. This move immediately exposed the merchant ships to market forces. East Indiamen were phenomenally expensive to built and to run; the cost per ton of cargo was much higher than it needed to be, propped up by inefficient practices that had been insulated from competition during the period of monopoly. Merchants in the United States were well aware of these inefficiencies—and of the opportunities they presented. The young republic was eager to expand markets and needed to build large cargo ships that could trade around the world, competing with the large British merchant fleet but without the protection of the British navy. The vessels that these U.S. merchants came up with to lever themselves into the lucrative Southeast Asian market were the clipper ships, probably the best and the most beautiful of sailing ships.

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