The Last Days of Sail

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With hindsight we can see that, even without rough seas, unfavorable economics, and civil wars, steam engines alone would have killed off the clippers. James Watt made his major breakthrough in steam engine design the same year that HMS Victory was built; the age of steam locomotives coincided with the clipper revolution, and it was only a matter of time before steam engines replaced sails to drive ships. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, ships were made of wood and powered by wind; by the end they were built of iron and powered by steam. In

* Perhaps even she is gone. During the writing of this book, the Cutty Sark was extensively damaged by fire.

Schooner Bertha Downs
Figure 3.16. Model of a mid-nineteenth-century paddle steamer. A steam engine powered the paddle wheels athwartships, augmenting sail power. Thanks to Slava Petrov for this image.

between, there was an awkward period of hybrid technology, such as the paddle steamer (fig. 3.16).

Sailing ships were still being built to carry freight at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, however; throughout the 1800s there was a proliferation of types of sailing ship, to be described here. The application of iron and steam was not uniformly adopted across the maritime world or for all applications. Sometimes sailing vessels were more appropriate or more economical, at least for a few decades longer.

When sail ruled the waters of the world, square-rigged ships dominated offshore travel, exploiting the prevailing winds on long ocean voyages. We saw in the last chapter how square-rigged ships sail well before the wind. Vessels rigged fore and aft sail better to windward (I will unpack the physical principles behind this fact in the next chapter) and allow greater control. They also require significantly fewer crew to operate—no need to go aloft. The apogee of full-rigged vessels, the clippers, carried both square and fore-and-aft sails, and by skillfully trimming the sails to exploit local wind conditions they sailed efficiently over perhaps as much as three-quarters of the compass. Clippers are still being built today for recreation or training—and because people like them (fig. 3.17).

By the end of the nineteenth century, purely fore-and-aft rigged ships

Nineteenth Century British Boat
Figure 3.17. The modern Dutch clipper Stad-Amsterdam. In the nineteenth century, not only the Americans and British built clippers: the Dutch built over 100. Image courtesy of Bruno Girin / DHD Multimedia Gallery.

—schooners—were carrying cargo along the coasts of North and South America. These schooners were numerous and efficient; the gaff rigs required very few crew (perhaps 6 to 8) to manage. The fishing schooners that set out from eastern Canada to fish the Grand Banks are still fondly remembered in Nova Scotia. Some ships added a square-rigged topsail, useful in a light breeze or when maneuvering in harbor.

The following are brief descriptions of some of the types of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century sailing ships. These summaries also provide the opportunity to recap the advantages and disadvantages of different sail plans.

-—'Fully rigged ship. At least three masts, all square-rigged. -—'Brig. Two masts, both square-rigged (fig. 3.18). This is an efficient sail plan, and many brigs served as freighters right up until the end of the era of commercial sailing ships.

Images Three Masted Brigantines
Figure 3.18. I'm calling this a brig since the two masts are (mostly) square-rigged. Despite the Caribbean location, I doubt the pirate flag. Thanks to Clayton and Fiona Lewis for this image.

——'Hermaphrodite brig / brigantine. Two masts, with a square-rigged foremast and a fore-and-aft mainmast. The Mary Celeste was a brigantine.*

*The Mary Celeste was made famous in a fictionalized account by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. The true story of this mysterious ship is just as mysterious as Doyle's account. The American-registered vessel left New York for Genoa, Italy, on 7 November 1872 with an abstemious Bible-reading New England captain, his wife and two-year-old daughter, and eight Dutch crewmembers. None of them was ever seen again. She was carrying 1,700 barrels of raw alcohol. The ship was known to have passed the Azores on 25 November, but was found abandoned and drifting further east on 4 December. She was in good shape, there were no signs of violence, nothing had been stolen (though some of the barrels were empty), but there were 3 ft of water in the hold. The lifeboat and sextant were missing, though the crew's boots and pipes were found. A frayed rope trailed behind the abandoned ship. The British board of inquiry at Gibraltar could not decide what happened to the people on board, but starting with Sir Arthur, there have been many theories (some plausible and some outlandish) put forward.

Types Fore And Aft Square Sails

——Barque/bark. Three masts, with square-rigged foremast and mainmast and a fore-and-aft mizzenmast (see fig. 2.5). Like the brig, a very popular design; there were probably more barques built than all other square-rigged ships combined.

——Barquentine. Three masts, the foremast square with the other masts fore-and-aft rigged. See figure 3.19.

——'Schooner. At least two masts, originally gaff-rigged, though nowadays any fore-and-aft sail may be substituted. (See fig. 3.9.) The mainmast—the tallest—is second from the front. Originating in seventeenth-century Holland, this vessel generated a number of variants (see next the few entries) and was a popular workhorse all along the coast of North America in the nineteenth century.

——'Fishing schooner. Two masts, gaff-rigged, and typically with a main gaff topsail and fisherman's staysails.* The famous Bluenose (fig. 3.20) was a fishing schooner.

——'Square-topsail schooner. The name describes the vessel; see figure 3.21. A popular and versatile combination of sails.

* Fisherman's staysails are four-cornered rather than triangular.

Figure 3.20. The much-celebrated Canadian fishing schooner Bluenose, which won many international races in the 1920s and 1930s. Note the schooner characteristics: mainmast second from the front, and both masts gaff-rigged. Image from Wikipedia.

——'Four-masted schooner. Each mast carried less sail, to improve handling. These vessels could carry more cargo than the smaller schooners. Some New England versions had five, six, or even seven masts. ——'Tern schooner. Three masts, gaff-rigged with triangular fore-and-aft topsails (fig. 3.21). In other words, a typical schooner sail plan, but with one extra mast. Tern schooners were mass-produced at the end of the nineteenth century. ——'Ketch. Two masts, both fore-and-aft rigged, plus jib sail(s). See figure 3.22. The larger mast is forward (unlike a schooner), and the mizzen mast is forward of the rudder post. The mizzen sail is utilized to increase drive.

——'Yawl. Like the ketch, though the mizzen mast is much smaller and aft of the rudder post; see figure 3.22. The mizzen sail is used for control rather than drive.

——'Sloop. Any fore-and-aft rigged boat with a single mast. In the nineteenth century these boats were used as fishing vessels and for trade

Sail Stambaugh
Figure 3.21. Top: A square-topsail schooner. Image courtesy of Darillo. Bottom: A tern schooner. Image courtesy of Clayton and Fiona Lewis.
Figure 3.22. At left: A ketch. Image courtesy of Clayton and Fiona Lewis. Top: A yawl. Image from Wikipedia.

between the Caribbean islands and the United States. The sloop is particularly popular today because of the Bermuda sloop. ——'Bermuda sloop. Triangular mainsail plus one jib. The most popular recreational sailing vessel in the world because it handles well enough with the wind and is optimum upwind. I will have a lot more to say about this vessel later. ——Catboat. A type of sloop with the mast set well forward. Gaff-rigged and very broad in the beam. ——'Cutter. A sloop with a bowsprit and at least two headsails.

Some of these latter-day sail plans are illustrated in figure 3.23. Now that you are expert at picking out ships and boats from their sails, maybe you can identify the strange beast shown in figure 3.24.

I have now reached the end of my historical survey. From dugouts, we have progressed to the modern yacht. This pleasure craft takes on a

Xyx Hermephrodite

Figure 3.23. Types of sailing boats and ships: (1) sailing dinghy, (2) catboat, (3) knockabout, (4) Chesapeake Bay bugeye, (5) sloop, (6) yawl, (7) ketch, (8) schooner, (9) topsail schooner, (10) brig, (11) bark, (12) hermaphrodite brig, (13) barquentine. Adapted from Virtue's Simplified Dictionary (1948).

Figure 3.23. Types of sailing boats and ships: (1) sailing dinghy, (2) catboat, (3) knockabout, (4) Chesapeake Bay bugeye, (5) sloop, (6) yawl, (7) ketch, (8) schooner, (9) topsail schooner, (10) brig, (11) bark, (12) hermaphrodite brig, (13) barquentine. Adapted from Virtue's Simplified Dictionary (1948).

Hermaphrodite Brig
Figure 3.24. I am guessing that this vessel is a hermaphrodite brig (note the foremast yard). Any other suggestions? Thanks to Darillo for this image.

number of forms suggestive of earlier sailing vessels, as you have seen in some of the illustrations and as you can see in any large marina today.* The most popular sail plan today is undoubtedly the Bermuda-rigged sloop, and it is this vessel that I will analyze in the next chapter.

Let the cat out of the bag: To disclose a secret. Flogging with a knotted whip, the infamous cat-o'-nine-tails, was a brutal Royal Navy punishment administered by the bosun's mate for serious offenses. The "cat" was kept in a leather or cloth bag when not in use. No room to swing a cat: Insufficient space. Crew members were obliged to witness floggings with a cat. These were performed on the open deck, because there was insufficient room below decks. Some sources say that

* Of course, technology has moved us along in many ways, so that the structure of sailing craft today is very different from that of a century ago. An obvious example is the material of construction: many boat hulls today are cavity-molded fiberglass—a material that did not exist when most hulls were painstakingly built of wood. However, the physics of sailing modern boats and older vessels is the same, as Scottie reminded Captain Kirk: ''Ye cannae change the laws of physics, Captain.''

for an unpopular flogging, the crew would crowd close to the bosun's mate so that he would not have enough room to swing the cat. Over a barrel: Placed in a predicament with no escape, an awkward position. The harsh floggings administered by the Royal Navy in the past were carried out on deck. Prior to flogging, men were tied to a grating, whereas boys were tied over the barrel of a cannon. Press into service: Oblige to work. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries during times of war, Royal Navy "press gangs'' scoured British ports for able-bodied merchant sailors between the ages of 18 and 55, even if they were not British. (In the U.S. equivalent "crimp gangs'' on the West Coast would "shanghai" reluctant recruits.)

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