The Rigging of Ships: in the Days of the Spritsail Topmast, 16-172 [NOOK Book]


Describes and depicts in detail how 17th-century English, French, Dutch, and other European trading ships and warships were rigged, from the lower masts and bowsprit to the running rigging of the topsails and topgallants. Over 350 fine line drawings illustrate every rigging detail. 25 halftones.
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The Rigging of Ships: in the Days of the Spritsail Topmast, 16-172

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Describes and depicts in detail how 17th-century English, French, Dutch, and other European trading ships and warships were rigged, from the lower masts and bowsprit to the running rigging of the topsails and topgallants. Over 350 fine line drawings illustrate every rigging detail. 25 halftones.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486138015
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 8/8/2012
  • Series: Dover Maritime
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 887,175
  • File size: 13 MB
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The Rigging of Ships in the Days of the Spritsail Topmast, 1600-1720

By R.C. Anderson.

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1994 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13801-5



I. Their Positions

WHEN what may be described as a ready-made model is to be rigged, the positions of the masts are decided beforehand and there is nothing to do except to conform to what one finds. The same holds good if one builds a model from drawings which have the masts marked. On the other hand, if drawings have to be made, the positions of the masts have to be settled early in the process, because many other details of the hull depend on them.

The first and most natural tendency is to say that the mainmast should be amidships. Within reasonable limits this is true enough, but on investigation it will be found that the matter is not quite so simple. Thomas Miller, who wrote a small book on rigging under the deceptive title "The Complete Modellist," in 1655, is very emphatic in saying that everyone knows the mainmast should be stepped in the middle of the keel, but plans both before and after his date are equally emphatic in contradicting him. Sir Anthony Deane, one of the leading English shipbuilders, prepared a manuscript on shipbuilding for Samuel Pepys, in 1670, and in all his plans (Plates 12 and 13) he puts the mainmast either at the middle of the gundeck or about its own diameter further aft. This means that the mast is well before the middle of the keel, because the gundeck obviously overhangs the keel far more forward than aft. Another plan of similar date published in "The Mariner's Mirror" in 1925 also shows the mainmast about its own diameter abaft the middle of the gundeck. Still, there are cases where it is stepped at the middle point of the keel. I have two models in my own collection where this is so; one, a 3-decker of about 1670-5, has had too much done to her at various times to be a very reliable authority; but the other, a 2-decker of about 1695, is quite convincing. Later on, about 1720, English plans put the mainmast about 1/25 of the length of the gundeck abaft its middle point. Even then it is well before the middle of the keel.

Really this is a question to which it is impossible to give a definite answer. One can say that the middle of the gundeck marks the forward limit and the middle of the keel the after; one can also say that in a general way the mast moved aft as time went on, but the exceptions must always have been numerous and it would only be misleading to lay down a hard and fast rule of any kind.

With foreign ships the matter is a little different. In them the length was nearly always measured between perpendiculars dropped from the heads of the stem and sternpost. Witsen, whose book on Dutch shipbuilding, published in 1671, is one of the classics of the subject, contradicts himself a good deal, but does say clearly that the step (in his typical ship of 134 ft. long) should be 51/2 or 6 ft. abaft the middle of the ship. This agrees with his plan, though there the mast is shown with the incredible rake of about 1 in 5. Van Yk, in 1697, says the mainmast should be exactly amidships, but the so-called "William Rex" model of a year later and Allard's section of a Dutch 3-decker of the same period, both show it about 1/20 of the length between perpendiculars further aft. This is a trifle more than the proportion in Witsen's ship or in the Dutch model of 1665 in the Hohenzollern Museum in Berlin (Plate 11), in which it works out to about 1/22 of the length abaft the middle point. Probably, therefore, this position, about 1/20 to 1/25 of the length abaft the middle point between stem and sternpost was normal in Dutch ships for a long time.

For other countries there is not so much information. The Couronne of 1638, the French reply to the famous Sovereign of the Seas, seems to have had her mainmast just abaft the middle point and the Royal Louis model of 1692, in the Louvre, shows it about 1/20 of the length abaft the middle. In Furttenbach's German book of 1629, the fore side of the mainmast is just abaft the middle point between stem and sternpost (Plate 4). Against this Dassié, writing of French naval architecture in 1677, shows the mast about its own diameter before the middle point. I doubt if this is correct. I fancy it would be safe to look on a point half way between the stem and sternpost as the forward limit for foreign ships and a point about 1/20 of the length further aft as marking the after limit.

The foremast changed its position very decidedly in the course of the 17th century. The change was not quite as great as appears at first sight, because it is exaggerated by the reduction in the rake of the stem. The foremast might stay at the same distance from the stem-head and yet seem to move aft because of the gradual extension of the keel forward. Still, there is no doubt that it did move aft. The well-known engraving of the Sovereign, of 1637 (Plate 7), shows it so close to the stem-head that it must have met the stem very little below the waterline. Plans of 1670 and thereabouts show the foremast roughly half way between the end of the keel and the stem-head, a trifle further aft in the bigger ships (Plates 12 and 13). By 1720, with the shortening of the fore rake, the foremast, without moving further from the stem, came rather less than 1/3 of the way out from the end of the keel to the stem-head. If we put it 2/3 of the way out along the stem in 1630, half way in 1660, 1/3 of the way in 1700 and rather less after that, we shall not be far wrong.

Dutch fashions followed much the same course. An engraving of a French ship built in Holland in 1626 (Plate 6), shows the foremast quite as far forward as in the Sovereign. Witsen speaks of the foremast as being stepped 1/11 of the ship's length abaft the stem- head, but shows it in his plan rather more than 1/9; this seems to indicate that he was preparing his book in a time of change. With the "William Rex" model of 1698 and Allard's section of a 3-decker of a year or two earlier, the proportion rises to or 2/15. It must, by the way, be noted that Dutch ships had usually much more upright stems than English, so that a position of the foremast which would have brought it on to the stem in an English ship might leave it well on the keel in a Dutchman.

No doubt other foreign nations did the same as the Dutch and English. Furttenbach, in 1629, shows the foremast more than half way out along the stem; in fact, he shows it stepped on the lower deck, as it probably was before it began to be an important mast at all (Plate 4). Dassié in 1677 and the Royal Louis model of 1692, agree in putting the foremast about 1/9 of the length abaft the stem-head. These two examples show very well how the keel grew forward underneath the mast, for the earlier ship has the mast very distinctly above the stem, while the other has it exactly above the junction of the stem and keel.

When we come to the mizzen, a quotation from Miller's book of 1655 may serve to show the difficulties. "Now in placing your missen-mast, your judgment must be better there, then about any mast: because there is no just Rule to be given, but only your eye must be your best Rule." To make things worse there is the fact that large ships in the first quarter of the 17th century usually had two mizzens. Probably few people will be bold enough to attempt a model of a big ship of this date; still, the double mizzen cannot be altogether ignored.

There are a few good authorities for the appearance of early 17th century ships with two mizzens. There is a plan in a manuscript in the Pepysian Library at Cambridge, England; personally I believe this to represent a Mediterranean vessel of about 1610, though others well able to judge think it is an English ship of ten or twenty years earlier. There is a fine print of a Danish ship of uncertain date but presumably between 1600 and 1630 (Plate 5). There are some paintings by Vroom, particularly those of Houtman's return from the East Indies and of the arrival of the English Prince Royal at Flushing, in 1613. There is also an ivory model of 1620 at Dresden.

These representations differ widely. The Pepysian plan shows the after or "bonaventure" mizzen just about over the top of the sternpost and the main mizzen nearly half way from there to the mainmast. The Danish print has the after mizzen, if anything, further aft still and the main mizzen very much nearer to it than to the mainmast. This ship, by the way, has her mainmast very far aft and her foremast very far forward. The German model also has the bonaventure mast as far aft as it can possibly go, but its main mizzen is not nearly so far aft as in the Dane. Vroom, on the other hand, puts his after mizzens well inboard.

How late one should go on fitting two mizzens I do not know. It would almost certainly be safe to do so up to 1620 and I think it would be wrong to do so after 1630, but I will not pretend to be sure. The Sovereign of 1637 and the Couronne of 1638 both had single mizzens in spite of their great size. So, too, had the French ships built in Holland in 1626. These were not such large ships, but they were quite big enough to have had two mizzens in the old days. It may be mentioned that a list of masts and yards for the whole English fleet, in 1640, shows no sign of the survival of the second mizzen.

As far as one can judge from the print, the Sovereign had her mizzen nearly as far from the taffrail as it was from the mainmast. Under the Commonwealth the mizzen moved aft a little. In a model of mine, that can hardly be later than 1660 and may be earlier, the mizzen is placed exactly 2/5 of the way from the taffrail to the mainmast. In Deane's plans of 1670, the proportion varies between 2/5 and 3/7 (Plates 12 and 13). On the other hand, the model of the Prince, of the same date, a ship built by Deane's rival Pett, has its mizzen almost exactly half way between the mainmast and the taffrail. The St George model of 1701, now in the collection of Col. H. H. Rogers, has its mizzen very little more than 1/3 of the way from the taffrail to the mainmast, while plans of 1719 show it a little less than half way; about 8/17 or something of that sort.

As in the case of the mainmast, it is possible to give some sort of limits between which the mizzen ought to be stepped, but that is all. One can say fairly safely that it ought to be not less than 1/3 or more than half way from the taffrail to the middle of the mainmast. Whether there was any system in its movements is very doubtful; they seem to have depended on individual fancy rather than on any gradual change of fashion.

Dutch mizzens moved almost as irregularly as English, but they tended on the whole to be stepped rather further forward. The Dutch-built Frenchman of 1626 (Plate 6), had her mizzen about half way from the taffrail to the mainmast, while the Prins Willem model of 1651, has hers little more than way. This suggests that the mizzen began by moving aft as it did in English ships. After this it settled down somewhere about half way; sometimes it was less, as in the "William Rex" model of 1698 or in the model of about 1665 in the Scheepvaart Museum in Amsterdam; sometimes it was distinctly more, as in my own model of a Dutch 3-decker of about 1690 or in the Berlin model of 1665 (Plate 11) ; sometimes it was exactly half way, as in Allard's section of a Dutch 3-decker. On the whole, for the period 1660-1700, half way between the taffrail and the mainmast is the safest rule.

At first, French ships seem to have carried their mizzens rather far aft. In the Couronne of 1638, the mizzen was 50 ft. from the mainmast and 36 ft. from the stern; this was certainly much further aft than in her English contemporary the Sovereign. After this, French shipbuilding underwent an eclipse until 1670 or thereabouts. A drawing of the early years of the revival shows the mizzen about 5/11 off the way from the taffrail to the mainmast. Dassié (1677) puts it at 4/9 and the Royal Louis model of 1692 has it very nearly half way—16/33 to be precise. In the Danish Norske Löve model, made in 1654 but representing an old ship, the mizzen is just before the half-way point.

Turning to the bowsprit we find a new difficulty. So far we have been dealing with one dimension only. The masts were all in the same plane as the stem and sternpost and it is only a matter of fixing their fore-and-aft positions in that plane. The bowsprit was not always in that plane, at least not in English ships. For the greater part of the 17th century it was stepped to one side of the stem and the foremast—always, I think, the starboard side. Exactly when it moved to the central position on top of the stem-head is hard to say. Probably 1675 would not be far wrong for big ships. The model of the Prince of 1670, in South Kensington Museum (one of the most satisfactorily identified of 17th century models), has its bowsprit beside the stem. On the other hand, the model in the New York Yacht Club; apparently an early design for the ships of 1677, has the bowsprit central. Drawings do not help as much as they might, because the ship must be named or dated and must be drawn from the right point of view—requirements which are not often satisfied at the same time. Deane's plans of 1670 are rather vague; some have the bowsprit clearly to one side and some are uncertain. Probably the change came in the smaller ships first and probably it was complete by 1675 ; that is as definite as I dare to be.

The sideways position of the bowsprit was closely related to the design of the bow and the resulting position of the bowsprit in an up-and-down direction. We will consider big ships first. In the Prince Royal of 1610, the stem-head rose about as high as the middle-deck guns and between it and the beakhead bulkhead there was a deck about the same height as the middle deck or a little higher. The bowsprit was well above this deck and entered the ship through the bulkhead rather above the level of the middle-deck guns. As far as the stem was concerned there was nothing to prevent the bowsprit from being stepped centrally; it was only the fact that its heel went past the foremast that made it necessary to put it to one side. With the Sovereign, in 1637, the stem-head rose a little and at the same time the bowsprit was lowered; it passed close beside the stem-head and went into the ship just about where the beakhead bulkhead met the prow deck, which may have been a foot or two above the middle deck (Plate 7).

Such a design made it possible for both upper-deck and middle-deck guns to fire directly forward through ports in the bulkhead. In spite of the gradual shortening and raising of the head, the essential features of this design remained the same till about 1670. Deane's plans of that year show the 1st-Rate with a bulkhead deep enough for middle-deck guns to fire forward. On the other hand, the model of Pett's Prince, of 1670, has the prow deck raised enough to make this impossible. If I am right in believing the New York Yacht Club model to date from about 1676, it must be one of the last examples of the old fashion.

With these two changes accomplished, the bowsprit central and the beakhead bulkhead stopping above the level of the middle-deck ports, the method of stepping the bowsprit became standardised. The prow deck was either level with the upper deck or a little below, and the bowsprit passed into the ship through this piece of deck, close to the bulkhead when the prow deck was dropped and close to the stem when it was on a level with the upper deck.

In smaller ships the change to a centrally stepped bowsprit may perhaps have taken place sooner, though Deane's detailed design of 1670 certainly has it to one side. In them the prow deck was usually a foot or two above the level of the upper deck, but occasionally— for instance, in some of Deane's plans—it was simply an extension of the upper deck. The variation in level had the same effect as in bigger ships in determining how far aft the bowsprit would pass into the ship.

When the bowsprit was central there were sometimes two heavy, upright timbers on either side of it just abaft the stem. These were at first carved into human heads, but later they were left plain. They were not always fitted. A drawing of the Britannia, of 1682, shows them and the model of that ship as rebuilt in 1700 also has them; but the St George model, of a year later, has none. In the 18th century they usually had a cross-piece between them, shaped to fit the upper side of the bowsprit.


Excerpted from The Rigging of Ships in the Days of the Spritsail Topmast, 1600-1720 by R.C. Anderson.. Copyright © 1994 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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