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Sailing Vessels of the 18th and 19th Century:
Types, Expressions, Parts and Equipment.

Bark: A small ship; in earlier times, a general term for all sailing vessels of small size. More particularly: A sailing vessel of particular rig; in 17th c. sometimes applied to the barca-longa of the Mediterranean; now to a three-masted vessel with fore- and main-masts square-rigged, and mizenmast fore-and-aft rigged ...

Boom: "A long spar run out from different places in the ship, to extend or boom out the foot of a particular sail; as jib-boom, flying jib-boom, studding-sail booms." (Smyth Sailor's Word-bk, 1867.)

Bowsprit: A large spar or boom running out from the stem of a vessel [the front or pointy end of the vessel], to which (and the jib-boom and flying jib-boom, which extend beyond it) the foremast stays are fastened.

Breaming: To bream a ship's bottom the vessel must first be careened and then by means of burning fagots the sea growths can be loosened and swept off. After this procedure the bottom is painted with a fresh mixture of pitch, tallow and sulphur; so as, to seal (pitch), to make the bottom slippery (tallow) and to discourage further sea growth (sulphur).

Brigantine: A brigantine (the shortened expression is brig) is a small vessel equipped both for sailing and rowing, swifter and more easily maneuvered than larger ships, and hence employed for purposes of piracy, espionage, reconnoitering, etc., and as an attendant upon larger ships for protection, landing purposes, etc. The earlier days the brig was a vessel with two masts square-rigged like a ship's fore- and main-masts, but carrying also on her main-mast a lower fore-and-aft sail with a gaff and boom. In later times, while still having only two masts, it carried square sails on her fore-mast, and, as to its after-mast, it was like that of the main-mast of a schooner, that is to say, fore-and-aft-rigged.

Careen: To careen is to turn over on one side for cleaning, caulking, or repairing. When such an operation was to be carried out on a man-of-war it was necessary to have a proper wharf (the right beach might due), a proper turn of the tide, strong points on shore, and strong tackle and many men; all in order to heel the ship over on her side.

Carvel-Built: Carvel-built, is when the planks of which the vessel is built, are all flush and smooth, the edges laid close to each other -- in contradistinction to clinker-built, where they overlap each other.

Clinker-Built: See carvel-built.

Corvette: A ship being a flush-decked war-vessel having one tier of guns. A corvette is smaller than a frigate, but larger than a brig. Webster, in his work on Villebon, p. 223, sets forth a 1678 description of a corvette "as a long bark, with a mast and a small fore mast, used with sails or oars, which accompanies the fleet for scouting, bearing messages ..." Webster adds that the corvette "was perfected during the 18th century." We learn from the Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea that while the corvette was originially of French design, it was adopted by the British navy as it was "fast and weatherly".)

Flute: It is a French word (properly expressed as en flute) used when men-of-war were pressed into transporting troops and/or stores. She would have some of her guns taken out of her or laid down in the hold in order to free up space.

Frigate: A frigate is a war vessel of the 18th century. Though the frigate, because it was light and swift, was used primarily for reconnoitering and to relieve warships in distress, it was, nonetheless, a substantial war-vessel, next in size and equipment to ships of the line, "carrying from 28 to 60 guns on the main deck and a raised quarter-deck and forecastle."

Gaff: A spar used in ships to extend the heads of fore-and-aft sails which are not set on stays.

Gig: See Pinnace.

Jolly-boat: See Pinnace.

Long Boat: A long-boat is the largest boat that usually carried aboard a larger sea going vessel; it is generally furnished with a mast and sails.

Louisbourg Fleet (British): 1745.

Louisbourg Fleets: 1758.

Mast: A long pole or spar of timber set up more or less perpendicularly upon the keel of a ship, to support the sails.

Pinnace: There were five boats belonging to the ship: launch, pinnace, jolly-boat, larboard quarter-boat, and gig. Any one of them might be described as a small light vessel, generally two-masted, and schooner-rigged; often in attendance on a larger vessel as a tender, scout, a vessel for ferrying men to the shore, etc. It is described as having a square stern and can be compelled through the water with either sails and/or oars.

Rated War Ships: The ships of the Royal Navy were classified (rated) into six categories according to the number of cannon or guns that they carried; which, generally, by this method, sorted the vessels by size. It was Lord Anson, during the years 1751-6, who first set up the system by which warships were rated. The largest of the war ships, first rate, carried 100 or more guns; second rate, 84; third rate, 70; fourth rate, 50; fifth rate, 32; and sixth rate 32 guns or less. (See Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea.)
It is here that I elect to make the observation about the difference between the 18th century war ships of France and of England. It came down to a known trade-off. It was necessary to achieve a balance between two desirable but incompatible features of a sailing vessel outfitted for war. A sacrifice was to be made in one area to obtain benefits in another: the trade-off was fighting ability versus sailing ability. The general criticism of English men of war was that they were "bad sailers" and could be better if they were "built snugger and lighter." This criticism and reply is seen set forth in a report to the Navy Board, 15th of May, 1747: "40-gun ships may undoubtedly be built slighter and much snugger than our present ships, whose extra strength and height in creases their weight aloft, and may thereby obstruct their sailing, but their guns being on two decks gives good room for both men and guns to be much better disposed on in action, than were they placed on one deck and a quarterdeck as proposed. the French ships are certainly much weaker ships than ours." [Document No. 283 in British Naval Documents (London: Navy Records Society, 1993).]

Schooner: The OED relates the story commonly told respecting the origin of the word as follows: When the first schooner was being launched (at Gloucester, Mass., about 1713), a bystander exclaimed "Oh, how she scoons!" The builder, Capt. Andrew Robinson, replied, "A schooner let her be!" and the word at once came into use as the name of the new type of vessel. A schooner is a small sea-going fore-and-aft rigged vessel (versus squared rigged), originally with only two masts, carrying one or more topsails. The rig characteristic of a schooner has been defined as consisting essentially of two gaff sails, the after sail not being smaller than the fore, and a head sail set on a bowsprit.

Shallop: "A boat, propelled by oars or by a sail, for use in shallow waters or as a means of effecting communication between, or landings from, vessels of a large size, a dinghy." (OED.)

Sloop: A sloop is a small, one-masted, fore-and-aft rigged vessel; they were generally family concerns.

Snow: "A Brig bends her boom-sail (or trysail) to the mainmast, while a Snow bends it to a trysail mast: in other respects these two vessels are alike." (Young's Nautical Dictionary 1846.)

Spar: The general term for all masts, yards, booms, gaffs, etc.'

Squared Rigged: Having the yards and sails placed across the masts in contrast to fore and aft; having exceptionally long yards (Falconer.)

Ton, or Tonnage: Tonnage is a measure whereby the internal capacity of a ship, expressed in tons, might be compared one to the other. Originally, in the very early Mediterranean trade, a tax or duty was levied upon wine imported in tuns or casks, at the rate of so much for every tun. Eventually the term came to mean the number of tun casks of wine which a merchant ship could carry. And eventually again, builders and seafarers began to measure, in rough and in various ways, so as to come to the cubic content of a vessel. Though there was to be no one way, the determination of the cubic content of a vessel, or tonnage, measurements usually included of breadth and depth at determinate distances, from which mathematical calculations would be made so to arrive at a single figure. Different figures would show up for the same vessel depending on what space was included. For example, if one adds to the basic measurement an additional volume on account of certain specified enclosed spaces above the main deck, one will then have the "gross tonnage." Where a deduction is made for parts of the ship which are deemed to be non-earning, then one will have "net tonnage." (I should say that there is such a thing as "displacement tonnage" which describes the size of the ship more than her carrying capacity, viz., the weight of water in tonnes displaced by a fully-laden ship.) During the times I review, the 18th century, it is very difficult to get a fix on the true size of a ship simply by giving the reported tonnage. Captains and owners preferred to use the lowest supportable figure, as, it was upon tonnage that the assessment of dues and charges upon entering harbour were made. Then and yet today, it seems, for the reasons stated, the systems of measurement vary from country to country.

Trysail: A small triangular sail which is put up during storm conditions in place of the regular sail; it being necessary that there be some kind of a short sail up in order to keep the vessel pointed at a preferred angle to the wind so as to keep the damage to the wind swept ship to a minimum.

Whale-Boat: A whale-boat is a long carvel-built, sharp at both ends, and steered with a rudder or an oar, used in whale-fishing.

Yard: A wooden spar, comparatively long and slender, slung at its centre from, and forward of, a mast and serving to support and extend a square sail which is bent to it.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)