Thursday, April 29, 2010

Captain George Cannon: Nautical Terms

Andrew drew this ship for me. The ship Iris would have looked similar to it.
An awareness of some nautical terms is helpful in better understanding the logbook of the ship Iris because seamen had a language all their own. Below is a glossary of nautical terms, gleaned from on-line dictionaries and where applicable, portions of entries where Captain Cannon in the Iris logbook, or Captain Hugh Crow, or some other seamen, used those terms. A reference to a date is the date of the entry in the logbook of the Iris. I have also used information from Herman, Arthur, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World (Harper Perennial, New York, 2004) [“British Navy”] and Harland, John, Seamanship in the Age of Sail (Naval Institute Press, London, 1984).

Astern: A backward direction in the line of a vessel's fore and aft line; behind. If a vessel moves backwards it is said to move astern; opposite to ahead. The bearing of an object 180 degrees from ahead (behind). [11/4/1798 (“The Ship Uncle Toby Some Distance astaren”); 3/3/1799 (“Hove too the Commadore Being a Staren”); 4/2/1799 (“the frigate Dropping a Staren”)]

Awning: A canvas canopy secured over the ship's deck as a protection from the weather (covering). [7/13/1798 (“Making a Main Deck Awning”); 10/31/1798 (“People Employed repairing the Awning”)]

Beam: The width of the boat from the port side to the starboard side at its widest point. [3/18/1799 (“Commadore of[f] our Starbourd Beam”)]

Bend or Unbend: Bend is the term for making the sail fast to the yard. Royal and topgallant sails were usually bent to the yard on deck and sent up and down with the yard. Course and topsails were hoisted up and “brought to” the yard and bent. The head of the sail was made fast to the yard by robands. [7/3/1798 (“unbent the top sails and bent the old ones”); 9/24/178 (“Bent a Spritsail topsail”); 10/10/1798 (“unbent the Mizzen topsail and Bent the Best one”); 3/11/1799 (“reeft the fore sail and Bent a new foretop mast Staysail”)]

Bow: The front of the boat.

Bower: An anchor carried at the bow. [9/8/1799 (“Bent the small Bower Cable”); 9/19/1799 (“at 2 P.M. came to Anchor with the small Bower in 5 Fathoms water.”)]

Bowsprit: See under Masts

Brig: A vessel with two masts at least one of which is square rigged. [6/15/1798 (“Saw a Brigg to the: N.Wd. Bound to the Northward”); 3/30/1799 (“one Brigg in Sight”)]

Cannon: British slaving ships generally carried cannons for their defense, particularly against the French and pirates during the time that George Cannon was a captain. The cannon was muzzle-loaded: powder and shot was loaded from the front and rammed down and then touched off with a “match,” a rope on a long stick. Cannon were named according to how much the cannon ball weighed. For example, a “six-pounder” had an iron ball weighing six pounds. Cannon shot was used to batter the wooden hulls of opposing ships and as a long-range anti-personnel weapon. (1) Captain Hugh Crow, on his first voyage of the ship Will, at the same time Captain Cannon was on his first voyage of the ship Iris, a ship of the same tonnage, noted it “carried eighteen six-pounders, besides small arms…”; (2) “I obtained command of a fine new ship, called the Mary…This vessel was nearly 500 tons burthen, and carried twenty-four long nine-pounders on the main deck, and four eighteen-pound cannonades on the quarter deck.” (3) “She then rounded to, and poured a broadside into our starboard quarter. We resolutely returned her fire, at close quarters, for some time.” (4) “…the balls of the enemy continued to whistle about us in every direction, occasionally carrying away some of our rigging, and flying through our hull…”; (5) “Our main-mast was nearly gone, and our bowsprit was in the same state…Our sails and rigging were nearly cut to pieces, …the lower fore-studding-sail…was burned to tinder. Besides a number of shot holes in the ship’s upper works, several large shot had taken effect in her bottom, under water, and having penetrated through the outside plank and lodged against the timbers, the vessel made a considerable quantity of water.” [Crow Memoirs, pp. 66, 89, 108-109, and 115]

Cast off: To let go. [7/6/1798 (“At Midnight hove a cast of the Lead 90 Fathoms out no Bottom.”)]

Chip Log (see also Navigation): The chip log was used to determine the speed of the ship. The “chip” was a flat, quarter-circle shaped, piece of wood with a six inch radius and a lead weight on the circular side. The chip was attached, at each corner, to a single line 150 fathoms long. 15 fathoms from the chip-end, the line was marked, and every 47 feet 3 inches thereafter, the line was knotted. The other end of the line was attached to a reel which could wind up or release the line. To determine the speed of the ship, the chip was tossed overboard at the stern of the ship. The lead weight caused the chip to float point-end up to resist towing. A sailor would hold the reel (by attached handles) while the line unwound and passed into the water. When the 15 fathom mark in the line was reached, a 28 second sand glass timer was turned over. After 28 seconds, the line was stopped and the number of knots that had passed were counted. The proportion of 47 feet 3 inches to 6,080 feet is the same as 28 seconds to one hour, so each knot represents one nautical mile per hour and is why miles per hour on the water is referred to as knots. In the Iris logbook, the speed was determined each hour, 24 times a day. The maximum speed recorded in the journal was 10 knots. [9/25/1798 (“Distd. Per Loog 189”); 3/24/1799 (“Distand Pr. Loog 154”); 7/6/1800 (“127 Distd. Pr. Log”)]

Chronometer: Determining latitude at sea was easy, but longitude was a problem. All that was needed was an accurate clock, set to Greenwich time. However, pendulum clocks that keep accurate time on land, are unsuitable at sea, where the ship pitches and rolls. In 1714 Britain announced a prize of 20,000 pounds for a solution to the longitude problem. John Harrison, a British clockmaker, spent decades trying to solve the problem. Finally, in 1761, his chronometer proved satisfactory.

Commodore: A commissioned naval officer who ranked above a captain and below a rear admiral; the lowest grade of admiral. It was also used as an unofficial designation for a captain temporarily in command of a fleet. [3/15/1799 (“Commadore Made a Signal for all Captains to Come on Bord”)] Captain Hugh Crow, leaving Bonny in 1799 for the West Indies noted: “The captains of the vessels then in the harbour, having heard my report [that three French frigates had been seen on the coast], called a meeting, at which it was agreed, for mutual safety, to sail in company, and we appointed Captain Latham of the Lottery to act as commodore…[W]e mustered, in all, nine sail of fine ships…” [Crow Memoirs, p. 69] Further, “We sailed…with a fleet of twelve running ships, most of which were well manned and armed…Captain Mann, of the Diana, acted, by appointment, as commodore, and led on our little fleet in a style that would have done honour to regular vessels of war.” [Crow Memoirs, p. 132] This may have been the situation the Iris was in when it returned to Liverpool in a fleet of ships under the direction of a commodore.

Course Sails: See under Sails

Cutter: A small decked ship with one mast and a bowsprit. [6/9/1798 (“2 Cottors in Company”)]

Fathom: A unit of measurement relating to the depth of water or to the length of line or cable; one fathom is 6 feet or 1.83 meters. It comes from the Dutch word fadom which was the distance between fingertips of outstretched hands. [7/3/1798 (“hove a cast of the Lead 90 Fathoms out no bottam”); 9/15/1799 (“came to Anchor in 15 Fathoms water.”)]

Frigate: A ship smaller and faster than a battleship, used for patrolling and escort work. [6/9/1798 (“At Meridian was Spoke By a frigate 3 Ships and 2 Cottors [cutters] in Company - Soposed [supposed] to Bee all Kings vessells[.]”); 3/30/1799 (“At 5 P.M. the frigate Hove out a Signal to Hove too”); 4/9/1799 (“At 2 P.M. Frigate Made a Signell [signal] for us to Mak[e] the Best of our way”)]

Furl and Unfurl: To furl a sail was to gather it in and distribute the canvas fairly evenly across the yard. The furled sail not only reduced the sail subject to the wind, but shielded the canvas from the weather. [10/17/1798 (“furled the Mainsail”); 3/30/1799 (“furled the foresail”); Hugh Crow mentioned being “sent aloft to hand the main-topgallant sail. When we got on the yard and began to furl the sail…” [Crow Memoirs, p. 8]]

Gaskets: Rope ties used to tie up sails when they are furled to the yards. When a sail is to be stowed, it is folded and bagged within itself, pulled onto the top of the yard and then the gaskets are brought around over it and secured to the jackstay to hold it in place. [8/29/1799 (“People Employed Making Points and Gaskets”)]

Gunwale: The upper edge of a boat's sides. [4/7/1799 (“People Employed Blacking the reails Gunnerwells &c Got the Small Bowen anchor on the Gunnwell”)]

Halyard: A rope used to hoist (pull up) a sail or a yard to which a sail has been attached (bent on).

Hove to: Lying nearly head to wind and stopped, and maintaining this position by trimming sail. Heave to: To stop a boat and maintain position (with some leeway) by balancing rudder and sail to prevent forward movement, a boat stopped this way is hove to; such as when in heavy seas. The idea is to bring the wind onto the weather bow and hold the ship in that position, where she can safely and easily ride out a storm. [10/17/1798 (“Hove too Beeing verry thick with constant rain”); 3/21/1799 (“At 4 P.M. Hove too at ½ Past 5 & Made Sail”)]

Hull: The body of the boat.

Jib: See under Sails

Latitude (see also Navigation): The latitude of any place on the globe is its distance north or south of the equator, measured in degrees, from 0º at the equator to 90ºN at the north pole and 90ºS at the south pole. Each degree contains 60 minutes of arc and each minute contains 60 seconds of arc. Captain Cannon only recorded degrees and minutes in his logbook. 

Lead line: A line with a weight on the end used to measure depth. The lead is dropped into the water and marks on the line are read to determine the current water depth. The lead usually has a cavity to return a sample of the bottom type mud, sand, etc. The lead line was invented in the 13th Century. The line was weighted with lead and had graduated markings to determine sea depth. The lead was coated with wax to bring up samples of the bottom. A method of navigating from one depth to another based upon the condition of the bottom developed, with sailing directions from the 14th Century reading "Ye shall go north until ye sound in 72 fathoms in fair grey sand. Then go north until ye come into soundings of ooze, and then go your course east-north-east." From the entries below, it appears that Captain Cannon may have been navigating by depth. [7/15/1798 (“Hove a cast of the lead sounded in 14 fathoms water Blue mudd”); 4/9/1799 (“Hove a Cast of the Lead Sounded in 63 fathom fine Sand and Shells”); Captain Hugh Crow had a crewman “stationed in the chains giving the soundings, having neglected to secure himself by the breast rope, fell overboard, and…was torn in pieces by the sharks.”; Captain Landolphe, in 1769, “went plumb in hand the distance of one or two leagues along the Ivory Coast, constantly finding 18, 25 or 30 fathoms depth.”; Captain Landolphe, in 1771, “When you wish to go… to the river of Benin, you should not go far from the land. You should sound the depth, especially at night, and follow the places that give a depth of 15 to 20 fathoms, where you will find a very red fine sand. As soon as you detect a muddy bottom, you are not more than 18 or 20 leagues from the river of Benin.” [http:/ (“Landolphe Journal”).]

League: A league is a measurement of length used in estimating sea distances. Its length varies among different nations. In Great Britain, France, the U.S. and Spain the league has a recognized length of 6,075 yards, approximately 3 nautical miles, 1/20th of a degree of latitude. [6//9/1798 (“At 8 P.M. Skerry Light House Bore S.S.E. Distd. one Lege [league] & Holy Head S.S.W. Distd. about 4 Lgs.”); 7/10/1798 (“At half past 4. P.M. South Cape Palmas bore NNE Distance about 4 Leagues”)]

Longboat: An open, primarily rowing, boat with eight or ten oarsmen, with rowing benches designed to accommodate two men. It was designed to permit use in steep waves such as surf, or wind against tide. [9/3/1799 (“Carpindor Laying the Deck Beams on the Long boats”); 9/17/99 (“Hoisted the Long Boat & Pinnace out.”)]

Longitude (see also Navigation): The distance east or west of any place on the globe, measured from the meridian, which passes through the Royal Astronomical Observatory in Greenwich, England (East London), is called the longitude of that place. Like latitude, longitude is measured in degrees (minutes and seconds). On the other side of the globe, opposite the Greenwich meridian, and just west of Alaska, is the meridian that is both 180ºE and 180ºW. The 180º meridian is called the International Date Line because that is where each new day starts. The earth makes a complete rotation every 24 hours and 15 every hour (360/24 = 15). With an accurate clock, set to Greenwich time, it is possible to determine longitude. When the sun reaches its high point at noon, the hour difference from Greenwich can be multiplied by 15 to determine longitude. For example, at noon, if Greenwich time is 3:30 p.m., longitude is 52 30 W (3.5 x 15). The development of the first accurate sea clock, the chronometer, occurred in 1761 and significantly revolutionized sea navigation.

Maneuvering: Ships with sails must sail with the wind, whether it blows north, south, east or west. In battle, being upwind or ‘to windward’ means having the initiative, as long as the wind holds. It allows a captain to decide whether to close and fight, and how fast to do so, depending how much sail he puts out or hauls up, or whether to turn away and wait. By contrast the leeward captain’s options are necessarily more limited. He can tack or ‘beat to windward’ and thus lose seed and position; he can ‘close haul’ and shorten his sails to stand and meet the threat; or he can run before the wind. If his windward enemy is faster and stronger, even that becomes a hopeless cause. It is the man to windward who holds the ‘weather gauge’ and who controls the tempo of action. [British Navy, pp. 118-119]

Masts: The mast is a pole or spar set upright from the deck, to support rigging, yards and sails. Each mast was divided into three or four parts. The parts of the mast were connected and secured by cross-trees and caps and the very summit of each mast was called the truck. The lower masts were not formed out of one tree; rather, they were stronger when built up in several pieces and fastened together by iron hoops. The main mast was the largest and the mizzen mast the smallest. The proportions of the component spars on each mast remained the same. For example, if the fore topgallant mast was half the length of the fore topmast, the man topgallant mast would be half the length of the main topmast. In bad weather, the topgallant mast could be housed, partially lowered or even sent down completely.

     Fore Mast: The mast closest to the bow consisted of the fore mast, fore topmast, fore topgallant mast and fore royal mast. [3/11/1799 (“Bent a new foretop mast Staysail”)]

     Main Mast: The middle mast consisted of the main mast, main topmast, main topgallant mast and main royal mast. [10/9/1798 (“In top Gall[ant] Sail Gibb and Main top Mast Stearings”); 3/18/1799 (“Struck the Main top Gallan mast”)]

     Mizzen Mast: The mast closest to the stern consisted of the mizzen mast, the mizzen topmast, the mizzen topgallant mast and the mizzen royal mast.

     Bowsprit: The bowsprit, which extends forward from the bow, corresponds to a fourth mast and was terminated by a cap through which passed the jib boom, analogous to a topmast. The bowsprit was angled upwards from horizontal to minimize the risk of the bowsprit being buried in large waves. [9/3/1798 (“People Employed Setting up the Bowsprit Shrouds”)]

Mercators Projection: Maps of the whole world often use Mercator’s projection, the first accurate representation of the earth’s spherical surface on a flat map. It was of value because a compass bearing could be shown as a straight line which enabled the navigator to sail the shortest distance between two points. To develop Mercator’s projection, a sheet of paper is wrapped like a cylinder round the globe, touching the equator all round. The meridians are drawn as lines that stay the same distance apart all the way up and down, whereas on the globe, they get closer towards the poles. On Mercator’s projection, countries nearer the pole are stretched sideways, in an east-west direction, so to keep their shapes right, these countries are also stretched in the north-south direction by moving the parallels of latitude farther apart as they get nearer the poles. This makes countries near the poles much larger. Near the equator, Mercator charts can always be used. In the middle latitudes, they can be used for charts of small areas, and in polar regions, Mercators projection is not used at all.

Mile: Distance at sea is measured in nautical miles. A nautical mile of 6,067.12 feet is 1/8th longer than a statute mile which is 5,280 feet. A nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude and 60 nautical miles are equal to one degree of latitude, measured north-south along any meridian of latitude, or one degree of longitude measured east-west along the equator. Since there are 360 degrees around the earth, the distance around the earth at the equator is 21,600 nautical miles. However, degrees of longitude cannot be measured along any other parallel of longitude as the parallels get shorter as you move north or south away from the equator. Measurement of speed on ships is done in knots: one knot equals one nautical mile per hour (see Chip Log).

Mizzen: See under Masts, Sails and Yards.

Mooring: A device used to which a boat can attach so that it can remain in the same position. [9/19/1799 (“People Employed Mooring Ship”)]

Navigation: The navigator, by use of a quadrant, was able to determine beginning and ending latitude (distance north or south of the equator in degrees) by measuring the altitude of the sun during the day at noon and the North Star at midnight. Longitude was estimated by the distance traveled (by multiplying the time traveled by the speed of the ship). Ship speed was determined by the chip log in knots (nautical miles per hour). The key to determining longitude was the invention of an accurate time-keeping device. The earth rotates one complete revolution in relation to the sun every 24 hours. The sun reaches its maximum altitude at noon, no matter where on earth one is located. By determining the exact time on the longitude of 0° (in Greenwich, England), longitude could be calculated by determining the difference between Greenwich time and the time where the ship was located (one hour equaling 15° of longitude). A chronometer was developed in 1764 that was accurate to one-tenth of a second per day. It was used by James Cook to navigate the globe and when he returned in 1779 his calculations of longitude based upon the chronometer proved correct to within 8 miles. Cook’s detailed and accurate charts changed navigation and charts were rapidly developed around the world. In an e-mail from Steve Behrendt, dated March 24, 2007, he indicated that George Cannon would likely not have had a chronometer, they were too expensive. He also indicated that the most common sailors’ manual was by John Hamilton Moore, called Practical Navigator. I have downloaded, from googlebooks, John Hamilton Moore, The Practical Navigator and Seaman’s New Daily Assistant, Being an Epitome of Navigation: including the Different Methods of Working the Lunar Observations, with Every Particular Requisite for Keeping a Complete Journal at Sea, (B. Law and Son, London: 1791). The 17th century traveler Sir Henry Colt likened steering a course for Barbados to finding ‘sixpence throwne downe upon newmarkett heath.’ 17th century sailors possessed not much more ability to determine their position in the Atlantic than Columbus had three hundred years earlier. They relied on a combination of guesswork, science, and luck to find their way to the Caribbean islands. Latitude was relatively easy to calulate with some degree of accuracy. With the help of the astrolabe, mariners were able to determine their place on the vertical axis connecting the North and South Poles. The measurement of longitude, however, remained an extremely imprecise matter. Mariners were forced to guess at their longitudinal position. Knowing the average crossing time from his African port of departure to the Caribbean, a skilled ship captain paid close attention to the passage of time in the Atlantic and aligned his vessel with the latitude of Barbados when the calendar indicated that it was time to begin searching for the tiny island’s silhouette on the western horizon. Once the ship was in the vicinity, if calculations and guesswork had proved accurate, a well-trained watchman’s eye would enable him to complete the navigational task. Even after it was positioned in the correct latitude, a vessel in 1631 ‘tacked warily for several days’ before the island was sighted by a lookout. [Stephanie E. Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Harvard University Press, Cambridge: 2007), pp. 147-149]

At the equator, zero latitude, the sun passes directly overhead. Depending on whether one is north or south of that line, the sun follows a course closer to the horizon. If a sailor could figure out exactly how far the sun was from the zenith point, or where it would be if he were sailing on the equator, then he would have a way to calculate latitude. The Portuguese developed the astrolab in the 15th century from the mariner’s quadrant. It was made of cast brass and was held waist high on the deck of the ship, suspended by a piece of rope and then slowly turned until it was facing the sun. The astrolab’s upper arm was turned until a tiny spot of sunlight passed through the pin-hole sized aperature and fell on the pin hole of the lower arm. A scale allowed him to read the sun’s altitude at its highest point at noon. He wrote this down on his slate and then consulted an astronomical table which gave the sun’s declination on that day, so he could calculate the true elevation of the sun. By subtracting that number from 90 degrees, he had his measure of latitude. [British Navy, p. 80.]

16th century sailors came to prefer the cross staff, a piece of wood thirty inches long with a sliding crosspiece. By placing it up against the eye and sliding the crosspiece back and forth, until its lower edge aligned with the horizon and the upper edge with the rim of the sun, one could read the angular height of the sun. Then to the declination tables, and by adding or subtracting that number from the cross staff reading, one’s latitude position was determined. [British Navy, p. 80.]

The backstaff, developed in the late 16th century, was a huge improvement on the cross staff. It allowed the navigator to get a fix on the sun’s position by measuring the shadow it cast rather than staring directly into its rays. [British Navy, p. 133.]

The reflecting octant, developed in 1732, solved the problem for latitude, replacing the old backstaff. [British Navy, p. 261]

Determining longitude was the greatest obstacle to transoceanic navigation and its greatest peril. No sailor, no matter how skilled, ever knew exactly how far east or west he was traveling until his ship actually arrived at his destination. The only way to figure out how far east or west one had gone was to count miles traveled at sea. That meant using the log and line. The log was a piece of wood to which a rope was attached, with knots tied at intervals to mark out a series of fathom lengths of six feet. The sailor heaved the log overboard, letting it stream behind, measured the distance covered by timing the number of knots with a half-minute hourglass, and then worked out his average speed – which is why nautical speeds are measured in knots and why the record of the ship’s speed and distance is still called the ship’s log. That average speed gave him a rough distance from his last position and by checking with his compass and his map, a way to judge his longitude as well. This technique was called “dead reckoning”. It was a rough guide to one’s position. It made it easy to overestimate one’s speed and needed to be supplemented with constant soundings of water depth, so that shoals or shallows did not come up sooner than expected. For all the uncertainty and danger, dead reckoning worked pretty well, particularly if the captain was experienced and skilled and lucky. [British Navy, pp. 80-81]

Drake, in the 16th century, consulted rutters, handwritten pilot manuals with valuable information about tides, water depths, and landmarks along specific trade routes. One existed for the routes along the Guinea coast. A copy is in the British Museum. He also kept a world map. [British Navy, p. 81]

Parliament’s Longitude Act of 1714 had offered a hefty prize for the man who arrived at the solution of determining longitude. Clockmaker John Harrison worked for years on an accurate chronometer, to allow a ship’s navigator to plot longitude by the course of the sun or stars in relation to the time he left port. But a German mathematician named Tobias Mayer solved the problem. He drew up a set of lunar tables allowing the calculation of longitude by the movements of the moon. In 1757 he sent them to the First Lord of the British Admiralty. Navy tests proved their accuracy. It was Mayer, not Harrison, who got the Longitude Board’s prize money in 1767, and Mayer’s tables that made the Greenwich meridian the zero point for all oceangoing navigators. [British Navy, p. 261]

In 1751, Goodwin Knight developed an improved azimuth compass, which lessened distortions of the magnetic field for a more accurate directional reading. One was mounted on Captain Cook’s cabin directly over his head, and another in the ships binnacle, the enclosed and illuminated box on the quarterdeck that allowed those at the ship’s wheel, with its new helm indicator, to check their direction in all weather and at night. Latitude could now be measured down to a minute of a degree thanks to Hadley’s sextant, which used movable mirrors to fix the angle of celestial bodies against the horizon more accurately than ever before. For measuring longitude, Cook had the Royal Society’s lunar tables. Mathematically inclined navigators had no problems with the complicated calculations. Barometers were standard issue on naval ships and allowed them to anticipate drastic changes in the weather. [British Navy, p. 301]

Pinnace: A light boat, propelled by sails or oars. [9/17/99 (“Hoisted the Long Boat & Pinnace out.”)]

Port: The left side of the boat (facing forward) is called the port side.

Projections (see Mercators Projection): Different ways of charting the round earth on flat paper are called projections. This is because they start from the idea of shining a light through part of a see-through globe, so that the shadows of the parallels (longitude), meridians (latitude) and the outlines of countries make a chart on a screen. Countries and seas near the center of the chart will be roughly the right shape, so distances and directions can be measured accurately, but nearer the edges shapes will be wrong and the chart will be useless for navigation. Countries close to where the cone touches the globe are roughly the right shape, and charts of fairly small areas can be used for navigation. For places nearer the pole, a flatter cone is used, and for areas very close to the pole, a flat sheet touching the pole.

Quadrant: A device originally designed for use by astronomers to measure the angle of stars above the horizon. Later used by sailors to determine latitude. It consisted of a 90 degree graduated arc with a movable radius for measuring angles. Captain Hugh Crow: “I was at length enabled to save a little money, with which I purchased myself a quadrant and some articles of clothing.” [Crow Memoirs, p. 20]

Reef: To roll up part of a sail to reduce the area during heavy winds. Reef points are short lengths of rope attached to the sail, hanging in successive rows or bands, by means of which parts of the sail are gathered in and tied around the yard. A single reef, or double reef, or close reef, describes how much sail area is being reduced. Close reef is a sail reduced to its maximum extent. The only further reduction in sail area is to furl the sail, which means to fold it up altogether. To furl or reef sails, men have to ascend the masts and stand upon lines attached to the yards which is very dangerous work in stormy weather.

Topsails generally had three or four reef bands and each band was about one-seventh the depth of the sail so that if taken to the lowest or close reef, the sail was reduced about one-half. The mizzen topsail generally had one fewer reef band then the fore topsail and main topsail, so that when the latter two were close reefed, the mizzen topsail was taken in altogether. Course sails were usually fitted with one reef band, but sometimes had two. Topgallant reefs were not common, but were sometimes found on merchant vessels. The spritsail was fitted with diagonal reef bands, the jibs generally had reef bands, the fore topmast staysail occasionally had reef bands and the staysails were rarely reefed. At or before the first reef of the topsails, the royals were brought in. With the second reef of the topsails, the royal yards were struck down into the tops. With the third reef of the topsails, the topgallants and jib were brought in and the mainsail might be brought in. When it was necessary to close reef the topsails, the topgallant masts were housed and the topgallant yards were brought down on deck. [9/4/1798 (“in Top G. Sails and single reeft the topsails”); 10/23/1798 (“Squally with rain undor doble reeft topsails”); 3/4/1799 (“out 2d. reef Maintopsail “); 3/16/1799 (“undor Doble reeft topsail and foresail”); 3/7/99 (“cloase reef the fore and mizzen top sail”); 3/18/1799 (“At 8 A.M. Struck the Main top Gallan mast:--- At 11 A.M. reefed the fore Sail and Cloase reeft the topsails”); 3/25/1799 (“Cloase reeft the foretopsail & Sent Down Main Top Gallan Yard”); 4/6/1799 (“out 2 reefs Eatch [each] topsail”)]

Rig: The way a boats spars and sails are arranged. To rig a vessel is to fit her with masts, spars, sails and running and standing rigging; term is also used to mean the setting up a device, e.g., to rig a lifeline, a tackle, etc

Rigging: The general term for all the ropes of a vessel. The standing rigging is the collection of lines that are fixed, including the shrouds and stays. The running rigging is is used to adjust sails and anchors, including sheets and halyards.

Royals: See under Sails and Yards

Sails: There are of two kinds of sails: (1) square sails (not square-shaped, but hanging on yards rigged square to the keel of the ship); and (2) fore-and-aft sails (attached to gaffs or on stays that run with the line of the keel).

     Course Sails: The course sails were the first square sails above the deck. There were generally three course sails:

     Foresail: Or fore course, hung from the fore yard which was attached to the fore mast; The foresail was the only square sail which lifted rather than depressed the bow, so a reefed fore course could even be set as a storm sail. It threw the bow off the wind and was a key sail in all maneuvers. It remained set for the greater part of the time.

     Mainsail: Or main course, hung from the main yard which was attached to the main mast. The mainsail was the largest sail on the ship and its driving power was most evident when the wind was abeam. If the wind was aft, it was hauled in completely to avoid blanketing the foresail, which was the more useful of the two sails. In a squall, it was dangerous if the mainsail was thrown aback because once it was plastered against mast and rigging it became almost impossible to haul it up. When aback, it forced the ship astern, straining the rudder, tearing the rudder loose or ‘sailing the ship under.’ [10/17/1798 (“furled the Mainsail”)]

     Mizzen Sail: Or mizzen course, originally hung from the mizzen yard which was attached to the mizzen mast. However, the mizzen developed over the years to where the yard was kept on the starboard side and the part of the sail forward of the mast was dispensed with. By Captain Cannon’s time, the yard was replaced by a gaff, about half the length of the yard and of a smaller circumference. The mizzen staysail was the analogue of the vanished part of the mizzen sail. The mizzen sail was a balancing or steering sail. Because it was so far aft, it had a leveraging effect and could neutralize the helm and prevent the stern from coming up in the wind. [6/21/1798 (“In Mizzen and Staysails”)] The ringtail or driver, a form of studdingsail (an add-on sail that extended the area of the sail) was used to extend the area of the mizzen. [6/26/1800 (“took in the ring tails & M.T.G. Staysails”)]

     Royal Sails: On a square-rigged ship, a light weather sail set next above the topgallant-sail in fair weather. Excellent light weather sails with the same consideration as topgallant sails. There were generally three royal sails: (1) the fore royal, hung from the fore royal yard which is attached to the fore topgallant mast; (2) the main royal, hung from the main royal yard which is attached to the main topgallant mast; and (3) the mizzen royal, hung from the mizzen royal yard which is attached to the mizzen topgallant mast. [6/17/1798 (“Undor Stay sails royals &c”)]

     Spritsail: A “grand maneuvering sail” which “threw the ship’s head off the wind, better than a bowsprit full of jibs”. It was slung on the bowsprit about a third of its length from the end. It was usually taken in with the topgallants. It was always taken in if the topsails were furled and it was never set at night. It was also taken in when approaching land or sailing in convoy because it obstructed the sight of the helmsman. If the sea was rough, it could be reefed so that only half the sail was set which transformed it into a sort of “under jib”. [9/24/1798 (“Bent a Spritsail topsail”); 9/27/1798 (“Sett Spritsail topsail”); 3/30/1799 (“Got the Spritsail yard In”)]

     Staysails: A trapezoidal (at the time of Captain Cannon, then later triangular) fore-and-aft sail attached to a stay (not a yard or mast) running forward and downward from a mast to another mast, the deck or the bowsprit. The stay is one of the ropes that help hold the mast in place. Staysails filled up the space between the masts and caught the wind which the square sails allowed to escape. They were useful, however, over a rather narrow range of points of sailing. Aside from the jibs, they are named according to the sail immediately below the highest attachment point of the stay holding up the staysail. The following were staysails likely on Captain Cannon’s ship (starting from the bottom aft and moving up the mast and then forward):

          Mizzen topmast staysail [3/28/1799 (“Hove too undor Main and Mizzen Staysail”)]

          Mizzen topgallant staysail

          Mizzen royal staysail

          Main topmast staysail [6/13/1798 (“Maintop Maststearing sails”); 3/28/1799 (“Sett main Staysail”); 8/28/1799 (“took in the Mizzen T. Gallansail and Middle Staysail”)]

          Main topgallant staysail [6/24/1798 (“In top Gallanstaysails”)]

          Main royal staysail

          Fore topmast staysail (attached to the fore topmast sail and the bowsprit) and not generally part of the regular sails, but part of the heavy weather canvas: It was secured to the bowsprit which was much sturdier than the jib boom to which the jib was attached and it had a lifting effect. [3/11/1799 (“fresh Gail…reeft the fore sail and Bent a new foretop mast Staysail”)]

          Jib (attached to the fore topgallant mast and the jib boom) exerted a very powerful effect in throwing the bow of the wind, partly because it was a lifting sail, like the forward staysails, since it pulled both upwards and laterally and it could be used in all kinds of weather. Large ships had three jibs of different sizes. The middle size was used the most. The large jib was only used with the wind quartering and the small jib was used in inclement weather. The jib was brought in when the topsails were double reefed, being replaced by the fore topmast staysail. In a ship with a spritsail yard, like the Iris, the jib could be carried longer because it contributed to the support of the jib boom, counteracting the upward and leeward pull of the jib. [7/10/1798 (“set Fore Top mast and Top Galt. stearing sails”); 10/9/1798 (“In top Gall Sail Gibb”); 3/4/1799 (“Down Gibb”)]

     Storm sails: Small, rugged sails flown in a gail to keep the vessel under way and in control. [3/29/1799 (storm mizzen)]

     Studding sails: A sail used to increase the sail area of a square rigged vessel in light winds. It is an extra sail hoisted alongside a square-rigged sail on an extension of its yardarm. It is named by prefixing the word studding to the name of the working sail alongside which it is set. A studding sail used to leech off a fore and aft sail is known as a ringtail. Captain Cannon refers to “stearing” sails and when he does so appears to be referencing studding sails. [6/10/1798 (“Pleasent Breezeis and Clear undor Stearingsails &c”); 6/12/1798 (“At 11 P.M. In top Gall. Stearing sails”); 6/27/1798 (“At 6 P.M. in top Mast Stearingsail”); 6/28/1798 (“At Meridian Sett Stearingsails and royal”); 10/12/1798 (“At Midnight in Stearingsails and Staysails”); 10/16/1798 (“At 5 P.M. In Stearingsails and Single reeft Mzi topsails Sett Stearing sails again”); 6/23/1800 (“At 3 P.M. in royals & T.G. Stearing sails”); 6/26/1800 (“took in the ring tails & M.T.G. Staysails”)] Captain Hugh Crow makes several mention of studding sails: (1) “[O]ne of my…men, who was assisting to wash the decks, fell overboard, and the studding sails being set below and aloft, and the ship running at the rate of seven or eight knots, it was some time before we could bring her to.” (2) “We lost our main-topmast studding sails, the halliards being sot away.” [Crow Memoirs, pp. 39 and 71]

     Topgallant Sails: The third square sail above the deck. It is stretched between the topgallant yard and the top yard. Topgallant sails contribute more to heeling than topsails because they are higher up. They were always set in moderate weather because they added quite a bit to the ship’s speed, but they had to be furled earlier than the topsails. The fore and mizzen topgallants were sometimes taken in when the main topgallant could be left set, to ease the ship’s movement in waves. The topgallant’s could be carried over a single reefed topsail when it was anticipated there would be bad weather. When the bad weather arrived, the topgallant’s could more easily be furled. There were generally three topgallant sails: (1) the fore topgallant, hung from the fore topgallant yard which is attached to the fore topgallant mast [7/9/1798 (“sett Fore…Top Gallant sails”)]; (2) the main topgallant, hung from the main topgallant yard which is attached to the main topgallant mast [7/9/1798 (“sett…main Top Gallant sails”)]; and (3) the mizzen topgallant, hung from the mizzen topgallant yard which is attached to the mizzen topgallant mast [8/28/1799 (“took in the Mizzen T. Gallansail”)].

     Topsails: The second square sail above the deck. The principal sails, almost as large as the courses. They were the first to be set and the last to be taken in. They were well supported, a sufficient height above water to hold the wind and were indispensable for all maneuvers. The fore and main topsails were fitted for four reefs and the mizzen topsail had three reefs. When close-reefed, about half the available canvas was deployed. When the fore and main topsail were close-reefed, the mizzen topsail was usually furled because its mast was not as well supported. In severe weather, the fore and mizzen topsails were furled and the main topsail was reefed. Because it was closer to the middle of the ship, it did not aggravate pitching like the others did. The mizzen topsail was usually used to back the ship away from anchor. There were generally three topsails: (1) the fore topsail, hung from the fore topsail yard which is attached to the fore topmast; (2) the main topsail, hung from the main topsail yard which is attached to the main topmast [3/4/1799 (“out 2d. reef Maintopsail”)]; and (3) the mizzen topsail, hung from the mizzen topsail yard which is attached to the mizzen topmast [10/9/1798 (“Single reeft the Mizzen topsail”)].

Schooner: A small vessel with fore and aft sails on two or more masts. [3/14/1799 (“At 5 A.M. Saw 3 Strange Sails 2 Ships and a Schoo[ner] Standing to the Northward.”)]

Sheet: A rope used to adjust the position of a sail so that it catches the wind properly.

Ship Classification: Naval ships were classified by size and armament. First rate ships were the largest, displacing more than 1,200 tons each, with a full-time crew of 700 or 800 men. Ton is a measure of volume, not weight. It comes from the medieval English term “tun”, a term for barrel or wine cask which shipwrights used to measure cargo capacity. They carried from 80 to 100 guns with the largest able to fling a 42 pound cannonball nearly a mile. Second rates were 60 to 80 guns and third rates had 54 to 64 guns. Fourth rates were 34 to 54 guns and weighed about 500 tons and fifth rates, frigates with 20 or 30 guns, which patrolled and hunted privateers rather than serving as “ships of the line.” [British Navy, p. 187] As the rating system indicates, guns dominated. Shipwrights tried to cram as many on a ship as possible. They made gun deck floors with as few joints as possible, to prevent the constant firing of broadsides from shaking the ship to pieces.

Around 1748, Anson revised the system of rating ships, which lasted nearly 200 years. First, second and third rate ships of 60 guns or more were designated as battleships, fit to stand in the line, and fourth, fifth and sixth rate frigates and sloops, as cruisers, fit for patrol and convoy work. [British Navy, p. 267]

A new fighting ship, the 74 gun third-rate, came out in 1755 and were the backbone of the British battle fleet until Trafalgar. They carried 28 guns on two decks on either side: the quarterdeck carried 14 instead of the usual 12, and four bow chasers in the forecastle instead of the usual two. They had a higher firing platform with two decks instead of three, and superior sailing. The Dublin class was followed by the Hero, Hercules and Thunderer, then in 1757 the Bellona class, with gun decks 168 feet long, the standard for the next two decades. By 1759, there were 14 74s in active service. [British Navy, p. 281]

To build one of these ships, more than a hundred men would labor 12 hours a day for eight months, cutting and fitting each mammoth beam, timber, and joint with their handmade tools. Masts, some as high as 130 feet, and 20 or so miles of rope hemp twisted into 6 and 3 inch thick stays and shrouds to prop them up. Then the rest of the rigging: halyards, sheets, and braces to raise, lower and turn the sails to the wind, and scores of great wooden tackle-blocks connecting each to the yardarms and spars. Finally, the anchors, often a dozen at a time, since anchors were often fouled or lost, with massive eight-inch diameter cables folded and stowed on the lower deck. Then, the guns, each weighing two or three tons. [British Navy, p. 189]

A standard ship of the line, with two-foot thick timbers, could take hundreds of shots without sinking. Even hull shots close to the waterline only left holes eight or nine inches in diameter, quickly patched by the ship’s carpenters. [British Navy, p. 225]

Shrouds and Stays: Thick ropes reaching from near the top of the masts to the ship’s sides, to support the masts and prevent them from moving sideways. Ropes across and attached to the shrouds, called ratlines, create ladders for the sailors to ascend and descend into the riggings. Forestays prevent the masts from moving forward and backstays prevent them from moving backward. [9/3/1798 (“People Employed Setting up the Bowsprit Shrouds”); 7/2/1798 (“fore top mast stay gave way in the Beeis [breeze]”)]

Spunyarn: A cord formed by twisting together two or three rope-yarns. [10/11/1798 (“People Employed Spinning Spunyarn”)]

Squall: A strong wind characterized by a sudden onset, a duration on the order of minutes, and a rather sudden decrease in speed. A sudden, violent wind often accompanied by rain. A sudden and violent gust of wind. [6/20/1798 (“Latter Part of this Day Dark and Heavey weath[er] with Squalls”); 10/4/1798 (“At Midnight Squally with thundor and Lightning took in Sail”); 10/6/1798 (“Middle Part Squally with Showers of rain”); 3/12/1799 (“First Part Strong Breeze and Squally”)]

Square rig: A sailing vessel in which the main horizontal spars (the yards) are perpendicular to the keel of the ship. The Iris was a square rig ship.

Starboard: The right side of the boat (facing forward) is called the starboard side. [3/18/1799 (“Commadore of[f] our Starbourd Beam”)]

Stays: See under Shrouds and Stays

Stern: The back of the boat.

Tacking: The process of sailing “on the wind” or directly into the wind by making a zigzag succession of courses 45 degrees away from the wind direction, first to the left and then to the right of the wind direction. The procedure of shifting the ship from one tack to the other is called coming about. [9/13/1799 (“Tacked Ship to the South and westward”); 9/14/1799 (“tacked Ship to the Southwd. and Eastwd.”)]

Topgallants: See under Masts, Sails and Yards

Warfare: English naval ships were divided into squadrons, each commanded by a leading officer. Each commander lead his squadron into action in single file, firing on his opponent and then turning away to allow the next ship to fire and then the next. This single file ‘line ahead’ formation dominated naval warfare for three centuries. [British Navy, pp. 124-125] As ships grew in size and gun decks, there was no place to put the extra cannon except along the sides. Hence the appeal of the broadside. These ships were well suited to the line ahead formation. English gunsmiths were making the cannon shorter with wider muzzles for more punch, while movable carriages allowed these to recoil, reload, and fire again with relative speed. [British Navy, p. 176]

Devastating impact of English guns, with decks ‘much dyed in blood, their masts and tackle being moiled with brains, hair, pieces of skulls.’ [British Navy, p. 177] The deck ‘covered with carcasses, entrails, and dismembered limbs.’ [British Navy, p. 259]

Warping: Sending out a kedge anchor in a boat ahead or astern of the ship and lowering it into the water to catch the bottom. Then crewmen man the capstan or anchor spool and haul in the cable until the ship is over the anchor. Then the anchor has to be pulled loose and raised, rowed out again to the end of its cable, lowered in the water, and the whole tedious process begins again. It is a technique of last resort when a captain finds himself stuck fast on a sandbar, or with no wind. It is slow and backbreaking work. [British Navy, p. 16]

Yard: A long piece of timber or spar, tapering slightly toward the ends, attached at its middle to a mast, from which a square sail is hung (the top edge of the sail is “bent on” or attached to the yard). The extreme ends of the yard were the yardarms. To allow the direction of the ship to be changed relative to the wind, the yard can rotate (be braced) around the mast. Each yard takes its name from the section of mast that supports it, and the sails take their names from the yards to which they are hung. All of the yards, except the three largest, can be hoisted and lowered by means of halyards. The spritsail yard was slung under the bowsprit about one third its length from the end and was fixed in position. [10/22/1798 (“the foretopsail yard Gave way in the Middle It Being Sprung Before Got another up and Bent the Sail”)] [2/23/1799 (“Sent up Main Top Gallan Mast and Yard”); 3/25/1799 (“Sent Down Main Top Gallan Yard”); 3/30/1799 (“Got the Spritsail yard In”)

1 comment:

  1. This brings back memories. When I was living in Hawaii with Mom and Dad they paid for sailing lessons. Much of the terminology is similar for small and large boats. I spent a lot of time out in Kaneohe Bay as I had access to the boats which were maintained by the yacht club where the instruction was given. I would love to do more someday if you ever decide to indulge and need a crew member. :-)