Seamanship in the Age of Sail, 1600-1860

B2293

The first reaction to this book is jaw dropping. The publisher has a well deserved reputation for producing outstanding, heavily-illustrated large format books with the highest quality production. The author has produced fine text from extensive research and the illustrations have been executed by Mark Myers who demonstrates great ability in producing the vital images. The cover price is aggressive for a book of this quality, although it will inevitably restrict access for many readers who would greatly enjoy the work. Traditionally this is the type of book that used to reach a wider audience through public lending libraries but many of these important sources of information and education are being closed, with the survivors facing a totally inadequate funding for the purchase of new books. This may be addressed eventually with public access to the new British Library Copyright database for electronic books, but there are many issues to be addressed before that becomes practical with adequate protection of intellectual rights. So the best this reviewer can offer would-be readers is: sell your grannies, beg, borrow, or steal the cover price and snap up a copy. This is fantastic book, that opens the mysteries of seamanship in the age of sail. It is comprehensive and although the period covered is 1600 to 1860, the lessons in seaman ship apply to earlier vessels and to those magnificent survivors, the USN Frigate USS Constitution and the US whale ship Charles W Morgan, both of which have been restored to full sailing capability. Very Highly Recommended.

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NAME: Seamanship in the Age of Sail, 1600-1860
DATE: 281015
FILE: R2293
AUTHOR: John Harland
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury, Conway
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 320
PRICE: £45.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: wooden walls, sailing warships, age of exploration, Royal Navy, technology, wind power, long voyages, line of battle ships, cutters, cruisers, frigates, brigs, ship rigged, square sails, schooners, packets, long guns, Carronades, techniques, training
ISBN: 978-1-8448-6309-9
IMAGE: B2293.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/nnea93n
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: The first reaction to this book is jaw dropping. The publisher has a well deserved reputation for producing outstanding, heavily-illustrated large format books with the highest quality production. The author has produced fine text from extensive research and the illustrations have been executed by Mark Myers who demonstrates great ability in producing the vital images. The cover price is aggressive for a book of this quality, although it will inevitably restrict access for many readers who would greatly enjoy the work. Traditionally this is the type of book that used to reach a wider audience through public lending libraries but many of these important sources of information and education are being closed, with the survivors facing a totally inadequate funding for the purchase of new books. This may be addressed eventually with public access to the new British Library Copyright database for electronic books, but there are many issues to be addressed before that becomes practical with adequate protection of intellectual rights. So the best this reviewer can offer would-be readers is: sell your grannies, beg, borrow, or steal the cover price and snap up a copy. This is fantastic book, that opens the mysteries of seamanship in the age of sail. It is comprehensive and although the period covered is 1600 to 1860, the lessons in seaman ship apply to earlier vessels and to those magnificent survivors, the USN Frigate USS Constitution and the US whale ship Charles W Morgan, both of which have been restored to full sailing capability. Very Highly Recommended.

There are many books that claim to be comprehensive, but this is one of the few to fully deliver on the claim. The technology is dealt with in detail. The organization and training of crew is dealt with to preface the practical handling information. Sail and ship handling covers the routine processes of getting a ship underway, sailing it and bringing it safely to anchor. Then the author covers the emergencies of preparing and handling in storm conditions and with breakages of equipment and crew loss. There is also the most comprehensive coverage of the evolution of the sailing ship and its boats, all with the most effective drawings. Photography is naturally limited but there are photographs from the early days of photography and more recently of survivors of the Age of Sail.

Picking a starting point for a work of this nature can be challenging. The Age of Sail dates back into ancient history and probably back before the start of history. No one knows when man first discovered the benefits of river and marine navigation, or when he first began to shape tree trunks into more hydrodynamic shapes, or when steerage and sail were first employed. Certainly, the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Persians built fleets of sailing ships for war and commerce. It is also probable that sailors of these ancient nations undertook much more demanding voyages than history has allowed. So, perhaps, 1600 is an odd year to start a comprehensive study of the art of seamanship in the age of sail, or to end it in 1860. The reader will understand why the start and end dates are appropriate after reading through this epic study.

The Vikings developed a remarkable family of open boats that were able to undertake great voyages and cope with storms and high sea states. They also developed navigation devices of which the compass and sun wheel are understood but of which the nature of the sun stone is a complete mystery. Their longships were propelled by sail and oar and able to sail close to the wind. Much of their technology was still employed in 1600, but primarily for ships boats. By 1600, sailing ships were becoming very sophisticated and considerably larger and heavier. The use of an open steering position with a stearboard, or rudder and tiller was no longer adequate as a method of course control, except for those boats carried on sailing ships. Through the age of sail, even the smaller ships needed to carry small boats to provide access to shore when there was no natural or artificial harbour. Men needed to put ashore to replenish water casks and to find or buy food. Warships also needed boats to land soldiers and artillery, and to carry senior officers to shore. These boats varied considerably in size, but were all open pulling boats that mostly had some form of sail that could be rigged to relieve the oarsmen. These boats had some kinship with the Viking longships in terms of methods of construction and operation. The largest of these boats could be considered landing craft for soldiers, and Admiral’s barges, capable of carrying a large sail in addition to the oars or sweeps that could provide good speed. In common, they had relatively small water draft to enable them to be run onto a beach and then floated off again. Corsairs sailing to attack Spannish colonies in the Americas often carried a larger ships boat in kit form and assembled the vessel once near to the target. This vessel was then towed by the mother ship and usually carried one or more small canon mounted on swivels. Usually the vessel was destroyed before the mother ship returned home, carrying a full hold of gold and silver in the space occupied by the boat kit on the outward passage.

Whilst the ship’s boats were open pulling craft with some sailing ability, the ships employed many new technical features that gave the ability to sail very long distances in some safety under difficult conditions. They were also equipped with decks and the enclosed spaces developed, with increasing numbers of decks as hull sizes increased. Hull shape was considered more carefully by 1600, ships were already coming close to the maximum practical size for wooden construction. The heavy hulls required more and more canvas to capture the wind. Ship-rigged vessels typically carried three or four masts and a mountain of sail. Bowsprits provided further space for canvas and at the beginning of the period, covered by this book, many of the larger vessels carried a square sail below the bowsprit to provide balance and lift. In the period to 1860,there were many detailed changes but the basic sail plan was broadly the same for each of the sizes of vessel to the largest merchantmen and warships.

Warships required more manpower to squeeze every advantage from the wind in battle and to operate the artillery that was the prime reason for their existence. By the mid point in the covered period, the largest warships were able to carry over one hundred canon on three gun decks. These guns required iron shot and the lowest gun deck carried 32 pounder guns on four wheel trucks. The next deck up carried 24 pounder guns and the upper gun-deck carried 12 pounder long guns and a small number of short barrel ‘smashers’ or Cannonades that could fire 64 pounder rounds at close range as warships prepared to grapple and board the enemy. Merchant ships were given over to their cargoes, but it was rare for a vessel not to have some canon to deter pirates and in some waters, a merchant ship could carry a relatively heavy armament. The convoy system was introduced in time of war, and even in peacetime, with warships providing escort and defence against attack.

Amongst the vast amount of information, steering systems are covered and include the now little known whip-staff system that was common in larger ships at the beginning of the period. Most readers will already have a picture of what a sailing ship’s helm should look like and this is a single or double wheel, the double wheel being used on the largest ships to allow a number of sailors to add their weight during storms. What is often not understood is that the rudder was directly controlled by a tiller in the steering flat, with a series of ropes and blocks connecting to what was a horizontal windlass with a wheel fixed to one or both ends. This provided the multiplication of the helmsman’s muscle power to move the considerable forces exerted on the rudder. The system of relieving tackle also allowed a warship to be controlled by teams of seamen hauling on the relieving tackle when the wheel had been shot away. Before the wheel became the common standard on larger sailing craft, the whip-staff provided a means of increasing the helmsman’s power. A vertical timber staff, projecting through the deck, was usually on the deck below the quarter deck and although this gave the helmsman some protection in difficult weather, it had the disadvantage that his view forward was restricted and he had to rely on his compass and on shouted instruction from the quarterdeck above. Some have argued that the whip-staff was a superior system to the helmsman’s wheel and that may have been true for the larger vessels from 1550 to 1650, but by 1650, the largest ships were really too large for the system and the wheel became the common standard for any vessel that could not be helmed directly by tiller. In reviewing a work of this scale, it is easy to miss a single minor point, but the one omission appears to be the bent tiller. This was employed into the 1600s by West Highland Galleys and is used today on a replica vessel. These ships were basically Viking longships and the most common warship in Scottish waters. Their innovation was the bent tiller that allowed the Viking stearboard to be replaced by a pin mounted rudder. Where other craft carried a straight tiller over the stern to the rudder, the West Highland Galleys continued the high Viking stern post, requiring the tiller to be bent around the stern post

All of these aspects and more have been covered in an easy to understand manner which is greatly aided by the quality of illustration. Anyone who has any level of interest in ships in the Age of Sail will need to read this book. There has never been a single volume published that explains the mysteries of sail and the technology of sailing ships as capably as this new book. There are books that were produced for seamen in several volumes that come very close, but even then the overall explanations, or the wealth of knowledge do not exactly match this work, because the sets of books were intended to form part of an instruction system that includes verbal instruction and practical hands-on experience of vessels. The Conway imprint has published a number of pocket books and manuals based on naval or merchant marine seamanship and these are handy size books and a low price, but do not come close to providing the level of information presented by ‘Seamanship in the Age of Sail”.