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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Sailing ships

   
Author Topic: Sailing ships
Tephirax
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I'm currently trying to research lots of finer details of old wooden sailing ships for the novel I'm writing. Unfortunately, I have little-to-no knowledge of the area, so I'm not too sure what is and isn't possible. You lovely Hatrackians (is that the term?) seem to have the wisdom of Solomon between you, so here's a better place than most to see if anyone can help.

The sailing ship in question is a major 'character' in the plot, so I want to get everything right if possible. My intentions for the ship are as follows:

1) Not particularly large - Crew of approx 70

2) One large main-mast, with square-rigged sails (one to three).

3) Possibly a pair of mizzen-masts situated horizontally towards the stern, fitted with smaller sails - if there's a reason why this won't work, please let me know!

4) Built for speed, not really a cargo ship.

5) Eight pairs of oars (two men to an oar, I'm presuming) for precision movements/windless days.

6) Strengthened bulwarks to prevent buckling under storm conditions.

7) Two or three decks below - one for crew quarters, one for oarsmen, poss. hold for storage of supplies, etc.

Level of technology is certainly pre-gunpowder, possibly considerably earlier. Pulleys and capstans etc would be fine, but no real high-technology.

Now my questions: Does the above make sense? Are there any gaping holes in these plans that would be blatantly obvious to a sailing type? What sort of dimensions would the ship have to be able to be crewed by 70 men, often in shifts?

What about rigging (or cordage, if my research leads me right)? I take it you'd need ropes from the masts to front and back along the centerline, then probably others to the sides of the ship to hold the masts in place, and more via pulleys to assist raising and lowering sails. Anything I'm clearly not thinking about?

Finally, what about supplies of food and water? Would a ship of such a size be able to carry enough food and water for 70 crewmen for a month's voyage without resupplying?

Any wisdom on this topic would be gratefully received.

Cheers,

Teph


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pantros
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No ship would meet all your criteria.

Most Oared ships have dozens of pairs of oars.

Look up in Wikipedia the following:

Sloop
Viking Longship
Trireme

You'll not see masts anywhere other than along the keel. No other part of the boat is structurally strong enough to support a mast. So two masts horizontal is not possible.

Oars were not used for open sea travel. Their only purpose was Ramming Speed, really. Sometimes for fine manuvering into and out of the tradewinds. But for long travel, no.


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Tephirax
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That's the sort of thing I need to know.

Many thanks.

Teph


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pantros
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The wikipedia article on "Galley" will likely answer many more of your questions.
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Tephirax
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Thanks. I was looking through Wikipedia for a number of hours, but because I didn't know enough definitions of terms I was getting sidetracked and not finding the kind of things I was after.

Those links are the sort of thing I was looking for. Many thanks.

Teph


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Survivor
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For a non-fighting pre-gunpowder ship, 70 men is a really big crew. If it's a fighting ship of some kind, that's not too many.

The main mast should generally be footed at the deepest point in the keel (for obvious structural reasons). With square rigging, the sails carried by the main mast transfer most of the wind-force collected into the mast itself. Because the deepest part of the keel tends to be near the centerpoint of lateral hydraulic drag (again for obvious reasons), that means that any masts aft of the main mast should be balanced by equivalent masts to the fore.

Sweeps are possible, but it would probably be more effective to have an oared launch which could tow the ship for limited distances. This could serve other purposes and wouldn't compromise the internal structure of the ship. You could even have two.

You never make it clear how large the ship is. But a month's supplies for a man doesn't take that much space, if you keep it to the bare essentials. Say 50 liters of water per man (112 pounds or so), and twenty pounds of food. That would require pretty strict discipline to get through the month. You can cut back on food and slightly reduce needed water if your men are willing to eat raw fish, though few low-tech navies have been so lucky. Over the course of a month, you can count on losing a good deal of the water one way or another, so 100 liters per man would be safer. And if you need to break out the sweeps, you're going to need several liters per man per day. So reserve that for real emergencies, or there simply isn't going to be any way to carry the water you'll need.

Say we have three watches with two on and on off for the hands. One in ten are officers or warrant officers. Three guys minimum to handle each set of sails, lookouts, helm, watch, supernumeraries (cook, doctor, steward, whatever) and you've got ten to twenty guys on duty at a minimum, depending on how big a ship it is. So you've got double the guys I think you'd need, which is fine if this ship goes into battle even occasionally (land exploration counts as combat, for our purposes). Of course I'm assuming no more than four masts.

You should also note that a pre-gunpowder ship isn't going to like straying far out of sight of land, even if they intend to go without landing for a month.

One thing to note, these notes on design aren't conclusive or anything. The Chinese super-junks had dual keels and internal bulkheads, and thus could (and did) mount off-set masts. They were also up to 400 feet long. Multiple hull designs also predate modern materials, as do sailing ships that didn't have conventional keels at all. Depending on your fishing technology (both catching the fish and knowing how to use them), you can eliminate some or all of the supply requirements. Vikings were physically different from Greeks or Japanese, storms differ in intensity and duration from one sea to another, gun-powder is a "unique" technological development (that is, you can imagine a history where it wasn't discovered or refined until later than was the case in our own history).

But, to stay within the confines of plausibility, stick mostly with what is well established by known history.


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Aust Alien
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Pantros siad: "You'll not see masts anywhere other than along the keel. No other part of the boat is structurally strong enough to support a mast. So two masts horizontal is not possible."
--If it is possible to have a two-keel style based on a catamaran (?) then this might be possible? Sort of like what Survivor was saying, but I was thinking more like the polenesian stuff. Is it in a historical setting or a fantasy setting? If historical then what Pantros said goes 100%. If it is fantasy you have some leeway. EG Magic might be used to add structural support, the rigging might be some sort of magical material. But then you'd have to really think through why there is magic good enough to do this, but not to move the ship.

Another option is that the oarsmen aren't needed but that this is just a good way for the penal system to keep prisoners occupied. They sail when they need to get somewhere but row in the meantime. (Or to go upwind. Square riggers can't go up wind).

[This message has been edited by Aust Alien (edited July 15, 2006).]


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CoriSCapnSkip
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Don't know much about ships, but if you need names of things, there's a dictionary with pictures of things like parts of a ship, all labeled with the proper names, for writers who don't know the words. Unfortunately I don't know the name of the dictionary.
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MaryRobinette
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I did a little bit of research on ships for a story I'm working on. I don't know if any this link will help, but it's got a whole bunch of links to diaries of ocean voyages.

http://www.theshipslist.com/accounts/index.htm


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PatEsden
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Thanks Mary great link. Most of the research I've done has been about 19th century clippers, so I don't feel like I can answer your questions with any expertise. But what I did discover is that, atleast for me, the best way to get info about ships is to visit a maritime museum or phone museum curators with a list of questions. All the experts I have talked to love questions, the weirder or more specific the better. Last week I was lucky enough to go into a preservation room and see all the goodies that had just been brought up off a revolutionary war wreck. Wish I knew how to dive. At anyrate, I don't think I will ever know anymore than the most basic things about sailing ships, but by hanging out at museums I now have a better feel for ship board life. Also reading diaries taught me alot--like that there were a heck of a lot more women out there on the sea than I ever realized or that were ever admitted to by the sailors.
Here's a link that I found helpful http://www.bruzelius.info/Nautica/Nautica.html

[This message has been edited by PatEsden (edited July 15, 2006).]


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Tephirax
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You guys are the best! Endless thanks for the trove you've unearthed here.

Cheers,

Teph


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