I'm with wq regarding the absence of gun port lids - at least on frigates.
We've had a healthy discussion of this topic in my Constitution build log.
I have a copy of The Sailing Frigate - A history in ship models by Robert Gardiner. Page 59 includes a study of the beautiful and highly detailed model of the frigate Lowestoffe of 1760:
Gardiner notes: "With around 7ft of freeboard, gunport lids are unnecessary except where the ports open into cabins or other enclosed spaces..."
It seems to be the case that Frigates had generally higher freeboard than other rates AND did not use the "gun deck" as living space. Frigates had the advantage of dedicated berth decks below for the crew. I put gun deck in quotes because until the early 19th century, the deck with armament was referred to as the "upper deck" in the Royal navy - which acknowledges the exposure to the elements - and the berth deck still retained the old "gun deck" label dating back to the days when these rates had lower deck gun ports. I personally believe that this goes to the heart of why the gun port lids were usually not there (with the understanding that there were some exceptions) - in the late 18th century and into the 19th the 5th and 6th rates generally had higher freeboard than other classes and had dry berth decks for the crew.
In the case of USS Constitution, however, we have several sources to illuminate the use of half port lids to keep out heavy seas. Margherita Desy is the official historian of the USS Constitution attached to the Naval History &Heritage command and she studied the issue in preparation for the next refit.
Definition of half port used by Ms. Desy from John Fincham, An Introductory Outline of the Practice of Ship-Building... (Portsea, UK: William Woodard, 1825), 200.:
HALF-PORT..., shifting shutters fixed in the stops of those ports, which have no hanging lids. Those to the quarter-deck and forecastle ports are in general in one, and made of two thicknesses of slit deals, and to the ports for the long guns have holes in them for the gun to run out; and those to the upper deck, In two parts called buckler half-ports; for long guns, the lower part is to the center of the gun, when run out and levelled, as they have a hole in them that fits close round the guns ; and to carronades, to the under side of the gun, if not too low, that they may be fixed over them. The lower piece of these half-ports is of fir, and in one piece, to fill up the stops; with a rabbet taken out of its upper edge, to receive the upper part, and with two strengthening bolts driven up and down through it. This piece is in general hung with hinges at the lower part, and kept in its place by sliding bolts. The upper part is made commonly of whole and slit deal, the whole deal up and down, and the slit deal, to cross it, fore and aft.” 2
This indicates that the permanent full lids seen in so many contemporary models up forward and along the quarterdeck is likely accurate. The rest of the ports would either not have any lids fitted or would have the removable half-lid "stoppers" - at least as commonly practiced by American captains. Ms. Desy seems to confirm that the ports as represented by the Hull model are accurate. Here are some quotes from her study:
The oldest recorded model of USS Constitution is the one built in 1812 by the ship’s crew for Capt. Isaac Hull. He, in turn, donated the model to the East India Marine Society (now part of the present-day Peabody Essex Museum/PEM) not long after the model was constructed. Hull claimed that it was quite an accurate depiction of the ship as she looked around the period of her battle with HMS Guerriere. There are no port lids on the gun deck, with the exception of the two single-door lids on the two forwardmost gun ports
The PEM model depicts single doors on the two forward ports on both sides of the ship. It is very likely that Constitution had single doors on these two ports because of their vulnerability to being stove in during storms or when sailing in heavy seas.
Confirming this supposition that the two forward-most ports carried single doors is the well-known Boston image of USS Constitution from the War of 1812 period, engraved by Abel Bowen.
...The aftermost gun ports may have had slightly different gun port covers for captains’ cabins ports. We’ll begin with another definition of “port-lids”:
“PORT-LIDS, a sort of hanging doors, to shut the ports at sea. They are fastened by hinges to the edges of the upper sill, so as to let them down when the cannon are drawn into the ship, whereby the water is prevented entering the lower decks.
Upon the main deck, and particularly in ships carrying only one tier of cannon, half ports are used: they are a kind of shutters with a circular hole in the centre, large enough to go over the muzzle of the gun, and furnished with a piece of canvas, which is nailed round its edge to tie upon the gun, whereby the water is prevented entering at the port, although the gun remains run out.”
There are [several contemporary paintings that show] canvas covers in the gun ports farthest aft on the vessels – the location of the captain’s great or forward cabin. The canvas covers in the captain’s great/forward cabin gun ports would have kept out some water when sailing in general or light weather, but more important, would have allowed diffused light to enter the cabin during all daylight hours, no matter the weather. If the weather was really inclement, likely half ports could have been fitted into the ports to secure them from heavy seas.
Conclusion of findings and recommendations for restoration:
In conclusion, in compliance with the mission of the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston which includes in part, “ensur[ing] material compliance and documentation with the historic requirements of [Constitution], maintaining [the ship] as close to its 1812 configuration as possible,” 19 [emphasis added by author] the gun port lids of USS Constitution should be as follows:
1. Adapt the half ports presently found on Constitution: A. Retrofit the upper half port so that the lid is completely removable, but so
that it can be secured in the port with bolts.B. Retrofit the lower half port lid so that the lid drops to 90° and projects outward from the hull of the ship
2. Substitute two single gun port doors on each of the two forward-most ports in the bows of Constitution
3. Retrofit the two aftermost ports, at the captain’s great/forward cabin with canvas, as per the sail plans and artwork depicting such configurations on Constitution, Congress, and President
There does not seem to be any indication of hinged lower half lids in place during the Guerriere fight. The receipts presented in Ms. Desy's essay suggest that those were installed afterwards. It may well be, however, that Captain Hull followed what appears to be the common American practice of having removable half lid stoppers on board. They would've (obviously) been removed for the battle with Guerriere. It may be that the lower half ids were not hinged and permanently mounted until later in the war - or at least not until sometime after the Guerriere battle. The research around the canvas covers along the captain cabin ports is extremely interesting.
Edited by Force9, 27 July 2014 - 06:58 PM.