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As the title says, what ship (or class really) of 74 gun ship was the best of the breed? Most tend to lean toward the French ships but I really don't know. Temeraire maybe? I can't imagine the forty thieves would be considered for the award. What say you?

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Maybe a bit more detail is required. Clearly greatest could mean many things. I'm trying to figure out what class (or individual ship) had the best mix of sailing qualities, weatherliness, speed, firepower, seakeeping abilities in storms, stowage space for victuals and stores for long voyages, ease of maintenance etc. I'm sure some were better than others. Some classes were very small but other classes, such as the forty thieves were quite large. One can presume that if only one or two of a class were built, it was deemed not to be successful and they dropped it, while if they continued to build them (such as the forty thieves) one might presume they were successful. That isn't to say that the most prolific class was the best vessel. 

Any thoughts now that I've added a bit to my question?

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Posted (edited)

Many ships are equal, it is the crew, seamanship and luck that collects honors. The question can't be answered, you will find a thousand answers, each different and each correct and a disagreement with all.

 

Edited by jud

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Posted (edited)

From where I sit, Jud is spot on.  This is an impossible judgement at the least a very subjective one.  If it's purely British and French then it's a toss up.  Other factors come into play such as maintenance, the training of the crew, tactics (these three alone did in the French at Trafalgar).   But ship to ship and taking out the crew factor, I would say they were pretty much equal all things considered.  Others will have their assessments...  

Edited by mtaylor

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Hi Sailor;

 

One factor which is generally agreed upon in contemporary assessments of British v French ships is that the French ones were built with smaller section timbers and less fastenings,  such as bolts and knees.  This was presumably because the French ships were not intended to remain constantly at sea,  unlike their British counterparts.

 

When captured,  it was normal for the dockyards to survey foreign vessels,  and the report normally mentioned that she was in need of strengthening,  which was frequently done.

 

It was also frequently found that captured French ships were so badly strained and worked by a few years sea-service that they were beyond economical repair,  and were hulked or broken up. 

 

All the best,

 

Mark P

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You have asked an interesting question.  If we ignore the honours and distinctions, realizing that opportunity and luck were pre-eminent influencers, then the qualities enumerated by Raleigh (and often repeated) are pretty much what you have listed.

 

It is a challenge, of course, to compare vessels across time.  The understanding and application of shape factors changed over time, as did the size and materials used.  These, along with the masting and rigging, contributed to the sailing quailities. 

 

When looking at number in each class, the historical context is important - was there a war with rapid building?  Was there a central design or were individual builders designing?  What was the political climate (budgetary)?  What was the bureacracy - Symmonds?  Sepping?  Fincham?  Crueze?  During the early to mid 1800's, each had different design philosophies, and different results.

 

 

 

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The best "74", with regard to sailing qualities, is thought by some to have been the USS Ohio, 74, of 1820, a one-off design by Henry Eckford.

 

The British seemed to have liked the captured French Courageux of 1761, since they designed the forty-plus ships of the Surveyors' class around it.

 

As far as history goes, HMS Defense, 74, of 1758 fought in just about every major naval fleet engagement in the age, from the American Revolution to Trafalgar, but was lost with all hands in a storm off Holland in 1811.

 

British notables of the time, like contemporary Naval Historian William James, seemed to like the French La Spartiate, captured by Nelson at the Nile, and used by him at Trafalgar. I've seen her draughts and she looks just lovely!

 

And many more ... :)

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Each generation was at least in theory an improvement on the previous. So in a strictly arbitrary sense the very last should have the benefit of past mistakes and be the best. The last generation of wooden , pure sail, warships were never presented with the opportunities to earn honors in the large scale fleet actions that their ancestors did. It would seem as the 19th century wore on, navies were more and more hesitant to risk their best (most expensive) ships in combat. The "fleets in being" served as a deterrent and spent thier lives either in ordinary or parading from port to port "showing the flag"

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French ships in my opinion are much more attractive (hull lines/sculptures/figureheads) than US or English - thats the reason I am drawn to them.  I do agree - the British were probably better at seamanship/combat/longer term stability of construction.  But Im a model builder not a sailor !  

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The later the ship the better the design theory seems born out by Frolick's comment that many seem to think USS Ohio to be the best and she's from 1820, toward the end of the time these vessels would have been built. I suppose I could ask the question another way, "If one were to replicate one today at full scale for the purpose of experiencing the best 74 gun ship experience we could without building in engines and other modern gizmos that take you out of the 18th and 19th century, what ship would one choose to replicate?"

 

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Objectively, the term “best” should refer to how well a ship fulfilled the specifications that its designer attempted to satisfy.  In the case of a capital warship this is closely tied to the foreign policy objectives that the Navy was required to uphold.  This however ignores the fact that these objectives change over time causing ships to be used in roles not intended by their designers.

 

While it could be argued that the French could afford to build light scantling vessels because they were not expected to remain at sea for long periods of time, 74’s were intended to be heavy weight sluggers and if their light scantlings allowed the British to knock them to pieces in battle then they cannot be considered to have been well designed.  Likewise, events did require them to remain at sea for long periods as much of the French fleet’s operation (at least in the 1700’s) was spent defending lucrative possessions in the Caribbean.  Speed was also an overrated characteristic in a line of battle ship as their name implies these ship were intended to be an element of a fleet that moved at the speed of its slowest vessel.  At the time of the American Revolution the British were able to gain a significant speed advantage over the French by coppering existing ships.  This had a significant effect on the  American Revolution as during the Yorktown Campaign the coppered British ships sailing faster than the uncoppered French reached the American East Coast first after both sailed from the Caribbean.  Not finding DeGrasse in the Chesapeake the British sailed on to New York and the French ducked into The Chesapeake behind them.

 

While by all accounts USS Ohio was a beautifully designed ship, she really served just as a powerful warship, not a line of battle ship as the US Navy never succeeded in establishing a battle line.

 

Roger

 

 

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I agree with Frolick's comments.  My favorite is the Ohio... her "bones" lay out on the east end near Greenport and her figurehead is in Stoneybrook on Long Island.  She was considered the best American 74.   

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I don't think of her as beautiful though. She's clunky looking in the stern to my eye and her bow seems clunky as well. I prefer ships a little older vintage, but not so far back as the mid 1700s. Late 1700s or to my eye but aesthetics are just one part of the package. A beautiful ship that's top-heavy and can't sail to windward is useless. 

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The most attractive British 74, was HMS Majestic, circa 1784 me-thinks, and her four sisters, like Nelson's famous HMS Captain, Orion, etc. They were designed by a man named Bately. She has a very grand sweeping Stem and head that is really very attractive. There is a model of one of her sisters in the Annapolis Rogers collection, HMS Canada, which is mis-identified as HMS Triumph.

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I tend to think the 74s from about the 1780s and 90s are the nicest looking but they continued to build them for decades following that so there must have been improvements. I guess the improvements meant reducing weight higher up by eliminating decoration. 

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Having narrowed down the conversation to French and English, we've neglected the Spanish ships. Montanes I understand had the beauty and sailing qualities of the French ships but the strength and longevity of the English. Anybody know about the Spanish 74s and are willing to weigh in on them?

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From what I've read (I'll readily admit I know less about Spanish shipbuilding than French, British, or American) the Spanish 74s carried lighter armaments than was common in other navies-sort of like enlarged old 70 gunners. So instead of 32pdrs and 18s or even 24s, they'd carry 24pdrs on the lower and 18s on the upper gundeck

 

https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_ship&id=2708

 

i think the reasoning (other than blind conservatism)  might've been a greater emphasis on longevity and speed rather than line of battle parity.

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I would also say that it boils down to whether by "best" you mean from a practical usage perspective or from an aesthetics perspective.  Folks know a lot more about this than I do here, but when I look at British ships, I see workhorses.  When I look at French ships, I see pretty ships.  Kinda like a Honda versus a Ferrari - the Ferrari is much nice to look at, but will always be in the shop.

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On 3/13/2018 at 5:35 PM, Sailor1234567890 said:

I tend to think the 74s from about the 1780s and 90s are the nicest looking but they continued to build them for decades following that so there must have been improvements. I guess the improvements meant reducing weight higher up by eliminating decoration. 

The removal of decorations from English ships wasn't a performance or weight issue.  It was about costs of the decorations and maintenance.

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