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Are bolt ropes/earrings served?

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Longridge's book on the Cutty Sark calls for the haedsail and staysail bolt ropes  seized at the corners to form eyes with metal teardrop thimbles in them. Later he mentions the square sails get the same treatment but doesn't mention metal thimbles but he includes an illustration showing a Spectacle Iron for the Clews. 

In Masting and Rigging of the Clipper Ship and Ocean Carrier he has illustrations showing the earings with and without metal thimbles but never served of lethered. But I don't take this is proof these important parts of the sail wouldn't get served and lethered, I feel they would.

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Good morning Marc and Jerseycity, according to Underhill in his book Masting and Rigging the Clipper Ship & Ocean Carrier, reprint 1969, page 119, he states in part:

The leech rope and foot rope are spliced round the thimbles on the spectacle iron, with the eyes leathered in way of the thimbles and the rest of the splice tapered, parcelled and served. The bolt ropes are then marled to the sail over the parcelling and serving. 


There are several illustrations that are useful.  


If you are building your Cutty Sark at a larger scale, this kind of detail could be shown to good affect; otherwise, just show the serving of the bolt ropes (foot ropes and leach ropes) to about a foot (actual - full sized) from the spectacle iron.                      Duff

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I would not be surprised if wet leather was sewn onto the unserved rope loops. A baseball stitch would allow for less mass but a two needle stitch would also allow for a stretch fit that would have then been shellacked or varnished after drying. The ships I rode were still using leather in some rigging, such as lifelines or awning cables, brass grommets used in the sheeting. When a kid Dad used to rope me using a grass rope with a brass honda, that sucker hurt when it hit your head, makes me think that whatever was used in the bolt rope loops, probably did not have a lot of mass.


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I just found this sketch made in 1829. The caption is …."     A sail hanging over the side of a hog boat, Brighton, oyster dredgers (1829)  by Edward William Cooke"   ….  I would consider a contemporary drawing like this to be an excellent primary source. Keep in mind though that an Oyster Dredger is likely under 100' overall and coastal in nature and likely the owners are not too wealthy. So the gear aboard will not be like gear on an ocean going clipper. But it does represent what an actual sail of the era looked like.

Also check out the leather chafe gear laced over the shroud lanyards. 


Edited by JerseyCity Frankie
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Marc: I'm curious, what is the scale of your model? I am trying to learn as much as I can about running rigging and I have the Underhill book but my model is a 1:75 scale and I find it difficult to reproduce the gear he describes, especially the blocks. I'm working on an old  Billing Boats model of the Danmark (505) but I am updating parts of it due to the 1980s refitting that was done. 



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Steel(1794) states that clue cringles are wormed parcelled and served, with the worming being done as the cringles are spliced.  Kipping (14th edition 1898) indicates likewise, but offers specifics to merchant as opposed to Navy practice.  Kipping can be found at the following link.  You may find this helpful.  As I have read it only superficially, I will not attempt to interpret.  Kipping also discusses iron clues cringles.





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Wow that Kipping book is a great resource! Thanks for putting up that link Ed! Hint to all: Scroll to the end of the book, this is where the illustrations are all located.


On page 90 it gets into the boltrope and I am going to transcribe here some things:


…." The whole length of the FOOT-ROPE, from clue to clue and 15 inches up each leech, is served with small spunyarn : and the length of the foot of the sail measured off.

IRON THIMBLES are put into the clue-cringles, and the earings are served with houseline"….


…."Memorandum.-Pieces are pt on at all the corners, and the clues are formed of the bolt-rope, sewed home to the clues, and seized with housline or marline.  "  ….

There is a longer discourse starting on page 67 of the book but I am too lazy to transcribe it.

This book is pure gold! Thanks again Ed for showing it to us.

Edited by JerseyCity Frankie
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  • 1 month later...

I have some additional insight.


I was traveling in Sydney in October and was able to talk with two sailing masters about bolt ropes, cringles, and serving.


I was able to speak to the master of the HMB Endeavor.  I noticed that some of the cringles on the stay sails aboard the HMB Endeavor were wormed and served while others weren't, while still others were wormed, served, and leathered.  Further these were analogous cringles (for example tack cringle on one stay sail vs. tack cringle on another).  So I asked the master why they were different.  She said that it depended upon whether they had an eye (a detail I didn't notice) or how much they would they were used or chance of being chaffed.  She said if the cringle would experience a great deal of wear and abrasion, then a metal eye was used and the bolt rope was wrapped abound the eye and seized without serving.  She said that no serving of the line was needed if the metal eye was used since the eye took all the wear. If the cringle was expected to have less wear, but still substantial then the cringle was served and leathered. If the line had even less wear then it was just served.


I was able to also talk with the sailing master of a restored ship that was in Sydney harbor for a few days.  I took the name, but I can't find it right now.  It turned out that he also loved the Cutty Sark and was very knowledgeable about sailing ships of the late 1800's.  He told me essentially the same info that the HMB Endeavor's Master had provided about the cringles.  He added that the earrings of the square sails were often served even if they did have a metal ring since the sails were in contact with the yard arms.  Concerning the bolt ropes, he said that he had also come across historic accounts of the Cutty as well as other ships where the information did not match between sources.  He said that it was because the details of how the sails were set up, such as serving, metal eyes, etc.were up to the Master.  Also the Master may change some of that set up at sea depending on how the sails were wearing.  So if you went aboard the same ship during different times with the same master or a different master, those sail details and even the size of the sails might be different.  He said that he wouldn't sweat those details on a model, any combination of serving, eyes, etc would be acceptable.  I told him of the HMB Edveavor's stay sails not all being set up the same.  He said that it was a perfect example of what he was talking about and showed me examples of the same inconsistencies on his ship.  On his ship the top sails had their lower bolt rope - the foot rope- served.  He said it was because they rub against the stays.  I told him that I have accounts of the Cutty with and without it's foot ropes served.  He said that it probably depended upon which sails and when the observations were made.  If the observations were from the early 20th century when she was a training vessel or when she was being used as the Frederica it was probably because of the same issue as his ship and they wanted to make the sails last longer without having to replace the foot rope (bolt rope) of those sails.  However, she probably didn't have the foot rope served when she was in the tea and wool trade trying to break records.  He said that the bolt rope adds weight to the sail and doesn't allow it to have as rounded a belly for the square sails, so the master would have sucked up having to repair the sails more often for the gain in speed.  He also said it wouldn't have been two unusual to have 2 or 3 suits of sails, light weather sails, a duplicate or heavier set and a foul weather set.  He also showed me where the standing rigging was served to prevent chaffing of the standing rigging from the running rigging or other standing rigging.


We were talking about working on the yards.  He said that when he was kid he almost never used the foot ropes that hang down from the yards.  He said that they used to walk out on the top of the yards and then hop down and swing over to the foot ropes when they got to the end of the yard.  He said that you can't do that anymore due to safety concerns and everyone is harnessed onto the yards.  He said that they also used to go between the mast by walking along the stays.  He said that there were usually enough lines that you could grab one to another as you walked across.  


I also asked him the royal and sky masts in old paintings and models.  They don't usually have Jacobs ladders or rat lines.   He said that they weren't needed - any sailor could get up those masts just by shinnying up the mast, they could also just go up a shroud.  He said that many professional sailors can still go up that way.  A crew was working on the ship and when they came down, the master told one to go up the back stay to the top for me.  The guy went over to the rail and grabbed the stay (I noticed he didn't have a harness on, but I didn't say anything).  He went up hand-over-hand very quickly to the top and then slid back down the stay.  He also went up the fore castle without using the ladder for me.  I had a question about how hard it was to get up when you're at sea and the steps are stowed away as they were on the Cutty.  He just stepped on the Windlass and grabbed what I think was a jib sheet and when right up onto the deck, then just swung/stepped down.  He was actually much, much, faster getting up and down to the fore castle this way than I was using the steps. Finally the same sailor went back to work going up the ratlines and over the outside to the top without slowing when he hit the futtock shrouds.  The only thing that slightly slowed him down was transferring his safety line and that didn't slow him much.



When I have seen videos of crews, mainly volunteer crews work a tall ship it was much different than watching this professional sailor.   


It is always amazing how helpful and friendly sailors are when you show an interest in their work and have some knowledge about the ship and its working.  These guys were great at filling in some of the gaps!



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