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Dummy's Guide to Rigging


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Hi all,


I have some fantastic books that tell me all about fixed and running rigging and give me lots of detailed information about every single rope. block, beley line that is needed.


What a pity that I almost don't understand a word!!!


Every book that I have seen is written in a technical manner and, although I have even tried to understand things through works such as The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship by the Historic Naval Ships Association, it's is really hard work.


Does anyone know if a simplified version that actually explains all the terms used in one go?


So, for example, if I wanted to know all about what 'ropes', blocks and beley points are used for each sail where could I look?


Before anyone suggests, I do have Lennarth Petersson's Rigging Period Ship Models which does show the lines and beley points, but it is still very difficult to understand what all the shown items are actually for - e.g. this is a line that is used to hoist / set / take down a sail.......


Any ideas anyone?


Many thanks.



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Hi John;


There are at least two books,  '18th century rigs & rigging' by Karl Heinz Marquardt,  and 'The masting and rigging of English ships of war' by James Lees (which I can see that you have borrowed from the library [must be a good one,  to hold such titles] but perhaps not yet read)  which deal with the matter stage by stage.  They start with the masts and associated rigging,  then the yards and associated rigging,  and then the sails and associated rigging.  They finish with sections on different types of blocks,  and belaying. 


Neither of them has a glossary,  unfortunately,  which would be helpful for you;  but you will read about shrouds and stays in association with the masts,  and braces,  lifts and halliards in association with the yards;  then sheets,  tacks and buntlines in association with the sails.  By the time you have read Lees' book,  you should have a thorough knowledge of the basics.  Deeper knowledge can only come from re-reading,  drawing rigging diagrams,  and from rigging models.


Lennarth Peterson's book,  by the way,  despite its title,  only deals with the rigging of one particular ship at one particular period.  So whilst it is very good for a model of this type,  for earlier or larger vessels,  it is a somewhat limited source.


All the best,


Mark P

Edited by Mark P
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Hi John


From a complete landlubber to somebody who lives at least a lot nearer to a coastline: I understand you very well. But I'm afraid that you have to learn the ropes a bit.

However it's made easier by the fact that it's actually a kind of a matrix:


- you have the masts: fore, main mizzen

- you have the floors:  ground floor, topmast, topgallant mast, royal

- you have sails: - square sails with top(head), sides(leach) and underside(foot)

                        - fore-and-aft sails with uppermost corner(peak), head, upper corner on mast(throat), mast side(luff), lower corner on mast(tack), foot, lower aft corner(clew) and aft side(leech)

- you have the yards: basically named as the sails


On each yard and each sail you have the same kind of lines.

- yards: lifts to hold them up, braces to turn them, truss and sling to fix them

- square sails: sheets to hold the lower corners(clews), clew lines to pull the clews up, bowlines to pull the sides of the sail forward, reef tackles to lift the sail towards the yard for reefing

- fore and aft sails: vangs to fix the gaff(replaces the yard), brails to pull the sail towards gaff and yard


Of course there are about a zillion more but those above should cover the most important. And if you know one rig, you know them all. I often find the books of the 'Anatomy of the Ship' series quite helpful. If you find one of a vessel which is close to the one you are building (perhaps Alert or Granado) it may help to see how those lines work together on a specific ship.


And if I'm completely desperate I find some solace in Patrick O'Brian's Stephen Maturin and his never ending struggle with the incomprehensible language of the sailors.








Yes, Wolfram zu Mondfelds book is a gem. But I have the German original and therefore the happiness to struggle with those expressions in two different languages!

Edited by flyer
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I would love a book like that.


I am getting back to the rigging of my cutter after a long and somewhat unintended break.The problem is I read something, mostly understand it, but then can't remember it later. I'm using some home-grown software (a glorified notebook) to try and help me to be organized (see http://modelshipworld.com/index.php/topic/10451-first-time-rigging-being-organized/#entry313428).  


I was never any good at foreign languages at school either. 



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There is one book that I know of that explains almost every part of the ship and rig.  Falconer's New Universal Dictionary of the Marine.  My copy is a reprint of the 1815 edition.


That being said, learning the ropes just takes time and practice.  Soon enough you will no longer be a landsman and you can earn your keep as an able bodied or ordinary sailor. Diligence, attention to detail, and hard experience will merit an assignment as a tops man in no time.  Maybe even a promotion to petty officer.


Aye lad, that be the life of a sailor!!

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Many thanks to all of you.

Some wonderful and very helpful comments.


Peter, your list is very useful. Yes, I have noted the Anatomy of the Ship - I believe there is one of the Granado which will come in handy for my next build anyway. It was going on my Chrismas list - perhaps I might add it on the 2015 Christmas List and get it now as "someone forgot"!!!


RichardG, maybe I should write such a book then - one I understand the subject myself!!

I also like your spreadsheet idea for future reference. As you will see below, I have created a document that lists the information which is a start! Here's an extract:


Belay   Side                                Description                                                          Fixed?


b1        Bow Rack                        Outer Jib Stay

b2        Bow Rack                        Schooner Stay

b3        Main Mast                        Main Topgallant Stay

b4        Forebitts crosspiece         Foregaff topping lift

b5        Port                                 Foregaff Blocks

b5        Starboard 




Jersey City Frankie - I agree with the idea of drawings - I've actually started to do that.


Firstly, I have made a drawing of the bowsprit so that I understand the three foresails on my ship (PIckle).




I have also taken copies of my plans showing the Belay points. These are only listed as e.g. B1, B12 etc. so I have researched my instruction book so that I have been able to label each point with the correct name - that has helped a great deal. As I suggested in my log, I think it would help of the manufacturer added a table to those belay and rigging plans that actually lists the Belay points, where the rope comes from and what it actually is. I have created a document that lists the above information which is a shown above!


I have just made a drawing of the main and topsail - which is where all the problems start!!


...... and the reason for it all? Because I am wishing to add sails to my Pickle and therefore need to understand all the figging so that I can work out what additional rigging and belay points I will need - so that I can add them while I can still access the deck BEFORE I  clutter the deck with Deck furniture and masts etc.......


Thanks for your help.




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Great thread some nice recommendations here I just ordered 2 of them.


18th century rigs and rigging


historic ship models


I hope those will help me with my Le Glorieux when starting with rigging. Anyhow it is pretty fun stuff to read so i think i will going to enjoy them.

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This is a prime example of why I love MSW. A great community with a wealth of knowledge that the members are willing to share with each other regardless of experience. My wish list on Amazon seems to grow longer with every visit. ;)


I have purchased a couple of books already to help better understand ship rigging, "The Art of Rigging" by George Biddlecombe and "The Rigging of Ships: in the Days of the Spritsail Topmast, 1600-1720" by R.C. Anderson which deal specifically with the time period of my build, la Couronne. I have found both books to be useful so far though I will also check out some of the other suggestions that have been posted. I have rarely found one book with everything in it I need and often times information has changed as the years have gone by.

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One of the best reference books I have come across is Young Sea Officer's Sheet Anchor by Darcy Lever. It is very complete...it is somewhat like the old Bluejackets Manual for new sailor in the US. Lever starts with the ropes, then the knots, then on to rigging and the like. If you stick with it long enough and build a ship big enough, you will even be able to learn how to sail your ship to the US. : - )


Seriously, it is very good and there is a very good dictionary of nautical terms at the very end. I recommend that you stay on board and continue building by going slowly, checking out every little piece of the puzzle (or model) as you go. As mentioned above, this is the place to be for encouragement and assistance. We were all where you are at one point or another. 



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PeteGee, I have actually used my Bluejackets Manual when I first started building ships. I also have pulled out my old Boy Scouts Handbook to remind myself how to tie a few knots. It is interesting to see what books that were not meant for model ship building can contain useful and relevant information.

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  • 3 years later...

Many of the historic works are also now available in digital format on the Internet. Some of the PDFs are searchable, which comes handy at times. Don't always trust Google, when they tell you that no digital version is available, keep searching. I noticed that Google often does not link digital versions, when someone offers reprints.


A very useful dictionary is Paasch's 'From Keel to Truck'. It was written at the end of the 19th century, but many of the basic terms and designs have not changed a lot over the past two hundred years: https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_pT4IAAAAQAAJ/page/n6/mode/2up





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14 hours ago, wefalck said:

Many of the historic works are also now available in digital format on the Internet. Some of the PDFs are searchable, which comes handy at times. Don't always trust Google, when they tell you that no digital version is available, keep searching. I noticed that Google often does not link digital versions, when someone offers reprints.


When Google went on their mad scanning spree, usually the only PDF's you could get in a search was their's.   Currently, I've had to dig down 3 or 4 pages or more in a search to find certain PDF's as the first pages are not what I wanted.

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