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Halyards made out of chain?

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Leafing through my old (1936) "Boys Own" annual yesterday, I came across this article by Geoffrey Prout about square-riggers.  All very exciting stuff, more dramatic and entertaining than it was informative, but one little reference got me interested.
"Shipmasters used to haze their men to get speed out of their ships.  Halliards, which were of chain, were often padlocked down to keep panicky hands, when the ship was being pressed dangerously, from rushing to fiferails and letting go to ease pressure aloft."

Halliards made of chain?

I would never have thought it, but now that it's come to my attention I can see there might be sense in it. Better strength-to-weight than rope, less liable to chafing, things like that.
But was the writer correct?  If so, was chain ever in widespread use for running rigging?  When would it have been first introduced?

Have any model-makers here actually used chain for the running rigging on their models?  I've only ever seen it used for standing rigging - specifically below the bowsprit, or on the rudder.

Gepffrey Prout, incidentally, was a well-known boatbuilder based on Canvey Island in Essex, UK.  His sons Roland and Francis were Olympic canoeists in 1952, and the three of them were significant pioneers in the design and building of the early generations of sailing catamarans.



Apologies everyone - I’ve accepted that I’m OLD.  I’ve put down my tools and immersed myself in  activities that don’t require me to work in a cold, outdoor workshop!   I now do other things, but I do still look in to MSW.  And sometimes I comment!  When I die, I’ll let you all know!

Abandoned build: - Occre's "Spirit of Mississippi" riverboat.

Previous builds - La Petite Nella (aka AL's Mare Nostrum);  Anastasia (1:12 scratch-built sailing kayak);  USS Enterprise (Constructo);  Half Moon (Corel);  Lt Bligh's Bounty Launch (Model Shipways); Silhouet (1893 Dutch Barge)(Constructo)Mephisto (aka Constructo's 'Le Camaret' lobster boat)

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The tie on late 1800's and after sailing cargo vessels was often chain on topsail yard hailyards and above. Look up "gin block" for an image of what was going on. The chain was just a span between the spar and the actual hauling tackle on the after side of the mast. The fall of this tackle was rope, not chain.

Edited by JerseyCity Frankie




 Niagara USS Constitution 


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The ship I am researching HMCSS Victoria (1855) used a lot of wire rope and chains in the rigging.  The Contract specified chain for the Tyes, Braces, Futtock Shrouds, bowsprit and martingale stays etc; and especially in the areas around the funnel.  Also, unlike in many clippers as John pointed out, all lower standing rigging in 'Victoria' was wire rope, including the halyards which were handled by special patent winches (purchase or halyard winches) which not only raised/lowered the Tye but was also the securing point for the halyard.  The Contract also specified iron for many fittings.  For 1855 that was very leading edge technology as it was only just emerging in the mercantile ships and only being experimented with in some RN ships as I am finding out.


The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle, along with The Mechanics Magazines for that period are providing a lot of interesting detail about these items etc.  Underhill's "Masting and Rigging of the Clipper Ship and Ocean Carrier" also has a very good coverage of the various rig combinations.





Edited by BANYAN
added text for clarity

If at first you do not suceed, try, and then try again!
Current build: HMCSS Victoria (Scratch)

Next build: HMAS Vampire (3D printed resin, scratch 1:350)

Built:          Battle Station (Scratch) and HM Bark Endeavour 1768 (kit 1:64)

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The whaling brig Kate Cory, after her re-rig in 1858, used chain for it's fore topsail sheets.

From Rigging specs of Kate Cory by A.R. Ronnberg Jr


"Fore topsail sheets - P&S, bobstay link chain (no studs in links) , 1/4" d. wire. Clew ends shackled to clew irons of topsail. Hauling ends rove through sheaves in lower yard arms, inboard via iron quarter blocks, and below. Tackle ends (hauling ends) shackled to iron-strapped single becket blocks."


The tackles were rope.


Member - Ship Model Society of New Jersey

Current Build:  Pride of Baltimore 2

Finished: Kate Cory

Finished for now (Not rigged):  Medway Longboat


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Greetings everyone;


This is not applicable to square-riggers as in the story above,  but during the Napoleonic wars the Royal Navy fitted a standing chain sling to the centre of the larger yards,  to prevent them falling to the deck if the halliard was shot away.  I am fairly sure that the French Navy did this also.


All the best,


Mark P


Previously built models (long ago, aged 18-25ish) POB construction. 32 gun frigate, scratch-built sailing model, Underhill plans.

2 masted topsail schooner, Underhill plans.


Started at around that time, but unfinished: 74 gun ship 'Bellona' NMM plans. POB 


On the drawing board: POF model of Royal Caroline 1749, part-planked with interior details. My own plans, based on Admiralty draughts and archival research.


Always on the go: Research into Royal Navy sailing warship design, construction and use, from Tudor times to 1790. 


Member of NRG, SNR, NRS, SMS

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Masting and Rigging the Clipper Ship and Ocean Carrier by Harold A. Underhill talks of chain Tyes in depth. Halyards were rigged one of several ways. Smaller vessels had the chain go from the centre of the yard, up through the mast sheave, down to a block and tackle fastened to the deck and belayed to a pin on the rail. A little larger and the end of the Tye had a gin block on it. The halyard was fastened standing end to an eye bolt on deck, up through the gin block, down to a block for the standard rope purchase. Treble blocks for all these of course. The largest used a winch and a wire halyard with the standing end on one side, up through the gin block and back down to the winch. No purchase on this at all. The standing end and running end were brought down on opposite sides of the ship. They served as additional backstay type rigging transmitting load down to the deck evenly port and starboard. Underhill cautions one to take care in modelling to ensure that if the blocks are too close together, the yard may not hoist all the way up. Too far apart and rope is wasted, especially on a treble block system. The other thing to watch out for is the gin block. It has to be close up under the sheave in the lowered position or the block will come up against the stay below when hoisted before the yard is all the way up. He probably does a better job of explaining it than I do but that's the gist of it. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

As materials science got under way together with quantitative methods for testing the strength, iron and then steel chains and iron/steel wire rigging replaced a good deal of the old organic rigging materials in running rigging. No rotting issues and a lot less maintenance. The last square riggers, such as the Flying-P-Liners, did not have a lot of organic rigging, except for the parts that needed to be handled by the sailors.



panta rhei - Everything is in flux



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