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General guide to how rigging works.


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I'm building a model of the Scottish Maid and am in the early stages of rigging her. I'm using the kit guides and also the Underhill book volume 2. The Underhill guide is far more detailed, but uses so many technical terms that I find it very hard to follow.


Basically what I would like is a way of understanding which part of the rigging does what as that would help me to get it right (albeit in probably a simplified form). In some cases it is fairly obvious, but the function of some lines I find obscure.


I realise that the answer to my question will depend on the type of rig and the era in which the vessel was built.

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The answer depends on the type of rig, not so much on the era.

The basics didn't change too much over time, the exact rigging (eg number, or type of blocks) however did change. 


But it is difficult to explain 'in general' without going into technical terms.....

Also: a general description most probably does not answer your 'obscure lines' You could try to place a picture of the 'offending lines', and we'll try to answer.






Edited by amateur
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You should start by picking up a book on the subject of rigging period ships.  There are many and most are quite good at explaining the basics of rigging.


Here are some generalities:

The motive power of the ship is via sails which are laced to poles called yards that are held aloft on poles called masts.  In order to add more sails additional sections of masts are erected above one another (topmast, topgallant, royal). You need some way of holding the masts in their near vertical orientation and that is accomplished via the standing rigging.   At or near the top of each mast section you will find a cluster of standing rigging that will be working in opposition to each other.  The stays lead forward and hold the mast from shifting aft while the shrouds and backstays lead aft and to the side to hold the mast from shifting forward and sideways.


At the bow of the ship is the bowsprit, which works the same way as a mast.  It has additional sections called the jib boom and flying jib boom.  The rigging for these mimics the masts with bobstays keeping the bowsprit from shifting upwards and shrouds preventing sideways movement.


The rigging of the yards and sails is called the running rigging. 

The position of the yards and their orientation to the wind are controlled by the following lines:

Halyard:  raises or lowers the yard into position for setting sail or reefing sail

Jeers:  same function as halyards but in different time period.

Lifts:  controls the vertical orientation of the extreme ends of the yard (yard arms)and helps support them.

Braces:  controls the horizontal orientation of the yards for trimming the sails for any given wind direction.

For fore and aft sails the yards are known as the boom at the bottom of the sail and the gaff at the top of the sail.  These spars have rigging that works the same way with topping lifts and braces (vangs).


The sails are controlled by the following lines:

Sheet:  hauls the lower corner of a sail down or aft. In the case of a fore and aft sail it performs the same function on the lower aft corner of the sail.

Tack:  confines the lower corner of a sail down and forward.  In fore and aft sails it works on the lower fore corner of the sail.  Note that the upper square sails do not require a tack because the sheet functions to confine the lower corner of the sail to the yard below.

Clew line:  hauls the lower corner of the sail up towards the middle of the yard for furling.

Bunt line:  hauls the lower edge of the sail up to the yard for furling

Leech line:  hauls the sides of the sail up to the yard for furling.

Fore and aft sails will also have a halyard to extend the upper corner of the sail along the stay or gaff


I hope this helps a bit.

Please remember that this is only a general description and your ship may have variations specific to it.



Edited by popeye2sea



Laissez le bon temps rouler ! 



Current Build:  Le Soleil Royal

Completed Build Amerigo Vespucci

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It may be easier if you name the lines that confuse you and then we can go through them one by one. I love talking about rigging so don’t worry about people not replying to your questions. I can’t think of any films that go into particulars of how rigging works but there are certainly youtube videos.




 Niagara USS Constitution 


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Historic Ship Models by Wolfram zu Mondfeld Has a lot of information about the purpose of most lines.  The information spans several centuries

and many types of rigs. Here is the index, which gives an overview of topics covered.




Luck is just another word for good preparation.


Current builds:    Rattlesnake (Scratch From MS Plans 

On Hold:  HMS Resolution ( AKA Ferrett )

In the Gallery: Yacht Mary,  Gretel, French Cannon

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