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French Frigate Things


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Found some very interesting things in the collection of documents my friend got access to at Service historique de la Défense. Thought I might share my impressions. Now these are strictly my impressions and interpretations. Some of my conclusions are unsupported by anything other than opinion. Any errors are mine alone.


France, seemingly, had rather large resources of ship construction woods. She also had access to materials from a great deal of the rest continent (at least after 1806). Having access to materials was one thing, but cutting it out, getting it to the shipyards, seasoning it, and slicing it up for use, was another.


St Malo built several major vessels for the French Navy, and certainly can’t be considered tyros, but when St Malo got the contract for Eurydice (the first Pallas class it would build), it was accompanied by a note instructing the yard to ensure the ways were ‘aligned’ properly. The terminology is a bit obscure, but I read it as ‘polar alignment’, meaning North/South.


Aligning the shipway North/South means the sun strikes both sides equally and affects the port and starboard timbers the same, so they will shrink the same, over time, and the right and left halves will be relative duplicates. Shrinking one side with respect to the other makes for a hull that is considered ‘cranky’; one that performs different on one board from the other.


So, this leads me to believe that a lot of the timbers used during the Empire period were pretty green. Well dried, salted, seasoned, timbers would not be so susceptible to simple weathering. Radiational heating, affecting timbers, suggests out-gassing and internal volumetric expansion/contraction; things that suggest green timber.


Would love to hear from someone who knows more about this aspect of French shipbuilding.


Ciao. John



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That is fastinating. The famous US Frigate John Adams (Charlseton, SC, 1799) was called 'the two sided frigate' because she sailed significantly better on one tack than on the other. Naval Constructor Josiah Fox noted in Washington during a 1808 rebuild/razeeing, that she was several inches wider on one side. Fox believed her live oak hull was well worth retaining in service. One historian speculated that each side must have been built by different contractors, which is of course bunk. Your information was propably the true reason. Her building slip was possibly orientated east/west.

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