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CLINKER-built vs COPPER planting

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Good afternoon, colleagues!
I have an interesting question. ;)


Could a clinker-built cutter-brig of the late 18th century be sheathed with copper?

There is one older model of a 96-foot-long cutter-brig in the marine museum of St. Petersburg with a clinker.

Below the waterline is a dark brown color.

Does it imitate copper plating or a protective paint?



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Not sure, what 'white stuff' and 'black stuff' actually refers to.


However, the bottom of wooden ships had to be protected from various environmental effects and threats. These effects and threats depend on the type of environment the ships is operating in. Wood is degrading when exposed to (salt) water and various kinds of aquatic plants and animals like to attach themselves to ships (fouling) - their movement provides a steady oxygen and nutrient supply. It was discovered long ago that (wood) tar does preserve the wood and also has some antifouling properties. However, the tar does not deter terredo navalis, the mollusc that loves to dig its way into wooden structures. Terredo navalis up to the late 20th century did not occur north of Channel and, hence, protection with tar was sufficient for ships operating in the Baltic and the North Sea. Most small ships and boats in these waters would have been seen with black bottoms.


In waters south of the Channel some more serious protection was needed and various concoctions were brewed together at various times. A major ingredient in many of these was lime or chalk, which has anti-fouling properties due to its high pH-values (around 10). Such high pH values are not normally tolerated by plants and animals, so they stay away from it. Due to the chalk or lime contents, the bottoms would have had a sort of white appearance.


I am not aware of 'paints' being used on ships bottoms before the arrival of iron ships around the middle of the 19th century. It would seem conceivable, however, that a lime-based anti-fouling concoction be coloured by adding iron-oxide with a view to make it look like coppering, which attains under water a reddish dull-brownish colour. This could explain the colour of the model above.


Another explanation is that the paint was added during a misguided 'restoration' effort at a time, when ships' bottoms typically were some sort of iron-oxide red, which in itself originally probably mimicked the colour of coppering.



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I can’t imagine anyone would do all the intense labor to form every individual copper sheet so as to fit the topography of the klinker hull. I doubt you could put a flat piece of copper over the planks and then hammer the copper over its entire surface, hammering it into shape to fit perfectly. I Imagine if you attempted this on a real hull  your results would be very inconsistent and maybe you wind up damaging the hull too? 

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1 hour ago, greenstone said:


Colleagues, what can you say about this particular question?

When I look at the finish of the model under the waterline (nicely made planks with nails or treenails). Then it is paint, but that is my opinion.

The only person who could give a correct answer to the question is the builder of the model.


(the real ship could of course have had copper plating)

Edited by Backer
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There is a series of articles in past issues of the Nautical Research Journal by Canadian Model Builder Roger Cole describing the construction of a lapstrake built RN Cutter.  If my memory is correct, and at the moment I don’t have access to my Journals, there is discussion of coppering a lapstrake hull.



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Wefalck is correct.


Additionally, lapstrake planked small craft were intended to be hauled out a lot of the time. The drying out kept fouling to a minimum and made cleaning the bottoms easy. There was not much need for concern about marine borers. Additionally, the additional weight of the copper would have been a negative with such a vessel.

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As a matter of fact, clinkering, being the traditional Germanic way of construction, has been much more and longer prevalent than many people are aware of. Today we think of Viking ships and then modern rowing boats. However, the Dutch built major ships with clinkered bottoms well into the 17th century and many smaller vessels were partially clinkered well into the 19th century. Therefore, the original question is not quite out of place.

Perhaps one should turn the question around and ask, whether any vessel meant to venture into waters infested with borers would have been built clinker, or not rather carvel for easy application of the copper sheathing. As noted above, applying copper sheathing to a clinker hull would be extremely labour-intensive and would require very careful work to ensure a good closure of the seams. Even applying the underlying felt-layer would be labour-intensive to install. So, this would just not be an economic proposition.

By the time coppering was in common use, the technology of carvel-building was well-established all around Northern Europe. So there would have been no reason to built a vessel destined to sail in warmer water in clinker-fashion.

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For my part should be explained.
The photo shows a model from the Central Naval Museum in St. Petersburg.
Model cutter  with a brig sailing. The figure is the god Mercury.
1/24 scale
Model made in the 19th century


According to the museum, this is the model of the cutter-brig "Mercury", which was bought in England in 1788, and which in 1789 captured the Swedish frigate "Venus".

I found in the archives information that after the purchase in England, this cutter was immediately sheathed with copper on the Thames River in private shipyards, why its arrival in the Baltic Sea was delayed a few months from the plan
That is why I have a question.
On the one hand there is a museum model with clinker, and on the other it is known for certain that there was a copper plating.
And where is the truth?


My personal opinion is that - probably, the creator of the model was wrong when he made clinker.
Sailing equipment on the model is shown as of the 19th century, not at the time of purchase of the cutter in 1788


P.S. Long stored in a warehouse in the basement. The condition is very deplorable.

Now the model is under reconstruction in the museum.


Edited by greenstone
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I add some additional speculation:

Terredo in larval infectious stage is microscopic and could migrate to a hull by swimming in where the copper plates overlap.

Once in a piece of wood, the worm does not leave that piece.  Hulls were protected by a layer of Fur or similar species - caulked-

between the hull planking and the copper to attract the worm larvae into something that does not affect hull integrity.   The Fur may have also been laid on a gooey layer of toxic stuff to further repel the worm. It would have been a bitch to Z bend copper plates as well as labor expensive.  If it were me, I would cut the Fur layer in a way that would provide a smooth surface to hold the copper for a clinker hull - if I was compelled to do it.

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Terredo navalis is not a worm, but a mollusc, a mussel-species, btw. The material under the coppering was felt, soaked in (wood) tar.


There have been (partially) clinker-built naval cutters in Great Britain. Unless one knows more about the provenance of the model in the museum, it will be impossible to say, whether it is a correct representation of the vessel in question. If the model was built in the 19th century, then it would have been built after it was captured by the Swedish. Why would one do that and on what basis ? Is there anything on her in the Swedish archives ? One would need to research more on the actual vessel in order to find out, whether it could have been clinker-built.

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On this 22-gun cutter-brig Mercury сaptain Robert Crown, a Scotsman in the Russian service, attacked the Swedish 44-gun frigate Venus in 1789 and was able to capture a superior enemy. Then Robert Crown commanded his prize - this frigate Venus.


Therefore, in the Russian archives there are drawings of this frigate Venus, which served in the Russian fleet.
So, I do not think that in the Swedish archive can be drawings of the cutter-brig Mercury.


Although, who knows ..
Although the cutter was bought in England, it could have been built in another country. I guess it was built in Denmark.

I have not seen a similar drawing in the English archives.

But something similar I could see in the Danish archive



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Marquardt specifies a layer of Fur for HMS Beagle.  I had seen it before in the plans of another vessel , maybe a whaler.

So at least some ships had that.  It sure would provide a practical way to copper a clinker hull.  But I would find it remarkable if a modeler would go to the additional work of doing clinker planking and then masking it with a smooth copper hull surface.



As an aside,  I just finished  In the Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown  by Nathaniel Philbrick

The author makes a point about the English ships being faster because they were now coppered, and the French trying to catch up to the new tech.  It gives me an historical point for when a coppered hull became prevalent.

Edited by Jaager
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Usually smaller coastal vessels such as cutters were clinker-built. It's unlikely that a 22-gun brig was clinker built. Also, the St Petersburg model's headwork looks very un-British in style. The Mercury figure was also used on British ships such as Fly, Speedwell and others, not just ships named Mercury!

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On 11/22/2018 at 6:43 PM, Roger Pellett said:

There is a series of articles in past issues of the Nautical Research Journal by Canadian Model Builder Roger Cole describing the construction of a lapstrake built RN Cutter.  If my memory is correct, and at the moment I don’t have access to my Journals, there is discussion of coppering a lapstrake hull.




Roger, hello

And where can I read this article?

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May I recommend either of the links below.  The first link is to purchase CD's and flash drives of the Nautical Research Journal going back all the way to the beginning.  The second link provides access to purchasing individual articles from the Journal for the last 10 years.  Prior to that the Journal was not digitized, making purchase of individual articles difficult to provide.  Roger Coles' articles predate this.





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