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Is running rigging smaller in diameter than standing?

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I am working on some models that are mostly in Italian, and I don't speak Italian. One in particular doesn't specify which size of the provided rope to use for which parts of the rigging. So is there a rule of thumb with this? Comparing to another model the standing rigging is larger in diameter than the running.



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Hi Matt,


as a very crude rule of thunb: yes.

in practice: depends.


I don’t know what model you are working on, but take a 17 century dutch ship: the diameters of all ropes are related to the size of the ship in a rathe complexsystem: the standing rigging relates to the size of the mast: the standing rigging of the mizzen is much thinner than on the main. Also: the standing rigging of the topmast is thinner than the lower mast.

The same holds to the running rigging: the larger the sail the thicker the ropes.

So: on each part of the mast the standing is thicker than the running, but the running rigging on the lower masts is way thicker than the standing rigging on the topmasts.

Besides: the thickness of the running rigging varies: the lifts are relatively thin, the sheets almost as heavy as the standing rigging.

following the formal rules, my Prins Willem shoukd have around 20 different ropesizes. Using around 8 sizes did result in a visually acceptable result.



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Generally, the standing rigging had to take larger loads than the running rigging, so it was larger diameter. It was also usually tarred to treated to withstand rot.


The running rigging was smaller diameter, but the multiple strands running through the blocks gave the overall assembly much more strength than the single rope it was made from. Running rigging was not tarred and usually natural hemp color.


The exception was the anchor cable. It was sometimes the largest diameter rope, and not tarred. But it isn't normally considered "running rigging."


The actual rigging on ships was determined by formula or a table of rigging sizes based upon the size and sail rig of the ship. Generally each line of standing rigging is given relative to the diameter of the stays (often the main stay), and they are based upon the diameters of the masts. If you are really into the nitty gritty details there are several books that give guidance on rope diameters:


Historic Ship Models, Wolfram zu Mondfeld, Sterling Publishing, New York, 1989. General modeling information and rope size tables.

The Art of Rigging, George Biddlecombe, Echo Point Books & Media, 1825. Reprint of an 1848 guide to rigging sailing vessels in the US.

The Masting and Rigging of English Ships of War, James Lee, Naval Institute Press, 1979. Very detailed rigging sizes for English ships.

Masting and Rigging the Clipper Ship & Ocean Carrier, Harold A. Underhill, Brown, Son and Ferguson, Ltd., Glasgow, 1946. Excellent for clipper ships.


Many model rigging books don't mention rope diameters.


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Posted (edited)

Thank you both for the information. Jan, what you said about the ropes being smaller as they work their way upwards makes sense. As the mast gets taller it gets smaller and thus the rigging doesn't need to be as large as the lower mast rigging.


In this case the model in question is the Amati Greek Bireme. I recently bought 3 Amati models, the Viking Drakkar, and the Greek Galley. I am almost ready to start the deck furniture and mast for the Viking Drakkar. After planking I ran out of the provided nails so started looking for more and went back to agesofsail.com. They have some, but their shipping is quite expensive $8 for a $2 item. So, I thought I'd look through the other 2 kits in greater detail and see what other items I might want to order. I decided to order more rope because you can never have enough and I don't like having to be stingy with what I use to ensure it lasts through the entire build. That's when I found the lack of instuctions for the Bireme, hence the question. The instructions are very minimal only a few one line items and no specification on which of the 2 thread sizes to use on the various rigging. It's only a single mast, single square sail. Not too complicated as far as masts, sails, and rigging goes. 


I do have the bottom 3 of those listed books, the bottom two I have the physical books the other I have digital. I really need to take time to go through some of my books and learn what's in them to better find information. Thanks again to you both.

Edited by Matt H
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Posted (edited)

Ah well, three ships that are certainly not covered by the books you mention.....


I don't know anything on greek ships, I know that in Denmark there is a rather large literature on those drakar-like ships. 

Google on 'skuldelev' and you will find loads of pictures of the reconstructed vikingships.

Pics give a rather nice view of the rigging and detailing of the ships.


Edited by amateur
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The ships in question are only known through archaelogical finds and some graphical (vase paintings, stone reliefs, etc.) representations. This means that soft vegetal matter, such as ropes and sails normally have not survived. We have some fragments of Viking-age ropes, but their use and location typically is not known. This means that all our knowledge about the rigging of such ships is interference from moden practices and modern knowledge about material properties.


The best approach to estimate what rope sizes would be needed for the models would be to study the replicas built of them. These replicas where built as what the science calls 'experimental archaeology', which means that the scientists used the material evidence to reconstruct these ships plus guess work for the missing parts and then tried them out in practice in order to understand, whether the parts, including the rigging, perform as one would expect. There are usually scientific reports on these replicas available, many of them online.


I am not very well informed on the Greek ships, but the first stop I would go to for information on Viking-age ships is the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum (https://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/). Their Web-site should lead you to more information. You then can also search the Web for the names given to the discovered wrecks and their replicas, which should turn up a wealth of information.


As a rule of thumb, you would also expect the ancient ropes to be thicker than their modern counterpart would be due to potentially lower quality of the material (not always !) and a larger safety margin to account for potentially larger variability in quality.


Another aspect to consider is that for all of those three ships the rigging is a much more temporary arrangement, as it would be for most modern sailing ships. The Greek ships were mainly rowed actucally. The rigging arrangement allowed a quick and easy striking of the mast, with stays, shrouds and backstays set up in a 'running' fashion. Hence distinguishing runnning and standing rigging is not so straightforward.

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