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fife rail rigging

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Hey guys- I am building a model of an 18th century privateer topsail-schooner. The instructions for this specific kit were terrible and a lot of scratch building and extra research was necessary. I am about to install the masts and was wondering about the mast foot or the "fife-rail" and how the lines attached to it are fastened to the mast and spars above, and to what purpose. Many pictures of mast rigging are pretty tangled and difficult to discern where certain things are tied on. 


To be more specific, the lines in this image.


mast fife rail.jpg

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We would need to know more about the source of the image..


Good rigging plans would include the lines from the yards and where they are belayed ..


If the kit doesn't include a good rigging plan, there are a lot of resources for standard rigging..

Luck is just another word for good preparation.


Current builds:    Rattlesnake (Scratch From MS Plans 

On Hold:  HMS Resolution ( AKA Ferrett )

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There's an old saying, "Different ships, different long splices." It means that rigging varied from ship to ship, depending upon the captain's or mate's preferences. There are many model plans sets and books that contain "belaying pin diagrams" showing where each line was belayed, but, truth be told, those were put together by a modeler who did the research, but may or may not have been exactly the way it was done in real life. When you want to know which line to cast off, you look at what you want the line to do and follow it down from there to see which pin it's belayed to. You might remember a particular line if you used it a lot, but I don't think anybody ever intentionally memorized the pin location of every line on a square-rigged ship. The names of the lines, yes, but not the pin locations. There are certain rules of thumb, depending upon the rig and time period, but if you can't find a similarly rigged model plan that shows the belaying schedule, you'll have to fake it. I expect there's a book somewhere that contains a better description of the principles than mine, but, generally 1) The line runs from the block aloft to the nearest pin, so long as it doesn't foul any other line, shroud, sail, or yard. 2) Where there are the same lines doing the same job port and starboard, they run to the same pin on their respective side, so long as they don't foul any other line, shroud, sail, or yard. 3) Halyards and lifts generally run straight down to the closest pin around the base of their respective masts, again, so long as they don't foul any other line, etc.  4.) Sheets and braces generally run to the closest pin on the pin rails on the rails, so long as they don't foul... anything, etc. 5.) Topmast halyards, etc. could be run to the pin rails as well, sometimes led throuigh bullseyes on the shrouds. Just try to keep it orderly and keep the run of the lines clear so they don't foul and chafe on anything. It's all pretty logical and organized. If you imagine yourself a sailor using each line for its intended purpose and ask yourself, "Where should I tie off this line, you won't go too far wrong, I expect.


I hope I'm not hurting anybody's feelings here, but I wouldn't give the way those lines are belayed and the falls hung on the pins particularly high marks. Line is flexible and not stiff. It hangs gracefully and not is stiff coils sticking out like is seen in the picture. The coiled fall isn't hung over the pin, either. The fall is belayed and the remaining fall from the pin is coiled. The hand reaches through the center of the coiled fall and grabs the free end of the fall where it comes off the pin, pulls it through the center of the coil while giving it a twist or two, and brings it up over the top of the coil and hangs that one doubled, twisted loop over the pin. Then the coil hangs down from that. In that fashion, one only need pull the loop off the toop of the pin and let the coil fall and the line is ready to cast off the pin and run free. 

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Bob, I think I have to disagree with you a little.  It was important for seamen to know exactly where each line was on their ship - in an urgent situation on a pitch dark night it was no good trying to leisurely try and follow a line down to the deck or to wonder just where a line might be.  It was vitally necessary (for the safety of the ship and your fellow crew members) to know instantly and without thinking that THAT line was secured THERE and to be able to throw it of its pin the moment the order was given.


Consider a ship leaving port.  A brand new crew has just signed on and as the ship clears the port and prepares to cast off the tug the 'Old Man' says to the Mate, "Make sail, mister".  He immediately starts issuing a string of orders to get sail on the ship and he expects his orders to be obeyed NOW (or possibly even a couple of minutes before he issues them).  No time to try and work out what goes where or which line is secured to what pin - just do it - NOW.


In view of the above, sailing ships had a pretty standard rigging system.  There might have been very minor innovations or changes, but the belaying plan had to be largely standardised from ship to ship to allow for the immediate efficient working of the rig by any new crew member - especially considering that a sailing ship had no other motive power than it sails and was crewed by the absolute minimum number of men to operate the rig. 


There are several good books available that provide details of the rig of ships from about the seventeenth century onwards; so it's worth getting hold of a copy of a good book that covers the period of the model and to study it closely.



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For topsail schooners (Baltimore clippers) a good reference is Rigging Period Fore-And-Aft Craft by Lennarth Petersson, Naval Institute Press, 2007. It has very clear diagrams of rigging, showing where each line goes on pinrails. The drawings are based upon a model of a topsail schooner from the early 1800, but the rigging was probably the same in the late 1700s. However, not every topsail schooner carried all of the rigging shown in the book!


Most books on rigging just say lines attach to fife rails or pin rails, but give no specific position. Harold Underhill's Masting and Rigging the Clipper Ship & Ocean Carrier (Brown, Son and Ferguson, Ltd., Glasgow, 1972) gives very a detailed description of the lines and their positions on fife rails and pinrails for late 19th century clipper ships.


Like Bob said, the actual positions probably depended upon the specific ship, bosun or captain. There were very many different variations on rigging, so possibly no two ships would be exactly alike. Some schooners didn't have fife rails or pin rails, but the lines fastened to ring bolts on deck and to cleats on the bulwarks. And fife rails and pin rails differed a great deal from ship to ship. On some ships some lines even attached to cleats on the shrouds instead of to pin rails. With all the variations there couldn't be one "standard" way to rig all ships.


Basically, it seems that the lines from lower on the masts and spars go to the more forward position on the pin rails/fife rails/cleats/ring bolts, and lines from higher up are more aft. Inboard lines ran to inboard fastenings, and outboard lines to fastening points farther outboard. Of course the lines lead to the same side of the ship as their attachments on the spars and masts to avoid crossing lines. This is the same rule as for shrouds and stays. Lower forward, higher aft. Probably the only rule was that lines should not foul other lines.

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