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Martingale, Dolphin stricker USS United States (44)

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   OK so I'm building the USS United States (44) frigate. The problem I have encountered is the martingale AKA dolphin striker. The convention is that the USS Constitution had a split fixture but the USS United States had a more conventional single shaft martingale. My research is inconclusive. I've consulted Chappell, The American Sailing Navy, Anatomy of a Ship, the USS Consitution among several other resources. I've tried to examine period illustrations for a hint but, again, inconclusive results. Other warships of the period had the double martingale, it is clear that the USS Essex had this feature, so it was not unique to the USS Constitution. So the question is did the USS United States have a split or single martingale boom, especially during the War of 1812?

    I feel I can safely do either on the premiss that different ship commanders or bosuns would have rigged the device as they saw fit and the martingale may have been exhibited differently at different times. What I'm trying to achieve is a significant differentiation between the USS Constitution and the USS United States- I've already embaked upon the 'roundhouse' structure known to have been exhibited on this vessel. Sidebar: there is no existing description of this feature but no guns were ever mounted there so it must have been a lightly built structure. As a consequence I'm going with a very simple open deck with a rectangular skylight and a map chest along the taffrail.

  I'd really appreciate any input on this topic. Thanks in advance.

Edited by historyguysteve
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historyguysteve, I'm certainly no expert on this subject. Do you have a build log with some pictures though? We'd love to see what you're putting together.





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Given the United States was built by Humphreys, and the his insistence (generally futile) that the frigates adhere to his design, I suspect the frigate when commissioned to be very close to his plans. The martingale/dolphin striker question may be clearer if you examine other period ships he built.


The compromise was made to allow each builder and the Captain superintending construction (who was to be the first Captain) to determine the masting and sparring of the frigate. There was quite the debate prior to that decision among builders and captains.


One other historical path to pursue is to look at other ships commanded by Barry prior to the US.


I have somewhere an 1860's engraving from the Naval Heritage Center - let me see what that has!

Edited by trippwj


Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.

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Tyrone Martin in his "A Most Fortunate Ship" states that during her 1811 refit the Trysail mast and "... What many today consider her 'trademark' - the 'split' dolphin striker - was installed." (Pg 141)


Olaf Eriksen in his terrific "Constitution - All Sails Up and Flying" (pg 214) itemizes the unique features of the Constitution:


"...let me reiterate some distinctive characteristics that will show and prove conclusively that Constitution was not rigged like an ordinary frigate, and in fact made part of her rigging unique.


First, Captain Hull added the double dolphin striker and the trysail mast.

Second, Commander Bainbridge changed the configuration of the bow.

Third, though the fore fiferail is typical of her type, the U-shaped pinrail and monkey rail aft of the main mast, and the spider rail on the mizzen mast are all unusual, and the Constitution is the ONLY ship having these type of belaying rails.


...The above innovations set Constitution apart from all other ships from this era, and every one of these is an indisputable historical fact."


I'm not familiar with the ships of the period to address how unique a split dolphin striker would be... I have not seen any references suggesting that Essex had this, but I could not gainsay either way.  I do know that Chuck included a double dolphin striker on his excellent Syren kit, so he may have authoritative references that suggest this was common enough by the War of 1812.  It does seem, however, that both Tyrone Martin and Olaf Eriksen (who, admittedly, used Martin as his central source) are convinced that the Constitution's arrangement was unique to her.


It may be that you've already settled your own conundrum - to make the United States different, you should mount a single dolphin striker regardless of the "impossible to confirm" reality.


Just curious - are you working with the Revell United States kit, or are you modifying the Constitution kit (my path if I were to attempt a United States)?


Anxious to see you post some progress!



Evan Gale

Edited by Force9
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As promised, here are 2 period engravings showing the United States with the single dolphin striker.




The next is from a watercolor by Gunner William H. Myers, of USS Cyane, showing the Squadron's ships sailing in line abreast, 1842-43.
Ships are (from left to right): USS United States, USS Cyane, USS Saint Louis, USS Yorktown and USS Shark.

Copied from Journal of a Cruise on the USS Cyane, 1842-1843, by William H. Myers.




Both pictures were found at the US Navy History and Heritage Command website at http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-u/u-states.htm


The image below is from the Chesapeake Mill website at http://www.chesapeakemill.co.uk/history.html




Hope these help!


Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.

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Greetings! I too am a history buff, and my name is also Steve!


The USF United States did have a formal roundhouse with doubled lights and galleries when launched in 1798, but lost all outboard traces of them after her pre-War-of-1812 rebuild, or possibly sooner. A have a set of deck plans circa 1820, drawn by Charles Ware, the Sail Maker of the Boston Navy Yard, which shows quarter-round closets on the open spar deck where the entrance to the upper privies would have been. But that was all that remained. I guess the officers of the watch refused to give up their traditional luxuries. But it must have been cramped.


There is a contemporary woodcut, circa 1813, of the United States and her prize HMS Macedonian returning home, that shows her with seven real windows across her stern, with partial upper half windows in the back of her quarter galleries at the gun-deck level. Frigates normally did not have windows on the back of the quarter galleries, only fake ones. Those eighth and ninth partial windows may also be a remnant of the more complicated doubled gallery structure. (For reasons that I won't go into now, i have high confidence in the accuracy of that engraving.)


The approaching USS Wasp (II) was identified by the British officers of HMS Reindeer in 1814 as an American by her white stripe, the "whiteness" of her sails", and her double dolphin striker, according to testimony at their court martial.


Then Naval Constructor Josiah Fox drew a picture of the dolphin striker of his Wasp (I) in 1806, along with all her other spars, and I believe she was of the doubled variety. I'll have to check.


The British officers of HM Frigate Macedonian testified that the reason that they stayed out of Carronade range of the USS United States during the initial stage of the battle was because Captain Cardin thought his foe was the almost entirely Carronade-armed USS Essex. So if the Essex had a characteristic set of doubles, then maybe the United States had them too.

Edited by uss frolick
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I have those same pictures Wayne......I posted them in my log of the United States

I yam wot I yam!

finished builds:
Billings Nordkap 476 / Billings Cux 87 / Billings Mary Ann / Billings AmericA - reissue
Billings Regina - bashed into the Susan A / Andrea Gail 1:20 - semi scratch w/ Billing instructions
M&M Fun Ship - semi scratch build / Gundalow - scratch build / Jeanne D'Arc - Heller
Phylly C & Denny-Zen - the Lobsie twins - bashed & semi scratch dual build

Billing T78 Norden


in dry dock:
Billing's Gothenborg 1:100 / Billing's Boulogne Etaples 1:20
Billing's Half Moon 1:40 - some scratch required
Revell U.S.S. United States 1:96 - plastic/ wood modified / Academy Titanic 1:400
Trawler Syborn - semi scratch / Holiday Harbor dual build - semi scratch

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Thought I had one more painting of the United States.  This one, painted by Thomas Buttersworth, Jr c. 1813, shows the United States and HMS Macedonian battle. Note the single dolphin striker on the United States (right side of painting).   It is on display at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, ME.






Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.

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The Constitution museum publishes a blog at http://usscm.blogspot.com/


One of the more recent posts (January 2014) discusses the "facilities" available aboard the Connie.  The following is extracted from their blog post:


Frigates typically carried two “round houses” forward on the gundeck.  These structures, consisting of wooden half cylindrical screens erected against the ship’s side provided a sheltered place to do one’s business.




A detail from a ca. 1817-1820 plan of USS United States' decks by Charles Ware.  The red arrow points to the starboard round house.


Before Constitution’s battle with HMS Levant and HMS Cyane, the ship’s crew removed the round houses to “afford room to work the forward deck guns in action.”  According to Chaplain Assheton Humphreys the removal of the “spice boxes”, as the crew called them, forced the officers “to make the chains [the narrow platforms on the side of the ship to which the shrouds were attached] the scene of their profane rites,” or stealthily slip into the quarter galleries.


Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.

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The Guerriere had a pair of these structures fixed just forward of the number-one main deck gun. In order that they could use the bridle port as a chase port without having to tear the closet down every time they cleared for action, the dockyard fitted an extra pair of long French 18-pounders (21-pounders English) to be permanently fixed in the bridle ports. This is how the Guerriere mounted thirty long 18's on her main deck. But there must have been a lot of room between the two ports, since in most French or English frigates, there would not have been enough room to work the guns, without collisions, let alone room for the fixed closets between them.


Oh, I wish someone would find the Guerriere draughts!!!

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Apparently the crew referred to these as "Spice Boxes" (presumably because they resembled a common household item) and they were commonly included on the larger frigates for the convenience and privacy of the ships officers. It is tough to determine how permanent these were... You'd think they were flimsy screens that were easily removed when clearing for action.  It seems that they might've been more solid fixtures... Captain Stewart ordered them removed prior to the battle with Cyane and Levant to give better clearance for the forward gun crews.  They were not reassembled after the battle - probably because they were removed with an axe. On the cruise home the British officers began to grumble and get very surly about the lack of private facilities for the gentleman.  (Apparently the were used to having these on Guerriere) They felt that it was very undignified to have to relieve themselves using the leeward channels like common sailors.  One of the American Lieutenants finally got fed up and remarked loudly to one of them something to the effect that the prisoners were well positioned to attest that American officers cared more about their gunnery than about their round houses... Presumably that ended the trouble.


Here is my representation:






A fun detail that will get buried once my spar deck is in place.



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