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Cleared for action, How did they do it?

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So I have been pitched a question and I can't think of anyplace to ask other than here in hopes that someone may have some good information.

 

The other day I was doing some research at work (it was a rare slow day) and a co-worker saw the age of sail ships on my screen and asked me a question that took me by surprise.

 

He asked me about the state of the sails when a warship went into action. Now I've read a lot of fiction but I could not answer that question. 

 

So in hopes perhaps someone here will know:

 

When an 18th century warship went into battle were there any special orders made in regards to the sails and rigging? I am sure that wind and position relative to the enemy would have an effect on orders but was there anything that would have been ordered each time?

 

I'm sure I could find some books on it but as I was asked the question I was hoping to get a faster response here. 

 

Thanks!

 

PS: I apologize if this is the wrong place or an improper post, I'm still pretty new here.

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Chris,

 

Good question and this is as good a place as any....I'll give this a shot and expect to be corrected.   

 

 From what I've read, there wasn't anything in the way of standing orders on the sails.  Generally, the main sails would be reefed up and out of the way such that they could be fully deployed in a hurry if need be.  The reefing would be so that visibility wasn't impaired, the deck guns wouldn't catch them on fire, etc.  If a mast or main yard was lost, the deck wouldn't be covered in an acre (not really but it might seem that way) of sailcloth.  On many warships (most?) there were marines sent to the tops and a full sail billowing below them would impair their aim if the ships doing battle were close in.

 

Again, it depended on many factors... fleet action, single ship to ship, a chase, and the weather. 

 

That's my take.  I'm hoping that someone can correct me and/or fill in the details.

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From what I understand, and I may be wrong, Slings would be rigged on the lower yards to help prevent their falling if the halyards and jeers were shot away. Also, I believe most ships would furl the lower courses and only use topsails and top gallants.  There were several reasons for this:  improved sight lines and working the sheets and tacks would interfere with the cannons being some of the more important ones.

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Ok good deal. It would make sense that there would be something done about preventing damage from impeding the operation of the ship during combat. I had not thought about the visibility angle before. :D  Thanks for the replies!

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Thanks again for the responses! July 4th was my birthday and we went to Barnes and Noble to get me some books. Well I was looking for anything on age of sail or ships of that era ect... well I picked up a book US Navy 1812 detailing the US Navy's actions during the war of 1812, Well the cover art shows an American Frigate alongside a British Man of War. And as described here both ships are depicted with the main sails up and clear. I was pretty excited to see this. Great bit of detail. 

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 As Mark indicated, the mains would all be reefed or furled.  In addition to the slings Popeye mentioned, netting would be slung somewhere above the main deck but I think below the tops.  This would be to catch falling 'stuff'  such as blocks, pieces of mast, etc.

 

The rule about the mains being furled would also be dependent on wind (which is like weather, I guess).  The British had their mains set during the approach to Trafalgar.  They had about a knot and a half of wind.  I am not sure when, if ever, they reefed them.  See some Trafalgar paintings.  Many even had their stuns'ls (studding sails) set.  There was a story about one of the stuns'ls about the ROYAL SOVEREIGN being shot away and trailing in the water.  Admiral Collingwood remarked toone of the midshipman that he needed to bring that back aboard, 'We may have need of it in the future'.

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The gun crews would be busy getting thire guns ready to cast off and load. The carpenters who were the damage control of the time, would be busy taking down screens and stowing below along with other things in the way of working the guns, then they would be busy collecting plugs, mats and other damage control materials and their tools. The doctor would have his boys getting the surgery ready for causalities. there would be the wetting of decks, sanding them also and the magazine would be getting ready to pass powder. Beating to Quarters is just like General Quarters of today, get the ship ready to fight and defend it's self, all hands are involved and working fast at their assigned jobs. Mains being reefed and furled, not only for the increase of the view but as a way to reduce the danger of fire.

jud

Edited by jud

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I have read somewhere that the yards were supported by chains so that shooting away ropes wouldn't result in them ending up on deck.

 

Cheers,

 

David.

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There was a discussion about using chains aloft not to long ago, if a search won't find it someone here will probably tell you where to look. Netting was also put up over the spar deck to keep falling lines, blocks and other falling things from cluttering up the decks, also it provided some overhead protection for the seamen working guns and ship. I'd look the post for you but I need to get a Plat finished, printed and delivered to the Court House today..

jud

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In the movie Master and Commander they depicted clearing for action which, in my opinion, was quite accurate. Screens and bulkheads were struck, furniture moved, decks sanded, etc.

 

I found this about boarding nets: http://books.google.ca/books?id=5nrXLkfLBGcC&pg=PA202&lpg=PA202&dq=boarding+nets&source=bl&ots=HdKw7GfroY&sig=6lQQd9KvJI3G7555exXoUcV7AzA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Zu7PU93ePK768AGUsIFQ&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=boarding%20nets&f=false

 

And I found this artwork that shows gunboats with the netting rigged:

http://warof1812ct.org/?p=538

 

Regards,

Gabe

Edited by GabeK

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Interesting Painting showing the overhead netting rigged, I had thought that it had been rigged kind of like an awning. I knew that if they were rigged that way, they would not be much help if a moderately heavy part of the top hamper, swivel gun or a body fell on it no matter how taught it had been rigged. Rigged in an A frame manner from the lower yards with the ridge along C/L would guide much of the falling debris over the side. Makes sense, thanks for the post.

jud

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Warships are rigged in a manner that has the eventuality of battle damage in mind.  Shrouds and stays are often heavier, and even doubled, such as the fore and main stays, which are snaked as well.

 

As for what done to the rig when clearing for action, that isn't a hard and fast thing.  It depends on the wind and sea state, the situation at hand and what the commander intends.  Very often the courses would be brailed up, out of the way for visibility (the topmen) and to reduce the fire risk.  Spanker, jib, and tops'ls is the usual set-up referred to when you hear the term "battle sails."  T'gallants may be brailed up and ready to set if a bit of extra speed is called for, that is if the t'gallants are even aloft - in heavier weather the t'gallants and royals may not be up in the rig, and the t'gallant masts may even have been sent down.

 

At Trafalgar the British approached with stuns'l set, and reduced to plain sail as the French Spanish line was pierced.  The wind was so light more sail had to be left up just to have some steerage way.

 

More sail will mean any rigging damage could be accentuated because of the increased pressure of the additional sails - a risk the commander has to judge as he sails into action.

Edited by JerryTodd

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I was interested to find out more as well

I love that artwork! Lovely detail all around and much clearer than the one I saw. Thanks for sharing. This illustrates the Idea so well. 

 

This is the image and the book that it is attached to that I was looking at. 

 

1812 The NAVY'S War by George C. Daughan.

 

0802142005.jpg

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