Feb. 2nd, 2012

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From now on, I want to see you on the dogwatches skylarking on deck, not skulking about in the cable tiers like a lot of damned Frenchmen.
-H. Hornblower

So.  A ship is not a house.  Here are the very, very basics.

The outer portion of a ship’s frame, all around, is the hull.

Any barrier which separates space vertically (therefore being itself horizontal) is called a deck.

Any barrier which separates space horizontally (therefore being itself vertical) is called a bulkhead.

Any hole in the hull of the ship for any purpose is called a port.

The terms floor, ceiling, wall, and window are not used (unless we’re talking about the stern windows that have actual glass in them).  Your character does not stand on the floor, lean against the wall, and look out the window.  They stand on the deck, lean against the bulkhead, and look out a port (and generally speaking, ports serve some purpose, such as gun ports—you don’t just have ports for the heck of it).  If you want to have your character hitting his or her head on the low “ceiling,” your character is actually hitting their head on the deck beams.

Now!  That said, these are terms your character, if they are not used to them, will take time to get used to, so have fun with dialogue.

What people usually think of as “the deck” is the spar deck, so called because this is the very top deck where the masts (aka spars) are.  It’s the one open to the sky.  If the first lieutenant cries, “ALL HANDS ON DECK!” he means for everyone to come up to the spar deck.  Really, any time you say “deck” by itself in such a context where it seems like you should be referring to a specific deck, it is assumed you are referring to the spar deck.  Britannia has all her gun ports on the spar deck, lacking a separate gun deck.  On many small vessels, the spar deck is a flush deck, meaning it is flat from stem to stern (front to back).  Britannia does not have a flush deck, so let’s go over the different sections of a fairly typical setup for a ship-of-war’s spar deck.

Around the spar deck is the bulwark, the sort of “wall” around the “edge” of the deck.  There’s a rail atop it, so it is perfectly acceptable for your character to “lean against the rail.”  Entry onto the ship can be done through the entry port, a small gap in the bulwark.

Forward (in the front, pronounced “for’ard”), we have the forecastle (“fo’c’sle,” pronounced in two syllables like “foke-sull”).  It is a deck built over the fore section of the spar deck.  Beneath it, there are often movable wooden barriers to divide space.  Sometimes the sickbay is located beneath the forecastle.  Sometimes the galley (kitchen).  It depends on the ship.  Sometimes, though, one might use the entire space of the spar deck just for guns.  In Britannia’s case, the space is used, theoretically, for guns.

Just aft of (behind) the forecastle is the waist.  This is where you’ll find the mainmast.  There’s no deck built above it.  It’s a dip in the ship’s silhouette right across the middle.

Aft of the mainmast is the quarterdeck, taking up about a quarter of a ship, another deck built above the spar deck like the forecastle.  This is where the real heart and soul of a ship is, so of all the terms we’ve mentioned, this is one of the ones you should be most intimately familiar with.  Here, you’ll find the captain and his officers during times of action or interest, as well as the helm (a wheel used to steer the ship).  The captain gives his orders from the quarterdeck.  Nowadays the exposed quarterdeck has been replaced by the enclosed bridge, just so you have a parallel.

(The famous poop deck is usually located aft, if a ship has a poop cabin on the quarterdeck.  The captain’s cabin is often in the poop cabin if a ship has one, and the deck on top of the poop cabin is the poop deck, or just the poopBritannia does not have a poop cabin, but it would be funny if it did.)

To get to the captain’s cabin or ward room, one walks down a companionway, or just a companion.  There’s a separate companionway forward that leads to the ward room (where the lieutenants, sailing master, purser, and similarly lofty sorts mess [eat together], sleep, use the head [toilet], and wash) and another from the quarterdeck that leads to the captain’s cabin.  For access to the lower decks, there is the main hatchway in the waist (a big ol’ hatch before the mainmast) with ladders down each side.

As Britannia lacks a gun deck, the berth deck is the deck below the spar deck.  Its purpose is self-explanatory.  This is where domestic stuff takes place.  It is the location of all sleeping quarters.  There is one large cabin for everyone below the rank of midshipman to sling a hammock and mess in.  On a typical ship, the only private heads are in the ward room and the captain’s cabin, but since this ship is coed, there are separate heads in the forecastle for separate sexes.  Aft of this cabin is the galley.  Forward is the midshipmens’ berth (which is sort of partitioned off but not its own cabin) and the sickbay.  Furthest aft is the captain’s cabin and furthest forward is the ward room, but these are not accessible except by the companionways on the spar deck.

Not all ships have berth decks.  Take H.M.S. Victory as an example.  She has three gun decks but no berth deck.  Instead, planks were set up between the guns as tables when it came time to eat, and hammocks were strung up between the guns when it came time to sleep.  Victory then has a spar deck, three gun decks, the orlop (which houses the sickbay, the carpenter, and quite a few other things that are not on Britannia’s orlop), and the hold.  No two ships are the same.

The next deck down is the orlop deck, or just the orlop.  This is where we find the powder magazine and other storage cabins, as well as the hatchway into the hold.  The orlop is partway under the waterline (would be fully under if the ship had all her guns), and the hold is fully so.  The hold is where we find the shot locker and the cable tier, where the shot (cannon balls) and cables (effing thick ropes, usually about sixteen inches in diameter, used for the anchor and such) are kept.

Let’s go over the hull real quick, because we can.  The bow (front of the hull) is pointed.  The stern (the back of the ship) is flat.  The seam that runs from stem to stern, going under the waterline and everything, is called the keel.  The curved timbers making up most of the ship are called, marvelously, futtocks.  Let there be laughter.   The rudder is located aft, of course, and this is how the ship is steered, redirecting the flow of water.

Next Time: Direction.


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Tori Angeli
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