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Tori Angeli ([personal profile] tori_angeli) wrote2012-01-29 08:53 pm
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Sailing Basics #2: The Wind in the Rigging

We’ll see if a spell in the rigging won’t teach you to tread more carefully.
-Lt. Eccleston

Not everything that floats is called a ship.  A ship is actually pretty specific, as specific as a brig or a schooner or a cutter or a sloop.  It’s not as broad a classification as most people think.  When you refer to a vessel as one of these, what you are really referring to is the rigging.

When you are referring to a vessel’s rigging, you are referring to pretty much everything above the spar deck.  This includes spars (masts), sails, lines (ropes), braces (more ropes), sheets (even more ropes), halyards (ropes you use to hoist certain sails), shrouds (the vertical ropes that help steady the masts), ratlines (the horizontal ropes across the shrouds you climb up), everything.  If you’re talking about, say, a sail’s rigging, you are referring to the various ropes around it and their various uses.

This is how a vessel is identified.  “Ship” is short for “ship-rigged.”  “Ship-rigged” means she is square-rigged (yards “square” with the deck, sails square) and has three or more masts.  This doesn’t mean she doesn’t carry some fore-and-aft sails (pretty much all ships do), but those are comparatively tiny and secondary to the square ones.  Schooners are typically fore-and-aft rigged (yards parallel to the deck instead of perpendicular, triangular sails), whereas brigs are square-rigged with two masts.  It’s best to do your own reading about the particular type of rigging you’ve chosen for your vessel.  These are examples.  It is most common for small vessels to have fore-and-aft rigging, whereas your very largest ones are ship-rigged.

Ship classifications can go further, based on size, purpose, and guns carried (if any).  Despite being rather small for it, Britannia is really a small frigate, being ship-rigged and capable of carrying twenty-two guns.  She’s too large to be a sloop-of-war or a post-ship, but she’s not designed to be a merchantman, either.  If we wanted, we could get into a ship’s rating and frigates vs. ships of the line (ships of the line being a replacement for galleons in the latter half of the 18th century, POTC people), but that’s somewhat off-topic.

Every single piece of rope used on a ship has a different name and purpose, but there are only two basic types.  There’s the standing rigging which is as permanent a fixture as the masts, first of all.  These are the ropes that run diagonally from various parts of the masts to secure places on the vessel for the purpose of supporting the mast.  Among these are the famous shrouds, which run from a platform just outside the hull to the top (the platform at the masthead).  More shrouds run from the top to the topmasthead.  These are supporting the sides of the masts, and further ropes secure the fronts and backs.  If you remove or cut too much of this standing rigging, the mast will fall over.  It is just too tall to support itself.

The other type is the running rigging.  These are all the ropes you pull to hoist, heave, etc.  Halyards on fore-and-aft sails like jibs and staysails are an example—you pull the thing really hard and the sail unfurls.  Sheets are another example, being used to control the sails, while braces control the yards.  Running rigging is part of the machinery of the ship.  You don’t really do anything with standing rigging besides leave it be, or splice it if it parts.

This website has some great charts showing standing and running rigging.

Masts, sails, and yards are all pretty easy.  There are only a handful of terms that can be put together in varying combinations to yield all the names you need.   These are the terms used when specifically referring to the position of one of these items.

                Front: Fore
                Middle: Main
                Back: Mizzen
                Bottom: Course (or nothing)
                Second from bottom: Top
                Third from bottom: Topgallant or t’gallant

There are some exceptions.  For example, the foretop-staysail (or stays’l) is the very front sail, but it’s not on the foremast (although it is attached to it by the standing rigging and named for it).  It has its own boom (the rod that runs underneath it like a frame) and is triangle-shaped.  The jib is above and slightly abaft (behind) it, and also has its own boom.  These booms are, appropriately, referred to as the staysail-boom and the jib-boom.  Aft (in the back) is the spanker, which has an odd trapezoidal shape.  Its boom is called the spanker-boom, one of the best nautical terms of all time.

Other than that, just combine those terms.  The results:
                Masts from front to back:

                Sails from front bottom to back top (assuming three sails per mast):
                                Mainsail or main course sail

Yards are all similar.  The “main course yard” or mainyard is the yard that holds the main course sail, or the mainsail.  That sort of thing.

Now, Britannia’s mizzenmast only carries one sail, so not all of those are relevant to us.  A larger ship might have royals, smaller sails above the t’gallants, or any number of other additional sails.  Britannia, however, is small, so she only carries a foretop-staysail, a jib, foresail, foretopsail, foretopgallant, maintop-staysail, maintopgallant-staysail, mainsail, main-topsail, main-topgallant, mizzen-sail, and spanker.  In most cases, the “a” and the “I” are left out of the pronunciation (and even the spelling) of “sail;” for example, you might refer to the “maintop-stays’l” or the “foretops’l.”

If a vessel has two masts, it has a foremast and a mainmast but no mizzenmast.  In a fore-and-aft-rigged vessel, the mainsail is the sail on the after side of the mainmast.

It gets better.  Each mast is made up of three spars, not one, each attached one on top of the other.  We are still, however, using the same terms I have been talking about.  The “topmast” is second-lowest section of the mast, where the topsail is.  The “t’gallant mast” is the very highest part of the mast, and so forth (unless a ship has royals, in which case there is a “royal mast”).  Combining all these terms gets fun, and you feel smart when you can use the term “foretopgallant mast” in a sentence.

Let’s talk about climbing up to these things.  For that, you’ll generally want to use the ratlines, or the ropes that cross the shrouds.  You know, the ones that look like big ol’ nets or spiderwebs or something?  Climb up those and get to the top at the masthead (top of the mast).  After that, you can climb through the “lubber’s hole” in the top if you’re inexperienced or around the outside if you’re experienced and trying to get to the yardarm to make (let out) or shorten (take in) sail.  More shrouds run from the top to the topmasthead.  These tops are on both the foremast and the mainmast of the Britannia (appropriately called the foretop and the maintop).  Neither of them is a crow’s nest.  A crow’s nest has a different purpose from a top.  A crow’s nest is higher up, sometimes on the topgallant masthead, and used as a lookout point and has protective railing.  A top serves more to anchor the shrouds to the mast above and is a platform without railing, but being lower on the mast is not a great lookout point.  Britannia does not, as of yet, have a crow’s nest, although if it is going to be a ship of exploration, that might be a decent enough addition.  Here's a shot where you can get a decent look at the entire ship and spot the tops on the foremast and mainmast.


The lowest shrouds are the “futtock shrouds,” the ones above the “topmast shrouds,” and the ones above that the “t’gallant shrouds.”  Seeing a pattern, for the most part?  Once you let it all sink in, it’s not too complicated.

The Britannia's sails

All the sails ever!

Next Time: Decks

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