Tuesday, October 26, 2010
The story of the sailing ship reads like an adventure story. “Once upon a time a person dared to dream of adventure aboard a sailing ship“. In the age of the sailing ship, a person was born in his village, lived in his village and died in his village. The only thing that the person might know about the outside world was from a traveling minstrel that moved from town to town and told his tales of high adventure. Most people could only dream of travel, or of seeing other places. Access to a sailing ship changed all of that. The lure of adventure aboard a sailing ship stole away many a young mans heart. There are many poignant stories of a woman watching her man sail off into the sunset, sometimes never to return, and sometimes to come home filled with wealth and adventure.
In the age of the sailing ship, the ship was the fastest means of transportation. There were no jet aircraft that could transport the average man at almost supersonic speeds. There were no high speed railways. There were no cars or buses. Indeed, there was not even bicycles. Other than a ship, the fastest means of travel was a horse, or an oxcart. Also, it wasn’t safe to travel, unless you traveled in a group for safety.
The swift moving sailing ships sailed groups of people to almost anywhere in the world. The ships traveled day and night, day after day, week after week. The ships didn’t tire and need rest and food like animals. All the ships needed to travel was movement of the wind, then they could move in any direction.
The sailing ship was man's finest technological achievement for many years. From the invention of the first sail, to the industrial revolution; the sailing ship was a machine of the ages. No wonder a ship was built with such perfection. Owning a ship was a high-status symbol. Nothing freed mankind from his boundaries like the sailing ship. Ships were the fastest moving machine for centuries. Both men and women worked to build the fine ships. Men used their brawn, and women used their dexterity, but they both used their intellect.
I think the thing that I like the most about ships is that they weren’t designed and tested by some computing machine. They were designed, built, and sailed by man’s own intellect, skill, and hard work, by the sweat of their brow, the bend of their knees and the strain of their backs.
The ships that the old ship-rights built couldn’t be built today. The material that they built ships from doesn’t exist in abundance today like it did in the days of the clipper ships. The wood used in ships was hand selected and cut in the forests adjoining the shipyards. Often the shipyards were moved next to a forest where the trees could be cut and hand-hewed into the pieces that they needed to build the ship. The laying of the keel was the first and most important step in building a ship. The keel is the foundation that the ship is built upon.
The keel was made out of the strongest and most defect free wood that they could find. In addition to that, the keel needed to have the exact curve to form the bow. Then the ships ribs were fastened and blocked onto the keel. The ribs came up the sides of the ship. The deck was fastened to the ribs to form a circular-strength tube-like structure, the full length of the ship. The deck was fasten to the ribs by “ships knees”. The ships knees are made from pieces of a tree that form a right angle, or “ell shape”. Not many trees have that fitting in nature. Oaks provided most of the “knees”, because they were the strongest and the most likely to provide that shape. Strong ships knees were one of the most critical fittings on the ship.
Tall straight trees formed the masts and spars, trees like fir, spruce, and hemlock. The ships decks and side planking had to be made out of clear, straight boards. The decks and shiplap provided the lateral strength of the ship, much like the fuselage of a modern aircraft.
The sails were woven on hand-made looms, then pieced and sewn together. The ropes were hand spun and twisted together. I have often speculated that sail making was done by women. Women have traditionally been the makers of textiles and cloth. Most sails for the Galleons were made in the Philippines from the local cotton.
From Manila Times, (Philippines): “Ilocos from historic times has been a weaving center with every other house possessing a loom. In the days of the Spanish galleons they supplied the sails made from the cotton they grew and exported. Modern times with their cheap fabrics and disappeared galleons have altered weaving markets. Now abel (also known as inabel), the Ilocano woven stuff, is used in households as bed linen, furniture covers, clothing.”
The iron fittings were hand forged over hot fires and hand hammered to the right shapes. The pulleys were made from pine knots with holes drilled through them. The newer fancier ships had steel sheaves in their blocks and tackle.
Enough with the boredom (or, to me, excitement) of building a ship. The sailing ship opened the door for mankind to explore the rest of his world... he was no longer confined to the village of his birth.
As I was writing this, the words from Whitesnake's "Sailing Ships" kept humming through my mind, just in case you would like to listen to it, I included it below. It's a beautiful tune, but listen carefully to the words. The ache for love and adventure is in the song, but it's more about life than sailing.
And... But, of course, no story about sailing ships can be complete without - John Masefield's
"I must go down to the Sea"
I must go down to the sea again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star
to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
Wouldn't it be great if we had an adventure, today, like stepping onto the deck of a sailing ship of yore...
Posted by Ernie Branscomb at 11:34 PM