The last day of the sailing-ship
The adoption of the screw-propeller, which gave the death-blow to the sailing man-of-war, was followed almost at once by an era of great improvement in sailing merchantmen. In one way steam actually helped to make this improvement possible, because the assistance of the steam-tug for getting in and out of harbour allowed ships to be designed simply for speed and seaworthiness, without reference to the conflicting claims of handiness in narrow waters. The result was greater size, especially greater length, and in consequence greater speed.
Several other things all tending toward improvement happened within a very few years. The end of the East India Company's monopoly of trade between England and the East came in 1833, and was followed in 1842 by the opening of new Chinese ports to foreign trade, and thus by a great increase in the amount of cargo to be carried. In England the Tonnage Laws were altered in 1836 and further revised in 1854, and the old system which encouraged a narrow, deep, box-shaped vessel was replaced by one based on the real capacity to carry cargo. After this, in 1849, *ne Navigation Laws were repealed, and trade between England and the rest of the world was thrown open to the competition of ships of all nations. More important still, the discovery of gold in California in 1848, and in Australia in 1851, created a demand for fast ships of good size to carry the rush of emigrants and to take supplies to the new centres of population.
Up to the end of the monopoly of the East India Company English merchantmen, except for the ships belonging to that company or chartered by them, had been usually quite small ships. With the possibility of competition other owners began to build ships of about the size of the larger East Indiamen, some 1000-1500 tons. These ships were still built very much after the style of men-of-war. Five East Indiamen built on the Thames in 1796 had been bought for the Navy and completed as sixty-four-gun ships. Their dimensions, 173 feet by 43 feet, differed very little from those of two of the finest of the new ships, the Marlborough of 1846 and the Blenheim of 1848. The new vessels were about two feet longer and one or two feet narrower; otherwise, both in hulls and rigging, they were typically old-fashioned.
It was the Americans who led the way toward a faster type of ship. The first of their ' clippers,' as these fast ships came to be called, was the Rainbow, built at New York in 1845. Others soon followed, especially when the gold rush to California began. With the repeal of the Navigation Laws it became possible for these American ships to take part in the trade between China and England, and the enormous freights that they earned on the outward run between the Atlantic ports and San Francisco made it possible for them to cross the Pacific without cargo and then compete on equal terms with English ships. The principal trade from China was the bringing of tea, and in this speed was of the utmost importance, partly to get the first of the market and partly to lessen the bad effect which long stowage had on the tea. In this trade the Americans at first looked like having matters all their own way, for in 1850 the first of their ships to load tea for England accomplished a record passage and reached London in ninety-seven days from Hong-Kong in spite of sailing at a bad season for a fast voyage.
This ship, the Oriental, built at New York in 1849, may be compared with the Blenheim, built at Sunderland in 1848, as an illustration of the difference in type. The Blenheim was 175 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 29 feet deep; the Oriental, 10 feet longer, was 6 feet narrower and 8 feet shallower. The difference did not stop here, for the 'lines' of these American ships were equally revolutionary. Instead of the comparatively full bows and sterns to which sailors and shipbuilders had been accustomed for centuries, they had their ends fined down to such an extent that there was an actual hollow toward the bow and stern. This made them very much easier to drive.
English shipbuilders were quick to respond to the new challenge. Even in 1850 the John Bunyan, built at Aberdeen , had come home from Shanghai in ninety-nine days, and in the next year two new ships by the same builder proved themselves quite as fast as any of the Americans. In 1852 the American Challenge of 2000 tons was beaten by two days between the Straits of Sunda and Deal by the Challenger of 700 tons built on the Thames, though actually from a Chinese port to London the American did the better passage by eight days, and another American ship, the Witch of the Wave, sailed from Canton to Deal in this same year in ninety days, beating even the Challenge by fifteen days.
All sorts of official and unofficial challenges and wagers followed. None were actually accepted, but the competition became even keener, if that were possible. It did not remain an international affair for very long, because financial troubles in the United States crippled the activities of their shipowners, and after 1860 the tea-race was left to British ships only. In another trade, the carrying of emigrants to Australia, all the fastest ships were for some years built in America, either at Boston or at St John, New Brunswick. They were big ships of some 2000-2500 tons, and they put up records for speed that have never been surpassed by any ship driven by sails. In 1854 the Lightning did 436 miles in a day on her first voyage across the Atlantic, while the Red Jacket, which was racing her, did 413. This means that a sailing-ship was driven for a day and a night at an average speed of about 18i knots, a speed that steamers did not reach for about another thirty years. Two years later the James Baines in the course of a day's run of 420 miles is said to have been travelling at one time at no less than 21 knots.
One other ' record ' of the fifties must just be mentioned . The Dreadnought of 1400 tons built at Newburyport , Massachusetts, is said to have made the run from Sandy Hook, outside New York, to Queenstown in Ireland in 9 days 17 hours. This is a record which was never approached by any other sailing-ship and which was, as a matter of fact, never approached by the Dreadnought. It has been shown that she was at least 450 miles short of Queenstown at the end of the time stated. How the story first originated is a mystery; it is disproved quite sufficiently by the fact that her
captain, when writing his memoirs, never mentioned this epoch-making passage.
The great shipping boom produced many fine ships, but none that could compare for size with the Great Republic, designed for the Australian trade and launched , at Boston in 1853. This ship, the biggest wooden sailing-ship ever built, was 335 feet long and 53 feet wide. Her mainmast was 131 feet long and her main -yard 120 feet. She had four masts, three of them square-rigged, and the aftermast with fore-and-aft sails. She was, in fact, what would be called nowadays a four-masted barque, or in America a jigger- rigged
ship. Unfortunately, she never had a chance to show her real capacity for speed. She was very badly damaged by fire just before starting on her first voyage, and when she did at last get to sea it was with a sailplan very much cut down in every direction.
The ordinary ' barque-rig ' is three-masted, with square sails on the foremast and mainmast and fore-and-aft sails on the mizzen. It is, in fact, the rig of the sixteenth century brought up to date, and it can be traced in ships of moderate size from the first days of the threemasted ship right down to the present day (Fig. 121). In the same way the ' barquentine,' which is quite a modern rig, with square sails on the foremast and gaffsails on the other two, may be said to be in essentials a revival of the rig of the sixteenth-century 'caravel' with her square-rigged foremast and her lateen main
and mizzen (Fig. 122) . In this case, however, it does not seem possible to trace the rig continuously through the intervening centuries as can be done with the barque. Up to about the time of the Great Republic changes in sailing-ships were more a matter of design than of construction. The rigging was still of hemp, and the hull and spars were still of wood, though that particular ship, in view of her unusual length, was strengthened by diagonal strips of iron along her sides. In details of rigging there were a number of changes. Royals were universal, and 'sky sails' above the royals had become established fittings, instead of ' captain's fancies.' Sails were now ' bent,' or
attached, to iron 'jackstays' running along the upper side of the yards, instead of being bent below the yards by means of ' robands ' passing round the yards. This new fashion had come in about the end of the Napoleonic wars. A little later the lower yards had been given fixed iron 'trusses' on the masts and were no longer arranged for lowering.
After this changes came with a rush. Iron ships had begun to be built as far back as 1818, and iron was well established for steamships by the middle of the nineteenth century. One of the early English clippers, the Lord of the Isles of 1853, was an iron ship, though iron never became popular in the China trade because of the bad effect it was supposed to have on a tea-cargo. On the other hand 'composite' ships, with iron frames and wooden planking, soon became the fashion. Iron hulls were followed by iron or steel masts and yards and by wire-rope rigging. It has been said that the English ship Seaforth, built in 1863, was the first ship to have steel spars and rigging. Iron must have been in use for some time before that, for the report of the International Exhibition of 1862 speaks of the use of both iron spars and iron standing rigging as having "widely spread during the last ten years," and a book of 1856 on rigging has a special section on the use of wire.
One of the most conspicuous changes in the look of ships during the gradual development of the threemasted rig had been caused by the growth of their upper sails. In a sail-plan of about 1600, one of the earliest that have been preserved, the area of the main topsail is not much more than half that of the mainsail, and the main topgallant sail is only about one-sixth of the topsail. In 1832 the main topsail was about one-tenth bigger than the mainsail, and the topgallant was more than one-third of the topsail. Looked at in another way, the mainsail formed about one-third of the total sail-area in the first case, while in the second it was less than one-sixth. The difference in appearance is shown in Fig. 123.
The enormous topsails were very heavy to handle. For warships, with their big crews, this was not such a serious matter, but for merchantmen which had to be worked with an eye to economy it was very different. The natural remedy lay in dividing the topsails into two, and this is what was done. At first, on the method invented by Captain Forbes in 1841, the yard of the lower topsail hoisted on the head of the lower mast, which had to be lengthened, while the topmast had to be put abaft the lower mast, instead of before it. This
rig was soon superseded by the modern plan introduced by Captain Howes in 1853 by which the lower topsailyard was slung by a truss-on the cap of the lower mast in the same way as the lower yard was slung on the mast itself. As originally rigged, the Great Republic had
Forbes's rig, but after the fire she came out with the newer rig invented by Howes.
The withdrawal of the Americans from the tea-races caused no falling off in the keenness of these annual struggles, and each year English and Scottish builders turned out new ships in the hope of beating those of the year before. With picked crews and with captains famous for ' carrying on ' these ships made wonderful passages, though none of them ever recorded such good single-day runs as the big American-built clippers of a few years earlier.
The racing was extraordinarily keen and extraordinarily level. In 1866 three ships, the Ariel, Taeping, and Serica, left Foochow in China on the same tide on May 30 and docked in London on the same tide on September 6. This was the period of composite shipbuilding—wooden planking on iron frames. The method had been tried occasionally for ten years or so when it was first introduced in the tea-clippers of 1863. In them it proved most successful, and it remained the almost universal build for fast ships for some ten years more before being replaced by iron and steel.
In this period of composite building the sailing-ship perhaps attained her most perfect form. Unfortunately, her prime lasted only a very short time. The possibilities of the new methods of construction and rigging had hardly been explored before the opening of the Suez Canal in the autumn of 1869 threw open the China trade to steamships and signalled the approaching death of the tea-clipper: As long as the route to the Far East lay round the Cape of Good Hope the steamer was handicapped by the fact that she had to cover a distance of more than five thousand miles between' coaling-stations, and this could be done only at a very slow speed, if at all. By the Suez Canal route the longest gap was reduced to little more than two thousand miles, which made all the difference.
One of the most famous ships of the nineteenth century, the Cutty Sark, was launched in the very same month as the opening of the Suez Canal. She and the Thermopyla of 1868 have often been described as the two fastest sailing-ships ever built. If ' fastest ' means that they were capable of the highest maximum speed the claim seems unfounded, since their best day's runs came nowhere near those of the Lightning, James Baines, Red Jacket, or Donald Mackay. That was only to be expected, because they were much smaller ships; but it is true enough that in the matter of consistently short passages they have never been equalled.
The tea-clippers were all beautiful ships, and one of the most beautiful of all was the Sir Lancelot, which appears in Plate XX as an example of the highest point reached in the development of sailing-ships. Built in 1865 by Steele of Greenock, she made the fastest passage home in 1867 and 1869, and was beaten by the Ariel and the Spindrift in 1868 by only a day or less. In the last of these three races she did a record passage from Foochow to the Lizard in eighty-five days, and to her dock in London in eighty-nine days.
It was in the Australian wool-trade that competition in sailing-ships survived longest, and it was there that the Cutty Sark and the Thermopylcema.de. most of their reputation . In this trade the sailing-ship held her own well all through the seventies and eighties. Most of the competitors were of iron or steel, though the older compositebuilt ships were never outclassed. Changes in rig came
in one by one. Double topgallant sails on the same plan as the double topsails were introduced soon after 1870. About ten years later the rig of the Great Republic, a four-masted barque, began to be fashionable, simply because ships got bigger and the increased length demanded another mast. At the end of the nineteenth century the four-masted barque-rig (Fig. 124) might
have been described as the standard rig for big ships. There were four-masted ships, square-rigged on all four masts, and there have been a few five-masters, nearly all barques. Some of these have reached a length of more than 400 feet and a capacity of more than 5000 tons. The biggest of all was the French five-masted barque France, built in 1913 and wrecked in 1923. She was 430 feet long and 55! feet wide.
The growth in size at the end of the nineteenth century was accompanied by a reduction in relative sail-area and by a demand for cargo-carrying capacity and economical working rather than extreme speed. This brought about the disappearance of skysails and studding-sails, and the conversion of many full-rigged ships into barques. It also caused,,the adoption of auxiliary engines for use in calms and in narrow waters. Many a sailing-ship was lost in the Great War, and many more that are still afloat are not likely to go to sea again. At the same time the building of squarerigged ships has practically come to an end, probably for ever.
Some of the fore-and-aft rigs may live longer; certainly they are in a more healthy state at present, though in most cases they are confined to inland and coasting vessels rather than real deep-sea traders. A complete account of the many forms of fore-and-aft rig, even in Europe, and of the many kinds of coasting and fishing vessels would fill a large volume; in fact this could be done with the craft of Holland alone, but a short description of a few of the chief types may be given.
Starting with one-masters, there are the spritsailed and the gaff-sailed craft, in either case with one or two triangular head-sails. Of these the sprit-rig with a triangular foresail is almost certainly the older, since it appears in a Flemish miniature as far back as 1420, or earlier, and is mentioned in writing in a German document of 1466. It has survived practically unchanged,
and is still used in several kinds of small craft in Western and Northern Europe.
The gaff-sailed one-master, the 'cutter,' or sloop of the present day (Fig. 125), seems to have developed from two rather different rigs, both of which arose in Holland in the first half of the seventeenth century. In one the gaff was long and straight (Fig. 126), in the other it was very short and curved (Fig. 127). Strictly speaking, the first form was not called a gaff at all, but a half-sprit, and the sail was furled like a spritsail by brailing up without lowering the yard. No doubt this was originally a variation of the ordinary sprit-rig. The sail with the short curved gaff seems to have developed
from the lateen. Dutch pictures of the early part of the seventeenth century show sails which are in appearance simply lateens without a mast and with the yard acting as its own mast by having its heel stepped very far forward and its head raking well aft. This rig can just be seen in a small boat below the Prince Royal in Plate X. By adding a very short gaff, which at first was so small as to be little more than equivalent to the 'head-board ' of a modern racing-sail, and by reducing the rake of the mast the ' bezaan ' sail was produced, and the name, which is believed to be connected with 'mizzen,' may be taken to show that this sail was indeed developed from the lateen. With this rig the sail was lowered and stowed along the boom; the half-sprit sail had no boom. These two forms of cutter-rig were represented in the two yachts which were given by the Dutch to Charles II on his restoration. The Mary had
the half-sprit, and the Bezan had the rig implied by her name.
Two-masters are again either gaff-rigged or spritrigged , and they are further divided by the relative sizes of their two masts. Usually the sprit-rigged twomaster has a big mainsail and a very small mizzen, as is seen in the Thames barge (Fig. 128) and in some Dutch craft. With the gaff-rig there is more variety, since there are types with a big mainsail and a small mizzen, with two sails of the same size, and with a big mainsail and a foresail somewhat smaller. In England the first type is a ' yawl' or a ' ketch,' and the last is a' schooner.' The yawl is a gaff-rigged equivalent of the sprit-rigged barge, having a very small mizzen right in the stern. The ketch (Fig. 129) has a bigger mizzen not quite so far aft, and has developed from a square-rigged type which was originally simply a threemasted ship without the foremast. In this form it was common at the end of the seventeenth century (Fig. 130)
and later as a ' bomb vessel,' a small ship armed with a big mortar for high-angle fire. The mortar was mounted just before the mainmast, and the foremast would have been in the way of its fire. Nowadays the square mainsail has been replaced by a gaff-sail, though the square topsail is still often carried. In the Baltic they call something very like a ketch by the old Mediterranean name of' galeass.' The mizzen is often bigger than in the English ketch, and it is sometimes so nearly the same size as the mainsail that it is difficult to know whether the rig ought to be described in English as a ketch or a schooner. The true two-masted schooner (Fig. 131), according to English ideas, has a mainmast and a foremast— that is to say, the mast nearer the stern is distinctly the bigger. There are the usual triangular head-sails, and there may be fore-and-aft topsails. This rig, or something very like it, can be.traced back .to about
1700, or a little earlier. There is a picture by the younger Van de Velde, who died in 1707, showing two English yachts schooner-rigged (Fig. 132), and the yacht Transport Royal, which was given by William III to Peter the Great in 1697, seems to have been a schooner. Often it is said that the first schooner was built in America in 1713 and was so called because some one at her launch exclaimed " How she scoons!" The story cannot be literally true as far as rig is concerned, but it may well be that this ship had some great improvement in hull, and it is certainly true that the later history of the schoonerrig is almost entirely American. The later American schooners were, and still are, splendid ships. The old two-masted rig has been left to the smaller specimens, and the larger vessels have been Fig. 131. MODERN SCHOONER built with four, five, and six masts (Fig. 133). There was indeed one seven-master, the Thomas W. Lawson, a
steel ship built in 1902 and lost in 1907. One of the sixmasters , the Wyoming of 1910, was the longest wooden sailing-ship ever built, though she had iron diagonal braces like those of the Great Republic; she was 350 feet long and 50 feet wide. The biggest of the real composites , by the way, was the Sobraon of 1866, and she was only 317 feet long and 40 feet wide.
Many schooners have carried square topsails as well as their fore-and-aft sails. The ordinary English coasting schooner carries a square topsail on her foremast, Fig. 133. Modern Amer1can S1x-masted Schooner and sometimes a sort of temporary sail can be set beneath the lower yard. With rigs of this kind it is difficult to distinguish between a three-masted schooner and a barquentine, or between a two-masted schooner and a brigantine, which is how a vessel with a square-rigged foremast and a fore-and-aft-rigged mainmast, except by the fact that the barquentine's or brigantine's foremast is proportioned in ship fashion and has a shorter lower majt and a longer topmast than a schooner's.
Even so, there are all sorts of rigs which are difficult to classify. At least one American six-master has been rigged with all her masts exactly equal, with no gaffsail on the foremast, and with a real square foresail and topsail both fitted on the single-stick lower mast. Whether this ship should be called a schooner or a barquentine is a difficult question.
There are in America vessels square rigged on their two foremost masts and fore-and-aft rigged on the other two. This rig they call a four-masted barque, while the rig that would be so named on this side of the Atlantic is called in America a ' jigger-rigged ship.' The latest
rig of all defies naming altogether. It is seen in recent German five-masted vessels (Fig. 134). There are gaffsails on each mast, and the first and third masts, counting from the bow, have each four square yards as well. These set ordinary double topsails and single £opgallant sails, and the lowest yard carries also a sail which is set or furled by being pulled out sideways along the yard or pulled back into a bundle lying up and down the mast.
These German five-masters like some of their larger square-rigged predecessors are fitted with auxiliary motors. Indeed the day of the pure sailing-ship of any size may be said to be past. A motor is so easy to starl and easy to run that there is an ever-growing tendency in vessels with auxiliary power to use the motor more and more and the sails less and less. The actual use oi sails is not likely to die entirely, any more than mankind is likely to give up walking altogether; but just as walking is no longer a usual method of travelling by land in ordinary circumstances, so sailing-ships are ceasing to be a usual method of transport by water. It may be sad, but it is certainly true.