Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2005 10:23 am

Before the Reformation, all of Europe north of Serbia and west of Russia was of a single religious conviction (more or less, excluding sectaries regarded as heretical). What has this to do with warships? One need inquire of the Dutch. In the centuries preceding their uprising against their Spanish masters in the 16th century, the Dutch had made a very good if difficult and dangerous living fishing in the North Sea and the north Atlantic, providing Europe with the salt cod and pickled herring which made meat-less Lent bearable and reasonably nutritious. On one of the two primary scales of storm and wind speed, the highest storm level is not "hurricane," it is "winter, north Atlantic." In those long ago winters, before each Lenten season, Dutch sailors would literally risk their lives to provide Europe with its Lenten fish, and incidentally, developed both the seamanship skills and ship design techniques which would one day make them, briefly, the masters of the world's oceans. A ship's master had to be truly a sailor, and his ship very well-built, to survive those waters in the best of times, and especially in the early winter, when it was the time for the herring fleets to make their hauls.

When, after the Reformation, the Dutch rebelled against their Spanish masters, in an eighty-four year revolution (1564 to 1648), the Spanish were then considered not only the masters of much of Europe, but of much of the world. Their ill-disciplined and savage infantry, the tercios, were everywhere dreaded, and their ships plied the waters of the world, especially of the New World, to bring to Seville the productions and spices of the east, and the gold and silver of America. Columbus' ships, Nina, Santa Clara (affectionately nicknamed Pinta by the little fleet) and Santa Maria were, respectively, two caravels (an Italian design) and a nao (the flagship, a Portugese design, this type of ship was also known as a carrack). The Spanish did not excell at ship design, and militarily, they were accustomed to use galleys, driven by oars and sails, and on (relative to the Atlantic) the placid waters of the Mediterranean. This affected their naval tactical doctrine, as well--which was to lay a heavy broadside of cannon fire into the opponent, and then ram and board her. For their trans-Atlantic voyages, they had developed an all-purpose ship style, the galleon. This ship was a pig--it wallowed heavily; with high freeboard (lots of wood above the waterline), she could afford to wallow, even in heavy seas. But it was a poor sailing ship, and the conversion of it to warship simply made matters worse, although the Spaniard seems not to have realized it for almost two centuries.

As the Dutch had waxed wealthy from the large-scale fish industry, they had begun to challenge the north German trading costers, Hansa, which was an alliance of north German and easter Baltic ports (with largely German populations) which had dominated the carrying trade. The carrying trade simply means that the productions of any region are carried, for profitable fees, to the intended destinations. Hansa had relied upon a small ship, a cog, which was little more than an elongated tub with sails. The Dutch improved upon the design: they lengthened the keel, added more freeboard, stepped high masts to carry more sail, and reinforced the hull. The result, the fluyt, can probably be reasonably described as the best merchant vessel in the world for most of three centuries. When trade necessitated going in harm's way, the Dutch had a modified version of this ship, which was reiforced for combat, and had a narrower hull to improve the sailing qualities. It could not carry the cargo of the standard fluyt, but it could ship guns, and put up a good fight against pirates--a problem in the world's seas for millenia. The English adopted this ship almost exclusively as a war ship--although they often used it as the Dutch did, as an armed merchantman--and called it a snow.

For all of their fine sailing qualities, snows were too small to take on a well-armed galleon, and late in the sixteenth century, the Dutch went to work on this design, and produced what was to be one of the finest ships in the history of the world's navies. This was the frigate. The early frigates had the high freeboard of the snow, although considerably less than the snow or the fluyt, and were narrower still than the snows. They shipped more guns, in the early days, 12 to 18 of them. (In the heyday of the frigate, 32 to 36 guns was common, and the giant American frigates shipped 32 to 44 guns, but more on that later.) This was sufficient fire power to challenge the galleons, and the Dutch easily made the transition to commerce raiding. It helped to finance their rebellion, and inflicted serious losses on their opponents.

The armada which became famous in English history was not originally intended for an invasion of England. Confusion at the highest levels meant that even after this motley fleet sailed, it was still undetermined how much force would be used against the English. Its original and continuing mission was to reiforce the Duke of Parma in the low countries, who was fighting the Dutch on land. As the frigate and the snow had made the Dutch so formidable at sea, the armada was comprised of several war galleons to reinforce the galleys which escorted the trade galleons transporting troops and supplies to the Duke of Parma. The artillery on board was dual-purpose, intended for Parma's use, but mounted on ship's gun carriages for the voyage. The gun tubes were extraordinarily long by naval standards, and proved to be so unweildy, that the Spanish only managed one broadside from most ships, and two from a few of them, in the one surface engagement they had with the English. The gun carriages were so long, it was necessary to pull them back, and then turn them parralell to the ship's center line to load them. By contrast, the English, in their frigates and snows, had the standard Dutch dedicated naval guns, with slightly shorter gun tubes, and drastically smaller, but taller, gun carriages, which could be allowed to run back from the recoil of firing the gun, and loaded in situ, to be run up to the gun port and fired again. The English darted in and out of the slower moving ships at the tail end of the armada, spraying round shot and chain. (The later is a charming adaptation: it was two small cannonballs joined by a welded iron chain, wrapped around a dowell inserted between two round wooden plugs. When fired, only at short range, the wood quickly splinters, injuring and killing enemy crew, and the two cannonballs, joined by the chain, gyrate wildly through the rigging and sails, badly damaging the enemy's ability to sail.) They would then run out of range before any of the cumbersome galleons could present and fire a broadside (before the invention of the gun turret, it was necessary to "aim the ship" to fire at the opponent).

The armada was eventually badly damaged only when the English loaded up hulks with wood and pitch, and sent fire-ships into them one night--thereafter, nature took care of the survivors with a storm which many have described as a hurricane, although i am dubious about that. But the sailing qualities of the frigates and snows was sharply pointed up early in the running gun battle in which the English and the Spanish engaged for almost a week. The English had been sheltering in the Solent, a deep water passage on the eastern shore of the Isle of Wight. The Spanish attempted to follow them in, but could not turn across the wind without throwing the entire fleet into confusion--when they attempted it, collisions abounded. For a frigate or a snow to cross the wind, she turns away from the wind briefly, filling her sails and speeding up. Then the helm is put over to windward, the sails are reefed (shortened by pulling about two thirds of them up and tying them temporarily to the spar from which they hang). The momentum of the ship will swing the nose across the wind, and the reefed sails, which have not spilled the air behind them, will by the actions of the laws of physics, turn away from the the wind, filling again, and giving the bow of the ship a "boost" in the turn. Sail can then be lowered and the ship is now sailing, with a decent amount of speed, on a heading ninety degrees from the original heading. The Spanish galleons could not master this manoevre, all of their sails were square sails, while the frigate and the snow had lanteen (trapezoidal) sails on the mizzen (rear) mast and jibs on the boom at the bow. Those sails remain filled with air for all but a few seconds of the turn. The square sails of the galleons, even when reefed, simply did not hold enough air pressure to complete the turn. Many galleons would come up to the wind, and fall off again (turn back in the direction from which the turn had originally been attempted).

Although pride, arrogance or simple stupidity seems to have blinded the Spaniard, the rest of Europe's naval experts took note. The frigate had arrived. Line of battle ships evolved from the frigate, sailing with much less grace and ease, but shipping from 50 to 120 guns. But the frigate remained the athlete of navies across Europe. With more fire power than any ship but a line of battle ship, and as good as or better sailing qualities than any potential opponent, the frigate became the all-purpose bruiser of European navies. The French, who excelled at perfecting the designs of others, became the acknowledged European master builders of frigates: English commanders liked nothing better than to be given a captured French frigate. In particular, La Victoire, a frigate built at the time of the American revolution, was a ship design masterpiece. French voluteers sailing for America were carried in her, and she attracted a good deal of attention when she called at Philadelphia.

After America achieved her independence, the Philadelphia shipyards began to build frigates on commission from the Congress, and the same designs were used in shipyards in Boston and New York. One design problem of all ships is a quality known as "hogging." A true ship has three or more masts. With the weight of the masts forward and aft, the keel tends to bow upward in the center ("hogging") which puts undue stress on all structural members and reduces sailing performance. In the Philadelphia shipyards, this problem was addressed. Hogging is not really a problem with merchant ships, which are relatively broad in the beam (proportionately wider) than warships--and do not therefore, "hog" as badly, and they usually carry less sail, which means far less weight: consider, if you will, the weight of a heavy canvas sail soaked in salt water spray. Line of battle ships were also broader in the beam than frigates, and didn't rely upon superior sailing qualities, they relied upon the ability to slug it out at close range. But the frigates were good sailers because of a strange mix of other ship design qualities. They carried the tall masts and crowded on the thousands of square feet of sail which was characteristic of the fluyt. They were slim, narrow in the beam like a sloop, and carrying a fore-and-aft sail (the lanteen) at the stern, and jibs at the bow, with stay sails (triangular sails like jibs) between the masts. This means that a frigate carried relatively more sail than any other ship type, with taller (and consequently heavier) masts. Hogging is exagerated in the frigate. In Philadelphia, the problem was solved by means acceptable in a warship, which is not designed to carry cargo. In the hold, heavy oak beams were run from beam to beam (perpendicular to the center line of the ship) from the gun deck to the keel where the main mast is stepped (inserted into the keel). From stem and stern, similar beams were run to the main mast foot. Then four beams were run, each at 45 degrees to the centerline, from the gun deck to the main mast foot. This helped to reduce, almost to nothing, the warping effect of all of the weight of mast and sail, and virtually eliminated hogging in the American frigates. By the days of the swan song of the sail-powered fighting vessel, in mid-nineteenth century, all war ships had this reinforcement, but it was a part of the American "secret weapon" in the naval war of 1812. In Constitution, which one can visit in Boston harbor, those beams are 26" oak. At a time when 36 or 38 guns in the main battery (most ships piled on extra guns) was standard, Constitution was rated at 44 guns. This approaches the fire power of a third-rater line of battle ship, weighing it at 50 guns. Additionally, Constitution's main battery was comprised of "long 24's," meaning guns with long gun tubes, designed for long range accuracy, using a solid shot weighing 24 pounds. They could, of course, be loaded with chain (for destroying the enemy's sails and rigging) or grape shot (for killing the enemy crew) as the commander saw fit. English frigates of the day mounted long 16's--on more than one occassion, the difference in the size of the ordnance determined the outcome of actions between American and English sloops of war and frigates, as a long 24 is accurate at about one half mile greater range than a long 16. The American frigates could not only "out-sail" their opponents, they could out-shoot them. Essex, out of Boston, which single-handedly destroyed the English whaling industry, was destoyed by two English frigates mounting long-16's, while Essex had been (foolishly, in my opinion) equipped with carronades--guns of larger calibre, but much shorter range than long guns. Admiral David Farragut of American civil war fame was one of the "ship's boys" on Essex, sailing with her at age 12. His memoirs provide a fascinating glimpse into the era of the wind-powered fighting ships. The English bitterly accused the Americans of using "razees," which is to say, cut-down line of battle ships. This was absurd, because the Americans could not afford, and had never built a line of battle ship, and the sailing qualities of the American frigates gave the lie to this tale. By the end of that war, English frigates were ordered not to engage Constitution unless in the company of at least two consorts. Constitution took Cyane (36 guns) after disabling one of the sloops of war in her consort and running the other off.

But the arrival of steam power numbered the useful days left to the frigate. Ironclads, torpedo boats, torpedo boat destoyers and behemoths like Dreadnought drove the memory of the frigate from naval minds for a century.


Then came the Second World War. In Canada, the Prime Minister, Mackenzie-King, was determined that his nation would not pay the price they had paid in the First World War--when 60,000 were killed, and an equal number maimed for life. Although Canadian soldiers certainly participated in large numbers, and made a significant contribution, the PM's thoughts were concentrated on the Royal Canadian Navy. In that war, Canada escorted more merchanmen on the Atlantic crossing than the United States and Royal Navies combined. The men of that navy called themselves the "sheepdog" navy, and the English made a point of looking down their naval nose at them. The Canadians could build minesweepers and corvettes (the latter is an armed ship about the size of a large, privately-owned cabin cruiser) in Great Lakes shipyards, and get them to sea in the days before the the St. Laurent Seaway. But they could not build a ship as large as a destroyer in those lakes and put to sea with it. Their ship yard facilities on the St. Laurent below La Chine and at Halifax were scant, but they were expanded after the war began. But the RCN still thought of itself as an auxilliary to the Royal Navy, and they bought destroyers from the English. When the Canadadian crews showed exceptional efficiency and spirit, the English took those ships and crews and included them in the RN's "hunter-killer groups," which hunted German U-boats. The Canadians' initial material contribution was the "tribal class" destroyers (so called because they were named after first nations tribes), but these were largely poor copies of English designs. In comparison to American and Japanese destoyers of that war, the English were about ten years behind the times. Later, the Canadians built the "river class" destoyers, meaning that that class of destoyers were all named for Canadian rivers. The English liked them, but complained that they were too small, not much larger than an American destoyer escort. Nevertheless, the Royal Navy expropriated those destroyers and their crews.

The Canadian answer was to "re-invent" the frigate. Although the development came too late to make a big impact on the war (the Royal Navy would steal any good ships and crews the Canadians came up with--eventually, Canadian destoyers and frigates were at the heart of the three groups which patrolled the English Channel), the Canadians have developed the design in the post-war years, and have made ASW (anti-submarine warfare) frigates the major contribution they have made to NATO's naval forces. The design has been so successful that both the USN and the RN have copied it, although i doubt they would admit to copying from a "poor relation." The American destoyer escort of the Second World War was a long, slim, but shorter and much less well-armed version of its larger cousin, and was conceived as an all-purpose vessel like the destoryer. But the Canadian frigate was a purpose-built ship from the outset, designed to hunt submarines. Canadian coastal waters are some of the most varied and difficult waters in the world. Temperature variants and cross currents are like no others in the world, and gave the Canadians fits when trying to hunt U-boats off Halifax and St. John's in that war. The frigate is shorter than the destoryer escort, and although the hull is more hydro-dynamically efficient than the destroyers, it is more of a tear-drop shape, broader at the beam and afore the beam than the destroyer escort. This accomodates the electronics which the English and Americans have developed for ASW, and which the Canadians have adapted for the frigates and perfected. Additionally, the Canadian frigates all have highly-sophisticated communications equipment packages, on the principal that any one of them can serve as the combat control center of any group into which it is put. The RCN's frigates last saw combat in the first Gulf War, when Canada's Navy was given the task of logistical coordination at sea. When an American cruiser grounded near Basra in that war, it was a Canadian frigate which was sent to protect her until she could be pulled off, being the only heavily armed ship available which could operate in those shallow waters and still provide surface and anti-aircraft fire power. The Canadians have resurrected the frigate.
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Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2005 10:42 am
I was thrilled to see that you had posted again boss...don't forget my fave thread The Civil War...gotta get my fix.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2005 10:43 am
Interestingly, the U.S. Navy applied the term "frigate" to a type of escort ship that was somewhat larger than a destroyer.

Only in 1975 these ships were reclassified as cruisers and destroyers.
The United States then used 'frigate' in the same sense as as the other navies.

(As an aside: German modern frigates aren't that bad at all, too: they are excellently suited for non glorious everyday tasks like embargo control, or other sea control missions. :wink: )
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Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2005 10:58 am
Walter Hinteler wrote:
(As an aside: German modern frigates aren't that bad at all, too: they are excellently suited for non glorious everyday tasks like embargo control, or other sea control missions. :wink: )

My oldest brother (who is no longer with us) served in Columbus, a missile cruiser. He was a dab hand at pen and ink drawings, and in one small notebook there was a pen and ink of two German frigates in heavy seas in the north Atlantic, which he drew while participating in NATO manoeuvres. One frigate is nose-down, sliding down the face of a wave, at about 30 degrees to the horizontal. The other frigate is about a half-mile to starboard, climbing the same line of wave, with about a third of her bow out of the water. It is really a dramatic picture.
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Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2005 11:43 am
Before we get into some political argument, let me just say a sincere welcome back.
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Merry Andrew
Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2005 12:22 pm
Welcome home, Set.

I hardly let a year a pass that I don't make a visit -- pilgrimage, if you will -- to the U.S.S. Constitution, moored at the Charlestown (MA) Navy Yard. It quickens the blood to walk those decks. I've also been aboard her sister ship, the Constellation, berthed at Baltimore harbor, but only once.
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Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2005 01:00 pm
Wonderful article Setanta. I almost feel as if I'd just finished a book--and a good one.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2005 01:00 pm
No need to make pilgrimages here, Andrew - I've got my naval sanctuaries within lens coverage from the computer :wink:

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Reply Sun 10 Apr, 2005 08:58 am
Walter is that you wearing the hat?
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 10 Apr, 2005 09:14 am
It should be - but Mrs. Walter couldn't handle the camera and so Caesar had to double me :wink:
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Reply Sun 10 Apr, 2005 09:40 am
Thank God. I was going to tell you that you really needed to get more sun.
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Reply Sun 10 Apr, 2005 11:55 am
Great reading, Set. And, I learned a lot.
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Reply Sun 10 Apr, 2005 03:44 pm
An interesting note regarding the Armada that many don't realize - the English fire ships sank or damaged a grand total of zero Spanish vessels. However, the mere sight of them scared the Spanish to the point where a goodly number of these ships cut their anchor cables in order to maneuver out of the way quickly. This proved fatal when the fleet encountered the massive storm off Great Britain some time later, and they were not able to anchor to stabilize the ships. As I said, just a curious sidebar to the actual events.
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Reply Sun 10 Apr, 2005 04:12 pm
Many of those American ships are built at the Bath Iron Works in Bath Maine. I recommend "The Yard" by Michael Sanders, although he describes the building of a destroyer.
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Reply Sun 10 Apr, 2005 04:51 pm
Great post, Set - and glad to see ya at it again.

A few bits-o-trivia re the fightin' ships of the Sail-and-Cannon Age - their battle decks typically were painted red, very dark brown, or black, and were liberally equipped with sand buckets. The color was to lessen the morale impact of the sight of blood flowin' across the planks, and the sand was used to keep the blood-washed decks from bein' too slippery to move around on.

Interestin'ly, flyin' wood splinters were as much as, if not more than, a cause of battle injury than was the hot iron thrown by enemy gunfire. Direct shot wounds were comparatively rare, though snipers sometimes did manage critical scores; ship's officers were particular favorites of marksmen stationed high in the riggin'.

Another - less gory - oft-overlooked detail; the sterns of sailin' warships typically were largely made up of glass windows - a well placed shot would carry straight through, or at the very least deeply into, the ship - usually with devastatin' effect on crew and equipment.
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Reply Sun 10 Apr, 2005 09:23 pm
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
poem from The Seaside and the Fireside


"Build me straight, O worthy Master!
Stanch and strong, a goodly vessel,
That shall laugh at all disaster,
And with wave and whirlwind wrestle!"

The merchant's word
Delighted the Master heard;
For his heart was in his work, and the heart
Giveth grace unto every Art.

A quiet smile played round his lips,
As the eddies and dimples of the tide
Play round the bows of ships,
That steadily at anchor ride.
And with a voice that was full of glee,
He answered, "Erelong we will launch
A vessel as goodly, and strong, and stanch,
As ever weathered a wintry sea!"
And first with nicest skill and art,
Perfect and finished in every part,
A little model the Master wrought,
Which should be to the larger plan
What the child is to the man,
Its counterpart in miniature;
That with a hand more swift and sure
The greater labor might be brought
To answer to his inward thought.
And as he labored, his mind ran o'er
The various ships that were built of yore,
And above them all, and strangest of all
Towered the Great Harry, crank and tall,
Whose picture was hanging on the wall,
With bows and stern raised high in air,
And balconies hanging here and there,
And signal lanterns and flags afloat,
And eight round towers, like those that frown
From some old castle, looking down
Upon the drawbridge and the moat.
And he said with a smile, "Our ship, I wis,
Shall be of another form than this!"
It was of another form, indeed;
Built for freight, and yet for speed,
A beautiful and gallant craft;
Broad in the beam, that the stress of the blast,
Pressing down upon sail and mast,
Might not the sharp bows overwhelm;
Broad in the beam, but sloping aft
With graceful curve and slow degrees,
That she might be docile to the helm,
And that the currents of parted seas,
Closing behind, with mighty force,
Might aid and not impede her course.

In the ship-yard stood the Master,
With the model of the vessel,
That should laugh at all disaster,
And with wave and whirlwind wrestle!

Covering many a rood of ground,
Lay the timber piled around;
Timber of chestnut, and elm, and oak,
And scattered here and there, with these,
The knarred and crooked cedar knees;
Brought from regions far away,
From Pascagoula's sunny bay,
And the banks of the roaring Roanoke!
Ah! what a wondrous thing it is
To note how many wheels of toil
One thought, one word, can set in motion!
There's not a ship that sails the ocean,
But every climate, every soil,
Must bring its tribute, great or small,
And help to build the wooden wall!

The sun was rising o'er the sea,
And long the level shadows lay,
As if they, too, the beams would be
Of some great, airy argosy.
Framed and launched in a single day.
That silent architect, the sun,
Had hewn and laid them every one,
Ere the work of man was yet begun.
Beside the Master, when he spoke,
A youth, against an anchor leaning,
Listened, to catch his slightest meaning.
Only the long waves, as they broke
In ripples on the pebbly beach,
Interrupted the old man's speech.

Beautiful they were, in sooth,
The old man and the fiery youth!
The old man, in whose busy brain
Many a ship that sailed the main
Was modelled o'er and o'er again;--
The fiery youth, who was to be
the heir of his dexterity,
The heir of his house, and his daughter's hand,
When he had built and launched from land
What the elder head had planned.

"Thus," said he, "will we build this ship!
Lay square the blocks upon the slip,
And follow well this plan of mine.
Choose the timbers with greatest care;
Of all that is unsound beware;
For only what is sound and strong
to this vessel stall belong.
Cedar of Maine and Georgia pine
Here together shall combine.
A goodly frame, and a goodly fame,
And the UNION be her name!
For the day that gives her to the sea
Shall give my daughter unto thee!"

The Master's word
Enraptured the young man heard;
And as he turned his face aside,
With a look of joy and a thrill of pride,
Standing before
Her father's door,
He saw the form of his promised bride.
The sun shone on her golden hair,
And her cheek was glowing fresh and fair,
With the breath of morn and the soft sea air.
Like a beauteous barge was she,
Still at rest on the sandy beach,
Just beyond the billow's reach;
But he
Was the restless, seething, stormy sea!
Ah, how skilful grows the hand
That obeyeth Love's command!
It is the heart, and not the brain,
That to the highest doth attain,
And he who followeth Love's behest
Far excelleth all the rest!

Thus with the rising of the sun
Was the noble task begun
And soon throughout the ship-yard's bounds
Were heard the intermingled sounds
Of axes and of mallets, plied
With vigorous arms on every side;
Plied so deftly and so well,
That, ere the shadows of evening fell,
The keel of oak for a noble ship,
Scarfed and bolted, straight and strong
Was lying ready, and stretched along
The blocks, well placed upon the slip.
Happy, thrice happy, every one
Who sees his labor well begun,
And not perplexed and multiplied,
By idly waiting for time and tide!

And when the hot, long day was o'er,
The young man at the Master's door
Sat with the maiden calm and still.
And within the porch, a little more
Removed beyond the evening chill,
The father sat, and told them tales
Of wrecks in the great September gales,
Of pirates coasting the Spanish Main,
And ships that never came back again,
The chance and change of a sailor's life,
Want and plenty, rest and strife,
His roving fancy, like the wind,
That nothing can stay and nothing can bind,
And the magic charm of foreign lands,
With shadows of palms, and shining sands,
Where the tumbling surf,
O'er the coral reefs of Madagascar,
Washes the feet of the swarthy Lascar,
As he lies alone and asleep on the turf.
And the trembling maiden held her breath
At the tales of that awful, pitiless sea,
With all its terror and mystery,
The dim, dark sea, so like unto Death,
That divides and yet unites mankind!
And whenever the old man paused, a gleam
From the bowl of his pipe would awhile illume
The silent group in the twilight gloom,
And thoughtful faces, as in a dream;
And for a moment one might mark
What had been hidden by the dark,
That the head of the maiden lay at rest,
Tenderly, on the young man's breast!

Day by day the vessel grew,
With timbers fashioned strong and true,
Stemson and keelson and sternson-knee,
Till, framed with perfect symmetry,
A skeleton ship rose up to view!
And around the bows and along the side
The heavy hammers and mallets plied,
Till after many a week, at length,
Wonderful for form and strength,
Sublime in its enormous bulk,
Loomed aloft the shadowy hulk!
And around it columns of smoke, up-wreathing.
Rose from the boiling, bubbling, seething
Caldron, that glowed,
And overflowed
With the black tar, heated for the sheathing.
And amid the clamors
Of clattering hammers,
He who listened heard now and then
The song of the Master and his men:--

"Build me straight, O worthy Master.
Stanch and strong, a goodly vessel,
That shall laugh at all disaster,
And with wave and whirlwind wrestle!"

With oaken brace and copper band,
Lay the rudder on the sand,
That, like a thought, should have control
Over the movement of the whole;
And near it the anchor, whose giant hand
Would reach down and grapple with the land,
And immovable and fast
Hold the great ship against the bellowing blast!
And at the bows an image stood,
By a cunning artist carved in wood,
With robes of white, that far behind
Seemed to be fluttering in the wind.
It was not shaped in a classic mould,
Not like a Nymph or Goddess of old,
Or Naiad rising from the water,
But modelled from the Master's daughter!
On many a dreary and misty night,
'T will be seen by the rays of the signal light,
Speeding along through the rain and the dark,
Like a ghost in its snow-white sark,
The pilot of some phantom bark,
Guiding the vessel, in its flight,
By a path none other knows aright!
Behold, at last,
Each tall and tapering mast
Is swung into its place;
Shrouds and stays
Holding it firm and fast!

Long ago,
In the deer-haunted forests of Maine,
When upon mountain and plain
Lay the snow,
They fell,--those lordly pines!
Those grand, majestic pines!
'Mid shouts and cheers
The jaded steers,
Panting beneath the goad,
Dragged down the weary, winding road
Those captive kings so straight and tall,
To be shorn of their streaming hair,
And, naked and bare,
To feel the stress and the strain
Of the wind and the reeling main,
Whose roar
Would remind them forevermore
Of their native forests they should not see again.

And everywhere
The slender, graceful spars
Poise aloft in the air,
And at the mast-head,
White, blue, and red,
A flag unrolls the stripes and stars.
Ah! when the wanderer, lonely, friendless,
In foreign harbors shall behold
That flag unrolled,
'T will be as a friendly hand
Stretched out from his native land,
Filling his heart with memories sweet and endless!

All is finished! and at length
Has come the bridal day
Of beauty and of strength.
To-day the vessel shall be launched!
With fleecy clouds the sky is blanched,
And o'er the bay,
Slowly, in all his splendors dight,
The great sun rises to behold the sight.

The ocean old,
Centuries old,
Strong as youth, and as uncontrolled,
Paces restless to and fro,
Up and down the sands of gold.
His beating heart is not at rest;
And far and wide,
With ceaseless flow,
His beard of snow
Heaves with the heaving of his breast.
He waits impatient for his bride.
There she stands,
With her foot upon the sands,
Decked with flags and streamers gay,
In honor of her marriage day,
Her snow-white signals fluttering, blending,
Round her like a veil descending,
Ready to be
The bride of the gray old sea.

On the deck another bride
Is standing by her lover's side.
Shadows from the flags and shrouds,
Like the shadows cast by clouds,
Broken by many a sunny fleck,
Fall around them on the deck.

The prayer is said,
The service read,
The joyous bridegroom bows his head;
And in tear's the good old Master
Shakes the brown hand of his son,
Kisses his daughter's glowing cheek
In silence, for he cannot speak,
And ever faster
Down his own the tears begin to run.
The worthy pastor--
The shepherd of that wandering flock,
That has the ocean for its wold,
That has the vessel for its fold,
Leaping ever from rock to rock--
Spake, with accents mild and clear,
Words of warning, words of cheer,
But tedious to the bridegroom's ear.
He knew the chart
Of the sailor's heart,
All its pleasures and its griefs,
All its shallows and rocky reefs,
All those secret currents, that flow
With such resistless undertow,
And lift and drift, with terrible force,
The will from its moorings and its course.
Therefore he spake, and thus said he:--
"Like unto ships far off at sea,
Outward or homeward bound, are we.
Before, behind, and all around,
Floats and swings the horizon's bound,
Seems at its distant rim to rise
And climb the crystal wall of the skies,
And then again to turn and sink,
As if we could slide from its outer brink.
Ah! it is not the sea,
It is not the sea that sinks and shelves,
But ourselves
That rock and rise
With endless and uneasy motion,
Now touching the very skies,
Now sinking into the depths of ocean.
Ah! if our souls but poise and swing
Like the compass in its brazen ring,
Ever level and ever true
To the toil and the task we have to do,
We shall sail securely, and safely reach
The Fortunate Isles, on whose shining beach
The sights we see, and the sounds we hear,
Will he those of joy and not of fear!"

Then the Master,
With a gesture of command,
Waved his hand;
And at the word,
Loud and sudden there was heard,
All around them and below,
The sound of hammers, blow on blow,
Knocking away the shores and spurs.
And see! she stirs!
She starts,--she moves,--she seems to feel
The thrill of life along her keel,
And, spurning with her foot the ground,
With one exulting, joyous bound,
She leaps into the ocean's arms!

And lo! from the assembled crowd
There rose a shout, prolonged and loud,
That to the ocean seemed to say,
"Take her, O bridegroom, old and gray,
Take her to thy protecting arms,
With all her youth and all her charms!"

How beautiful she is! How fair
She lies within those arms, that press
Her form with many a soft caress
Of tenderness and watchful care!
Sail forth into the sea, O ship!
Through wind and wave, right onward steer!
The moistened eye, the trembling lip,
Are not the signs of doubt or fear.

Sail forth into the sea of life,
O gentle, loving, trusting wife,
And safe from all adversity
Upon the bosom of that sea
Thy comings and thy goings be!
For gentleness and love and trust
Prevail o'er angry wave and gust;
And in the wreck of noble lives
Something immortal still survives!

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O UNION, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'T is of the wave and not the rock;
'T is but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee,
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee,--are all with thee!
0 Replies
Reply Tue 12 Apr, 2005 12:15 pm
Cowdoc wrote:
An interesting note regarding the Armada that many don't realize - the English fire ships sank or damaged a grand total of zero Spanish vessels.

And nobody's cannon sank any either. It was really the first ever major engagement of naval artillery, and everybody had assumed that now they had cannon they could just stand off and pound each other to bits. when that didn't happen, they were flummoxed and didn't really know what to do next. It was a bit like the First World War in a way - it was everybody's first try-out with the new technology, and nobody really know how best to use it.
0 Replies
Reply Fri 15 Apr, 2005 02:19 pm
CowDoc wrote:
An interesting note regarding the Armada that many don't realize - the English fire ships sank or damaged a grand total of zero Spanish vessels. However, the mere sight of them scared the Spanish to the point where a goodly number of these ships cut their anchor cables in order to maneuver out of the way quickly. This proved fatal when the fleet encountered the massive storm off Great Britain some time later, and they were not able to anchor to stabilize the ships. As I said, just a curious sidebar to the actual events.

The fire ships scattered the Spaniards. Many ships grounded in their panicked flight, and there were many collisions. The Duke of Parma did not get the payroll for his troops, which hurt the cause mightily, because the standard expedient--turning the troops loose to sack a city, as was done in Antwerp in the 1560's--would have further alienated a population which Parma was trying to win over in order to devote his attentions full time to the Dutch rebels. He did get most of his artillery, but this left the naval commanders feeling vulnerable. The English frigates and snows hadn't sunk any ships, but so many had been disabled, and had to be taken under tow, that the Spanish naval commanders eventually decided that rather than risk another run through the Channel, they would sail north, and round Scotland. This lead to the famous storm disaster.

During such naval combat, it was very rare indeed that a ship would be sunk outright. When Essex was trapped on a lee shore north of Valparaiso, and the two English frigates stood off at long range to pound her (she had only short-range guns), Farragut recounts that more fifty men were killed, and this was an extraordinary number. Typically, a ship "struck," which is to say, lowered her national ensign, in token of surrender (which is what the commander of Essex felt obliged to do). When John Paul Jones took Serapis with Bonne Homme Richard, the initial exchange of broadsides dismounted most of Jones' guns. The English tended to fire as the ship rolled down (ships rock back and forth along the centerline--which is pitch; and they roll from side to side, which is roll, which causes a figure of eight to be described by any stationary point on the ship's rail, and the entire effect is known as yaw), which damages the hull, and frequently dismouts guns, causing a great deal of casualties (although usually few outright deaths), largely due, as the Big Bird noted, to splinters. Ships of the day had splinter netting to mount just inboard the hull when the crew went to quarters. Jones' crew, largely recruited in France, followed the French policy of firing when the ship rolled up, which tends to damage the other ships sails and rigging--using chain can help to assure this. In the most celebrated victory of a French fleet over and English fleet in American history, De Grasse got the weather guage of Graves (put his fleet between Graves' fleet and the wind), and then wrecked their sails and rigging. Graves was obliged to break off as soon as possible, and run away, which is rather difficult with so many ships' sails and rigging disabled. The two fleets drifted in sight of each other for a few days, and then Graves finally left when sufficient repairs had been effected to make sail with his battered fleet. He had six ships badly damaged and about 300 men killed--De Grasse had damage to four ships, and about 200 men killed.

In Jones' engagement, he had gotten the weather guage of Serapis, which not only gives a speed and manoeuvrability advantage, but literally blocks the air that would fill your enemy's sails. Despite the heavy damage to his starboard broadside, he had gotten enough chain and round shot into Serapis' rigging to slow her down significantly (she was already deprived of the full force of the wind--and the conditions were described as "light airs"--by the mere presence of Bonne Homme Richard upwind of her). Jones managed to turn the old, rotting, wallowing pig of a ship the French had given him, and put his port broadside into her, using round shot and chain, as he passed the stern. Although relatively few were killed, the solid shot ran half way down the gun deck, and silenced her broadsides for a critical ten minutes or so. Commanders commonly mounted very small swivel carronades (a standard carronade is the nautical equivalent of a sawed off shotgun), and the French now turned those onto the gun deck of the English frigate with grape shot. The English finally struck when Serapis was dead in the water, unable to get leeway, and her gun deck so swept with grape and chain, that she could no longer answer with a broadside. The entire battle took place off Flamborough Head on the east coast of England, just at sunset. Thousands drove or walked to the shore to watch the spectacle. Jones transferred his flag to Serapis which had suffered very little real damage below the rail. It is possible to completely "re-rig" a ship, even as badly damaged as the sails and rigging of Serapis had become, but you cannot do it during combat. Bonne Homme Richard had been "hulled" repeatedly, and was taking water so badly, that many aboard thought that if the English hadn't struck, she would have been dead in the water as well, due to the damage in her hull, and the consequent weight of water she was taking on. She sank the next morning, and Jones sailed away in Serapis.

{Edit: Lest anyone misunderstand, Bonne Homme Richard sank, but Serapis had not actually sunk her. Jones had men working the pumps from the time the first broadside came in. But he also knew that the English would hunt him down (Serapis was hunting Jones, who had taken a good deal of English shipping within sight of their coast in the sloop of war Ranger, to the great embarrassment of the Admiralty), and the old French hulk would slow him down too much if he tried to salvage her. Bascially, Jones allow Bonne Homme Richard to sink.}

During the Naval War of 1812, American frigates, if properly handled (as most were, although not all), could stand off at longer range than the English frigates could manage, using the superiority of their 24 pounders over the English 16 pounders, and dismount the enemy batteries, then come in close for the nasty work with chain and grape shot. At that point, the enemy commanders would usually strike. By the end of that war, if an English frigate saw an American frigate approaching from up wind, with the weather guage, they usually just ran.

I cannot recommend too highly The Naval War of 1812, by Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. I believe he published that in 1881 or 1882, at about the time he entered politics. Although still criticized as highly partisan (which is surely is), it is nonetheless a thoroughly sound piece of scholarship, and enough so that when the Royal Navy were compiling their history in the 1890's, they solicited Roosevelt to write the article on that war.
0 Replies
Reply Fri 15 Apr, 2005 03:28 pm
Just dropped by to say "Hi" to Set and bookmark:

Emily Dickinson

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
0 Replies
Reply Fri 15 Apr, 2005 03:48 pm
Those old ships come alive in a thread like this.
0 Replies

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