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Old 08-09-2011, 08:06   #46
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Didz,

I just read through the thread and find it a very interesting question.

I think I have to expand on goboatingnow's point and suggest that there are no parallels in maneuverability between power and sail.

Sail battles maneuvers were all about getting the weather gage (upwind position), which gave you the advantage of deciding when and if to engage in actual battle. It also would give you more ability to maneuver while closing to combat. There wasn't a lot of "dogfighting" once battle was joined.

Speed, shallow draft and ability to sail close to the wind were "strategic" advantages that would allow you to chase down or to run away from an opponent.

Quick maneuverability was more an ability to turn the ship in a short period of time to point the guns than turn radius. Sail handling skill ( and large crew ) was the main determining factor there.

Watch match racing videos to get an idea of how sailboats try to get advantage of position over each other.

Also, ask the same question over a wooden boat, they might have a different selection of experts. The WoodenBoat Forum

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Old 08-09-2011, 13:51   #47
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

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I think I have to expand on goboatingnow's point and suggest that there are no parallels in maneuverability between power and sail.
I agree which is why think it's wrong to assess the maneouvrability of 18th Century warships based upon the performance of modern pwer driven vessels.

I think we need to start from what we know about modern tall ship handling and work backwards.
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Sail battles maneuvers were all about getting the weather gage (upwind position), which gave you the advantage of deciding when and if to engage in actual battle. It also would give you more ability to maneuver while closing to combat. There wasn't a lot of "dogfighting" once battle was joined.
Well it wasn't quite that black and white.

Certainly, if you were Nelson or one of his contemporaries then you wanted to secure the wind gauge, because not only did that give you more flexibility in choosing your line of attack by it also limited the options that your opponent had to seize the initiative.

However, the French for example favoured the downwind position. The advantage of the downwind position was that you could easily fall off the wind and drop to leeward in order to maintain the distance between your fleet and opposition.

French ships tended to carry a heavier long range broadside than the British and so this made perfect sense, and in theory would have given the French the tactical edge.

The worse case scenario's are being downwind and trying to close with the enemy, or upwind and trying to keep your distance.
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Old 08-09-2011, 18:04   #48
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Also, although gaining the weather-gage was the classic tactic for ships or fleets, in higher winds with greater heel it could be the case that an upwind vessel with limited freeboard could not open her lower tier of gunports and use her heaviest guns. Also, she might be somewhat limited in how much she could elevate her guns, a possible concern at long ranges.
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Old 10-09-2011, 02:39   #49
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

And of course the downwind vessels will be heeled over to increase the elevation of their guns and therefore able to fire farther. So whilst the Royal Navy were definitely obssessed with 'the wind-gauge', it wasn't always the best option.

Another Seamanship Question.

Changing the subject back to the original topic of ship manoeuvrability a suggestion has been made on the history forum that Masters of ships of the line were able to sail closer to the wind than 56 degree's by the simple expedient of taking in all their square-rigged canvas and relying soley on their 'fore and aft' sails. (see below)


Nobody here as mentioned this as a seamanship option, and none of the naval battle paintings I've seen show ships with no square sails set relying on their foe and aft sails alone. But, apparently computer modelling suggests it should work.

However, computer modelling also suggests that longbows has a maximum range of 150 yards and couldn't penetrate armour, and that the bumble bee can't fly. So, I'm interested in a seaman's views on this idea.
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Old 10-09-2011, 02:54   #50
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

A great, but simple game, free to download, is called SURPRISE.
It has a two and three masted boat that you sail. There is an automatic mode that allows to see how it's done, you can then send the deck master below to try and instruct the deckhands (set the spar angles, sail plan, and rudder postions) to try to get the ship to tack. Heel and sideslip are built in and reported. The hull, mast positions, sail sizes and some shapes are all tuneable and can be saved to make New Ships.
It is very difficult to get a ship to tack without going backwards, which is not what I expected but maybe it is actual fact? I've never read of it.
For general nautical stories of the time you really can't beat O'Briens books of Cap'n Aubrey and his adventures from boy to Master and Commander in Nelson's period 1780's to 1820's. He did a very great deal of research into getting his stories right, mirroring, but not too tied to, Nelson's own story. His stories also make the point that captains got a miserly supply of shot and powder from the admiralty (always protective of it's coffers) and the captains had to purchase their own if they wanted to work their crews up from four minutes to a minute or so per round.
I have never yet found a game that brings any sense of reality and difficulty to the naval battles of this period.
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Old 10-09-2011, 03:52   #51
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Note that the rudders are manned, there's no steam engine driving them, just more rope and pulleys. In heavy weather up to four men were allocated in fairly short shifts as the 'work' was so hard. Making rudders larger to have more authority was risking losing them.
Crew numbers, officers skill, and the captains pocket were significant factors in each ships handling.
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Old 10-09-2011, 04:10   #52
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Found this rather nice period painting of two lines of battle.

As far as I can tell the windward line is close hauled on the starboard tack (judging by the masthead pennants) and the leeward line is on a slightly different course (possible a reach) with the wind coming more over the beam, and its yards are braced at a much tighter angle.



The thing I noticed is that neither fleet is relying upon its fore and aft sails to maintain a course closer to the wind. In fact, a quick check reveals that all the fore and aft sails are furled, even the headsails. Suggesting perhaps that the pressure on the headsails was actually causing the bow of the ship to swing downwind and hampering rather than helping its windward course.

Is this just artist license, or does the sail configuration in painting make logical sense?
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Old 10-09-2011, 04:18   #53
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Another artists impression. Another landlubber artist on a hefty commission. They seem to be on the same course, and firing at exactly the same time.
Each fleet would not dare to fire before their admiral's ship did, and after the first round the firing would be as fast as possible, varying, of course, with the competence of the crews and damage aboard.
The biggest factor in victory/defeat is in fact the damage to rigging which can determine an escape or a fight to the death.
The manoeuvre most sought in single ship conflict is to cross the opponents stern, firing into it and through the whole length of the ship, causing immense damage to men and the gun decks in particular.
This was the reason for Nelson's decisive action at Trafalgar when he lead his line of ships through the enemies defensive lines.
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Old 10-09-2011, 04:34   #54
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Well thats always the issue with using art as a reference of course. One only needs to look at Lady Butlers painting of the Charge of the Scots Greys to see how far from the truth artists are prepared to wander.

However, as a basis of discussion the painting raises a number of interesting points.

One does need to be slightly cautious about fixating on 'The Nelson Touch' when talking about naval tactic's of the 18th Century. Nelson was considered at the time to be a bit of a loose cannon when it came to naval tactic's and strategy, it was only after he was dead and became lionised by the British propaganda machine that his idea's and tactic's were raised to become the standard against which all others were judged.

If one reads the letters of other captains and officers from Trafalgar for instance you realise that many of them were horrified by his plan of attack, which was considered by some to be tantamount to suicide and sure to lead to the destruction of the British fleet.

Up to that point the generally accepted tactic was to bring you're fleet alongside that of the enemy and blast away at them until either they or you were forced to break off and escape. Not very decisive, but the advantage was that it tended to preserve 'the fleet in being' which was more important than elimination of the enemy.

What is interesting about Trafalgar, and has never really been answered is why the Frano-Spanish fleet didn't do what most of Nelson's officers expected and destroy the approaching British vessels in detail as the tried to close the range.

In theory, they had more than enough firepower to dismantle every British ship before it reached them, but in practice, casualites and damage were remarkably light.
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Old 10-09-2011, 04:50   #55
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Probably, certainly, because they had the same view as their English counterparts, the tactic was suicidal, monstrous, unworkable. Fate would deal with him. Plus, of course, the certainty of dishonour should they disobey their orders and close individually. Without instruction from their flagship they followed the last order received.
Nelson, no doubt convinced of his plan by his officers objections, had decided that two things would happen.
First: that the Admirals ship would be severely damaged and unable to command the fleet by flag orders, semaphore etc,.
Second: that the enemy would not react individually, awaiting orders from the next line of command down.
The Laurels fell fairly to the victor, not by a defeat, but by the withdrawal of the enemy to remain in port, refusing to meet in battle again. If my memory serves correct, I was but a powder boy at the time!
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Old 10-09-2011, 05:22   #56
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Yeah! Just try to sail a single rigged boat with no rudder at all and you just shift your weight fore and aft in the boat, it's fun and exciting!
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Old 10-09-2011, 11:27   #57
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

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Masters of ships of the line were able to sail closer to the wind than 56 degree's by the simple expedient of taking in all their square-rigged canvas and relying soley on their 'fore and aft' sails. (see below)

Nobody here as mentioned this as a seamanship option...
We do set the staysails when _motoring_ too close to the wind for the square sails to work. The purpose is to reduce rolling and to gain an extra knot or so, but this is never an underway pure sailing or manoevering configuration. I think the picture of a 20-gun ship was meant as an illustration to the sail-naming rather than an example of a ship underway.

As for the simulation games, I know two board games (non-computer) from the Company called SPI - Simulations Publications Inc. One - "Frigate" (1974) is now in front of me on the table, and I think a newer, simplified version - "Fighting Sail" appeared in the 1980's. Not easy to play, but the research that went into these games is very respectable.
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Old 10-09-2011, 14:06   #58
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

It all comes down to Polar Diagrams. With fore and aft sails the angle is better but the speed is lower. The diagram changes as wind strength increases, square sails generate more leeway by their nature, a faster hull speed though helps to reduce leeway.
Certainly in the 'Surprise' environment it's very difficult to claw to windward. Confirmed by the plot shown early in this thread.
The navigation routes were established by each countries navy, and kept secret, because the seasons winds and currents determined when and where their warships or fleets could go.
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Old 10-09-2011, 14:43   #59
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Frigates and ships of the line are also very different due to scale...watching any large ship maneuver is like watching paint dry-bowthrusters,twin screws and all.It's the inertia.Aircraft carriers vs frigates in modern day terms.
Maneuverability is one thing.Time is the other.
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Old 10-09-2011, 15:03   #60
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Re: Manoeuvrability of Square-Rigged Vessels ?

Yes! time taken to complete a manoeuvre is also of interest. I was interested to note that in the video The Star of India's master seems quite proud that he had managed to complete his tack in five minutes.
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