Quote: "I read that many lives were lost
at sea on the bowsprit back in the age of sail..."
The bowsprit on a REAL sailing ship was an extremely dangerous place to work
. But the sprits of the grown-up ships of yore were a far different thing from the little things on a modern toy ship!
We have the luxury, with our toy ships, to rig them so that any headsail, such as a Yankee, can be handled from the deck
. There is not, in a cruising boat
, any need to go on the sprit at all, and therefore no risk of falling or being swept off it.
Here is a clip of the Norwegian training
full rigger Sőrlandet which shows you how long and how high off the water
the sprits were in real ships even though Sőrlandet is only a little ship. She is less than 200 feet twixt perpendiculars and somewhat less than 900 tons displacement
. The video is taken from her companion training
ship Statsrĺd Lehmkuhl, a much bigger ship, and on her you can see the safety
netting strung below the sprit in order to catch anyone falling off it. Even with this safety provision in place, I'm sure it is no joke going off a sprit, or any other part of a gown-up ships rigging
, when "the scattered waters rave and the winds their revels keep".
Working ships did not have such safety netting. Going off the sprit would result in being maimed by the ship running over you, but even if the ship did not run over you, a real ship under a press of sail cannot be stopped, or even turned, in less than several miles. In the open sea you cannot see the head
of a man swimming for more than a few score feet, and even if you were able to turn a ship, you would never be able to locate the MOB
. Going off any part of the rigging
was, in fact, a death sentence. And standard practice for the officer on watch was to say a quiet prayer for the man and press on without any attempt to rescue
him. So now you can imagine why sprits were called "widow makers".
The sprits on the toy boats we sail bear no relation to "widow makers", We, sailing our toy ships, do not work
under the conditions our seafaring forebears had to, and no sensible skipper
of a cruising yacht would ask of a crewmember what an AB in a real ship took in his stride.
If you fancy a boat
with a sprit, by all means have one. The sprit is not dangerous in the hands of a competent "Sunday skipper", and if you would like to know how to rig it to handle canvas
from the deck
or even the cockpit
, sing out, and you'll get a plethora of answers from our members.
All the best!