“SHIPS” Raising the pin wood mast, they set
it in the hollow socket, binding it firm with forestays, and tightening the
white sail with twisted ox-hid thongs. The wind swelled out the belly of the
sail and round the stern loudly the rippling waves roared. – Homer
Water is a natural barrier. And yet
the first apelike man who floated upon a log embarked on that adventurous quest
which has transformed the once impassable seas into the highways of the world.
cavemen lashed several logs together. Peruvian Indians make rafts of balsa
reeds, while natives of Madras and Manchuria venture into rough waters on
makeshifts quite as crude. Abraham Lincoln took his one long voyage down the Mississippi
on a raft.
only a larger edition of these crude rafts. The first recorded specimen appears
upon the wall of an Egyptian tomb more than six thousand years old. With its
half-moon hull, its single mast and rowers seated in the waist, it differs
little from craft that sail the Nile today.
were the first nation, except perhaps the Cretans, to gain supremacy by
seamanship. Their long galleys were dependent partly upon sail, but more upon
oars, for with the muscles in his shoulders has man conquered the sea. Perhaps
these hardy Argonauts never rounded the Cape of Good Hope as Herodotus Hints,
but they did explore the sinister African coast beyond the Equator, and braved
the boisterous North Atlantic perhaps to the shores of the Baltic.
Unfortunately their priceless heritage of sea lore has been lost. The most
graphic account of a Phoenician voyage survives in the Book of Jonah, which
bequeathed to all seafaring men that personification of bad luck, a sky pilot!
called their longer craft serpent ships, those less pretentious sea dragons.
They bore the distinguishing Figurehead, for builders of all ages have adorned
their cutwaters with shapes pleasing or frightful, from siren to Medusa.
Chinese even now provide their junks with grotesque eyes to “see their way
ships were of oak and could be dragged ashore. Through undecked and carrying
neither chart nor compass, they were better provisioned than Greek galleys, and
often transported living cattle for food. Although provided with a mast and
sail, the savage sea kings hung their shields along the bulwarks, bent their
shoulders to the oar, and ventured out into the Atlantic even in winter. They
rounded North Cape, Colonized Iceland and Greenland, and explored Labrador and
Nova Scotia five centuries before John Cabot viewed those forbidding coasts.
With little shelter from the elements, drench with icy spray, singing songs of
blood and pillage, steering by sun or stars or by blind instinct, they issued
their ringing challenge to the sea.
glorious Age of Sail dawned with the packet of clipper ships of the early
1800s. The East India Company first designed them for passengers. The cabin
class, who paid from ninety-five to two hundred and fifty pounds sterling for a
long passage from England to India, provided their own furniture and bedding.
full-rigged ship was the queen of the seas, a sight beloved by every old salt,
as she scudded like a cloud before the wind. Modifications of masts and rigging
introduced the whole race of barks and barkentines, brigs and brigantines, and
even sloops. Unfortunately square-riggers have gone out of fashion. Only a few
still linger as grain carriers from Australia around the Horn. Square yards
provided a certain balance, and ships could remain more closely bunched in
convoys. But economy and ease of management evolved that more familiar type,
the schooner. Her sails could be hoisted from deck and reefed with comparative
ease. There was no going aloft to hang like flies on a swaying yardarm in
howling gales; hence a smaller crew was required.
The first schooner seems to have
been built by Andrew Robinson, of Gloucester, in 1745. She had two masts, the
familiar yachting rig, and was destined to become the model fishing vessel of
the future. Schooners with three masts were built to carry freight, and then gradually
enlarged until the peak was reached in the seven-masted Thomas W. Lawson that
registered 10,000 tons. She too came to rest in Day Jones’s Locker, off the
Scilly Islands, in a gale in 1907.
pursuits played no little part in ship design. The first “clipper” seems to
have been built for the opium trade of China, where speed above all else was a
requisite. Malay craft with rakish three-cornered sails, light of draught and
swift, could sail far closer to the wind than the average square-rigger. From
converts in Borneo they darted forth like killer whales to prey upon some
merchantman becalmed in Makassar Strait. Nor were the white man’s hands less
dyed with blood. No ships were of more evil repute than the slavers, which
eluded waiting gunboats by superior speed and seamanship, leaving their trail
of manacled corpses cast to the sharks.
of China created the junk, high fore and aft, her sails of bamboo strips. Yet
in such ships the great Admiral Cheng Ho, long before Columbus, made voyages
that totaled seventy-five thousand miles, to spread throughout the Orient the
superior culture of the Ming Emperors.
centered in the dhow, with forward-slanting masts and three-cornered sails. One
may still observe them, clumsy but seaworthy, in Mombasa, or Ceylon, whence
they have voyaged across the Indian Ocean. Moored in harbor, and surrounded by
lesser craft, they awaken memories of Sinbad the Sailor and The Arabian Nights.
(The texts are from the aforementioned book and the photos are from the internet… )