Cunningham: "On Working Ships' Yards", 1867.*

By H.D. Cunningham, Esq., Associate.

[Read at the Eighth Session of the Institution of Naval Archtects, April 12th, 1867; Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Belcher, K.C.B., Assoc. Mem. Council, in the Chair.]

It will be, I am sure, admitted by every officer of the mercantile marine, that there never was a time when everything in the shape of mechanical help was so much needed on board merchant ships as now. The increase in the size of our ships, making, of course, the yards, &c., proportionably larger and heavier to work, and the sad fact, which I believe I am quite right in stating, viz., the falling off of our merchant seamen, in numbers, as well as in physique, point to the necessity of adopting mechanical helps to supplement manual labour in every direction, where such can be applied. It was with these views that some two years back I went into the subject of the bracing round of ships' yards. I knew how very difficult this operation frequently was on board large and ill-manned ships, and how much need there was for some means to help physical strength in working the yards, and I flatter myself, that in my new method of bracing round ships' yards, I have produced a singularly simple and powerful apparatus for assisting the manual power, and, at the same time, improving the operation with some striking and positive advantages.

In entering upon this work, I struck out on the plan of using chain instead of rope for the working part of the braces, and in lieu of terminating the braces in the usual manner at each side of the ship, I continue the brace over the deck through the brace block on the other side of the yard, bringing back the end to a fixed point on the side of the ship. I have thus a continuous chain. The bight of this chain I pass over a toothed barrel, fitted in a winch or crab, of the construction illustrated by Figs. 7 and 8, Plate VII., being different views of the brace machine. It will be seen that the chain passes under level rollers at each end of the machine and then over the barrel alluded to, when the links are held or clutched by the teeth or indentations. When the barrel is turned round, the chain is drawn in on one side and passed out on the other side. Lever stoppers are placed at the ends of the machine for stopping and controlling the chain. These stoppers are seen at a and b. For a fore yard, I place this machine at A in the annexed woodcut, and for a main yard it is usually placed on one side of the poop, at B. It is almost needless for me to explain the operation of bracing round yards by this method, as its extreme simplicity is it own description. However, on turning round the winch handle of the machine, the chain is drawn in one side and passed out on the other side of the ship, and thus the yard is braced round in whichever direction may be required. When bracing sharp up, a certain amount of slack will exist. This is taken up by putting down the lee stopper, and heaving in on the weather chain until the brace is taut, when the weather stopper is put down and the yard secured.

The help that this simple invention affords may be estimated as one to five; that is, one man can certainly do the work of five, or even more. But, perhaps, I had better quote some expressions from those who have had the practical working of my invention. Mr. Martin, Trinity pilot, writes to say that in working round to Spithead in strong winds in the ship Dragon, he found three men sufficient to work the foreyard, sparing the rest to work the fore tack and sheet -- an important advantage in working ship in a confined channel. The commander and officers of the same ship write from Calcutta that they found it to be a great advantage in light and variable weather when taken aback, as so many more men of the watch can be spared to attend to the other sails. Mr. Dames, the Trinity pilot, writes in the highest terms of my braces in working the ship Colonial Empire down Channel. The commander of the ship Roseneath, of Glasgow, describes that in a stormy passage to Montreal he found three hands sufficient to work his foreyard. In light winds two hands can brace it round with ease. This ship is 1,000 tons. Mr. Thomas Martin, Trinity pilot, in reporting on the working of the braces on a ship he had taken down Channel, says: "I should very much like to have it on board every ship I pilot from London." The commander of the ship Colonial Empire, writing from Sydney, after expressing himself very strongly as to the advantages he found from the invention during a heavy beat down Channel, points out this striking benefit. He says: "One great advantage in heavy weather of these braces is that the men are in amidships instead of the scuppers, and consequently are much drier." The commander of a very large ship, the Indian Chief, 1,800 tons register, arriving at Liverpool from Bombay, recommends it as a useful invention for saving labour and helping in the navigation of the ship. This ship's foreyard was very heavy. The master of the ship St. Vincent, with fore and main yards fitted, is very warm in his praises. He says, "Words are superfluous to describe the advantages of your patent braces over the old-fashioned plan. And he knows it would be to the interest of every shipowner to have them." Mr. Cargill, an old ship-master, who has commanded ships for forty years, states, with reference to navigating the ship Christina Thompson from Aberdeen to London, in very heavy weather beating all the way, that he found four hands sufficient to work the foreyard with ease; he says that he considers the invention a very valuable one. This ship is 1,079 tons register.

The commander of the China clipper ship Maitland, fitted fore and aft, after his return from a voyage to China, says: "They have many advantages over the old plan: you can spare so many men to the tacks and sheets: the braces are always clear, and the men amidships instead of the the lee scuppers. I hope never to be without them. The braces will last for years, there being so little wear and tear." Another pilot, Mr. William Loughton, says: "I should like to have it on board every ship I take from London." I will conclude these expressions of opinion of this invention by quoting a striking advantage pointed out to me by Admiral Sir William Martin, which seems to have escaped the notice of others. I am sure Sir William will pardon my making use of his valuable suggestion. He says: "For head braces they are most important. There is an advantage they have which I well recollect having mentioned before: -- the great use they would be in weighing anchor when the ship casts the wrong way. At such a time there is the urgent want to get the anchor up to prevent hooking other ships' cables, and at the same time probably to have to brace round the yards."

I may mention that Sir William Martin inspected the ship Dragon on her arrival at Spithead, and so was familiar with the invention.

I will not, however, not detain you longer. I believe the subject must be an interesting one to naval architects as well as to shipowners.


A Member: Will you allow me, Sir Edward, to ask Mr. Cunningham why he employs two things to do the same thing? I believe he can have as powerful a crab as he pleases, quite adequate to turn the yard; notwithstanding that, he puts a pulley upon it, which of course very much augments the expense. He has more rope to pull in -- a very dear article, l let me say, always, and I think it might be done equally well with a good large crab. In fact, this is the only thing that prevents me from adopting the invention. I must express myself much indebted to Mr. Cunningham for his patent top-sails and other contrivances, but I think if he would adopt a simple winch instead of doubling it over with a pulley it would be more economical, and shipowners would be able to adopt it more readily than they can at present.

Mr. Cunningham: Will you kindly explain what you mean by the double pulley first?

A Member: Mr. Cunnginham is aware that there was a time when ships sailed without any pulleys at all; and about a century ago, it was thought a great invention when they were added to a ship, but I think that they are carried too far, and that to a great extent we can do without them.

Mr. Cunningham: In some cases the masters of ships single their braces. Instead of working upon the two they work upon the single one, but they lose power by it. What I can do with two parts with one man of course would require two or three by the single.

A Member: Not if you get a more powerful crab?

Mr. Cunningham: Yes.

Mr. Holman: I happen to be in a position to be able to corroborate part of what Mr. Cunningham has said. I happened to be in Liverpool when the Indian Chief arrived from Bombay, and I conversed both with the mate and the captain on the subject of this winch, and made various enquires; so convinced was I of its value, that I recommended it in a ship of about 1,000 tons register, and I added, "If it does not answer after the first voyage, you may charge me with the cost of the machine."

*) Received April 12th, 1867. Back.

Transaction of the Institute of Naval Architects, Vol. 8 (1867), pp 183-186.
Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

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