Letter from R.B. Forbes to Captain Bradbury.

Boston, August 4, 1855.

Captain Bradbury,

Ship N.B. Palmer, New-York:

Dear Sir,--

The respective merits of the Howe's and the Forbes' rig have been discussed in the papers of the day, and in Nautical works, and you know that I am desirous that the public shall have the benefit of your experience; indeed, I am somewhat pledged to make known the fact, that you prefer the Howe's to my rig, if it is a fact, as Messrs. A.A. Low & Brothers wrote me on the 31st ultimo. I have often said that I could not see the advantages of the Howe's rig, take it all and all, over mine, excepting for the purpose of fitting an old or already sparred ship. I have stated that the Howe's rig is the most economical in the first cost, either for a new or for an old ship, and therefore I presumed that it would be more generally adopted, and I have stated, that I should not give up the old and long-cherished idea, that mine was on the whole the strongest, safest, neatest and most handy, up to the point of close-reefed topsails;-- and apart from the cost -- until some good seaman who had tried both, should pronounce in favor of Howe's rig. Messrs. A.A. Low & Bro., in answer to my inquiry say, simply, "Captain Bradbury prefers the Howe's to the Forbes' rig, and will give you his reasons when he sees you". I have asked the Editor of the Nautical Magazine to send Messrs. Low a copy of the May number, in which are some remarks as to the new rigs. I refer you to what is said in pages 121 and 122, and would like to know how far your experience of both rigs justifies my remarks, as well as the editor's note, p. 122. The great question for me is, whether the Forbes' rig is inferior to Howe's rig, apart from the cost, and taking all its advantages into account; for instance, you may say, that "the Howe's rig is the best for stormy latitudes, where close reefing becomes necessary, and as you can dispense with some ropes, it is on the whole more convenient, and as it is considerably cheaper I prefer it".

But that is not the question with me. I want to know candidly what are the comparative merits apart from the cost. To my notion, all ships should be sparred, so that the principal sails are in the centre of the ship, on the mainmast. My rig is specially designed to accomplish this end, and at the same tie, to make the sails available on the different masts. True, these proportions in the Lantao and Mermaid, and some others, have been changed -- has the change been judicious? true, a ship may go several voyages, and be fortunate enough never to want to bend a fore-topsail for a main-top-gallant sail, or a fore-top-gallant sail for a main royal, and vice versa; and a ship may go many voyages and have no occasion to test the value of my rig, while riding in open roads where the topmasts must be housed as a certain stage of the barometer. A ship may be sailed for years, and never have the opportunity of clearing off shore with her topmasts housed, or on deck -- still, these are advantages of considerable consequence to vessels of war and to transports in time of war, and occasionally they may be very valuable to merchant ships in time of peace.

Some of the advantages claimed for my rig, as originally put on the Massachusetts, with the topmast abaft, are reduced by putting the masts before, and by doing this, the merits in particular named are reduced below the Howe's rig for a severe gale, and while topmasts are aloft. But suppose to be carried away or housed; in my rig you can set a double, or close-reefed topsail, and have all the support you want by cap-stays and cap-shrouds. In Howe's rig, under these circumstances, you may set your close-reefed topsail, but you have no cap-stays or backstays to support it. Again, I claim that my top-gallant sails, or upper topsails, are handier than those of Howe's rig, lighter, stronger, more easily furled, and as easily taken care of in a squall, while the ship is not reduced below double reefs; true, occasionally reducing to close reefs in a squall may be advantageous, but take the average of heavy squalls met with in China voyages; do you want to come down to close reefs? I think, as the upper topsails are set and taken in ten or twenty times where the others are reefed once, that they are the sails which ought to be most handy, and this is the case with mine; you are not obliged to clew up and furl mine any more than in the Howe's rig. And now to come to the top-gallant sails, or royals of any rig; in Howe's rig, these sails are exactly like the top-gallant sail of the old rig, and are equally unhandy to furl in a squall; indeed, they require as many or more hands to furl them than are required to furl or spill the upper topsails. In my rig, these top-gallant sails, or royals, are easily clewed up, and easily furled, and when furled, they cannot easily be blown away. I contend that my rig is, on the whole, stronger, more symmetrical, and works better.

I am aware that the Howe's rig is cheaper, and in all cases of altering a ship from old to new rig, I would adopt it myself. Now, having stated my views as to my rig, I would say, candidly, that the Howe's rig has advantages for an Atlantic passage to the westward in the winter season. Do they counterbalance the want of strength at the cap, and the fact that in bracing up, an unequal strain comes on the sheets and leeches, because the lower yard swings on a larger arc of a circle than the topsail-yard? Again, the lower topsail of Howe's rig cannot sheet home at first when new, and cannot look so well as the topsail of my rig.

Now, as to the studding-sails in Howe's rig, I presume they are the same as in the old rig, the topmast studding-sail setting to the upper topsail yard. This cannot be done in my rig, because the upper topsail yard is not strong enough to bear a large studding sail.

I have heard my rig objected to on account of the number of tacks and halyards, but I have imagined that the sails in small pieces, with light yards, and light ropes, were handier on the whole, than larger sails. You must understand that I have no other interest in the matter than to know from good authority wherein I have overestimated the advantages of my rig, and wherein I underrate Howe's rig. If you can give me good reasons for preferring the latter, I shall give them publicity; for my object is, to let the public have the best rig, and if your reasons are conclusive, I ought to be the first to say so.

I am, very truly yours,

R.B. Forbes.

The U.S. Nautical Magazine, Vol. III (1855-56), pp 31-32.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.