Francis Liardet: Professional Recollections on Points of Seamanship, Discipline, &c., 1849.

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On steam-vessels having main-topsails.

I believe I am right when I assert, that the main-topsail of a sailing vessel should be kept set as long as possible in blowing weather, more particularly when accompanied with a heavy sea. It is the resistance of the main-topsail, placed on such a long lever as the main-mast head, which gives the ship that easy motion which she so generally has when lying by the wind, under that sail. If from any accident you lose the use of this sail for a short time, the ship will soon convince you of its utility by her continued heavy rolling until it is set again. Storm-sails are not high enough to make sufficient resistance to the rolling of the ship: the shape of the storm stay-sails prevents their being of much use in steadying the ship in a heavy sea; besides, all low sails must be liable to the objection of being becalmed in some measure, in a heavy sea. How many ships were lost in former times, from the practice of heaving-to, or lying by the wind, under the square main-sail. It must appear wonderful to the seamen of the present day, how this dangerous sail ever could have been used for lying by the wind in heavy gales. This sail, from its central position, and the difficulty of working it, should be furled previous to unsettled threatening weather. If seamen invariably admit that a main-topsail is the best sail for steadying a sailing vessel in gales of wind and heavy sea, the same must hold good with steamers; but in a much greater degree is the main-topsail required in a steamer than in a sailing vessel. Sailing vessels have their weights more equally divided than steamers, therefore not so likely to strain themselves. The weights in a steamer are so placed, that a long steadying lever in the shape if a main-topsail, will go far to prevent that heavy jerking motion in a sea-way, which strains and disables them s often, when obliged to trust to their sails only, which must be continually the case when employed with fleets, or squadrons. I am under an impression, that if steamers were polacca-rigged up to 800 or 900 tons, it would be found a very handy rig; by this rig you would save tops, topmast rigging, futtock-shrouds, and numberless other ropes; the topsails should be rather squarer than usual, with short topmasts, and fidded top-gallant masts. I have little doubt of the polacca's topmast holding less wind with the decreased rigging and tops, than the struck topmast as at present fitted; this rig would be a great saving of expense, time, and labour.*
* This article was written when the Rattler was the only steam vessel of war that the author recollects having seen with a standing main-topsail, all the rest of the steamers having only flying main-topsails.
Francis Liardet: Professional Recollections on Points of Seamanship, Discipline, &c.
William Woodward, Portsea, 1849. 8vo, frontisp., (6), x, 319 pp, 1 col. plate of signals.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

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