Art. IV. A Treatise on Practical Seamanship; with Hints and Remarks relating thereto: designed to contribute something towards fixing Rules upon philosophical and rational Principles; to make Ships, and the Management of them; and also Navigation, in general, more perfect, and consequently less dangerous and destructive to Health, Lives, and Property. By William Hutchinson, Mariner, and Dock-master of Liverpool. 4to. 12 s. 6d. Printed for the Author, and sold by Richardson and Urquhart, London, and at all the principal Sea ports in Great Britain and Ireland. 1777.
NAVIGATION, as an art, is the proper address in managing that great and complicated machine, a ship, according to the principles of seamanship, as a science: but while the theory is not to be acquired without some acquaintance with letters, this manual dexterity is the result of hard labour and dangerous experience; in the turbulent course of which, all literary knowledge is oftener totally neglected or forgot, than cultivated. The Writer of this useful work concludes his preface with the following account of himself:
'Most of the useful arts having been made public, to our great improvement and advantage, emboldens me to publish this laboured performance on this long neglected subject, which, I must own, will appear to great disadvantage from the unexpected difficulties I have found, in being a new writer, venturing to lead the way on so important and extensive a subject, in this learned criticising age; but for my imperfections, as a scholar, I hope the critics will make allowance for my having been early in life at sea as cook of a collier; and having since then gone through all the most active enterprising employments I could meet with, as a seaman, who has done his best, and who, as an author, would be glad of any remarks candidly pointed out how to improve his defects, if there should be a demand for a second edition.'
In hopes that Mr. Hutchinson's labours for the instruction of his seafaring brethern, will be rewarded with a demand for more editions, we candidly advise him to put his work immediately into the hand of some literary friend, to revise the language; which is confused and ungrammatical throughout. Plain language is best adapted to the conveyance of instruction; but purity of style is as essential to clearness of expression, as clean linen is to neatness of dress; neither of them being exposed to the charge of foppishness, either at sea or land.
The instructions here given to seamen, apply to a variety of critical circumstances; and are illustrated with cases from the Author's experience, as well as with engravings. His account of the coal vessels and their voyage between Newcastle and London, may serve as an acceptable specimen of the work; allowing for the defects just mentioned.
'From all that I have seen, those seamen in the East India trade are the most perfect in the open seas. And those in the coal trade to London the most perfect in difficult narrow channels, and tide ways, where they sail by the voyage, which makes it their interest to be as dexterous and expeditious as possible in working and managing their ships, which in general are 4 or 500 tons, and which makes this trade the best nursery in the world for hardy, active, and expert seamen. And as most ships must be conducted through channels, or narrow waters, in their way to sea, I will endeavour to remark what I think deserves notice in making passages in this coal trade.
'In the navigation from Newcastle to London, two thirds of the way is amongst dangerous shoals, and intricate channels, as may be seen by the chart of the coast, and the ships are as large as the shoal channels will admit them to get through with the flow of the tide, which requires to be known to a great exactness to proceed in proper time, and dexterous pilots to navigate through those channels with safety and expedition and expedition, to make so many voyages in the year, that they may be gainers by their ships, which are numerous as well as large, and managed by the fewest men and in a more complete manner than in any other trade that I know of in the world, considering the difficulty of the navigation, and how deep the ships are loaded, and how lightly they are balasted, yet they meet with very few losses in proportion to the number of ships which the owners generally run the risque of, and thereby save the expence of insurance, by which means they can afford to freight their ships cheaper than others, so that they are become the chief carriers in the timber, iron, hemp, and flax traders.
'Blowing weather and contrary winds, often collect a great many of these colliers together, so that they sail in great fleets, striving with the utmost dexterity, diligence, and care, against each other, to get first to market with their coals, or for their turn to load at Newcastle, where at the first of a westerly wind, after a long easterly one, there are sometimes two or three hundred ships turning to windward in, and sailing out of that harbour in one tide; the fight of so many ships, passing and crossing each other in so little time and room, by their dexterous management, is said to have made a travelling French gentleman of rank, to hold up his hands and exclaim, "that it was there France was conquered;" the entrance into the harbour being so very narrow, with dangerous rocks on one side, and a steep sand bank on the other, with a hard shoal bar across, where the waves of the sea frequently run very high, and puts them under the necessity of being very brisk and dexterous.
'What is most worthy remarking here when they are going out with a fair wind with their great deep-loaded ships, and the waves running high upon the bar, that they would make the ship strike upon it, if she was to sail out pitching against the head waves, to prevent which when they come to the bar, they in a very masterly manner bring the ship to, and she drives over, rolling broad side to waves, which management preserves her from striking.
'I have heard of a bold single adventurer getting to sea out of this harbour, when many ships lay windbound with the wind and waves right in, and right upon the shore without the harbour; he having a small handy ship, and no doubt, materials and men that could be depended upon, made every thing snug and ready, as the occasion required, and got as near the bar as she could ride with safety, and had the sails, that were designed to be carried, furled with rope-yarns that would easily break; he then took the advantage as may be supposed, of the first of the ebb of a high strong spring tide when there was water enough and so drove over the bar, stern foremost, with the sails all furled and the yards braced sharp up, by the strength of the tide out of the harbour, till they reached the sea tide from the southward along the coast, then put the helm hard a starboard, and brought the ship by the wind on the larboard tack, and expeditiously set all the sails they could carry; the tide checking the ship two points on the lee bow helped her to get to windward off the lee shore, so that they made their course good along the coast, and got their passage.
'When it happen that a great fleet of loaded ships sails out in one tide, with the first of a westerly wind, those that draw the least water take the advantage and get over the bar first to sea, where they strive and carry all the sail possible to get and keep a-head of each other, and the fastest sailing and best managed ships commonly get the advantage whilst they are in the open and clear part of the sea, till they come to work out of Yarmouth Roads, where for want of water the ships of the greatest draft are often obliged to stay for the flowing of the tide, and each ship is glad to follow another that they know draws more water than themselves when going through dangerous channels, this collects many of them near together again for their mutual safety, each heaves the lead and makes known aloud the soundings, which often proves the principal guide to the whole fleet, as by that they find and keep the best of the deep in the intricate channels they pass through, and in which they often have a great deal of turning to windward against strong westerly winds. When they are obliged to stop the lee tide they do it with the best bower anchor and cable to the better end, which makes them so expert in heaving up their anchors, and getting under way, as well as working their ships to windward (as particularly described page 50), and especially up the Swin channel, in such weather when they would not venture to proceed with a fair wind; this seems a paradox to many people, therefore it may be of service to explain their singular conduct on this occasion.
When they turn to windward up the Swin in dark hazey weather, they know by their soundings when they are in a fair way, and what side of the channel they are on, and by standing quite across the main channel from side to side avoid the danger of being hooked in, on the wrong side of spits of land into swatches where the tide runs through, and where there is the same soundings at the entrance as in the right channel, which is the reason that with a fair wind and hazey weather, a compass course is not to be relied upon, therfore each ship, very artfully, endeavours to get a leader that they know draws more water than themselves, and the leading ship knowing their danger running no farther than they think is safe, commonly lets go her anchor, the next following ship apprehending the same danger, has their anchors ready and lets it go just above the first ship, and the next steers close past these two ships and comes to an anchor just above them, and so on with the next till the whole fleet forms a line one above the other, so that the ship that was first becomes last, when they commonly again heave up her anchor, and steer close by the whole fleet of they are perceived to ride a-float, and the next ship follows them, and either comes to an anchor again above the uppermost ship as before, or proceeds forward, according as they find by the soundings, by which they know that they have past the dangers they were afraid of and gets into a safe track, where they can depend upon the compass course, then they set and carry all the sail possible to get or keep a-head of each other.
'Their management in working these large ships to windward, up most parts of London river with their main-sails set is likewise remarkable, and from their great practice knowing the depth of water according to the time of tide, and how much the ship will shoot a head in stays; they stand upon each tack to the greatest nicety close from side to side as far as possible things will admit of to keep in a fair way, and where eddies occasion the true tide to run very narrow, or ships, &c. lie in the way so as not to give room to turn to windward, they very dexterously brail up mainsail and foresail, and drives to windward with the tide under their topsails by such rules as has been described, and in the Pool where is so little room to pass through such crowds of ships, their management has afforded me the greatest pleasure, and when they get near their designed birth, to what a nicety they let go the anchor, veers out the cable to run freely as the occasion may require, so as to bring the ship up exactly in time in surprising little room, clear of the other ships, and lays her easily and fairly along side of the tier of ships where they moor, so that as they say they can work and lay their ships to a boat's length as occasion requires. And there is no doubt but that to shorten the voyage by which the men are paid, occasions this extraordinary industry, and dexterous management, every man for his own interest here exterts himself, encouraging and striving to get before and excel each other, in doing the necessary duty. When it happens that the ships come a ground, they readily first carry out a catch anchor and towline, and if that is defficient, they haul out a bower anchor by it, to heave the ship off. In heaving up their anchors briskly with a windlass, they greatly excel other merchant ships, but the difference of men as well as things, can only be known by comparison; I had a ship in the merchant's service, that hove with nine handspikes double man'd at the windlass, to heave up the small bower anchor, which we found so difficult, and took up so much time, that to avoid the risques we run in getting the ship under way in narrow waters, I was going to have this anchor changed for a less, till at London, I happened to employ a mate and seven men from a collier, to transport the ship to the Graving Dock at Deptford, when these seven men only, hove up this anchor by two brisk motions, for each square of the windlass, in a quarter of the time that it used to be done by 18 men, and this difference was entirely owing to their dexterity, learn'd by great practice; they rise with their handspikes, and heave exactly all together with a regular brisk motion, which unites their powers into one. And they are equally brisk and clever in warping, or transporting a ship with ropes, and likewise in handing, reefing and steering, &c.'
The improvement in the light-houses at Liverpool, appears to be of much importance, and deserves to be generally known.
'It is well known from reason as well as experience, that open coal fire light, exposed to all winds and weathers, cannot be made to burn and show a constant steady blaze to be seen at a sufficient distance with any certainty, for in storms of wind, when lights are most wanted, those open fires are made to burn furiously, and very soon away, so as to melt the very iron work about the grate, and in cold weather, when it snows, hails, or rains hard, the keepers of the lights do not care to expose themselves to the bad weather, are apt to neglect till the fire is too low, then throws on a large quantity of coals at a time, which darkens the light for a time till the fire burns up again, and in some weathers it must be difficult to make them burn with any brightness. And when they are inclosed in a glased close light-house, they are apt to smoke the windows greatly, nor affords so much constant blaze (that gives the most light) as oil lamps, or tallow cangles of two pounds each, but these last require often snuffing to prevent their light from being dull, so that after trial of these different sorts of lights, we have fixed upon lamp lights, with proper reflectors behind them to answer best here at Liverpool.'
The lamps here alluded to, are particularly described, with figures; but for these the work must be consulted. They still seem susceptible of further improvement; and it may be worth a trial, whether three concave refectors placed together, so as to form a semicircle at their points of contact, with one good lamp in their common centre or focus, would not throw a sufficient light over a complete half of the compass?
The Monthly Review; or, Literary Journal. Vol. LVIII.
R. Griffiths, London, 1778. pp 427-432.
Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius.
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