« ZurückWeiter »
this practice. Some little disadvantage it might occa sion in the stowage, is perhaps one reason, though that I think might be more than compensated by an abatement in the insurance that would be reasonable, and by a higher price taken of passengers, who would ratl er prefer going in such a vessel. But our seafaring people are brave, despise danger, and reject such precautions of safety, being cowards only in one sense, that of fearing to be thought afraid.
I promised to finish my letter with the last observation, but the garrulity of the old man has got hold of me, and, as I may never have another occasion of writing on this subject, I think I may as well now, once for all, empty my nautical budget, and give you all the thoughts that have in my various long voyages occurred to me relating to navigation. I am sure, that in you they will meet with a candid judge, who will excuse my mistakes on account of my good intention.
There are six accidents, that may occasion the loss of ships at sea. We have considered one of them, that of foundering by a leak. The other five are, 1. Oversetting by sudden flaws of wind, or by carrying sail beyond the bearing. 2. Fire by accident or carelessness. 3. A heavy stroke of lightning, making a breach in the ship, or firing the powder. 4. Meeting and shocking with other ships in the night. 5. Meeting in the night with islands of ice.
To that of oversetting, privateers in their first cruise have, as far as has fallen within my knowledge or information, been more subject than any other kind of vessels. The double desire of being able to overtake a weaker flying enemy, or to escape when pursued by a stronger, has induced the owners to overmast their cruisers, and to spread too much canvass; and the great number of men, many of them not seamen, who, being
upon deck when a ship heels suddenly, are huddled down to leeward, and increase by their weight the effect of the wind. This therefore should be more attended to and guarded against, especially as the advantage of lofty masts is problematical. For the upper sails have greater power to lay a vessel more on her side, which is not the most advantageous position for going swiftly through the water. And hence it is, that vessels, which have lost their lofty masts, and been able to make little more sail afterwards than permitted the ship to sail upon an even keel, have made so much way, even under jury masts, as to surprise the mariners themselves. But there is, besides, something in the modern form of our ships, that seems as if calculated expressly to allow their oversetting more easily. The sides of a ship, instead of spreading out as they formerly did in the upper works, are of late years turned in, so as to make the body nearly round, and more resembling a cask. I do not know what the advantages of this construction are, except that such ships are not easily boarded. To me it seems a contrivance to have less room in a ship at nearly the same expense. For it is evident, that the same timber and plank consumed in raising the sides from a to b, and from d to c, would have raised them from a to e, and from d to f, fig. 9. In this form all the spaces between e, a, b, and c, d, f, would have been gained, the deck would have been larger, the men would have had more room to act, and not have stood so thick in the way of the enemy's shot; and the vessel, the more she was laid down on her side, the more bearing she would meet with, and more effectual to support her, as being farther from the centre. Whereas, in the present form, her ballast makes the chief part of her bearing, without which she would turn in the sea almost as easily as a barrel. More
ballast by this means becomes necessary, and that, sinking a vessel deeper in the water, occasions more resistance to her going through it. The Bermudian sloops still keep with advantage to the old spreading form.
The islanders in the great Pacific ocean, though they have no large ships, are the most expert boat-sailors in the world, navigating that sea safely with their proas, which they prevent oversetting by various means. Their sailing proas for this purpose have outriggers generally to windward, above the water, on which, one or more men are placed, to move occasionally further from or nearer to the vessel as the wind freshens or slackens. But some have their outriggers to leeward, which, resting on the water, support the boat so as to keep her upright when pressed down by the wind. Their boats, moved by oars or rather by paddles, are, for long voyages, fixed two together by cross bars of wood that keep them at some distance from each other, and so render their oversetting next to impossible. How far this may be practicable in larger vessels, we have not yet sufficient experience. I know of but one trial made in Europe, which was about one hundred years since, by Sir William Petty. He built a double vessel, to serve as a packet-boat between England and Ireland. Her model still exists in the museum of the Royal Society, where I have seen it. By the accounts we have of her, she answered well the purpose of her construction, making several voyages; and, though wrecked at last by a storm, the misfortune did not appear owing to her particular construction, since many other vessels of the common form were wrecked at the same time. The advantage of such a vessel is, that she needs no ballast, therefore swims either lighter, or will carry more goods; and that passengers are not so much incommoded by her rolling; to which may be
added, that if she is to defend herself by her cannon, they will probably have more effect, being kept more generally in a horizontal position, than those in common vessels. I think, however, that it would be an improvement of that model, to make the sides which are opposed to each other perfectly parallel, though the other sides are formed as in common, thus, figure 10.
The building of a double ship would indeed be more expensive in proportion to her burthen; and that perhaps is sufficien to discourage the method.
The accident of fire is generally well guarded against by the prudent captain's strict orders against smoking between decks, or carrying a candle there out of a lantern. But there is one dangerous practice which frequent terrible accidents have not yet been sufficient to abolish; that of carrying store spirits to sea in casks. Two large ships, the Serapis and the Duke of Athol, one an East Indiaman, the other a frigate, have been burnt within these two last years, and many lives miserably destroyed, by drawing spirits out of a cask near a candle. It is high time to make it a general rule, that all the ship's store of spirits should be carried in bottles.
The misfortune by a stroke of lightning I have in my former writings endeavoured to show a method of guarding against, by a chain and pointed rod, extending, when run up, from above the top of the mast to the sea. These instruments are now made and sold at a reasonable price by Nairne & Co. in London, and there are several instances of success attending the use of them. They are kept in a box, and may be run up and fixed in about five minutes, on the apparent approach of a thunder-gust.
Of the meeting and shocking with other ships in the night, I have known two instances in voyages between
London and America. In one, both ships arrived, though much damaged, each reporting their belief that the other must have gone to the bottom. In the other, only one got to port; the other was never afterwards heard of. These instances happened many years ago, when the commerce between Europe and America was not a tenth part of what it is at present, ships of course thinner scattered, and the chance of meeting proportionably less. It has long been the practice to keep a look-out before in the channel, but at sea it has been neglected. If it is not at present thought worth while to take that precaution, it will in time become of more consequence; since the number of ships at sea is continually augmenting. A drum frequently beat, or a bell rung in a dark night, might help to prevent such accidents.
Islands of ice are frequently seen off the banks of Newfoundland by ships going between North America and Europe. In the day time they are easily avoided, unless in a very thick fog. I remember two instances of ships running against them in the night. The first lost her bowsprit, but received little other damage. The other struck where the warmth of the sea had wasted the ice next to it, and a part hung over above. This perhaps saved her, for she was under great way; but the upper part of the cliff, taking her foretopmast, broke the shock, though it carried away the mast. She disengaged herself with some difficulty, and got safe into port; but the accident shows the possibility of other ships being wrecked and sunk by striking those vast masses of ice, of which I have seen one that we judged to be seventy feet high above the water, consequently eight times as much under water; and it is another reason for keeping a good look-out before, though far from any coast that may threaten danger.
It is remarkable, that the people we consider as