Started Sailing

Putting on sails on the old Tall Ships

by Don
(Tiffin, Ohio)

I recently asked a question about docking Tall Ships because operating and sailing them seems like such a hard job. I have another question about sailing these ships.

The sails on the large ships were large and and generally high up, especially on square rigs. Cormfirm that I'm correct if you will. In the event that a square rigger had to trim or take in sail, a sailor would have to climb up to the sail, work his way out on the yard arm and furl the sail.

Wasn't this extremely difficult? He was standing on a rope support while trying to maintain his position without falling and trying to gather in and collect the sail for furling. Assuming there was wind to some degree, the sail would be billowing and difficult to gather because it would be pulling away from him. It seems that it would be extremely physically demanding with not much room for error or he would fall.

There may be some details of the operation that I don't understand so I would appreciate any explaination or opinion of the operation.

Also, I wonder how many crewmen fell while working the sails. I imagine working the sails would have been a frightening experience for an apprentice.

Thanks for any information.


Comments for Putting on sails on the old Tall Ships

Click here to add your own comments

Sep 18, 2009
With acrophobia no work on tall ships!
by: Han

Hi Don,
Nice to see you again on Started Sailing!
To start with your last question: I can assure you that a lot of seamen lost their lives when up there, especially in the earlier centuries; human life had no value whatsoever, the captain could always shanghai, or crimp, (explanation needed? ask the expert) replacements in the next port of call. Nobody kept any record of loss of crew-life.
In later times able seamen were harder to come by, so safety-measures were taken. To begin with, the running tackle was adapted so to be able to strike 9/10th. of the sail area from deck-level; when furling was needed, the men had to wear a safety-harness with hook and line.
Even then the work was hard and dangerous: the sails were made of canvas, and when water- and salt-logged, stiff, heavy and unyielding as any church-door. Need for speed was essential, so safety was often forgotten.
It's not for nothing that one of the Dutch sayings tells us that formerly we had iron men on wooden ships, and now we have wooden men on iron ships.
Hope to have answered to your satisfaction,

Sep 18, 2009
Putting on sails on the old Tall Ships
by: Don

Thank you Han.

It's evident from your comments that some of the legendary romance often associated with sailing at sea in the old days wasn't all it was cracked up to be. We look at the beautiful pictures of the old ships but don't recognize the the poor food, the hot or cold cramped living quarters and dangerous work involved in being one of the crew.


Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Ask The Expert!.

Random Tip of the Day:

Find Started Sailing on Facebook
Follow Started Sailing on Twitter

Smooth Sailing
Sailing Games
Sailing Photos

Privacy Policy | Disclaimer
Copyright EMAR Publishers © 2009-2011