Robert Forbes and Frederic Howes and the Evolution of the Double Topsail

By Frank Scott, published February 2009

Abstract

in the mid-19th century two American Captains, Robert Forbes and Frederic Howes produced plans for sailing ship rigs that involves splitting the single topsail into two more easily handled smaller sails, lower and upper topsails. Theauthor sets out to clarify the exact nature of the rigs proposed by Forbes and Howes and to explain why it was the Howes system which became the industry standard. Reference is also made to systems of roller reefing and furling also introduced in the mid-19th century but which faded from use because of problems of complexity and reliability.  The article  concentrates on the claims of Robert Forbes and Frederic Howes, making clear the actual differences between the rival double topsail rigs. It also shows how the simplicity of the Howes system made it more attractive to shipowners than either the Forbes system, or Henry Cunningham’s previously successful patent ‘self-reefing’ roller topsail, thus ensuring that it became the industry standard.

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Filed under: Atlantic | Other (Nineteenth C)
Subjects include: Merchant Marines | Ship Handling & Seamanship | Shipbuilding & Design

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