Reply To: Careen lighters

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David Hepper

Contemporary British Marine Dictionaries define careening, but none mention any lighters to assist with this.
For the British Royal Navy, they seem to have preferred using dry docks for cleaning, but if none were available, then a specially built wharf was used.
There are references to ships using a Hulk or Sheer Hulk to careen when no dock or wharf was available:
Portsmouth May 1676 ….The Norwich is on board the hulk getting ready to careen.” (TNA ADM 106/318/529)
A Hulk was usually an old warship used for accommodation, stores etc. The Sheer Hulk was effectively a floating crane, usually an old ship of war converted for the purpose of heaving masts in or out of ships.
For an image see:

Using an old warship or Hulk to careen is also is mentioned by Thomas Blanckley in ‘A Naval Expositor’ (London 1750) describing careening a ship as being when “…she is laid along-side of the Hulk, which being lower than her, is hawled down as low as Occasion requires, in order to trim her bottom, caulk her Seams or to mend any Thing that is as fault under water”
William Falconer ‘Dictionary of the Marine’ in the early editions (1769 – 1780) merely describes the operation, but in the 1815 edition, edited by William Burney, goes on to state:
“Careening is a practice very rarely adopted in the British navy, never, indeed, unless there is an absolute necessity from the want of a dock”.
Burney goes on to describe the careening of a French ship of the line at Toulon, stating:
“The French do not heave their ships down to a wharf, but to a hulk constructed solely for that purpose, which is generally a small ship of the line cut down, in the hold provided with a great quantity of iron and shingle ballast. In the mid-ships of the spar deck are placed the capstans to which the purchase falls are brought …”
Admiral W H Smith ‘The Sailors Word Book’ (London 1867) defines the meaning of careening but adds “this operation is now nearly superseded by sheathing ships with copper, whereby they keep a clean bottom for several years”