Careen lighters

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    Asger Nørlund C

      Dear Friends.
      I`m writing a ph.d. on the transfer of maritime knowledge from the Netherlands to Denmark-Norway in the 16. and 17th centuries. I have come about this special craft, that was used to haul down a ship for careening or repair on the hull. These “Kiellichters” or ” onderleggers” as they were called in dutch, was also used in Denmark-Norway, but were they also common on the British Isles, France or Spain? Anyone?


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      Frank Scott

        John Harland, ‘Ships & Seamanship: The Prints of J.J. Baugean’ (London, 2000) has plates 163-166 (pages 178-81) showing various French vessels, from ship-of-the-line to mercantile brig, hove-down by means of careening pontoons.
        The British had invested much more heavily than anyone else in dry docks, so are less likely to have needed these pontoons.

        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”

          Malcolm Lewis

            I recall having read that ship owners and the Royal Navy avoided careening ships as the stresses on the wooden hull were such that if careened more than three or four times they had to be condemned.
            In far -off destinations such as Australia, which did not have any dry docks in ports like Sydney and before the coppering of hulls, this must have been a problem for vessels trading around the Pacific coasts where worm ate wooden hulls rapidly. One assumes careening was the only option.
            Shipbuilding on the River Thames was the major local industry for centuries and the home base for the East India Company yet there were few, if any, commercial dry docks as I can ascertain. Coppering of ships must have put big demands on ship yards, especially private yards building and maintaining ships for the Royal Navy. Many naval ships had to be coppered every two years (viz HMS Bellona 74 guns L.1760 b/u 1814).
            Presumably careening was the only alternative…..interesting one for discussion.

            Asger Nørlund C

              Dear friends.
              Thank you for your wise answers. It seems, that it`s a continental thing and I think of dutch origin, as the french ( with Colbert) borrowed a lot from this nation.

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