Historical evidence to prove ship rigged sloops outsailed brigs on a bowline?

Home Forums Nautical Research: 1830 – Present Day Historical evidence to prove ship rigged sloops outsailed brigs on a bowline?

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    Ryan K

    I am looking for any concrete historical evidence and reasoning for something I keep reading in fiction and non fiction. The claim that in vessels of similar size, ship rigged sloops (corvettes) tend to outsail Brigs on a bowline, tend to be able to point higher into the wind. I would like to see any historical article, perhaps of sea trials in the Royal Navy or of any document written by an officer that confirms this claim and gives some physical evidence as to how that slightly different rigging geometry on the same hull would affect windward ability.

    I am an experienced young square rig sailor trying to make my way in the sail training industry and have sailed on two very different brigs, the US Built Lady Washington, a replica of an 18th century merchant brig from Boston, and the US Brig Niagara, a faithful replica of the relief flagship commodore Oliver Hazard Perry at the battle of Lake Erie. I have never sailed on anything ship rigged so I have no practical comparison to draw on. I am trying to puzzle out how the rig geometry would change enough to allow the vessel to point higher. In simple terms your ability to point higher with your squares still drawing is a physical problem of the limited traverse of your yards, which are impeded by the lee shrouds and in the case of the foreyard the forestay. As far as actual speed close hauled the variables increase, Chief among them is hull shape of course, a finer bow like some of the experimental brigs of the 1840’s and even the Niagara will allow you to cut through a head sea much more efficiently. I would be thankful if anyone could shed some light on this.


    Frank Scott

    Not sure what you mean by non-fiction if it is not history.

    Unfortunately the only full-rigger making long passages today that is small enough to be comparable to the larger brigs is the Georg Stage, which is a training ship that was built for sea-kindliness, rather than speed. I have sailed small & large brigs (83 to 306 grt), as well as full riggers and barques, etc., but direct comparison is hard. Admittedly the large brig was rather sensitive, and much easier to get out of balance than a barque or a ship, but when handled well she was very quick indeed on all points of sailing (283 miles was our best noon to noon run). My experience is that given a reasonable hull, performance on any point of sailing is largely down to the set-up of the rig and the skill of the crew. Just to take one example, the hull speed difference between a skilled and an average person on the helm is dramatic. These days this is easy to measure, simply reset the trip log at each helm turn over.

    What I do understand from various action reports was that brigs tended to be heavily reliant on the gaff mainsail for tacking, and if this if the gaff was shot away in action they had severe manoeuvring problems. However, the old TS Royalist (1971-2014) (scrapped at the end of last year) would tack even if that sail was not set, and Fryderyk Chopin has a tiny one that has little impact on manoeuvring. In the past I am sure that a ‘star’ captain of the Napoleonic era could (and would) have set up his vessel to be as resilient and flexible as possible.


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