When were studding sails set?

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    Ide Crawford

    Under what circumstances were studding sails set? I have heard it said they were only used running before the wind – was this really categorical? In a situation when desperate speed was required, would a ship set any of her stunsails with the wind, say, a few points forward of the starboard beam?

    David Hepper

    On the use of studding sails (and a lot more) see Seamanship in the Age of Sail by John Harland (London 1984)
    Harland writes: “Ordinarily studdingsails were of most use in good weather, with the wind abeam, or further aft. They would have served best as the wind freshened, while sea remained relatively smooth….”
    “When the wind was a point and a half or so free – that is to say almost abeam – the weather topmast and topgallant studdingsails could be set on the foremast. As the wind drew a little further aft, those on the weather side of the main could be set as well … the topgallant would be set before the topmast … with the wind abeam or a little better the lee main topgallant and perhaps topmast could be set also…”
    He cites one source (Fordyce 1837) who indicated that the lower weather studdingsail might stand with the wind as far forward as one point forward of the beam (a point – 11¼ degrees).
    Harland also indicates that just because studdingsails could be set, did not mean that it was always a good idea to do so – there was a danger of them ‘stealing the wind’ out of a sail that was more efficient. He cites one author who recounted that by taking studdingsails and setting staysails, the ship increased speed.

    They were inefficient with the wind directly astern – they interfered unacceptably with sails on the foremast. They worked best in “…a very narrow sector, from wind just abaft the beam, to somewhere forward of the quarter”

    Frank Scott

    Harland is essential reading for anyone studying the age of sail.
    As noted above Stunsails (or Studding sails) are only set in relatively fair weather, and no closer to the wind than a broad reach. Artists such as Spurling loved to show clippers with everything set in quite heavy weather, but that is classic artistic licence. Dead downwind is a poor point of sailing for any square rigger (far better to tack downwind keeping wind on quarter), and stunsails only make this worse.
    Quite a few modern sail training ships now sport stunsails, notably the barque Europa and the full-rigger Stad Amsterdam. See http://tallshipstock.com/ for good shots of both under sail.

    Ide Crawford

    Thanks to both of you – that’s brilliantly helpful! I will check out Seamanship in the Age of Sail.

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