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Sail Ship Rigging

Rigging (derived from the Anglo-Saxon wrigan or wrihan, to clothe) is the general term for the whole apparatus of spars (including both masts and yards), sails and cordage, by which the force of the wind is utilized to move the hull against the resistance, and with the support, of the water. The word is often used as meaning the cordage only, but this is a too limited, and even an irrational, use of the term.

A ship is not rigged until she is provided with all the spars, sails and cordage required to move and control the hull. The straight or curved pieces of wood or metal, called davits, from which the boats carried along the bulwarks are hung, belong to the rigging. All are fastened directly or indirectly to the hull, and all are required to complete her clothing.

Vessels of all classes, from the smallest sailing-boat up to the largest ship, are classed according to the particular combination of their spars, sails and cordage. Cutter, brig, or ship, are only convenient abbreviations for cutter-rigged, brig-rigged, or ship-rigged. They are of such or such a rig.

It is strictly correct to speak of the rigging of a mast or a yard, or of a boom, when all that is meant is the special set of ropes, of whatever size or material, required to keep them in their place, or withdraw them from it, when they have to be moved in the ship. In such cases the part is looked upon as a whole, and is mentally abstracted from the total of the vessels rigging.

The rigging must provide the crew with the means of going aloft, and with standing ground to do their work when aloft. Therefore the shrouds are utilized to form ladders of rope, of which the steps are called ratlines, by which the crew can mount. Near the heads of the lower masts are the tops platforms on which men can stand and in the same place on the topmasts are the crosstrees, of which the main function is to extend the topgallant shrouds. The yards are provided with ropes, extending from the middle to the extremities or arms, called horses, or footropes, which hang about 2 or 3 ft. down, and on which men can stand.

As the whole of the rigging is divided into standing and running, so a rope forming part of the rigging is divided into the standing part and the fall. The standing part is that which is made fast to the mast, deck or block. The fall is the loose end or part on which the crew haul. The block is the pulley through which the rope runs. Standing in sea language means fixed thus the standing part of a hook is that which is attached to block, thain or anything which is to heave the hook up, with a weight hanging to it; the part opposite the point. Tackle is the combination of ropes and blocks; the combination of cables and anchors constitutes the ground tackle.

The function of all cordage may be said to be to pull, for the purpose either of keeping the masts in their places, or of moving spars and sails.

Rigging Nomenclature

  • standing rigging does not change position. Usually it braces the masts.
  • running rigging is used to adjust sails and anchors.
  • line - a rope.
  • stay - a rope that doesn't move, part of the standing rigging, usually located in the fore-aft plane of the vessel.
  • shroud - similar to a stay, but is located in the athwartship plane of the vessel. Thus, shrouds come down to the sides of the boat and are attached to chainplates.
  • vang - a rope used to pull something around or down.
  • sheet - a rope used to adjust the position of a sail so that it catches the wind properly.
  • block - the nautical name for a pulley. It may be fixed to some part of the vessel or spars, or even tied to the end of a rope. The sheave is the wheel. A fiddle block has two or more sheaves in one block.
  • snatch-block can be closed around a line, to grab the line, rather than threading the end of the line through the block.
  • shackle - a piece of metal to attach two ropes, or a block to a rope, or a sail to a rope. Customarily, a shackle has a screw-in pin which often is so tight that a shackle-key must be used to unscrew it. A snap-shackle doesn't screw, and can be released by hand, but it's usually less strong or more expensive than a regular shackle.
  • halyards - the ropes on which one pulls to hoist something. E.g. the main-top-gallant-halyard would be the rope on which one pulls to hoist (unfurl) the main-top-gallant-sail.
  • running lines are made fast (unmoving) by belaying them to (wrapping them around) a cleat or a belaying-pin located in a pin-rail.

Ropes were classically made of manila, cotton, hemp or jute. They are now made of stainless steel (301), galvanized steel, polyester (Dacron), polyamides (Nylon), and sometimes crystallized hydrocarbons (Kevlar and SpectraT).

Standing Rigging

Standing rigging includes a forestay, a backstay and the shrouds. On modern yachts, standing rigging is often stainless steel wires or stainless steel rods. Standing rigging is placed under tension to keep the various spars (mast, bowsprit) securely in position.

The standing rigging which supports the masts must be adapted to resist two kinds of pressure, the longitudinal, whether applied by the wind or by the motion of the vessel when pitching (i.e. plunging head and stern. alternately into the hollow of the sea), and the lateral, when the wind is blowing on the side and she is rolling. The longitudinal pressure is counteracted by the bobstays, stays and backstays.

A Stay, in the rigging of a ship, is a large strong rope employed to support the mast, by being extended from its upper end to the stem of the ship. The fore-stay reaches from the foremast head towards the bowsprit end; the main-stay extends to the ships stem; the mizen-stay is stretched to a collar on the main-mast, above the quarter deck, &c.

Probably due to their resemblance to equitation tack, the stays below a bowsprit are martingales, and those above it bracing the bowsprit are bobstays. The martingales are often the strongest stays on a ship, and often constructed of chain. The bobstays hold down the bowsprit, which is liable to be lifted by the tug of the jibs, and of the stays connecting it with the fore-topmast. If the bowsprit is lifted the fore-topmast loses part of its support. In the case of a small vessel, the lifting of a bowsprit would wreck her whole system of rigging in an instant.

From the bow to the mizzenmast, a succession of stays connect the masts with the hull of the ship or with one another. The stay of the fore-mast which is called the forestay, reaches from the mast-head towards the bowsprit-end: the main-stay, extends over the fore-castle to the ship's stern; and the mizen-stay, is stretched down to that part of the main-mast which lies immediately above the quarter-deck: the fore-top-mast-stay, comes also to the end of the bowsprit, a little beyond, the fore-stay: the main-top-mast-stay, is attached to the head or hounds of the fore-mast; and the mizen top-mast-stay comes also to the hounds of the main-mast: the fore-top-gallant-stay comes to the outer end of the jib-boom; and the main-top-gallant-stay is extended to the head of the fore-top-mast.

The stays on a ship roughly form hoops of tension holding the masts up against the wind. Many ships have been "tuned" (or "raked") by tightening the rigging in one area, and loosening it in others. The tuning can create most of the stress on the stays in some ships. This was a common emergency procedure on sailing warships.

Pressure from behind is met by the backstays, which connect the topmasts and topgallant masts with the sides of the vessel. The backstay are long ropes reaching from the topmast-heads to the starboard and larboard sides of the ship, where they are extended to the channels: they are used to support the top-masts, and second the efforts of the shrouds, when the mast is strained by a weight of sail in a fresh wind. The after-back-stays enable the ship to carry sail when the wind is further aft. There are also back-stays for the top-gallant-masts, in large ships, which are fixed in the same manner with those of the top-masts.

They are usually distinguished into breast-back-stays and after-back-stays; the intent of the former being to sustain the top-mast when the font of the wind acts upon the ship sidewise, or, according to the sea-phrase, when the ship sails upon a wind; and the purpose of the latter is to enable it to carry sail when the wind is further aft. There are also back-stays for the top-gallant-masts, in large ships, which are fixed in the same manner with those of the top-masts.

A pair of back-stays is usually formed of one rope, which is doubled in the middle, and fastened there so as to form an eye, which passes over the mast-head, from whence the two ends hang down, and are stretched to the channels by dead-eyes and laniards.

The breast-back-stays sustain the top-mast when the font of the wind acts upon the ship sidewise, or, according to the sea-phrase, when the ship sails upon a wind. A temporary or preventer backstay is used when great pressure is to be met.

Lateral pressure is met by the shrouds and breast-back-stays. The shrouds are pieces of standing rigging which hold the mast up from side to side, when the mast is strained by a weight of sail in a fresh wind. There are frequently more than one shroud on each side of the boat. Usually a shroud will connect at the top of the mast, and then additional shrouds might connect partway down the mast, depending on the design of the boat. All shrouds then terminate their bottom end to the side of the boat. Shrouds are attached symmetrically on both the port and starboard sides. For those shrouds which attach high up the mast, a spreader can be used to increase the angle the shroud makes with the mast at the attachment point, providing more support to the mast.

Seamen have at all times had recourse to special devices to meet particular dangers. When Dundonald, then captain of the Pallas frigate, was chased by a French squadron in stormy weather, he fortified his masts by ordering all the hawsers (large ropes a little less strong than the cables which hold the anchor) in the ship to be got up to the mast heads, and hove taut, i.e. made fast to the side. Thus she was able to carry more sail than would have been possible with her normal rigging.

Running Rigging

The whole body of ropes by which the yards, booms and sails are manipulated constitute the running rigging, since they are in constant use, to trim yards, and make or shorten sail. The running rigging by which all spars and sails are hoisted, or lowered and spread or taken in, may be divided into those which lift and lower the lifts, jeers, halliards (haulyards), and those which hold down the lower corners of the sails, the tacks and sheets.

Running rigging is the term for the rigging of a sailing vessel that is used for raising, lowering and controlling the sails - as opposed to the standing rigging, which supports the mast and other spars. The running rigging includes halyards and sheets.

Some types of running rigging include:

  • halyards, which are the ropes or tackles usually employed to hoist or lower any sail upon it's respective masts or stays.
  • downhauls, which lower a sail or a yard, and can be used to adjust the tension on the luff of a sail, are a rope passing up along a stay through the rings of the stay-sail, and tied to the upper-corner of the sail, to pull it down, when they are shortening sail.
  • Cunninghams, which tighten the luff of a sail
  • Guys, which control spinnakers, are a rope used to keep steady any weighty body whilst it is hoisting or lowering, particularly when the ship is shaken by a tempestuous sea. Guy is likewise a large slack rope, extending from the head of the main-mast to the head of the fore-mast, and having two or three large blocks fastened to the middle of it. This is chiefly employed to sustain the tackle used to hoist in and out the cargo of a merchant ship, and is accordingly removed from the mast-heads as soon as the vessel is laden or delivered.
  • Topping lifts, which hold up booms or yards, are a large and strong tackle, employed to suspend or top the outer end of a gaff, or of the boom of a main-sail and fore-sail; such as are used in brigs, sloops, or schooners. A topping lift supports the end of a boom to keep the weight of the boom from affecting the set of the sail. In ships that use cantilevered jib booms, the jib topping lift is very important, as it alleviates the mechanical load transmitted by the jib boom.
  • Barber hauls, which adjust the sheeting angle of a foresail (jib)

Square-rigged vessels required braces, which are used to adjust the fore and aft angle of a yard. A brace is a rope employed to wheel, or traverse the sails upon the mast, in a direction parallel to the horizon, when it is necessary to shift the sails, that they may correspond with the direction of the wind and the course of the ship. The braces were used to swing the yards laterally, and there is hardly any part of the rigging which has altered so little over a period of thousands of years. Braces are, for this purpose, fastened to the extremities of the yards, which are called the yard-arms. All the braces of the yards are double, except those of the top-gallant and spritsail-topsail yards. The mizen-yard is furnished with fangs, or vangs, in the room of braces.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:41:08 ZULU