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During my last service at sea I was a long time in the harbor of Montevideo, and I know of no better place for testing boats under all circumstances. The preference which I urge is chiefly the result of long observation and comparison of our own boats and those of the numerous men-of-war lying in that port. I remember that on one occasion we communicated with a mail steamer during the prevalence of a hard pampero, using one of the large cutters and sliding gunter sails, after others of our own boats and a large cutter with lug sail from the English flag ship had failed in the attempt. When hard work was to be done we looked to the sliding gunters to do it; and I do not think they were ever beaten in any weather by foreign boats. The practical judgment of the men, accustomed to handle the boats daily, is generally correct. I have had many proofs of their preference for the sliding gunter over boats of equal size and model fitted with other sails, notwithstanding an occasional enthusiasm for the lug and the sprit sail, which I regarded as the expression of excitement and love of danger.
One word more as to uniformity and system. I have often witnessed with admiration the precision of evolution under sail of the boats of the English and French. The latter excel, and I think it is due to the uniformity of their boats and equipments. Under oars our own boat drills are excellent, the rapidity of evolution being governed by the full speed of the slowest boat ; but, when sail is made, the inequality of our boats becomes apparent to a degree suggestive of regret and sometimes of mortification. The French have but one size of whale boats and distinct classes or sizes of cutters, and the area of sail is determined with an approach to equality of speed. The sliding gunter possesses peculiar facilities for sailing in squadron. By brailing up the foresail, or letting go the halliards, nice alterations in speed may be produced and the unity and order of the squadron preserved. Other equipments may possess this facility, if not in an equal degree; and if the boats of a ship are supplied upon one plan, slight alterations in the area of sail, easily made on board at the beginning of a cruise, will lead in these drills to the perfect unity and support which in a larger field is the soul of success. When boats of widely different lines and rigs meet in our squadrons, the evolutions are not well performed. To alter the sails on board ship and to reduce them to one class, takes time and costs money. And what if one commander employs one rig and his friend in the squadron chooses another? The English have sacrificed speed in their boats for carrying capacity. Should we not spare a little, if necessary, for objects as valuable?
Lieut.-Comdr. TRAIN. I think that it is extremely difficult to decide upon a rig that would suit any particular class of boats in our service, until all the boats composing the class are constructed on somewhat the same model and intended for the same purposes. As affairs are managed at present, the first cutter of one of our vessels may be the rejected barge of some admiral, the whale boat may have been bought from a New Bedford whaler; and the rig that would suit such boats, of no use except for carrying passengers, would be totally unfitted for an old-fashioned, large, heavy, useful first cutter, or a cumbrous navy. yard-built whale boat. An attempt has been made to get boat rigs into some kind of a system ; but I do not think it was successful, as ships are not now fitted out in accordance with it. Until some such system is applied to the models of the boats as well as to the rigs, each commanding officer or first lieutenant will be obliged to cut and re-cut until he gets his sails to suit his boats.
So far as the choice of rigs is concerned, I have yet to see anything superior to the sliding gunter, as fitted here, for the ordinary whale boat or cutter. I know of no objection to it except that when blowing fresh the yard occasionally is carried away, but it is easily replaced. In regard to the rig of a launch, I am decidedly in favor of the sloop rig, I do not mean by sloop rig the yachting affair you sometimes see, with gaff topsail and flying jib, but an honest, stout mainsail and jib, wire rigging, a boom topping lift, an iron rod over the tiller for the traveler for the main sheet, plenty of ballast, and a false keel. Rigged in this way, a launch becomes a serviceable vessel, and can be sent away with a surveying party for two or three weeks, or can carry passengers or provisions across a stormy sound thirty or forty miles wide, to some purpose. Of course the objection to this rig–that it has to be permanent, as it were, and that the mast cannot be stepped and unstepped by signal from the ship in boat exercise—will have different weight with different officers. For myself, when I rig a launch I want it rigged for use; and in a launch when rigged, the oars should be auxiliary and the sails permanent, and not the other way.
Lieut. BELKNAP. I believe the chief end of men-of-war boats to be capacity for carrying great weights with safety; that this has to a great extent been sacrificed for beauty and speed, in the boats built for our service, I think but few will deny. Very few if any of our vessels carry enough boats as they are now built to accommodate their crews; and, in case of abandoning a ship, a third, if not more, of the crew would be obliged to trust themselves to such rafts as could be hastily improvised for the occasion. In an instance which came recently under my observation, five boats were all that one hundred and thirty people had to depend upon in case of accident to the ship, and when all were in the boats, the gunwales were but an inch or two above the surface of the water. The boats could have taken probably seventy people with safety. Abandoning ship, it is true, rarely occurs except for exercise; but anchors, provisions, and large bodies of men have frequently to be carried, and those of us who have had such boat duty well know the anxiety experienced when a moderate sea was encountered. With more beam and higher freeboard we would gain not only greater carrying capacity, but also greater comfort and safety. The first thing, then, to be done is to alter the construction of our men-of-war boats; after that, to choose a rig which would give as much speed as compatible with safety. If we decide to build boats similar to those in foreign navies, we will probably find it necessary to adopt the rigs used by them. The sliding gunter rig, so favorably regarded in our service, may be found to be totally unsuitable for a boat with more beam and higher freeboard. For cutters built upon French models, for instance, I doubt if our experience would lead us to adopt other than the French rig. Pending the construction of more seaworthy boats, I would state that I think the sloop rig for launches both unwieldy and unsafe. I have in mind two instances, and no doubt many of you can recall others, where launches have capsized, owing to the defects inherent to this rig. A squall strikes the launch, the boat heels, the boom takes the Water, and over it goes; or the order is given to drop the peak, and in the excitement of the moment the topping lift is let go as well, with the same result, The mast is so long and heavy that the launch must be rigged alongside ship, and the ballast must be passed in. If the latter is metal, it is apt to damage the boat; if sand, it takes up all the room amidships. There is so much gear, especially when two jibs and a gaff topsail are carried, that it takes some time to reeve it off, besides continually fouling. In boat exercise, the launch cannot shove off from the ship under oars, and step masts and make sail afterwards with the other boats; besides, when once rigged and ballasted for sailing, sail it must, wind or no wind, for it is almost impossible to drive such a Weight through the water with oars. The masts of all boats should be cut the neat length from the after to the forward thwart: they may then be laid, when not in use, upon the fore and aft piece, the cover passed and neatly lashed, while the fore and stern sheets would be free. Launches and cutters should be rigged with jib, and lug fore and main sails, the only difference being that both fore and main sails should have dipping lugs in cutters, while launches should have dipping lug foresail and standing lug mainsail. The peaks of the lugs should be high, to counterbalance the lack of height in the masts. This rig combines the advantages of uniformity, simplicity, ease of handling, and safety. Whaleboats and gigs should have the sliding gunter rig, which, though cumbersome when not in use, is perhaps the rig best calculated to gain speed with safety in single banked boats. Dinghies should be fitted with a leg-of-mutton sail; and in connection with this boat I may say it is at present neither a dinghey nor a cutter. I think it would be better to do away with it, in its present form, and to substitute a two-oared or a four-oared skiff. The advantages of a boat of the latter description are too well known to need mention. Lieut. WISE. For cutters and whaleboats I believe the sliding gunter rig to be, the best; but mention having been made of some of the disadvantages of that rig, I want to call attention to the Chinese rig. I have seen a ship's cutter, rigged with the ordinary lug foresail and boom mainsail, very much improved in sailing qualities and in safety by adapting to the sails the Chinese fast-boat bamboos. Sails thus extended are very flat, are quickly and easily reduced to suit any breeze, and when furled are light and do not take up more space than with the ordinary yard, boom, or sprit. Lieut. SOLEY. I am very glad that this subject has been brought before the Institute, because I am sure that it is one which merits a great deal of consideration, which it rarely receives. In presenting my views, I wish first to bring to your notice a point which I think is often neglected and that is—For what use are the boats intended ? If they are to be considered as intended for pleasure boats, or for pulling or sailing races, I am ready to discuss them from this standpoint. But I do not think they are intended for any such purpose. A man-of-war is a fighting machine, and every thing on board should be prepared and equipped with a view to fitness for that common end. The boats may be used for fighting and very often are ; sometimes more than the ship is: therefore I say that they should be built, rigged and fitted to best carry men, guns, arms, ammunition, food, and water, under all circumstances, and that every detail should be in unison with the purpose for which the whole is intended. There is another use for boats only second to the one which has just been mentioned and that is a refuge in case of accident to the ship. How many of our ships are there today which can float their crews in their boats, even if they can lower
them, and how many boats are fitted so that if lowered in a seaway they can be readily detached from the falls 2 These two considerations seem to me to be of such vital importance that they must be paramount in the subject under discussion this evening; and no matter how we may think, no one can divest himself of a certain amount of responsibility, for if any one of us finds himself conducting an expedition, and is obliged to leave behind a large proportion of the men who should go, because the fast pulling boats will not carry them in rough water, or because the boats are so encumbered with large sails and heavy spars that they have no room left, or still worse if in the dark watches of the night there comes a sudden crash and the order to abandon ship, what is to become of the poor fellows who have no stations in the boats? If any condition of effectiveness in the parts of our fighting machines is neglected, then each one who does not strive for their betterment becomes responsible. I knew beforehand that I should find myself in the minority in discussing the rig of pulling launches. I do not deny that the sloop rig is pleasant to the eye, and that it is convenient for certain work. The spars are five in number; bowsprit, mast, topmast, gaff and boom : the sails are three ; jib, mainsail, gaff topsail. The spars and sails are large and heavy, and I think every one will confess that he is glad to get under a yard or a davit to step his mast, and when that is done it takes some time to bend the sail and get every thing ready for sailing: let us now apply either of the tests you like to this rig and see how it will suit. Suppose the launch is going on a distant expedition ; it contains a 12-pdr. howitzer, 28 men, ammunition, field and boat carriage, water, provisions, stove, anchor and chain, oars, masts and sails etc. The wind may have been fair at starting and we made sail and all went well. But after a while the wind came ahead with a little sea. Now we have a difficult task to perform, viz., to unstep the mast, unbend the sails, and stow them all so that they will not be in the way for pulling; and it reads very much more easy than it really is. Or if we apply the other test, where shall we find the boat which is about the best sea boat in the ship, and can carry most people; snugly secured in cranes, with upright davits topped in ; the spars are so large that they are kept on the booms, the sails are so large that they are in the sailroom. What are the prospects of those who are stationed in the launch when the ship is abandoned ? One thing more about the sloop rig; I think it is dangerous; no boat