Information about the sizes and types of rigging used in large square rigged sailing ships
British Navy and merchant ship rigging information
A General View of the most Approved Ship of Each Class in the British Navy with the exact dimensions of her Masts, Yards, Rigging, Blocks, Guns, Gun-Carriages, Anchoes and Cables according to the establishment of 1778. Printed for David Steel – 1781
This publication, originally published as a 34” x 23” sheet, shown in the following figure:
Steel’s original sheet (from here)
The publication includes a comprehensive table listing information about different sized navy sailing ships of the period including all ropes used for standing and running rigging. Each rope is named and listed as hawser laid, as cabled or as tapered and cabled. See the figure below for an example:
Steel General View sample
A transcribed version of Steel’s A General View is available from Y. Miroshnikov.
There were multiple editions of Steel’s A General View published, but the transcribed version from Y. Miroshnikov with the data from 1781 & 1799 is the only one I have found on-line.
In 1794 David Steel had published a multi volume The Elements of Practice of Rigging and Seamanship. He included an updated version of his rigging tables in the 2nd volume as well as other information about the rigging of British navy vessels.
Steel then created a small book that included the rigging related material in The Elements that he called “The Art of Rigging”. He included an updated version of the tables of navy ship rigging as an appendix in the new book whose full title reads:
The Art of Rigging: Containing an Alphabetical Explanation of the Terms, Directions for the Most Minute Operations, and the Method of Progressive Rigging with Full and Correct Tables of the Dimensions and Quantities of Every Part of the Rigging of All Ships and Vessels
The first edition of the Art of Rigging was printed in 1796 and is available as print on demand and in paperback on Amazon
The tables in the first edition of the Art of Rigging were simplified somewhat from the tables in A General View (for example by removing the notation of which ropes were hawser laid - since all but the ropes that were cable laid were hawser laid, that made sense), as can be seen in the following example:
Steel: Art of Rigging First Edition sample
A second edition was printed in 1806 and is available from the Internet Archive
The second edition added information about the rigging of merchant ships, and is 13 pages longer than the first edition.
Steel: Art of Rigging Second Edition sample
A third edition was published in 1818 but I have not found a copy of that on-line.
The Art of Rigging was taken over by George Biddlecombe who published a revised version in 1848. A copy of the 1848 edition is available for free from Google Books, as is a later version from 1925, which was also reprinted as a paperback.
The tables in the Biddlecombe version were simplified even further with the removal of any mention of cabled rope as can be seen in the following example:
Biddlecombe: Art of Rigging – 1848 sample
American Navy ship rigging information
published a comprehensive set of tables of the masting and rigging of US Navy
vessels in 1826. He called it:
Tables Showing the Masts and Spars, Rigging and Stores, etc. of Every Description, Allowed to Different Classes of Vessels Belonging to the Navy of the United States
I obtained a copy of the tables and posted it here.
The information in the Force Tables is generally consistent as to rope sizes for merchant vessels with the information in the Steel Art of Rigging publications. See, for example the following example:
Force Tables example
Brady’s The Kedge-Anchor from 1849 also has a set of tables showing rigging lines for navy vessels and their sizes. See the following example:
Brady: The Kedge-Anchor – 1849 sample
Harold A. Underhill includes tables of standing rigging (table 19), running rigging for square sails (table 21), and running rigging for fore and aft sails (table 22) in his book Masting and Rigging the Clipper Ship and Ocean Carrier (1946). Underhill does not say what the source was for his numbers.
Ben Lankford created an excellent set of drawings of the McKay clipper ship Flying Fish in 1979 for Model Shipways. The drawings include the sizes of all of the ropes and chains used in both the standing and running rigging. Some of the sizes on the drawings differ from the sizes shown by contemporary sources but, overall, in my opinion it is the best single source for information on the rigging of mid 1800s clipper ships. That said, the Lankford drawings do not include any mention of the types of rope used on large sailing vessels.
Duncan McLean, writing for the Boston Daily Atlas, wrote many articles on the launching of many clipper ships, including those built by Donald McKay. In his story on the Flying Cloud McLean said that the Flying Cloud was rigged the same as was the Stag Hound. McLean included information about the sizes of some of the standing rigging in his article on the Stag Hound. The information he provides is incomplete and a bit confusing but is worth taking a look at. McLean also said that the standing rigging for at least the Flying Fish was four-strand and made of the finest Russian hemp.
David Steel published a two volume book on the Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship in 1794. A chapter in the first volume focused on ropemaking.
H.R Carter published a number of books about ropemaking. I found two in particular to provide helpful information: Modern Flax, Hemp, and Jute Spinning and Twisting published in 1907 and Rope, Twine and Thread Making published in 1909.
Information about the rigging of sailing ships
Of course, all of the books mentioned above include more than just tables of rigging sizes and are all useful aids to understand the rigging of sailing ships of all descriptions.
There are a number of books specifically on the topic of the rigging of large navy and merchant sailing ships, all of such books I have found provide at least some useful information.
One particularly detailed book is Lennarth Petersson’s Rigging Period Ship Models, published in 2000, which goes line by line through the rigging of an English frigate built in 1785 based on a contemporary model of the vessel with the original rigging largely intact.
James Lees’ The Masting and Rigging of English Ships of War 1625-1860, originally published in 1979, also goes line by line through the rigging of English ships of war and, in addition, contains a lot of additional information such as how the sizes of deadeyes and their lanyards can be calculated.
The Ashley Book of Knots, published in 1944, has quite a bit of useful information beyond how to tie knots, including about things such as hearts and deadeyes.
What information I used for deciding on the rigging sizes for my Flying Cloud model
I find that the tables in the second (1806) edition of the Art of Rigging have the set of information that best matches what I think was still being used in the mid 1800s on merchant vessels (including U.S. merchant vessels) – for example, as shown in the sample from the second edition above, it shows the fore stays as being 10½ inch cabled 4-stranded rope. This matches what Duncan McLean wrote about some of the McKay clippers, for example this about the Flying Fish “Her heavy standing rigging is of four stranded, patent rope, made to order of the best Russian hemp, and varies from 10½ to 8 inch.” But this source does not include all the lines that the Flying Cloud had and there were some differences between this and other sources.
To determine the final rope sizes I made spreadsheets that compared the sizes from the Steel’s A General View, the second edition of his Art of Rigging, the 1849 version of Biddlecombe’s Art of Rigging, Force’s Tables, Underhill’s Masting and Rigging as well as the Flying Fish drawings from Lankford. The sizes listed were generally consistent when normalized for a 1600 ton ship, where the sizes were not consistent, I picked what seemed to me to be the best size. I then created spreadsheets of the rigging that used the sizes I had picked along with sizes that made sense for the lines that were not covered by any of the sources (the skysail lines for example).
Where the source had information for different sized ships, I normalized the size values for a ship the size of the Flying Cloud by comparing the sizes for smaller ships and how the sizes of rope increased based on the size of the ship. I then applied that same increase to the largest size ship in the table to get an approximation of the size that would have been used on a ship the size of the Flying Cloud.