Free Web Hosting Provider - Web Hosting - E-commerce - High Speed Internet - Free Web Page
Search the Web

Tacking & Wearing
- The difficulties of manoeuvring a large square rigged sailing ship -

lines_blue_073[1].gif (1646 bytes)

The following description of the process of tacking a large, square rigged sailing ship comes from "The Way of a Ship" by A Villiers. It has been slightly edited to make it applicable to the final manoeuvres of Wild Deer.
Reference to diagrams below will help to clarify the manoeuvres, the point being to swing the ship across the direction of the wind.

lines_blue_073[1].gif (1646 bytes)


lines_blue_073[1].gif (1646 bytes)

Tacking is all-hands work, though the full crew is required only for the actual going round, and each needs to be in position before the manoeuvre is commenced. The master puts the ship about regardless of whether she be tacked or worn round. the mates supervise the work on deck. The master stands on the poop, by the helmsman. Four hands are sent to each brace-winch, two to each handle. (It is not known if the Wild Deer actually had brace-winched, but there would have been some means of operating the braces). The carpenter and perhaps the sailmaker got to the forecastle-head to tend the jib-sheets, under the mate's eye. A couple of hands are on the poop to handle the spanker. The sailmaker might be stationed here. A boy to each mast will take care of the slack of the topgallant and royal braces. The cook must see to the fore-sheet, which traditionally is his post because the galley is usually close by it.

Tacking.JPG (144586 bytes)


Everything is now ready and it must be ready - no oversights, no stupidity. The whole success of the manoeuvre reset on foresight and organisation before-hand, as in so much of the square-rigger's work.

The master is satisfied.

"Keep her clean full," he orders the helmsman, or he might say, "Keep her full for stays." This to get good way on the ship in order that she may slam across the wind with her sails aback, and yet not gather stemway.

"Ready about!" is the next order. The tacks and sheets of the courses are clear for the yards to swing, and nothing is left where it can inconvenience the free swinging of the sails and yards. The cook stands by the fore-sheet, at its capstan. The carpenter stands by the jib-sheets.

"Lee-oh!" shouts the master, and to the helmsman, "Down helm."

Wild Deer was on the Port Tack

The wheel is spun down - that is, towards the direction of the wind. The rudder kicks the ship to windward, the fore-sheet and the jib-sheets are eased to take the weight out of the head sails, the spanker is hauled to wind- ward to cause the ship to fly up into the winds eye more quickly. There is a great shaking for a moment or so and then, as all the sails are taken aback with the wind blowing upon their fore-sides, the ships way slackens greatly while she swings across the wind. Swing she must though stop she may, for the moment, and the quicker she can be made to swing the better. With the force exerted by the sails for'ard considerably lessened, the after sails push her round like a weather-cock. Within a few seconds the ship lies almost head to wind, still swinging. At the precise second that the ship is pushing her bowsprit across the direction of the wind, when the weather sides of the sails on the main and mizzen masts are aback and the lee sides becalmed by the sails ahead of them, the master gives the next order.

"Mainsail haul!"

He says mainsail because this is the traditional order, but of course he means the crojack as well - all the yards on the main and mizzen masts. If he has timed things rightly, the yards will come round of themselves and all the hands have to do is to wind the brace-winches furiously and keep things clear, while the boys take in the slack of the lighter braces, hand-over-hand. The yards are trimmed hastily, the after fore-and-aft sails are sheeted to the new lee side, and the hands dash along the deck to the fore braces. Meanwhile the carpenter has looked after the jib-sheets. If the ship is reluctant to cant the right way, the jib-sheets may have to be hauled aft aback to help push her around but, under good conditions, this should not be necessary. All being well, the ship is still swinging, though much more slowly; the sails on main and mizzen begin to fill on the new tack, while the sails on the foremast, being still on the other tack, are aback and holding the ship.

"Let go and haul!"

At once the brake is taken off the fore brace-winch, the ends of the lighter braces let go, and the hands grind the fore-yards round on winch and by hand as quickly as they can, while the cook and the second cook (with the steward as well very likely) gather in the slack of the fore-sheet, and the carpenter and a few good men, having looked after the jib-sheets, take the new fore tack on the other side of the ship down to the capstan. The spanker (being the fore-and-aft sail like a yacht's mainsail) has more or less taken care of itself. The mainsail and crojack are set again as quickly as possible on the new tack, the trim of the yards is perfected and the brace-whips and tackles are set up, the bundlines are overhauled again (for things must always be done correctly), and away bounds the ship full-and-by on the other tack. Full-and-by means that though she is steering, she is not kept so close that anything shakes. The sails are full and the ship is by-the-wind. Again the gear is coiled down clear for running, the longer gear being flaked down on the deck to ensure that the lines will run clean through the blocks and not pick up a snarl.

Wearing.JPG (161117 bytes) Sometimes things do not go smoothly. Perhaps the wind shift just at that vital moment the ship is swinging across it, or for some other reason things go wrong. Then the ship will gather stemway and the helm must be shifted, or the ship may get "in irons", as the sailors say. If she is taken in irons then there is a mess, for she won't sail and won't fall off in either direction. She may be brought back under control by taking the spanker in, running down the jigger and the mizzen topmast staysails, and squaring the main and crojack yards. The ship will then back on her heel and gradually full the after sails, and so gather headway again, but on the original tack. Headway is her lifeblood, with that she can be fully clothed and tacked again, or put about by wearing, if that is the best thing to do.

In the Wild Deer's case things did not go smoothly as described in the paragraph above. Before the crew could remedy the situation the ship drifted onto the rocks. It is estimated that there would have been less than 15 minutes available from the time the ship "missed stays" or "got in irons" until she went aground. With hindsight, it would seem that having missed stays, the subsequent attempt to wear the ship around would also have resulted in disaster. There would have been insufficient room to complete this manoeuvre which required the ship to turn towards the land with it's stern to the direction of the wind.

Click the button below to return to the story of Wild Deer

Return to the Wild Deer story.