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[Tutorial] Sailing ships - tech specs and workings


22 replies to this topic  – Started by Horry , Apr 02 2012 10:45 PM

#1 Horry

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 10:45 PM

Tutorial - Sailing ships – guidelines to tech specs and workings



PART I –proportions and relations of dimensions on a sailing vessel

A sailing ship is not a mass produced singular type of vessel. Even two ships of the same class and from the same yard will show different features - from the colour to the size. As constructing a sailing ship was a huge endeavour that took some years, newly learned techniques and individual wishes would heavily influence the appearance of the ships built.
However, there are some basic guidelines for proportions and relations on sailing ships that should be taken into consideration if the ship should not end up like the Vasa did.

In order to build your sailing ship MOC in a decent looking way, you will first have to determine what dimensions you want to use. Knowing that building an accurate sailing ship with Lego is a very difficult task, especially if it’s going to be in minifig-scale, you should first think about what type of vessel you want to use.
For all sailing ships there are different specialisations that influence their shape, dimensions, rigging and equipment. A bulky cargo ship of the 19th century would be better suited to carry large quantities of supplies to India than a sleek frigate that is designed to intercept enemy ships.

We can keep in mind that there are no exact figures on how a sailing ship HAS to be constructed. However, there are some guidelines and principles that will make your MOC looking good and functional. All figures and techniques depicted here are meant as recommendation, not as a rule

The first principle is thinking about what type your ship should be. Will it be a frigate, a smaller ship or a mighty first rate ship-of-the-line? This will determine some of the very basic features your ship will have: armament, number of masts, the number of sails, function and the size of the crew.

The second principle is that of determining the length. All dimensions on a ship will orientate on the length. The longer the ship is, the larger the broadside can be, the taller the height will be, the more masts it can carry and the larger those masts can be. A made main mast (a mast that would be constructed from different parts) for example would normally be roughly of the size of the length up to a three-mast vessel.

The third principle is that of width vs. function: The broader a ship becomes the sturdier it will be and the more space it will give for cargo or guns. But a broad hull will also mean that the ship will be slower and lesser manoeuvrable. A good example for this principle would be comparing the hulls of a frigate and a first-rate-ship: The frigate is built for speed and manoeuvrability. She does not engage ships-of-the-line but will hunt down other frigates, sloops-of-war or merchant ships. The first-rate-ship will not have to hunt anyone. Battles of the line will come to the ship and speed will not be the most important thing for this type of vessel. A broader hull can permit more guns, more men to arm them and more stability.

We can summarize: the form and the dimensions of sailing ships depend on their purpose. A light and small sailing boat that is designed to be able to plane will have a flat and small bow and a relatively broad stern.

For this tutorial, however, we will concentrate on tall ships. For those ships the first question you will have to ask yourself: What shall be the length of the ship? The answer to this shall give you almost any information you need in order to design the rest of the ship. Please keep in mind that if we talk about the length overall of a sailing vessel we will use only the length of the main hull - that excludes superstructures, galleries, bowsprits and everything else that is not part of the immediate outer hull.

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terms von HMSCentaur auf Flickr

Now, let’s toss in some facts and numbers:
The length itself depends on the purpose of the ship. If it is a merchant ship that is designed for heavier seas you’ll need a more stable ship with a smaller length over all. If it shall be a fast clipper, the ship should become longer and get less width.
If it is a man of war the length depends on the number of guns and the calibre who again are limited by the forces generated by a broadside and the weight of the cannons.

A gun deck can normally hold around 17 to 20 guns (smaller calibres mean more guns) on each broadside. A gun port itself will normally be broader than higher or at least a square. Usually, there will at least roughly twice as much space between two gunports. The smaller the calibre of the used guns is the less space is needed in between the gunports. A gun deck is roughly two gunports tall but of course that may vary, too. The space between two gunports will vary and orientate on the heaviest calibre intended for this gunport when the ship was constructed. This would be especially important for ships-of-the-line that would have more than one gun deck. The lowest gun deck would feature the heaviest calibres and receive smaller cannons on the higher gun decks. However - the lowest gun deck will define the space between all gunports as the ship should have a chequered gunport alignment over the gun decks in order to keep the recoil energy from a broadside as much dispensed as possible.

The ship will be much longer than it is wide. The (very rough) formula for the minimum beam (widest width) would be
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beam von HMSCentaur auf Flickr

Keep in mind that the beam is subject to individual function of each vessel. A faster vessel might be fewer feet wide. A 1st rate ship-of-the-line will need more space on the gun decks. This formula will only work if LOA is measured in feet and will exclude the bow sprite. If you want to calculate this in meters, you'll have to replace the 1 with 0.3048.

The deck planking will normally be as thick as the outer hull would be on the same level. The most often used formula to estimate the thickness of the planking would be
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thickness von HMSCentaur auf Flickr

This formula will also work only if beam and LOA are measured in feet and the LOA will exclude the bow sprite.
The outer hull will gradually become thinner towards the weather deck. The normal ratio would be around 30 % thinner on the weather deck itself compared to the bilge level.

If the ship will feature a tumblehome (and almost all tall ships did) it will usually not appear much below the waterline. The tumblehome will also normally not exceed the lowest gun-deck armament – meaning that the upmost gun deck of a ship-of-the-line should not start more inboard than the guns placed on the lowest gun deck end. While it would be technically possible to do so while constructing the ship, the forces of a broadside can be better absorbed by a steeper tumblehome
If the ship will feature a tumblehome (and almost all tall ships did) it will not appear much below the waterline and will not exceed the lowest gun deck – this means that the upmost gun deck of a ship-of-the-line will not start more inboard than the lowest gun deck starts.
The sheer of the ship (meaning the curvature of the vessel’s main hull) will most often be the same at the stern and the bow in terms of the plain hull. The poop deck will normally feature higher superstructures than the forecastle. The more sheer there is on a vessel the more stable and the less manoeuvrable the ship becomes. The bow sprite should always exceed the stern sheer of a ship.

PART II – the inner workings – how do they open a gun port?

Sailing ships needed everything to support a crew of sometimes hundreds of sailors for many months at sea. Everything had to be accessible and easily storable at the same time, from food to light and air over water to cannons and hand weapons.
Thus, sailing ships tended to be crowded, dark places with a lot of tricks to make even more out of everything. Some techniques can already be found in this tutorial, like the hanging tables that could be stored away.

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SteeringMechanism von HMSCentaur auf Flickr

A fundamental mechanism was that of the steering wheel. From the beginning of seafaring until today, the basic principles of steering a ship haven't changed much. There is still a rudder that is operated by the helmsman. On sailing vessels of the 18th and 19th century, this rudder was operated through a steering wheel. The wheel was attached to two sturdy ropes that went directly through the lower decks under the wheel, accessing deck by deck via fairleads. They would be attached to a system of hoists (the number of hoists depending on the size of the ship) that would connect to the tiller. The tiller itself would lead directly to the rudder. The principle of an open hoist-system had the advantage of immediate problem analysis and instant accessibility, should the steering mechanism become compromised or damaged in any kind. It was also possible to easily destroy the steering mechanism, should the ship be boarded by enemies or should there be a mutiny on board.

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compartments von HMSCentaur auf Flickr

Another important technique is compartmentalizing the ship’s sections. Especially on gun decks, the crew had to be able to access the whole area easily in order to make room for gun crews, ammunition resupplies, cleaners (usually boys that wiped away spilled gunpowder during battle) and officers or messengers that relayed orders. That was why walls usually were not fixed. They were attached to rails or brackets and could easily be dismantled. Then, they would be stored away by hanging them up to the ceiling or close additional entry hatches to lower decks – in that case, a wall became the floor. The different colours would also mark an area that was not fit for heavy weights (such as cannons). The larger a ship would be the more movable walls it would normally feature. A small ship like a ketch or a schooner would normally not carry cannons in the stern section of the broadside and hence not be forced to make room for the gun crews.
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Gunports2 von HMSCentaur auf Flickr

If the deck was to be cleared, the gun ports would be opened by a small hoist-system that would be operated by the gun-crew of the respective cannon. The string would be fixed at a small hook at the ceiling. The gun would then be brought into firing position (the muzzle being outside the ship) by using the recoil hoists or recoil ropes. Recoil ropes would be attached to the carriage or the backmost part of the cannon itself. To efficiently operate a single cannon a normal gun crew of five to 14 (depending on the calibre) was needed. At least two men would reposition the gun and aim it, one person to reload the gun and one to sweep the gun for residual gunpowder and ram the gunpowder cartridge into the cannon. Additional personnel could restock ammunition and gunpowder, repair the carriage and help with repositioning.

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Davit von HMSCentaur auf Flickr

Another part of the vessel used for all different kinds of operations would be the davit. The davit was used to transport dinghies and material alongside the outer hull into the ship ad off the ship. It was normally made out of two curved (boom) cranes that would extend over the ship’s hull and be attached to the outer hull itself (NOT the deck, as the forces used for lowering a dinghy could damage the deck planking). There could be portable davits that would be positioned wherever needed and fixed, more stable davits that could carry much more weight. A davit usually featured four independent ropes that could be operated by groups of two to six deckhands. This allowed for a very precise operation of the lifting/lowering process. The davit itself ensured the needed distance of the handled object to the hull (thus not damaging the hull). On US American ships it would be common to keep the dinghy secured to the davit if not used. Some davits utilised boom cranes that could easily haul the object directly onto the weather deck. Those kinds of davits would normally be used on ships of the line where the needed space for those davits was available.

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Cargo von HMSCentaur auf Flickr

If the needed objects (apart from dinghies) were on board, they also had to be stored. A man of war usually had much less designated cargo areas in comparison to a merchant vessel. Almost the whole cargo (from water supplies to gunpowder) was utilized to stabilise and balance the ship, thus increasing manoeuvring capabilities in combat. So, every available space on the ship had to be capable of hosting cargo. That was also accomplished by a very flexible and innovative system of compartmentalisation. Many rips, bulkheads, stringers and girders featured cleats and fairleads. They could be used to construct little “shelves” made of nets and wooden beams alongside the hull. The cargo would be stored in those shelves. It would often be an indicator of the length of the mission of a ship, how much of the outer hull could be seen behind the shelves. If the nets were full of casks, the ship had just resupplied. If there was plenty of hull planking to be seen, the ship had been on the open sea for quite some time.

PART III locations – where to place your stairs and capstans

To announce it in advance: There is no definite position of any part on a sailing ship. Every vessel had a different final design. Refitting a frigate to a troop transport for example could make a considerable percentage of the rigging obsolete and thus many capstans and hoists would be removed during the refitting process. But there are certain areas where our equipment would NOT go.

The Ship’s wheel would normally not be positioned behind the mizzen mast in order to avoid having three or more rigged masts in front of the helm. Additionally, the mizzen mast could provide more cover for the commanding officers during a fight as the attack on the stern would be a popular method. In addition, the hoist system could be attached to the mast itself below deck, relieving the outer hull off the forces of the steering process. The wheel would also not be placed too far forward as the resulting length of the ropes below deck would result in slower response times during manoeuvres and bear a higher potential for interfering with the activities below deck. On a ship-of-the-line the ship’s wheel would often be placed before the aft well deck, often providing a roof for the helmsman. It would be normal to place the ship’s wheel directly next to stair leading below deck. In the case of a damaged steering mechanism the helmsman could easily access the lower decks and investigate the cause of the malfunction.

Speaking of stairs: The steep and small stairs leading below deck would normally be placed at least on the forecastle and the aft well deck. They could normally be sealed by gratings and featured reinforced frames around the access in order to compensate for the structural weakening such an opening would cause on the deck. The following stairs to lower decks would normally be placed on the opposite side and not directly below – this guaranteed easier transport of material up and down the stairs and prevented crewmembers from falling all the way down should they stumble. They would often have massive railing in order to make the stairs better defendable should the ship be boarded by enemy forces. Stairs would often define different gun deck sections that were run by independent gunner groups. They would normally be orientated on the sections of the main hull (middle deck, forecastle, poop deck, etc.) On ships-of-the-line there would often be two stairs placed dead level on the portside and the starboard side.


Capstans and hoists that would be reserved for the mast rigging would normally be placed behind the masts, not in front of them. This added to the structural stability of the masts that would receive all the force of the wind from behind.
Rigging and hoists that would go abeam of the ship would normally be attached to the main beams directly under the ceiling. The deck planking itself was used only for smaller suspensions like lamps and hammocks.

Crow nests would normally be positioned at the end of one mast section (remember, masts of tall ships would not be in one peace but combined mast-segments). This provided a good access point for repairs.
Masts would be positioned according to the type of ship constructed. The number and positions of some different types of fully rigged ships can be seen in this tutorial.

Different positions of locations below deck like the gunpowder magazine and the galley can be found in this tutorial.

Edited by Horry, 24 November 2012 - 10:49 PM.

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#2 Foremast Jack

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 11:44 PM

Horry another superb start to what is surely going to be a great, and very needed, tutorial! :thumbup:

I love all the math being employed. I look forward to the latter parts.
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#3 Sir E Fullner

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 10:24 PM

I find your tutorials very helpful while building vessels, in order to fit in with the salty sea dogs in this forum. I can't wait for the next few parts, and I might just use some of your techniques.

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#4 Horry

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 12:49 AM

I am revising the tutorial "Sailing ships - tech specs and workings" at the moment to iron it out. I will repost it here once done. Sorry for the inconvenience


Horry, April 30th.

Edited by Horry, 30 April 2012 - 05:04 PM.

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#5 Admiral Croissant

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 09:59 AM

Thanks for another great tutorial! I didn't know about the walls being used as hatches, where did you get that information?
Perhaps you found it in a very useful book and then I'd like to have it :pir-classic:

The steering wheel image is also very clear.
As for the gunports I'd like to add that there were different ways of opening them, like this (HMS Implacable):
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As you can see the two ropes are tied together. On USS Constitution you have double gunport hatches.
On the Shtandart there's just one rope in the middle.

And there are also many different ways for attaching a cannon to the ship, depending on the age and occasion.
I couldn't find good examples of it but in the Historic & Replica Ships index you'll find different examples.
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#6 SearchFunction

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 07:35 PM

For more information I recommend R.C. Andersons book "The Rigging of Ships in the Days of the Spritsail Topmast, 1600-1720" and Wolfram Zu Mondfelds "Historic Ship Models".

Its a very tricky subject, but there where strict rules as to the proportions of everything and they changed over time and from nation to nation. British ships where less manuverable but steadier gunplatforms, the french better sailors but less stable. This was due to the shape of the hull. Anyway the lenght to breadth ratio typically was 1:3 and the height of the mainmast could be something like 2,5 times the breadth on a full rigged ship. Anyway its a very very diffecult area to study if you want 100% realism. I would recommend simply finding a model of a ship and copy and modify it to your liking.

As for the steering wheel, it wasnt invented until 1695 and not in common use until much later, like the 1730s. Up until then steering was done by a slightly different mechanism, but you can look that up in Mondfelds book if you REALLY want that much info.

#7 Sebeus I

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 10:20 AM

This is very very interesting  :pir-oh:
Some questions though;
That Lenght over all, I see it is measured from the most extended point of the bow to the stern, but not the furthest point on the stern, is that where the galleries have a little bit overhang or am I wrong on that ?

In the formula for minimum beam, I assume it's correct to replace that +1 by +0.3048 to use it in SI units (meter) ?
This way one can easely make a stud equivalent as well

Edited by Sebeus Iniwum, 08 April 2012 - 10:22 AM.


#8 Commander Red Hat

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 10:19 AM

There are 2 things that I'd say are incorrect.
1. The space in between gunports would be about 3 times a port instead of 2. (But that may vary)
2. The compartment walls would not be stored in a hole, but they would be lifted up against the upper beams, sort of like a garage door.

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#9 Frank Brick Wright

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 10:39 AM

The tutorial is indeed amazing, so much detail!

I'm concerned here with an issue though. It is about gunport spacing. That is quite relative and varies A LOT from ship to ship. As the pictures are extra-large I am providing here the links of three contrasting examples:

http://www.modelship...1/gIMG_2158.jpg
http://www.modelship...V/gIMG_7805.jpg
http://www.modelship...e/gIMG_8634.jpg

There is no way these vessels have similar spacing; they are quite distinct. As for the proportions and etc. that is extremely interesting and useful, but I do not think we should standardize measures, shapes, heights and etc. when producing accurate models.

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#10 Horry

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 12:28 PM

Heyho!

I am excited that there is such a brisk interest in this tutorial, thank you all! I am also very thankful for all the feedback.

Hoooooowever  :pir-grin:

The very first paragraph clearly stated that there is no general "this is exactly how you do it" option for such a tutorial. I have spent much time on fully rigged ships as I used to be part of a project that voluntarily renovated old sailing vessels. Believe me when I say that some of those examples I've made occur more often than others.
There are many compartment-walls that are lifted up like Captain Green Hair said and there are many gunports that are opened just as Admiral Croissant showed and of course there are no exact rules for as to how much space there should be between gunports.
I seem to have failed in making it clear that I tried to set up reasonable examples that are amongst other variants and represent the basic principles, not the exact methods. I'll include your findings in the tutorial and try to make it clearer that this is more a guidelines-tutorial and not a rule-set.
Sebeus: I'll answer those questions in the tutorial once I have reworked it as they must be of interest for all the readers.

Again: Thank you all for your input, it's most helpful!  :pir-sweet:
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#11 Admiral Croissant

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 03:46 PM

That's okay. I didn't mean to critisize your work in any way :pir-classic:
Neither do I think that some elements in your tutorial are wrong.
I just think it could be useful to show (links to) different possibilities of how they opened gunports and such.
A guide is very useful, but when there are different solutions people can choose what they like best, which adds to the variety within ship MOCs.
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#12 Frank Brick Wright

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 05:15 PM

View PostAdmiral Croissant, on 10 April 2012 - 03:46 PM, said:

That's okay. I didn't mean to critisize your work in any way :pir-classic:
Neither do I think that some elements in your tutorial are wrong.
I just think it could be useful to show (links to) different possibilities of how they opened gunports and such.
A guide is very useful, but when there are different solutions people can choose what they like best, which adds to the variety within ship MOCs.

I don't think I could have said it better Posted Image This tutorial is extremely helpful and illustrates quite some issues with precision and clearly. But perhaps it could also be useful, when referring to certain aspects, to give several examples so that we can get a better perspective of the options available when building Posted Image

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#13 Horry

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Posted 16 April 2012 - 11:22 PM

Again, thank you! I understand what you mean and I hope that I have included your additions to your liking. I also added some bits and pieces and the third part that may be expanded if you want more information on other locations. I hope you find this tutorial as helpful as the rest of my work  :pir-blush:
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#14 ZCerberus

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 02:56 PM

Well master tutorial man, time that this gets

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#15 Ben King

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 12:13 AM

Interesting technique. The only problem I see, which is just a personal preference, is that it looks sort of rough. Also, it might by hard to make a bow and stern with this technique. :pir-sceptic:

#16 Horry

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 09:24 AM

View PostBen King, on 24 April 2012 - 12:13 AM, said:

Interesting technique. The only problem I see, which is just a personal preference, is that it looks sort of rough. Also, it might by hard to make a bow and stern with this technique. :pir-sceptic:

You mean the building technique used to illustrate the vessel's hull? That might be because it was never intended to build a complete ship - I've just devised it to be able to properly illustrate the curving of a hull for my tutorials - and this tutorial is about historical accuracy, not building techniques - there are far better suited MOCers around here to show good techniques for the actual building process  :pir-classic:
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#17 Dread Pirate Wesley

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 06:37 PM

I must have missed this tutorial originally but it is brilliant!  Really well presented information on some parts of the ship that are hard to research.  I like the way you present the compartment walls.  I'm trying to rig them on my ship currently and I think I will have them lift rather than be removeable.  Good work and a good read!

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#18 Imperial Shipyards

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 02:06 PM

First of all thanks for all of your efforts, I haven't seen anybody else spending as much time with tutorials as yo do, but I'd still like to clarify some details:

View PostHorry, on 02 April 2012 - 10:45 PM, said:

If the ship will feature a tumblehome (and almost all tall ships did) it will not appear below the lowest gun deck and will not exceed the lowest gun deck – this means that the upmost gun deck of a ship-of-the-line will not start more inboard than the lowest gun deck starts.

I think this is a bit too strict, while it might be true for the typical 3rd rate, almost all 1st and 2nd rates have a tumblehome which is curving inwards much more on the middle gundeck than on the lower gundeck. HMS Victory is a good example:

Posted Image

Also HMS Trincomalee has a tumblehome that is starting to curve inwards quite a bit below the gundeck (on the orlop):

http://farm6.static....656aa1e8c_b.jpg

Similarly the space between gunports cannot be strictly nailed down to for instance 2 times the size of a gunport; it could also be 3 or 2,5 times times that size. It's just uncommon to be more than 3 or less than 2.

I don't mean to prove you wrong, your tutorials are very long and helpful, but they should be more accurate if you really want to help people with their MOCs.  :pir-blush:

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#19 Horry

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 04:42 PM

View PostPerfectionist, on 30 April 2012 - 02:06 PM, said:


I think this is a bit too strict, while it might be true for the typical 3rd rate, almost all 1st and 2nd rates have a tumblehome which is curving inwards much more on the middle gundeck than on the lower gundeck. HMS Victory is a good example:

Similarly the space between gunports cannot be strictly nailed down to for instance 2 times the size of a gunport; it could also be 3 or 2,5 times times that size. It's just uncommon to be more than 3 or less than 2.

No worries! I think I might have written that a bit too mistakable. What I did try to desribe is that the tumblehome would not be that extreme that a gundeck would start completely "behind" another deck in terms of the recoiling force vector... actually I'm pretty curious no what I was thinking when I wrote that bit - seems pretty messed up now. I shall rephrase it.  :pir-sweet:

As for the gunports: I think I'll remove that picture - it is meant as a guideline not as a rule as stated in the text - but seems to jump at people and tackle their attention...  :pir-sceptic:

View PostPerfectionist, on 30 April 2012 - 02:06 PM, said:

but they should be more accurate if you really want to help people with their MOCs.

I am sorry if I have seem negligent. Sometimes it is quite difficult to write those things in English in an accurate manner and in my spare time.
I will start revising all my tutorials, a thing I wanted to do for some time, anyway... they will be up again at some stage.

Edited by Horry, 30 April 2012 - 04:49 PM.

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#20 Horry

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 10:50 PM

This tutorial has been revised updated - it is now available again and features all asked corrections.

Edited by Horry, 24 November 2012 - 10:50 PM.

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#21 Frank Brick Wright

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Posted 29 November 2012 - 01:29 PM

I've read the tutorial again and it is indeed a great one :thumbup: I'm curious about the source of this formula:

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I've tried to calculate a bit with this but I'm getting odd results. Take the surprise: length 129 feet, beam 31.66 feet (to convert this primitive units to the decimal system :tongue: ). Now according to this formula I will get a thickness of… 2.68 feet! Which is 82cms… It looks like a lot, doesn't it? :sceptic: Planks of 82cms of thickness?

This is one of my favourite drawings by Chapman. The planks certainly don't look that thick…

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#22 PsyKater

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Posted 29 November 2012 - 02:01 PM

Maybe it is because your beam does not fit to the other formular? According to the beam formular you should have a beam of B = 13.27 ft and not of 31.66 ft. And with that you get a planking of 1.54 ft (=47cm). Does this make more sense? (Basically I have no clue what this is all about)
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#23 Frank Brick Wright

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 04:49 PM

View PostPsyKater, on 29 November 2012 - 02:01 PM, said:

Maybe it is because your beam does not fit to the other formular? According to the beam formular you should have a beam of B = 13.27 ft and not of 31.66 ft. And with that you get a planking of 1.54 ft (=47cm). Does this make more sense? (Basically I have no clue what this is all about)

Take a look here:

View PostHorry, on 02 April 2012 - 10:45 PM, said:



The ship will be much longer than it is wide. The (very rough) formula for the minimum beam (widest width) would be
Posted Image


This is a formula for the minimum beam :wink: So actually, as the beam is larger than this number, it is "correct". Moreover, even with a ridiculously small beam of 13.27ft we even get  47 cms of planking. Whilst this sound more close to the real thing (and I'm pretty sure it varies from ship to ship), I'd say that a frigate has the Surprise would have a thickness of 10-20 cms (somewhere in between). I am basing this in speculation but I've got plenty of ref-pics from other vessels (perhaps not as large, tough) where the planks don't appear to be very thick.

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