- 11/08/2021 at 16:26 #160345Darkest Star GamesParticipant
In reading a couple of novels that take place around 1799-1820 I have come across mentions of the nationalities of ships (mostly French) being identified by the cut of their sails. My googlefu has been mega weak and I have found no results on the difference between say the sail cut/plans of British and French ships. Has nothing to do with gaming (at the moment anyways) but could someone in the know stonk me with some knowledge?
"I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."11/08/2021 at 18:46 #160361Not Connard SageParticipant
A jib, the triangular sails from foremast to bowsprit, was often a different shape on ships of different nationalities.
Hence the expression ‘I like the cut of your jib’
"I'm not signing that"11/08/2021 at 20:39 #160369Darkest Star GamesParticipant
Aha! Thank you!
"I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."12/08/2021 at 02:29 #160376EtrangerParticipant
Different nationalities tended to use slightly different sail plans, with arrangements of booms, rigging etc, such as the jib that NCS mentions. It probably took a lot of familiarity with the subject to tell from a distance. “Sail spotters” as opposed to train spotters!
Presumably when a ship was captured by eg the British from the French, rigging etc would be altered to the new owner’s tastes at some point.
Depending upon whether you want to spend $22 on a download, then this probably has some of the answers to your question. https://www.amazon.com/Warships-Napoleonic-Era-Development-Deployment-ebook/dp/B00LWF62Z426/08/2021 at 00:10 #160952AdmiralHawkeParticipant
Hmm. This is a fascinating question and I’m intrigued. I don’t remember reading descriptions of the sails or rigging of ships of the line or frigates being obviously very different. However, absence of evidence is not evidence of abscence. Perhaps the differences in sails were so obvious and well known that contemporaries didn’t mention them.
As Etranger says, there were small differences in sails and rigging. But seeing those differences would depend not only on the distance, but also the state of the wind (and hence which sails a ship had unfurled) and the attitude of the ship relative to the viewer.
There were more obvious differences in the designs of the ships, particularly their stern decorations.
There are numerous recorded instances of British East Indiamen being mistaken for warships, notably by Rear-Admiral Sercey in January 1797 and by Rear-Admiral Linois in February 1804, which suggest that identifying ships with certainty from a distance was hard. But the East India Company had a clear incentive to make its ships look like British ships of the line.
A more interesting incident is the Battle of Lagos in August 1759, when the French Admiral De la Clue waited for the chasing British ships to come up because he was expecting to see the missing ships from his own squadron and didn’t realize the approaching ships were British until too late.
In January 1795, Captain Sidney Smith, who spoke fluent French, hoisted the French tricoleur and took the frigate Diamond into the entrance to Brest harbour, even approaching the French ship of the line Nestor and speaking to her captain, who took the British-built Diamond for a French frigate.
Similarly, in January 1798, the British frigates Sybille and Fox sailed into Manila Bay in the Philippines, hosting French ensigns in order to deceive the Spanish into thinking that they were the Seine and the Prudente from Rear-Admiral Sercey’s squadron. The Spanish didn’t realize their mistake until some of them were taken prisoner on board the British frigates. (The Sybille was a French-built frigate, though the Fox was not).
Those examples all suggest that the nationalities of warships in the age of sail were not obvious at any great distance.
I would be very interested to read contrary evidence. 🙂
Thanks for posting a great question.
PS It’s a slight pity no cross-posting is allowed as this would have been good to ask on the ‘Naval’ board.26/08/2021 at 11:09 #160971Not Connard SageParticipant
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