Never Ignore a Down-East Craft

THE talent that described the recent visitations of the tall ships might well have done more homework. One fellow seemed to think a barkentine was some sort of a hush-puppy. Maybe a down-Maine background would have helped.

For one thing, be it known, a ship has a bowsprit and is square-rigged on all three masts.

In my fetchin'-up, in a Down-East coastal village, the word for any kind of boat in general was "craft." A dory was a craft, and so was the USS frigate Constitution.

Following "Mr. Madison's War," which had ruined the prosperity of our merchant marine, the gradual resumption of trade came with the "brig," which had two masts that were both rigged with square sails. But when a brig put to sea, her owner or master would soon make adjustments to give a particular craft better maneuverability and speed, so the basic brig was variable.

Thus developed the brigantine, the hermaphrodite brig, the bark and the barkentine, the tops'l schooner, and the real workhorse of the West Indies trade, the "jackass." The jackass brig had square sails on the mainmast and was often classed with the brigantine. There was method in these variations, meant to get the most out of a vessel at sea.

The true brigantine of the Maine shipyards had square sails on the foremast, but the main was rigged with two spars and the sails of a tops'l schooner, with a square main tops'l and a main t'gallants'l.

The famous privateer Dash of the War of 1812 was first rigged as a tops'l schooner, but on first trial she showed she could carry more canvas, so she was quickly converted to a "morphodite" brig. In addition to that, she had a "ringtail." Off a long sliding spar fitted to her main boom she had a light sail bent, and when this was raised to the gaff it increased the size of her mains'l by a third.

The Dash sent in 15 prizes in seven cruises - she never suffered defeat, never attacked without success, never took a hostile shot, and had no equal in speed. When the crew "peeled the ringtail," the Dash was queen. A mishap in a fog, probably over Georges Bank, ended her career. She ranks right up there with Old Ironsides in our naval history. Except for her ringtail she was square-rigged forward and schooner-rigged aft. She was the kind of boat that brought prosperity back to our eastern harbors.

THE brig and its variations flourished from the War of 1812 up to the '40s. It was customary to make two voyages a year to "the Islands," early winter and spring, and then to "lay to" for the storm season in the Wind'ards and "Loo'ards" - time to garden and make hay in New England.

Interesting to us in Maine was the tall ships' "ignore" of our little sloops. A fleet of sloops accompanied the big show, and with every right, but it got little attention. The gaff-rigged sloop that was standard Gulf of Maine craft before the Pilgrims arrived was developed for the West Indies trade into the tops'l sloop with topmast stays'ls, jibs, and flying-jibs. A beautiful sight still seen where kept as a yacht.

When the Pilgrims came to Maine in 1622 in their "shallop," which was a sloop, they found other sloops flitting about in numbers that surprised Governor Bradford. He didn't suppose anybody else was around.

TOPS'L sloops and various brigs led to the midcentury proliferation of deeper water craft, bringing on the overemphasized clippers, the extreme clippers, the "windjammers," and finally the "downeaster" that fended off the steamship for a generation.

The downeaster was strictly Maine - built here, owned here, sailed by a Maine crew with a Maine master. She was the supreme sophistication of the sailing vessel - beautifully crafted, ably sailed, and built for pay cargo.

The clippers were overemphasized. They functioned well for Pacific-coast voyages, but in a single decade they were superseded and obsolete.

Most of the famous clippers you see in paintings (see the works of Charles P. Patterson) were downeasters. I suppose it takes a sailor, not a TV commentator, to explain this. The bow, the rake, and the dead-rise will distinguish the downeaster - the real tall ship.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Never Ignore a Down-East Craft
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today