Question For Naval History Buffs
October 20, 2010 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Naval History Question: In the 1500s/1600s, how did people get from a large boat (ship-of-the-line) onto a smaller boat (e.g., a pinnace)? Was the pinnace hauled up to the deck of the bigger ship? Did people climb down ropes? Walk across planks? Etc. If nobody knows, what's a good resource for me to look it up?
posted by bagadonuts to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Knotted grids of rope-ladders down the side of the larger boat in a big rectangular shape. Think rope ladder, but 12+ ladders wide made up of vertical and horizontal ropes.
posted by polyglot at 3:22 PM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

PS: read Patrick O'Brien books and/or watch Hornblower.
posted by polyglot at 3:24 PM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the Aubrey-Maturin novels, Jack sometimes talks of using a "Bosun's Chair" for people who didn't have their sea-legs yet or are just too drunk to be bothered with rope ladders.
posted by circular at 3:26 PM on October 20, 2010

All my knowledge of pre-20th century naval lore comes from Patrick O'Brien as well. The phrase I remember is "man ropes," and Google turns up this:
Man ropes

Man ropes are attached to the spanner guy which runs from one davit head to the other. On these ropes at three foot intervals are knots to enable seamen to climb down the man rope and into the boat. The main use of the man rope is for the men who are in the boat while it is being lowered, to hold on to, should the boat capsize when it hits the water, or up end in the process of lowering.
posted by lex mercatoria at 3:59 PM on October 20, 2010

Wikipedia tells me that they didn't really have ships of the line until the mid 1600s, and that of the two kinds of vessels called pinnaces, one of them came in about the same time. So if you're looking at the 1500s, look some more at what kind of ship and/or boat you want.

My experience of getting boats on and off ships (and this is the kind of thing you could do with the small tender/workboat kind of pinnace) suggests that it's something you want to do as little as possible, even if you have a whole load of Age of Sail Royal Navy crew just hanging around and want to give them some ropes to pull for something to do. People still die in accidents when that kind of operation goes wrong; you really want to be launching and recovering boats with a bare minimum of people on board, and transferring everyone else once it's in the water.

Rope ladders have been around for a long time, and there are reasons why they are still used today [picture!], so that sounds like a good bet. I'm another person who gets all my historical nautical detail from Patrick O'Brian books though, so really, just go read them.
posted by Lebannen at 4:11 PM on October 20, 2010

Of course, rather than just reading the books, the bibliography of the wikipedia page for the Aubrey-Maturin series lists some reference books that might provide more immediate help, if you can get hold of them.

The 'man ropes' referred to by lex mercatoria above do not allow people to conveniently get on and off boats, as climbing one would leave you holding on to a wire a metre or two from the side of the ship, wondering what to do next. Man ropes today may also be found in combination with pilot ladders; in this case they're sort of the equivalent of banisters on stairs (but only fixed to anything at the top).
posted by Lebannen at 4:38 PM on October 20, 2010

I'm going to go with a pilot's ladder, too. It's just too obvious for it not to have been around back then. Works good, easy to make, stows in a small space. You might lower people in the boat if you were lowering the boat from davits anyway, but you wouldn't want to haul in and then lower it just to transfer people.
posted by ctmf at 9:21 PM on October 20, 2010

Here's a Bosun's Chair example from Google Books (I had to scroll down a tad to see it). Gives a pretty good idea of the gentle way to transfer boat-to-boat. Looks like there are a few more examples if you Google it.
posted by circular at 11:21 PM on October 20, 2010

Rigging a line from which to hang the bosun's chair was a bit of a pain in the ass -- but using the rope nets on the side of the ship (that polyglot mentions) was easy since they were already there.

In the book "The King's Coat," a man just entering the Royal Navy has to go from a tender up to his new ship. It's his first time doing this, and the description is very clear that the boats are heaving and the water is moving (and I think he's also hungover), and the danger and difficulty are pretty clear.

(Also brought up on Bolitho/Hornblower books, with more recently the Aubrey/Maturin and now Dewey Lambdin's books.)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:25 AM on October 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!
posted by bagadonuts at 3:57 PM on November 3, 2010

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