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Sailing/Discharging and loading bulk cargo square rigged ship


QUESTION: What methods were used, other than strong backs to lift cargo in and out of square rigged ships. Were blocks and tackles placed on spars? Were winches driven by man power or were horses used. Need any description of longshore operations in the mid nineteenth century.


The 1800s saw a lot of changes what with steamships making great strides. Square rigged ships still used flush decks and hatchs through which cargo was loaded, though later in the century, some ships had hatchs above the water line in the bow and along the sides of the ship to facilitate loading commodities like lumber more easily.  Ramps were positioned and the lumber was slid up the ramps to be stowed in the holds.

Nets and winches, spars afixed to the mast were used to load into the holds through the hatches.  Later in the century at more busy ports, they might have had portable cranes on rails to facilitate the loading and unloadiing.  The longshoreman organized their first union in the 1860's during the civil war, so that gives you an idea of the level of sophistication that existed in some of the larger ports.  The crews would not have been involved in the loading or off loading at least in the manual labor, a crewman would have overseen the actual loading to assure the trim of the ship and the securing of the load.  It would not do to have cargo shift in rough seas upsetting the trim and handling.

So depending on when and where you envision the cargo loading to be taking place, there is no "right" answer.  Spars, blocks and lines would and could be rigged pretty easily to facilitate loading under them most primative conditions.   Things got more sophisticated during the clipper ship era since time was of the essence and getting a cargo on board rapidly was as important as the speed of the ship at sea.

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QUESTION: Prior to the introduction of the donkey engine were animals used to power the apparatus using the capstan and windlass or winches? Where you say flush decks do you mean no combings around the hatch? Thank you for your answer


Technology employed would depend on where the work was being done.  For instance, the Donkey engine was in use on the California coast for hauling out trains of redwood tree sections, replacing oxen teams.  At the same time, schooners were being loaded by hand via suspended slides rigged from the rocky headlands. Milled lumber would be slid down the slides and to the ships anchored a bit off shore.

The ship board capstans, blocks and winches would be operated by manual labor.

By flush decks I meant clear of any structures like a cookhouse etc.  There would be a combing around the hatches to prevent entry of water in rough seas.


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Keith Patton


I can answer questions regarding fresh and salt water Catamarran Sailing, techniques and equipment. I can also answer questions regarding the repair of decks and the updating and installation of running and standing rigging on mono-hulls


I have sailed catammarans in fresh and salt water for over 16 years. I currently own and sail a 30 ft monohull out of Kemah on Galveston Bay, on which I carried out a complete refit.

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