American Merchant Ships and Sailors eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 320 pages of information about American Merchant Ships and Sailors.
sky was studded with the tropical stars; there was no sound but the rippling of the water under the stem; and the sails were spread out wide and high—­the two lower studding-sails stretching on either side far beyond the deck; the topmost studding-sails like wings to the topsails; the topgallant studding-sails spreading fearlessly out above them; still higher the two royal studding-sails, looking like two kites flying from the same string; and highest of all the little sky-sail, the apex of the pyramid, seeming actually to touch the stars and to be out of reach of human hand.  So quiet, too, was the sea, and so steady the breeze, that if these sails had been sculptured marble they could not have been more motionless—­not a ripple on the surface of the canvas; not even a quivering of the extreme edges of the sail, so perfectly were they distended by the breeze.  I was so lost in the sight that I forgot the presence of the man who came out with me, until he said (for he, too, rough old man-of-war’s man that he was, had been gazing at the show), half to himself, still looking at the marble sails:  ‘How quietly they do their work!’”

The building of packet ships began in 1814, when some semblance of peace and order appeared upon the ocean, and continued until almost the time of the Civil War, when steamships had already begun to cut away the business of the old packets, and the Confederate cruisers were not needed to complete the work.  But in their day these were grand examples of marine architecture.  The first of the American transatlantic lines was the Black Ball line, so called from the black sphere on the white pennant which its ships displayed.  This line was founded in 1815, by Isaac Wright & Company, with four ships sailing the first of every month, and making the outward run in about twenty-three days, the homeward voyage in about forty.  These records were often beaten by ships of this and other lines.  From thirteen to fifteen days to Liverpool was not an unknown record, but was rare enough to cause comment.

It was in this era that the increase in the size of ships began—­an increase which is still going on without any sign of check.  Before the War of 1812 men circumnavigated the world in vessels that would look small now carrying brick on the Tappan Zee.  The performances of our frigates in 1812 first called the attention of builders to the possibilities of the bigger ship.  The early packets were ships of from 400 to 500 tons each.  As business grew larger ones were built—­stout ships of 900 to 1100 tons, double-decked, with a poop-deck aft and a top-gallant forecastle forward.  The first three-decker was the “Guy Mannering,” 1419 tons, built in 1849 by William H. Webb, of New York, who later founded the college and home for ship-builders that stands on the wooded hills north of the Harlem River.  In 1841, Clark & Sewall, of Bath, Me.—­an historic house—­built the “Rappahannock,” 179.6 feet long, with a tonnage of 1133 tons. 

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American Merchant Ships and Sailors from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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