1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 29

1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 29

Eddie was surprised and reassured by the frankness of that admission. He doubted Christian would have been happy with Bjelke drawing such a straight line between his own presence and the Danish king’s desires. And while it was possible that this was disinformation meant to instill false confidence in Rik, a look at the younger man’s face and genuine blush-response told Eddie otherwise. Bjelke was simply a polished, well-educated young man who was likely to prove courageous and capable in the years to come, but right now, was a youngling out on his first great adventure. If there was any duplicity in him at all, it would be minor, and contrary to his nature. Eddie could live with that. Easily.

“Well, Rik, however you got here, you’re here. So, welcome aboard the Intrepid. First order of business is to make you at home.”

“Thank you, sir. My man Nils has seen to my berthing and I must say it is a welcome change from the Serendipity. Those accommodations were most…uncomfortable.”

“Well, I’m glad you like your stateroom” — more like a long closet, reflected Eddie — “but when I suggested we make you at home, I meant familiarization with the ship. Do you have any questions about the Intrepid that your briefers didn’t answer for you?”

Rik brightened immediately; if he’d been a puppy, his ears would probably have snapped straight up. “A great many questions, Commander. Although not for want of my asking. Frankly, my briefers, as you call them, knew fewer particulars about your new ships than I did. I had studied the classes of American vessels that were the foundations of your designs, which they had not. And they could answer only a few questions about how they differed, other than the guns and the steam plants. Seeing them, it is clear that you have made other significant modifications.”

Eddie nodded. “Yep, we had to. This class — the Quality I class — needs to be an even more stable firing platform than the original Hartford was.”

“Because of the increased range and capability of her eight-inch pivot guns?”

Eddie shrugged. “That’s a large part of it. But it gets more complicated. Firstly, the Hartford had its broad side armament on the weather deck. We put ours below.”

“Better performance in bad weather?”

“Well, that too, but it was actually the result of some complex design trade-offs. Firstly, we wanted maximum clear traverse for the pivot guns. So that meant ‘clearing the gun deck,’ as much as we could. There was already a lot that had to go on up there. We needed our anti-personnel weapons on the weather deck so they could bear freely upon all quarters. And although we have a steam engine, that’s for tactical use only. Strategically speaking, we’re just a very fast sailed ship. Meaning we’ve got a full complement of rigging and sail-handlers on the weather deck as well. So, the only way we could clear the deck was to put the guns underneath.

“What we got out of that was a more commanding elevation for our naval rifles. But it also allowed us to bring a lot of the weight that was high up in the Hartford down in our design, thereby lowering the center of gravity.”

“So, putting the broadside weapons on a lower deck also made the ship more stable.”

“Exactly. But then, we didn’t want to put our crew down in the bowels of the ship. So we had to put the crew quarters inboard on the gun-deck. The only reason we were even able to consider doing that was because our broadside weapons are carronades. They’re a lot shorter than cannons, and their carriages are wheeled so as to run back up inclined planes when they recoil.”

“But that still wasn’t enough, was it, sir?” Rik looked over the side at the noticeable slope that ran out from the rail down into the water. “So to get the rest of the room you needed for inboard crew berthing, you pushed your battery further outboard by widening the beam of the gun deck.”

Eddie nodded his approval. “Bravo Zulu, Mr. Bjelke.”

“‘Bravo Zulu?'”

Eddie smiled. “An up-time naval term. ‘Well done.’ Learned it from my mentor.”

“Ah. That would be Admiral Simpson.”

“The same. And so, yes, we widened the gun deck, which meant another change from the original Hartford. She had pretty much sheer sides, which is just what you’d want for a fast sloop. But when we designed the Quality I class, we realized that not only would adding that outward slope of the sides — or ‘tumble home’ — be a good thing to add in terms of deck width, but for stability in higher seas, thanks to how increased beam reduces roll.”

Bjelke leaned out over the rail. His eyes followed the waterline from stem to stern. “Yes, these are the structural differences I saw, and at which I wondered. Thank you for explaining them, Commander.” He pointed at the somewhat smaller steam ship pulling past them at a distance of four hundred yards, her funnel smokeless, her sails wide and white in the wind. “I see the same design changes in the smaller ship — the Speed I class, I think? — but less pronounced.”

Eddie nodded. “Yeah, we decided to keep her closer to the original lines of the sloop. So we put only one pivot gun on her, kept the tumble home shallower, and freeboard lower and the weather deck closer to the waterline. She sails sharper, faster, more responsively, and has three feet less draught.”

“So better for sailing in shallows, up rivers, near reefs.”

“Yes, and strategically speaking, our fastest ship. In a good breeze, she’ll make eight knots, and she’s rigged for a generous broad reach. Unless she’s fully becalmed, she can make reasonable forward progress with wind from almost three-quarters of the compass, assuming she has the room to tack sharply.”

“And yet you do not label her a steam-sloop, as was the ship that inspired her.”

“You mean the Kearsarge from the Civil War?” Eddie shrugged. “Well, as I understand the Civil War nomenclature, if a ship had a fully covered gun deck, she wasn’t a sloop. Even if she had a sloop’s lines, she’d still be called frigate-built. Although frigate-built doesn’t necessary imply a military ship.”

Rik smiled ruefully. “I grew up on farms. Even though many of them were close to the water, I confess I do not have a mariner’s vocabulary yet. I find these distinctions confusing. Because, if the reports I hear are true, you are not calling the other ship — the Courser, I believe? — a frigate, either.”

“No, we’re calling her class a ‘destroyer’ and the Intrepid‘s class a ‘cruiser’. As class names, they’re not great solutions. But at least they’re up-time terms that haven’t been used to describe ships, yet, so they’ll be distinctive and somewhat descriptive in terms of role. If you’re familiar with the up-time history of those classes of ships, that is. But anything else we tried to come up with ran afoul of the labeling confusion that already results from the current lack of international naming conventions.

“In fact, ‘frigate’ would have been the most confusing label we could have settled on. Ever since down-time naval architects started doing research in the Grantville library, most of the shipyards of Europe have started building new designs, the straight-sterned frigate chief among them. So if we called our new steam-ships frigates, they’d routinely get confused with the new sailed vessels currently under construction throughout Europe.”

Bjelke nodded attentively, but Eddie saw that his focus was now split between their conversation and something located aft of their current place at the rail. As soon as Eddie noticed Rik’s apparent distraction, the young Norwegian moved his eyes, ever so slightly, upward over his superior’s shoulder and toward the new item of interest.

Eddie turned and saw, back by the entrance to the companionway leading down to the officer’s quarters, that his wife — and her ‘ladies,’ as Bjelke styled them — had emerged to stand on the deck in a tight cluster. They were not an uncommon sight topside, but they usually reserved their appearances for fine weather, not overcast skies. However, despite the mild wind freshening from out of the southeast, they were all dressed for cold weather, apparently. Or were they? Eddie squinted, saw no coats or shawls, which made him only more confused. So why the hell do they have kerchiefs covering their heads? And all three of them, no less. Damn, I’ve never seen a lady of the aristocracy allow herself to look that, well, dowdy. And now they’ve all adopted the same frumpy look? What the heck is that abou — ?

“Commander, given the arrival of the ladies, perhaps it would be convenient for you if I were to take my leave?”

Eddie nodded. “Probably so. Tell my wife that she can” — and then a voice inside his head, the one that was partially schooled in the etiquette of this age, muttered, No, Eddie, that won’t do. Think how it will look, how it will seem.

Damn, ship protocol was tricky, and yet was still kind of free-form in this era when navies weren’t really navies just yet, and had protocols for some things, but not for others. For instance, take the simple desire to have his wife join him alone at the rail. He couldn’t very well wave her over. That would be an obvious blow to her stature, and mark him as an indecorous boor, which would work against his accrual of respect as well. But if he sent Bjelke over to summon her, that would be like making the young Norwegian nobleman his valet and also be entirely too formal, to say nothing of downright stupid-looking. Yet, if Eddie left the rail to go over to Anne Cathrine, then it could be difficult to extricate themselves from the presence of their respective attendants — Bjelke and the ladies — if they didn’t all know how to take a hint —

Eddie discovered that, for the first time since he had stepped on a deep water ship, he had a headache and an incipient sense of seasickness. Which he allowed, probably had nothing to do with the sea at all.

But Bjelke offered a slight bow to Eddie, and inquired, “Might I — with your compliments — inform the ladies and your wife that you are currently without any pressing duties? And that I would be happy to escort any and all of them wherever they might wish to go?”

And for the third time — wasn’t that some kind of spiritual sign, or something? — Eddie felt a quick outrush of gratitude toward the young Norwegian. Bjelke’s simple solution allowed the junior officer to decorously depart from his commander, greet the ladies, and inform them of the status of the ship’s captain. Then Anne Cathrine could approach or not — with Bjelke and her ladies in tow or not — and this idiotic etiquette dance would be over and Eddie would have thus achieved the hardest nautical task of his day thus far: finding a way to converse with his wife, on deck and in private, for a scant few minutes.

Eddie nodded gratefully — hopefully not desperately — at Bjelke, who smiled and with a more pronounced bow, left to carry out his plan.

Which worked like a charm. He arrived at the ladies’ group and presented himself. Cordial nods all around, a brief exchange, then he walked with Anne Cathrine halfway across the deck, and by some miracle of subtle body language, managed to successfully communicate to Eddie that he should meet them about half way. Which done, effected a serene and stately rendezvous between man and wife as the crew watched through carefully averted eyes.

Bjelke nodded to both spouses and retraced his steps to the two remaining ladies. Eddie smiled at Anne Cathrine and as they walked back to the rail, the young American breathed a sigh of relief. Another terrifying gauntlet had been run.


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18 Responses to 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 29

  1. Vernon Nemitz says:

    And yelling something to his wife, in an era where all shipboard communications across any significant distance are yelled, is uncouth because???

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      IMO in some ways, he’s still a 20th century “hillbilly” trying to adjust to being part of “high society”.

      It’s not really a matter of how she’ll react, but how he imagines that she’ll react.

    • Randomiser says:

      Because she’s a Lady and a King’s Daughter and you can’t yell at her like she was one of the sailors. Protocol has very little to do with practicality

      • Vernon Nemitz says:

        Perhaps I should have used the word “shout” instead of “yell”. The same volume of voice can be used for either, but the tone can differ.

    • John Cowan says:

      Yelling is always uncouth, if sometimes necessary.

  2. Mark L says:


    “No, we’re calling her class a ‘destroyer’ and the Intrepid‘s class a ‘cruiser’. As class names, they’re not great solutions. But at least they’re up-time terms that haven’t been used to describe ships, yet, so they’ll be distinctive and somewhat descriptive in terms of role.

    End Quote

    Umm . . . I am pretty sure they had cruisers in the 1600s. (They certainly did by the 1700s.) However the term was used to describe a function, rather than a ship class. A cruiser would have been any light- to medium-sized warship (from a sloop-of-war to a small two-decker (the naval frigate emerged in the 1740s replacing the 28-44 gun two-decker) used independently to prey on merchant vessels and smaller warships. Any ship, but especially the two-deckers in that role, would have been called a cruiser.

    Destroyer is short for torpedo boat destroyer, a class of light warships that emerged in the 1890s to destroy torpedo boats (small warships armed primarily with the self-propelled torpedo). Destroyers were larger than torpedo boats, and had a battery of quick-firing guns to allow them to engage the torpedo boats. They were also shallow draft, making it difficult to hit with a torpedo (plus, not really worth the expenditure of one). Of course there was room on the larger torpedo boat destroyer for torpedo tubes (often more than could be carried on a torpedo boat), so those were stuck on, allowing torpedo boat destroyers to substitute for torpedo boats. When torpedo boats became obsolete and disappeared as a result, the torpedo boat destroyer became simply a destroyer.

    • Richard H says:

      From my outside perspective, my understanding is that a cruiser developed as the smallest ship to reasonably engage in independent operations. Meanwhile, a destroyer developed into an escort ship designed to defend larger ships against things which those larger ships found inconvenient to engage: first torpedo boats, then submarines (which were basically submersible torpedo boats), and finally aircraft. As a side effect of being smaller, they were also faster, giving additional roles as scouts and, insomuch as you can do this with ships, interceptors.

      • Vikingted says:

        So the destroyers were technically Brigs when they had scout duties.

      • Doug Lampert says:

        Note that for ships being faster is NOT a consequence of being smaller.

        Friction goes up much faster than volume or tonnage for ships. All else being equal a larger ship will be both faster and longer ranged than a smaller ship. DD are faster because their fuel and engines make up a MUCH greater percentage of their mass than is true for larger warships (and even with the absurd % used for fuel they still have shorter range even when travelling at the same speed as a heavier ship).

        This is why container cargo ships and modern cruise ships tend to be the largest size that will fit through a Panama canal lock. It makes the ship both faster and more fuel efficient.

        Now, for big sailed ships, a Ship of the Line was slower in heavy winds because she’s top-heavy and the lower gun-ports aren’t designed to be submerged even when closed, but in light winds as SoL could and would run down any lighter class of sailed warship. (I suspect that on average a ship of the line was also more likely to experience fouling below the water-line due to the greater difficulty of doing anything about it.)

        • Mark L says:

          “Now, for big sailed ships, a Ship of the Line was slower in heavy winds because she’s top-heavy and the lower gun-ports aren’t designed to be submerged even when closed, but in light winds as SoL could and would run down any lighter class of sailed warship. (I suspect that on average a ship of the line was also more likely to experience fouling below the water-line due to the greater difficulty of doing anything about it.)”

          You have it exactly bass-ackwards.

          A ship-of-the-line can run down a brig or schooner in a gale or near-hurricane winds. A schooner or sloop-of-war can outsail a ship-of-the-line in light airs. Almost always.

          Two things dictate this: The first is the masts and sails serve as a moment arm. The higher the sail, the more heeling moment it produces given the same force of wind. The second is the longer and deeper a hull is the more likely it is to go the direction of the length of the ship than the width.

          Ships-of-the-line were the largest, deepest-draft, and heaviest ships afloat. They also tended to have the lowest centers of gravity due to the locations of the gun decks, and because their masts tended to be shorter as a ratio of the length of the ship than did smaller ships.

          Thus the leverage offered by the masts was offset to a greater extent in a ship of the line than in a smaller ship. Thus it tended to heel less with a given spread of canvas. Since it heeled less, it lost less of its draft, and tended to be less affected by a tendency to drift to leeward. Smaller ships, being shallower to begin with, and having a greater heel, tended to go slower relative to larger ships in high winds.

          In light airs none of this really applied. That meant you could spread every stitch of sail you had with very little heel. Under those conditions, small ships could produce a bigger spread of sail relative to their weight than the SOL. Moreover, smaller ships *were* lighter, which meant the same force would push them faster than a larger ship. So in light airs, the smaller ship, given a good spread of canvas would outrun (really outwalk) the SOL.

        • Vikingted says:

          Doug, not all of this makes sense to me. During the War of 1812, our Frigates, like the Constitution could “run” from the bigger Ships of the Line. Everything I have read about naval flotillas have indicated that the lighter ships, like sloops would be able to scout ahead of the more ponderous ship of the flotilla due to their speed advantage.

          • Mark L says:

            Constitution could outrun a SOL given the right wind conditions. Under different wind conditions a SOL could outrun Constitution. (This assumes the SOL was well-designed).

            All sailing ships had equivalent speeds. Differences were generally only a knot or maybe two.

            The reason that light ships scouted ahead of the SOLs was because they were light ships, incapable of standing in a line-of-battle. A SOL had a crew of 500-1000. A sloop-of-war 120. A frigate 240. So, you could man 6 sloops of war or 3 frigates for the price of manning one SOL.

            You keep the SOLs together in the line of battle. That way when you find the enemy you hit them a solid punch with a closed fist, instead of a slap with an open hand. You station the sloops-of-war in a line 7-10 miles apart (depending on visibility) ahead of the fleet, with the nearest sloop within sight of the line-of-battle. That gives you a search line 80 miles wide.

            Whenever a sloop-of-war sees an enemy sail, it signals to the next in line, who signals to the next, until the battle line sees the signal.

            The battle line sails to the enemy (based on reconnaissance from the scouts), while some scouts keep the enemy in sight, while the other fall back behind the battle line. When battle is joined you have two rows of ships. The line of battle engages the enemy. The scout form a second line on the disengaged side, where they repeat the signals sent by the flagship. That way the admiral’s signals can be read by all ships in the L-O-B, even if blocked by other SOLs.

            This is sailing era combat. ALL sailing ships were ponderous.

          • John Cowan says:

            Also, Constitution was larger, heavier, and more heavily armed than most historic frigates; the term is something of a misnomer when applied to her class. They were the only capital ships the infant USN had.

            • Vikingted says:

              The original six American frigates (most had 44 guns) were also made of better timber and had a slightly improved design than the typical European frigates (28 to 38 guns). A lot of the British frigates that the American fought against were quite old also. Quoting from the ultimate source for all knowledge, Wikipedia “Joshua Humphreys’ design was long on keel and narrow of beam (width) to allow for the mounting of very heavy guns. The design incorporated a diagonal scantling (rib) scheme to limit hogging (warping) and included extremely heavy planking. This gave the hull greater strength than those of more lightly built frigates. Since the fledgling United States could not match the numbers of ships of the European states, Humphreys designed his frigates to be able to overpower other frigates, but with the speed to escape from a ship of the line.” This frigates can out run a ship of the line thought is quite popular in books and in games. In Sid Meier’s Civ 4 the ships of the line have one less movement points per turn than frigates. So Wiki and Sid agree that frigates are faster. they both could not be wrong, especially SID ; }

              • Cobbler says:

                In nautical architecture hogging meant an upward arch of the keel. The midline was higher than at the stem and stern. It happened over time because the ship’s belly was more buoyant than either end. (A sagging keel was lower in the middle than at either end.)

              • Mark L says:

                Well, if you want to believe Sid, feel free. I can show you perhaps a dozen to two dozen single-ship combats between ships-of-the-line and either frigates or sloops-of-war, where the ship-of-the-line ran down the smaller ship and captured it. Just during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

        • Richard H says:

          That’s a good point about power-to-weight ratio being the important part. Nonetheless, the smaller ones were faster, even if this was by necessity of use, rather than by hydrodynamics.

          It sounds like a similar power-to-weight things is true of sailing ships based on the longer discussion…

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