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Row, row, row your… what?

Discussion in 'Archipelago Archive' started by Ravana, Nov 5, 2011.

  1. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Archipelago: a whole mess of islands in one spot. (Orumchek's First International Book o' Words.)

    Method of cultural transmission and economic integration in an archipelago: not walking. (Orumchek's Book o' the Obvious.)

    -

    The single most dominant fact of life in the archipelago, as an archipelago (as opposed to a scattering of isolated cultures) is sea transport. It has been brought to my attention that we have yet to discuss how this is accomplished. Okay, yeah, by boats. But I think we might want some more detail than that.

    So: what sort of ship tech are we looking at? To start us off, I'll say that there are basically three methods of pre-industrial propulsion available:
    (1) oars;
    (2) sails;
    (3) both.
    I think we can safely assume that some form of sail is in use, as I'm not familiar with any long-distance seaborne trading that relied exclusively on oared vessels, not even in relatively tranquil, enclosed bodies of water. Which still leaves us with a lot of territory.

    Ships capable of both sailed and oared propulsion have definite advantages once one gets near shore, or even when one wants to go one direction and the wind rudely insists on some other. Or, worse, none at all. They also have definite disadvantages, the biggest I can think of being that they require a lot more crew, which cuts into operating budget and, more importantly, cargo space.

    Sail-only ships maximize cargo space and minimize crew requirements (Columbus' three crappy little ships had a total of 86 crewmen, and they made it across the Atlantic). While any trained crew can tack with the wind, it's a lot easier not to have to–and a lot faster, especially during docking; and prior to gunpowder weaponry (something else I don't believe we've addressed), they aren't going to be much good at fighting anything that does have oars… especially if it also has a ram.

    Of course, this leaves out the possibility of having harnessed giant sea turtles or whatnot, but I figured we should probably start with the basics. ;)

    I'd also say that, unlike many other technologies, whatever we decide on for this one is probably the overwhelming standard throughout the archipelago, since, considering its importance to all the archipelago's inhabitants, any innovations that produced genuine improvement would be seized upon and copied almost at once. That doesn't mean that all ships are identical; it does mean that there isn't going to be one culture with square-rigged three-masters while everyone else is still using single-masted, lateen-sailed ships. Note that this also only applies to the primary long-range merchanting (and possibly military) ship types; ships that remain in coastal waters could still be conceivably just about anything.

    So: who wants what?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    A few thoughts.

    The archipelago is not Europe, and it seems likely to me that without land routes, ships might be a larger priority than in Europe. There's a few completely impractical designs which went into Medieval ships, like the giant Fore-and-Aft Castles which dragged at the ships, but gave their archers room to fire at anyone boarding the ship. I think it's probably safe to cut those in a world where sea voyages are everything, and not simply defensive.

    It seems pretty basic that both sails and oars would be in use, though not necessarily on every ship. The question should probably focus on what kind of sails are available.

    Ships had the following options:
    1) 1, 2, 3 or more masts. Each mast drastically increases the size and speed and needs of the entire ship. Single masts were common in Medieval Times, three masts were the norm in the age of sail.
    2) Square sails - common in medieval times, effective with the wind behind you, terrible if you're moving into the wind. Most single-masted, square sailed ships need oars when the wind didn't suit them.
    3) Fore-and-Aft rig - Two triangular sails, hooked to one mast, easy enough to use in all winds. The basic for ditching oars.
    4) Lateen rig - Tall triangular sails which dominate the masts
    5) Stay sails - Small triangular sails which hooked between masts

    Once the medieval castles were taken out, ships were classified by their rigging. The most powerful sailing ships had three masts, square-rigged, with stay sails hooked between them to increase their speed going into the wind, as well as fore-and-aft sails. This was called a fully-rigged ship. Each mast, beginning in the back of the ship, could be converted to a Lateen rig which required fewer crew members to manage.

    If we want to stick closer to a medieval, low-tech world, I would suggest a single mast ship, with fore-and-aft rigging and a square topsail. At that point oars would be optional, unlikely for a merchant vessel but common in a warship that had soldiers to do the rowing. The fore-and-aft rigging would be essential for the changing winds of coastal waters, and the square sail would provide the extra boost getting from one island to the other. The rigging is post-medieval times, but there's nothing involved which would prevent medieval-styled technology from developing it.

    To be honest, I'm not even sure the rigging I just described ever existed - the closest I could find was something very similar on a two-mast ship. I'm pretty sure that's simply because single-mast ships just weren't used very often by the time sails were improved to this level. This is sort of the creative philosophy of, "Let's select an arbitrary restraint - ships can only have one mast, "I mean after all, you can only catch the same breeze once, right?" - and develop the technology forward from there. I think it gives you more distinctive results.

    There are other questions, too - has rudder design developed to the steering wheel? Maybe not. - but I think the sails are a visual and descriptive question, the thing you need to see writing a story, so that seems like the question to answer.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2011
    Ravana likes this.
  3. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Good points, all. I like it.

    The one thing I'd add to your proposal is that you could turn the arrangement around, and probably derive greater efficiency: a single square-rigged mast, with one or more sails on yards (I'm not sure anyone would bother with more than two, on a single-mast ship, though I suppose our shipbuilders might consider additional verticality desirable, on the "only catch the same breeze once" theory… and assuming they don't, or can't, simply go for fewer but larger sails), and the fore-and-aft sail to the rear on a gaff (a spanker sail). I don't know if this arrangement was ever used, either—as far as I can tell, most ships were either square or fore-and-aft, and didn't start mixing them until multiple masts were used—but again, there's nothing that would prevent this, as far as available tech went. This would prevent the square rigging from interfering with the fore-and-aft, as would be the case to some extent if the fore-and-aft were forward the mast, while still making the latter available (if perhaps less efficient, as it would be pushing the stern rather than pulling the bow… or perhaps not, as these were fairly common in fully-rigged ships).



    I would imagine castles, if present at all, would be limited to ships intended for warfare—and even then only on the high seas: oared vessels will still have the advantage in close waters. I have no problem with ditching them altogether… though they could provide intriguing possibilities for pre-gunpowder "artillery": ballistas, maybe. Would probably depend on how often fully-sailed ships expected to engage one another. In most cases, the objective would more likely be to capture rather than sink opponents, so such engines might be regarded as counterproductive—and they wouldn't be able to do a whole lot of damage to opposing ships in any event: the force of the engine and weight of the projectile would make it difficult to breach a hull. (In fact, the best use might be to fire harpoons into the hull, to aid in hauling the other ship in for boarding.) Lighter engines, such as scorpions or springals, might be useful as antipersonnel and anti-rigging weapons. If there isn't much in terms of large-scale naval warfare between islands, though, castles probably wouldn't be developed (nor naval artillery).



    As far as rudders go: you're right that the propulsion comes first, but I'd hardly consider them unimportant. There's a pretty good difference in visualization between saying someone was manning a wheel and manning a tiller… well, for me at least. Along with the question of what kind of rudder is being used: are we still using what's essentially an oar stuck through the hull—or even connected to the deck, by brackets—or have we moved to something more elaborate? Looking briefly at the options, I was struck by the "pintle-and-gugdeon" arrangement (aka sternpost-mounted rudder) that first cropped up in the 1100s… seems to be the first departure from a one-piece steering oar (or pair of oars: "quarter rudders," not uncommon on larger vessels); this in turn seems to have allowed the development of larger hulls, as steering by oar grew increasingly unwieldy with size. And I was further struck by the lateness of the ship's wheel—around 1700, apparently. So this appears to actually be two questions: what kind of rudder do we have, and how is it manipulated?

    If we are using steering oars, the answer to the second is pretty direct: the "tiller" is either simply the end of the rudder that gets pushed around, if it's all one piece, or it may be attached to the rudder by a pin arrangement for greater leverage. (Or so I read: I haven't dug up a graphic to see precisely what is meant here.) If the rudder is hinge-mounted, then any number of options for manipulating it are available. A tiller (possibly connected by ropes, rather than directly) is still the most obvious, in terms of similarity of tech levels; nothing would prevent a wheel, however. Or we could always go with something completely unique—say, a horizontal wheel moved by walking on it; or something completely half-aßed, like two yaks yoked up to the tiller. (Okay, maybe not: just didn't want to preclude anything up front. ;) ) Another potential "visualization" factor could be whether the person (or whatever) operating the rudder was on deck, or below it: a sheltered tiller could be highly advantageous… as long as it could still easily receive orders from someone who could see where the ship was going.

    Note that the requirements for vessels under sail are very different from those being rowed, since in the latter case, one side of the ship can back oars and turn very tightly—within its own length, in fact—or, for less abrupt turns, lift oars, or even row at a different cadence. It would still use rudders for most steering, of course, since having the rowers constantly adjusting what they're doing would be generally inefficient (and they'd have to be really good to have each side rowing, but at different paces: it just wouldn't be worth it); the point here is that oared vessels may or may not mount as advanced a steering mechanism as sailed ones, so there may be variation between ship types.



    By the way, I love the "only catch the same breeze once" theory. That's exactly the sort of thing that makes something seem perfectly logical, no matter how wrong it actually is. I vote we use it. Good one. :cool:
     
  4. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    One of my cultures has extremely advanced seafaring technology, corresponding to the Golden Age of Sail. I haven't gotten into the details of it yet, but I'll probably stay fairly close to historical sailing ships with them (minus the cannons). This implies some fairly advanced mechanical knowledge as well, which they also possess.
     
  5. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    The only problem I might have with that is the one I mention in the final paragraph of my first post: as important as shipping is to an archipelago, whatever one culture has, they're all going to have… or at worst, if they aren't using it, it's because what they are using works just as well, and I'm not sure what that could be under the circumstances. (I'd also add that it doesn't imply advanced mechanical knowledge: it doesn't necessarily even imply pulleys, though it would be a real pain raising sail without them. Anyway, those have been around since ancient times, so I think they can be safely assumed.)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  6. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    We can hardly consider the entire region as just an archipelago - it's far too large. And with distances that great, with as many cultures as we have, and assuming we haven't quite gotten to the printing press in any of our civs (and even to some extent if we have), technology spreads very slowly. Sometimes due to deliberate secrecy, and that could certainly apply to the Niel. Trade is their lifeline, and it's plausible that they would carefully guard the secrets of their shipbuilding for as long as possible.
     
  7. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Tell me how they're hiding two extra masts on their ships, and I might buy into that. Especially if trading is their lifeline. Everybody's seen them; and if there's any detectible advantage to having them—which would be noticed quickly enough—everybody has copied them.

    I didn't say that any other technology would be rapidly duplicated throughout the archipelago… only this one. Not only is this the one technology nearly every culture in the archipelago depends on to at least some extent, it's also the most visible, and the only one that would become visible everywhere more or less simultaneously—within a few years of its introduction, within months of it seeing widespread use by even a single culture. Necessarily so: there's no point to having it in the first place if it isn't being used for long-voyage transportation. No one's going to be building fully-rigged ships for any other reason… so the possibility of "keeping it secret" it is zilch.

    Even other shipbuilding techniques could conceivably be concealed for long periods of time, as long as nobody got too good or too close a look at the correct part of the ship: better pulleys, different steering systems, different materials for rope and sail, different methods of framing and planking, hydrodynamic improvements, fastenings, fittings, sealing, navigational aids—the rest of us might be perplexed by the Niel's affection for iolite, which everyone else just regards as a second-class semiprecious gem; absolutely anything that might be covered by a deck… barnacle removal. Maybe their hulls are made of slate below the waterline, for all I know. (Probably not: it would create too many problems.) But not rigging. It took Europe—all of Europe—less than a century to adopt multiple-masted ships following their introduction… and Europe is not an archipelago. (And it probably only took that long because they were introduced first in the Mediterranean, and most ships built there never left it.) For our purposes… a generation, maybe a generation and a half. Tops. Even if the Niel haven't had theirs for as long as that, there are still shipyards everywhere already working on the new ship varieties, and they'll become standard within another decade.

    In fact, the only pre-industrial innovation I can think of that can even claim to have spread as rapidly as multiple-masted ships was the one you brought up: the printing press. (1450: there were no printed books; 1500: more than two hundred cities and more than 20M volumes in print. The parallel is very appropriate, in fact: both sowed the seeds of their own spread. Which do you think was more noticeable, about which word spread more readily, which was more intuitively straightforward to duplicate?) By comparison, even gunpowder took centuries to catch on, and there isn't much that could stake a greater claim to having changed the world. So whatever the Niel's seafaring advantage is… sorry, it ain't this.

    Which still leaves open the question of whether we all have it, or none of us do. (I favor none, if for no other reason than I like the explanation Devor came up with for it, but I have nothing staked on either choice.) But only one culture having it is completely implausible.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2012
  8. jhahilt

    jhahilt Dreamer

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    Hi

    The type of craft I'd like to use in this setting is a fairly small (about 45 to 50 feet) sailboat. Single masted cutter rig with a gaff headed main and tiller steering.Have a look at a Falmouth Quay Punt and you'll have a picture of what I have in mind.This should fit in with the tech level intended for the archipelago.

    Cheers
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Fully rigged ships just don't seem medieval to me. They feel vast and high-tech, and likely to dominate the societies they're involved in. Is that what people want or expect from the archipelago? I don't know, but if so it radically changes my whole perception of what's going on here.

    It might be useful to answer the gunpowder question first.
     
  10. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    I'd say "as well" rather than "first": there's no direct relation between the two. Go ahead and start a thread on it.
     
  11. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    Multiple masts on a ship is not the end-all, be-all of seafaring technology. While that tiny tidbit may speed up the advancement of the technologies, it doesn't automatically upgrade every culture that comes into contact with it. There are a multitude of other mechanical and structural problems (like designed a hull that can handle the pull of multiple masts) as well as provisioning and nutritional knowledge. Finally, even once a culture nominally has the knowledge, they still need to develop the infrastructure to support the shipbuilding.

    The march of development continues inexorably. But it takes time, especially seeing as the few cultures with the tech might not be writing How-To books. In the end, I've decided what my cultures have, and I believe it is entirely reasonable. It is up to the various other editors to decide how this might affect them.
     
  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    That's cool. I can respect that.

    I was thinking of creating a group of mercenaries on the little archipelago to the far east with ironclad vessels and hang-glider warriors that leap from the masts to drop Greek fire on enemy sails. Would that be alright with people?

    (edit) According to wikipedia Ironclads were steam propelled. These would be without steam and would be towed by other vessels onto the scene.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2011
  13. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Then I guess everybody in the archipelago has fully-rigged ships.

    The ironclads wouldn't have to be towed, Devor. They float or not on their own, independent of propulsion method; so they can be oared or sailed, like all the others. Sails, of course, would leave some parts of the ship unprotected by the metal, but "some" is a far cry from "all." Since the ships would be heavier (with consequent increase in drag), they might still find it useful for another vessel to assist with a tow, until they entered battle.

    Though I can think of some other intriguing possibilities.…
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    The first ironclads went 4 knots on their own. I'm okay with having them towed onto the scene. It adds a bit of weakness and limitation to the mercenaries.

    It would be kind of cool if we could pick up the speed maybe for short bursts. If there were gears, and cranks, and pedals, and a cargo hold full of mice on wheels, do you think we could get a group of automatic paddles and screw-propellers up to ramming speed? It would be pretty impressive because, as a towed vessel, it doesn't necessarily have to follow the normal rules of aerodynamic ship design. It could suddenly veer starboard into a ship that had pulled alongside to board it, for instance.

    I was also trying to think of what weapons hang-glider warriors could find useful in attacking other ships. Greek Fire might not be as effective at bringing down the ship's soldiers as it is the sails. Do you think hang-glider archery would be doable?
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2011
  15. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    My experience with archery would suggest it would probably be of minimal value, though with practice I suppose some accuracy might develop. I would expect the gliders to be more vulnerable to fire from the ship—where the archers would have a comparatively steady and comparatively slow-moving platform—than they would be able to effectively counter.

    The real problem would be one of space and numbers: how many hang-gliders can you put over a single ship at a time? (Or, for that matter, launch from one? Recovery afterward would be a bit tricky as well, for the gliders at least: the pilots can always ditch and swim.) It would take four glider-archers a long time to whittle down a ship's complement, especially considering the probably limited accuracy of their shots and the return fire.

    One entertaining possibility for a weapon—"entertaining" largely in a comedic sense, though it would certainly have an effect—would be to drop pots of oil that weren't burning. Not only would this tend to make surfaces somewhat more treacherous, it would also be amusing to watch as the crew tried to wash it away before the one guy who's obviously carrying something trailing smoke lights them up… even if what he's carrying is only a smoke pot, and he has no intention of starting a fire. (It would be even funnier if you threw a few caltrops into the oil pots.…)

    Simple things such as bolas and nets with weights (or fish hooks, or both) could really make the lives of the guys in the rigging miserable, too.

    I can't think of any good way for someone in a hang-glider to cut rigging ropes, but it might be possible to mess up the sails: perhaps a razor-edged disc attached by a piece of narrow wire to a weight? Disc cuts into the sail, wire snags, gradually widens the tear from the weight and the force of the wind on the sail. Not sure how much work it would be to put one through canvas.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2011
  16. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    It's also really cool! I love the idea of towed ironclads fighting battles. It makes for a lot of interesting questions and dynamics in the battle itself - like how are the towers protected?

    For the hang-glider guys, yeah. Archery from them seems a bit hard to believe on a large scale - but who's to say there aren't at least a few just ridiculously skilled aerial archers in the group? Dropping firebombs seems the most likely method of attack. Also consider having dudes simple crash INTO the rigging and start cutting ropes the old-fashioned way. They'd have to be some pretty ballsy daredevils - like fantasy fighter pilots.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2011

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