121 votes
Accepted

Why were ships-of-the line not supposed to open fire on frigates during fleet actions?

In age-of-sail fleet actions, the primary use of frigates (and smaller vessels) was to relay messages (usually in the form of flag signals) between the flagships and the rest of the fleet. They ...
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74 votes
Accepted

Why did it take so long to abandon sail after steamships were demonstrated?

I think it comes down to a few basic factors: Early steam engines weren't very efficient or reliable. So it made sense to retain sails as a backup should the steam engine(s) breakdown or should the ...
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51 votes
Accepted

Why did Europeans (and not people in other regions) dominate oceans?

Europeans had an incentive to explore the Atlantic because they were dependent on the trade routes which pass through Arab territory. The Arabs and other peoples living in the Middle East made a lot ...
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  • 633
50 votes

Why weren't pickled fruits and vegetables part of (European) rations during the Age of Sail?

This is mostly a frame challenge. When James Cook returned to England after his second trip around the world (1772-1775), he published a paper titled "The Method Taken for Preserving the Health ...
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  • 842
48 votes
Accepted

Why weren't pickled fruits and vegetables part of (European) rations during the Age of Sail?

You do not need know or understand Vitamin C and scurvy to want to bring along fruits or vegetables with you. Why would you want to bring them? Vegetables were what you ate when you couldn't get ...
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  • 2,359
43 votes
Accepted

Capturing a much larger ship?

Yes, the bit in Master and Commander was based upon the real life action between the 14-gun H.M.B Speedy and a Spanish 32-gun Xebec-frigate named El Gamo in 1801. The British commander, Lord Thomas ...
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40 votes

Why weren't pickled fruits and vegetables part of (European) rations during the Age of Sail?

One of the reasons why preserved food was not supplied on ships during the age of sail is that preserved food was more expensive than fresh food. Economic as well as nutritional factors motivated the ...
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  • 2,740
37 votes
Accepted

How were horses disembarked from sail ships?

Basically three options: 1. Ramp or gangway: The easiest and most preferable way. Might require specialised or retrofitted ships: (extreme left, vertically centered, click to enlarge) (Ottomans ...
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  • 73.7k
37 votes

How difficult was to escape from a naval battle after engaging into one during the Age of Sail?

This is where the wind gauge becomes critical. Having the wind gauge, contrary to popular perception, was of little tactical benefit; but rather enabled one to prevent the enemy from escaping. This is ...
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35 votes

Why did it take so long to abandon sail after steamships were demonstrated?

You can't completely replace sail with coal until you are 100% sure that you are going to have access to coal everywhere you need to go. This is basically an extension of Steve Bird's #1 and #2. It'...
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  • 3,143
33 votes

How much evidence is there regarding the naval punishment of keelhauling?

The earliest evidence for keel-hauling that I'm aware of is actually from ancient Rhodes (~800BC) in the Lex Rhodia. There are also depictions of the practice known from ancient Greece (one is ...
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  • 76.2k
31 votes
Accepted

Why wasn't sauerkraut used to combat scurvy?

The problem was that during the 18th Century, they didn't know that scurvy was caused by lack of Vitamin C (mainly because they didn't know what vitamins were). Therefore, they didn't go looking for ...
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30 votes
Accepted

Did Age of Sail fighting vessels have any anti-spall technology?

The introduction of hammocks in place of cabins for the bulk of the crew both reduced the amount of wood (and thus splinters) and led to the use of rolled up hammocks as protection against splinters. ...
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27 votes
Accepted

What plumbing did well-equipped sailing ships have?

Around 1800, you would have started to see the introduction of iron storage tanks for water, which would have replaced multiple wooden barrels in the ship's hold. By weight and volume, drinking water ...
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26 votes

Why was the last battle of the War of 1812 fought fully half a year after the official end of the war?

From Wikipedia: On 30 June she [the Peacock] captured the 16-gun brig Nautilus, which was under the command of Lieutenant Charles Boyce of the Bombay Marine of the British East India Company in the ...
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  • 1,088
26 votes
Accepted

If a merchant ship captain joined the Royal Navy during the age of sail, would they be put in command?

As has been remarked in the comments, the main impediment to a merchant captain gaining command of a Royal Navy vessel (and I'm assuming we're talking the English/British Royal Navy) is that he would ...
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24 votes
Accepted

Was there a way for ships to disengage from boarding actions?

Before considering how to disengage from a boarding action, I think you have to consider the difficulties and risks of bringing about a boarding action in the first place. To evade a boarding attempt ...
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23 votes
Accepted

In the Film Master and Commander, why do they start towing their rowboats after they beat to quarters?

The boats of a Napoleonic warship were a very important part of the ship's equipment. They were the main means (and often the only means) of moving men, goods and communications to and from the ship. ...
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23 votes

Why did Europeans (and not people in other regions) dominate oceans?

China was a single state. If the emperor decide to stop long distance sea voyages (as did the Hongxi Emperor) they would stop. Europe had the advantage of being split in many states. The ruler of one ...
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22 votes

Did any age of sail ship have a "back-bone cannon"?

Yes, these existed and were generally known as gunboats. Sizes varied, but typically they were a galley, schooner, or sloop of less than 75 feet in length, single-decked, with a single large cannon (...
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  • 2,027
21 votes
Accepted

How did Bligh navigate during his open boat voyage after losing The Bounty?

The book The Eventful History of the Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of H.M.S Bounty by Sir John Barrow includes a chapter on the remarkable voyage of Bligh and his 18 companions in their 23-foot boat, ...
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20 votes

How difficult was to escape from a naval battle after engaging into one during the Age of Sail?

The subject of disengagement and, possibly, the subsequent chase is one that fills chapters and even whole books on Age-of-Sail tactics. Determining the possibility of escape involves a large number ...
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17 votes
Accepted

Couldn't Japan have solved the problem of drifting at sea?

I believe this is somewhat overstating the risks and well as the severity of the disasters. A sengokubune (千石船) refers to a ship that can carry 1000 koku of rice (sen = 1000). The actual ship design ...
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  • 95.8k
15 votes
Accepted

How much evidence is there regarding the naval punishment of keelhauling?

It would seem that by the mid-18th Century, the act of keel-hauling was considered (by the British public, at least) to be a Dutch punishment. A contemporary dictionary gives the following definition: ...
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15 votes

How much gunpowder could the average Napoleonic ship of the line carry?

A quick search on the HMS Victory leads us to militarynavalhistory.net, where they have this to say concerning the armaments of the Victory: The armament comprised thirty 32-pound cannons in the ...
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  • 33.8k
15 votes
Accepted

How did pumps work during the Age of Sail?

What do you know! Thomas James Oertling wrote his 1984 M.A. Thesis on The History and Development of Ship's Bilge Pumps, 1500-1840. Figure 21. A chain pump. The Cole/Bentnick chain pump shown above ...
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15 votes
Accepted

When did the Royal Navy start to fill a given rank of admiral with more than one officer?

According to N.A.M Rodger the transition to multiple officers in the same post was (officially) in 1743, There were eight flag officers' ranks: Admirals of the White and Blue, Vice-Admirals and Rear-...
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14 votes

In the Film Master and Commander, why do they start towing their rowboats after they beat to quarters?

Beat to quarters is what has become General Quarters in the modern navies. It was the call to ship's company to prepare for action/battle. All crew would prepare for action, depending on the reason ...
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  • 3,571
14 votes

Why did Europeans (and not people in other regions) dominate oceans?

I suggest that the reason was the Mediterranean. European civilizations had lots of places to sail to that could be reached, profitably, with fairly primitive technology. Starting with the Illiad &...
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  • 2,865
14 votes

Did any age of sail ship have a "back-bone cannon"?

I'm not aware of any ship built around a single cannon during the Age of Sail, although it's possible that they appeared as experimental vessels. At the smaller end, there were gunboats which had a ...
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