The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 4- Inside and Outside the Hull


Launched in 1813, the snow-brig, USS Niagara was the flagship of Captain Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. During the battle, Perry ordered his men, “Don’t give up the ship.” Afterwards, it fired its guns and got some British ships to surrender. Later, it assisted with transporting Major General William Henry Harrison’s army to the mouth of the Detroit River. After the war, the Niagara was kept afloat as a receiving ship until it was sunk in 1820. Since 1988, it’s been the state ship of Pennsylvania.

Then we get to the ship’s main body which is the hull. Sailors live and work on it most of the time. The captain officers usually give orders to their men on it. Guns are shot from it. Supplies and cargo are stored in it. But a hull’s structure varies on ship type. While the hull’s shape is dependent upon the design’s needs which is chosen for striking a balance between costs, accommodations, load carrying and stability, speed, power requirements, motion and behavior on the seaway, and special considerations for the ship‘s role. Hulls of the earliest design are thought to have consisted of hollowed out tree bole making the boats with them the first canoes. Hull form then proceeded to the coracle shape and on to more sophisticated naval architectural forms advanced. By around 3000 BCE the ancient Egyptians knew how to assemble wooden planks into a hull. A wooden ship’s hull was constructed with wooden planking supported by transverse frame (often referred as ribs) and bulkheads which were further tied together by longitudinal stringers or a ceiling. Often but not always the keel always forms the ship’s centerline. And when it’s all covered in barnacles sailors could be punished by been repeatedly dunked and fished out in a practice known as keelhauling.

The Hull:

Bottom-part of the hull below waterline.

Crotch- naturally crooked timbers fixed on the keel.

Deadrise- angle between the ship’s bottom and the horizontal plan, at the hull’s widest part.

Frame- the traverse structure giving the ship its cross-sectional shape. Made up with 4 futtocks on a square-ribbed ship. Forms the hull’s shape.

Hull- the ship’s frame or body that floats on the water. But without the masts, rigging, or internal fittings.

Keel or backbone- the ship’s underside or bottom scratching from bow to stern and where the stem, sternpost, and ribs are attached. It’s an important part of the ship’s structure which also has a strong influence on its turning performance and resists the wind’s sideways pressure. Becomes covered in barnacles after sailing the seas. Used to balance the water.

Light- any opening on a ship’s hull, stern, or deck meant to allow sunlight to enter inside.

Quarter- a ship’s afterparts on the centerline’s each side. Also a work-shift on board a ship, continual 24/7 rotation of a 4-hour rest period in a normal 2 quarters setup.

Quarter Badge- a window outcrop at a ship’s quarters. A remnant of the earlier quarter gallery, often highly decorated with marine figures or other emblems.

Topsides- side planking from the waterline to the sheer.

Tumblehome- the amount by which 2 ship sides brought in towards the center above the maximum beam.

Upper Work- part of the ship’s hull above waterline when it’s properly balanced for a sea voyage.
Waist- the ship’s central and widest section with the lowest freeboard.

Outside the Hull:

Black Strakes- planks immediately above the wales.

Bumpkin or boomkin- spar projecting from the ship’s bow or stern providing for tack fairleads.

Channel- a flat, plank-like or platform-like projection from the ship’s side used to spread the shrouds clear of the hull. Upper chain plat ends connected or terminated here.

Centerboard or Drop Keel- a type of retractable keel used on ships to prevent drifting downwind.

Chain Plate- one of a number of strips of iron, chains, or a combination of iron links and straps with each lower end fastened to a ship’s hull and the upper end carrying a deadeye to which the shrouds or back stays were connected and tensioned.

Chesstree- a timber fitted on the hull’s outside just below the gunwale. Had 1-4 holes with internal rollers or pulleys through which the main tack or sheets were hauled from within board.

Cofferdam- a watertight chamber or compartment attached to the hull’s outside below waterline so repairs can be made.

Deals- planks cut from pine or fir of a specific size which was commonly 3”x 9”x 12.”

Escutcheon- a shield-shaped emblem located at the bow, stern, or sides, bearing a coat of arms, name, or owner’s symbol.

False Keel- lower addition to the main keel to either protect it from damage or to increase draft and improve sailing characteristics.

Garboard Strake- strake immediately adjacent to the keel.

Gunnel Wales- uppermost strake which is longer than the others.

Gunport- a square or round hole built through which the cannons were fired. First appeared around 1500. Sometimes highly decorated with wreaths and other décor, especially from the 15th – 17th centuries.

Hance- step made by the handrail drop at a ship’s side to a lower level.

Hance Piece- a bracket to fit the hance, often elaborately carved with dogs or dolphins. Sometimes running several feet down a ship’s side.

Jacob’s Ladder- a rope ladder with wooden rungs used for accessing a ship from the side.

Joggle- a notch cut in a plank edge to take the butt out of the next plank when planking a wodden ship.

Leeboard- a lobe-shaped board lowered from either ship side acting as a large oar to minimize drifting.

Outrigger- an extension to each side of the crosstrees to spread the backstays. In smaller East Indies ships, it’s a thin, long, extra hull parallel to the main hull.

Pavesses- large wooden shields fixed permanently to the ship’s sides and bullwarks. Often seen in galleons and carracks.

Porthole or scuttle- Opening sides from a ship’s hull, which are used for various purposes like gunports, timber ports, freeing ports, vents, or lights. When not in use they were closed by hinging doors, called pot-lids.

Quarter Gallery- an open or closed platform on a ship. Sometimes separate from the stern gallery and sometimes fully joined so one could walk around the stern.

Rigol- a gutter fitted over a port or scuttle to prevent rain from running into a ship when it’s open.

Rubbing Strake or rubbing streak- a strong horizontal plank fixed to the ship’s side as protection. Acts like a bumper.

Sheer- a fore-and-aft ship curvature from bow to stern. Traditionally lowest amidship to maximize freeboard at hull ends. Can be reverse, higher in the middle to maximize space, or a combination of shapes. Also can be a ship’s position for riding a single anchor holding it clear.

Sheathing- ship’s planking or decking.

Sheer Strake- strake immediately below the gunwale and on top of the hull.

Shoe- protective planking along the keel’s bottom.

Side- the ship’s edge.

Skid or Skeed- a strong piece to protect a ship’s side planking that extend the main wales from the hull’s top.

Slipway- ramp sloping into water supporting the ship.

Strake- a set of a lengthwise planking with similar sny, running the ship’s hull length. Might be a single plank on small boats and could consist of a number of planks on larger ships.

Wales- strong strakes placed at intervals along the ship’s side to strengthen the decks.

Inside the Hull:

Balance Frame- the forward-most and aftermost frame of the hull’s full width.

Ballast- heavy material placed in the bottom of ship’s hold to enhance stability by lowering its center of gravity and increasing its draft. Can be of iron, lead, or stone.

Ballast Keel- metal fixed to the keel to replace ballast.

Bay- a ship’s area used for carrying goods and equipment.

Bearding-Line- a line drawn in the deadwoods and keel showing the hull planking entering these parts.

Bilge- the lowest part inside the ship, within the hull which is the first place to show leakage. It’s often dank and musty, and considered the ship’s most filthy, deadly space. Usually the transition between the bottom and sides.

Bilge Keel- an additional keel located near the bilge on a ship’s either side to protect the hull when grounding and to lessen drift when heeling.

Bilge Stringer- timbers running the hull’s entire length near the bilge’s turn as an integral girder of a wooden ship’s frame.

Bilge Water- water inside the bilge, sometimes referred to as bilge itself.

Bulkhead- a watertight partition or dividing wall within a ship’s hull. Used to form compartments.

Cant Frame- back and forth frame not set at right angles to the keel.

Cant Timbers or cant frames- timbers placed obliquely at the keel on ship ends.

Ceiling- lining applied to the interior between frames.

Chine- an abrupt change where the hull’s topside meets its bottom. A multi-chine hull has 4 or more to allow an approximation of a round bottomed shape using flat panels. Also refers to the longitudinal structure inside the hull supporting these panels’ edges.

Chine Stringer- a longitudinal part in a ship between the keel and gunwale.

Clamp- a horizontal timber secured to the frames’ inner sides in a longitudinal direction under the shelf, carrying the beams from stem to stern.

Codwads- floor timbers extending below the frame.

Covering Board- board covering the rib and timber heads.

Cross Chocks- timbers fixed across a deadwood amidship to strengthen the futtocks.

Deadwood- reinforcing timbers placed between the keel and stem to build and strengthen the framework when too narrow for the side timbers to fit. Extended from keel upwards, effectively raising the floor-timbers from the bow to stern.

Dunnage- loose wood laid at a hull’s bottom. Used to raise cargo to avoid water damage.

Fardage- wood placed in ship’s bottom to keep cargo dry.

Filler Block- wood segment to fill a void between frames, usually between the planking and clamp.

Filling Frame- a frame in between master frames.

Floor- lowest frame timber that’s centered on the keel. Or the ship’s interior that’s below the waterline.

Floor-Boards- loose planking laid over the floor-timers and flat floors, covering ballast (if any), and hiding the bilge water.

Floor-Heads- upper floor-timber ends.

Floor-Timbers- lower part of a ship’s ribs which in larger ships are made from several pieces called futtocks.

Foot-Waling- a ship’s lining or inside planks to prevent anything falling amongst the floor timbers.

Frames- timber frames constituting the ship’s hull shape to where planking is attached.

Futtock- a crooked wooden timber scarfed together to form the compound rib’s lower part of the ship. In larger ships the ribs can’t be made in one piece and consist of several pieces scarfed together. A ship’s rib usually comprised of 4-5 futtocks.

Futtock Riders- large vertical timbers strengthening the hull’s inside below the waterline.

Garboard- a plank on a ship’s bottom next to the keel.

Girder- an iron or wooden beam supporting the hull’s structure.

Ground Futtock- futtock closet to the keel.

Half Frame- a floorless frame with futtocks seated directly on the keel.

Hanging Knee- knee with a downwards long arm.

Hog Frame- a trussed frame to a ship’s deck to prevent distortion.

Hogging piece- timber piece worked upon the keel’s top to prevent hogging.

Hold- a large area for storing cargo in the ship’s lower part.

Inwale- the upper, inner longitudinal structure member of the hull, to which topside panels are fixed.

Keelson- a lengthwise wooden beam for bearing stress on a ship. Fixed to the keel’s top to strengthen the rest of the boat to the keel.

Kentledge- a pig-iron used as ballast in ship’s hold.

Knee, knee-piece, or elbow- a wooden support brace with its angular bend designed to fasten ship parts together, especially to secure beams to ribs.

Knuckle Timbers- foremost of the cant timbers.

Limbers- conduits or gutters on each side of the keelson forming a waterway to the pump well.

Limber Boards- short coverboards.

Limber Holes- holes in limber boards.

Longing Knee- knee fitted horizontally to the beams and shelf, to the mast partners, or to the deck.

Long Timbers- those from deadwood to the second futtock’s top in the cant bodies.

Lower Futtock- futtock towards the ship’s middle between the top timber and the floor timber.

Master Frame- main frames set up at intervals giving the hull form.

Partners- a wooden framework used to strengthen a ship’s deck at the point where a mast or a capstan passes through it.

Rib- a curved-framed timber on a ship rising from the keel to the top of its side. Fastened by side planks forming the hull.

Rider- a substantial timber used to strengthen the wood-framed hull’s internal structure.

Rising Floor- a floor behind or in front of a flat, midship floor which have a steep angle towards the stem and stern.

Second Futtock- futtock above the floor timber.

Shelf or shelf piece- a strong timber piece running the whole ship length inside the timber heads, binding the timbers together. The deck beams rest on and are fastened to the shelf.

Sleeper- a thick plank laying at the bottom of the ship’s hold.

Sounding Rod- rod to measure the depth of water from the ship’s bottom.

Spirket- space between floor timbers.

Spirketting- a ship’s inside planking with the strake wrought on the beam ends, fitted to the port stills in a back and forth direction.

Square Frame- a frame erected perpendicular to the keel in the hull’s midbody.

Square Timbers- upward ribs from the keel in the ship’s hull.

Stemson or Stomach-Piece- a backing or strengthening ship timber fitted at the keel’s fore-end.

Step- a timber or metal framework fixed to the ship’s keel taking the mast’s heel.

Stowage- ship storage space.

Stringer- a long relatively thin wood length often used to reinforce the hull’s inside planking, especially when think planking is applied.

Timber- a ship’s frame or rib, giving the hull both its shape and strength. Also a term for describing other substantial wooden ship parts.

Tip-Timber or top-timber- uppermost frame futtock.

Truss- any structural support or beam in a ship’s frame. Or can be a fitting by which a lower yard is fastened to the mass.

Upper Futtock- futtock further away from the keel.

Well- a vertical cylindrical trunk, running down the ship’s hull lower parts. Bilge pump pipes often lead through the well.


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