100-gun First Ship-of-the-Line
HMS Victory began her service in 1765 and continues as the oldest commissioned warship in the world today, serving visitors as a floating museum.
Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited:
As fate would have it in 1758, the same year of Lord Nelson's birth the Board of Admiralty ordered twelve new ships of the line, among them a 'first-rate' ship with 100 guns, to be named Victory. HMS Victory is a first-rate warship with four masts built to be a floating gun platform with 100 cannon of different calibers arranged on three decks. She took seven years to build at a cost is today's money of 50 million English pounds, designed by Thomas Slade of the Royal Navy and laid down in Chatham Dockyard, England. Sir John Lindsay, Victory's first Captain, took command In March 1778. On May 8, 1778, she set sail for sea duty for the first time exactly 13 years and a day, 4,746 days from the time of her launching. Her active service life began on Friday June 13 when she sailed from Spithead as the Flagship of the Channel Fleet and first cleared her decks for action on the July 23, 1778.
A story in itself is the construction of the Victory. The 18th century shipwrights had only simple gear and tools and the difficulty of moving enormous timbers from where they were felled to the dockyard in Chatham. This extensive skilled workforce of about 250 men were required to accomplish the work. The shipwrights needed a hundred acres of oak forest, about 6,000 selected mature oak trees found in the weald forest of Kent and Sussex in England. The balance of the timber needed was fir, elm, and pine and was cut and stored knowing the wood required seasoning or drying for many years.
First the keel on July 23, 1759 then the frame was constructed; shipwrights would normally cover the ship in canvas for several months for more seasoning of the wood. Luck would have it for Victory that the Seven Years' War ended so her construction was stalled. Peace meant that she was not needed so her frame remained covered for three years, this increased seasoning turned out to increase her strength and sturdiness. Certain sections of a ship framework had to be made from a single piece of oak, so mature oak trees of great size were sought after. The largest oak trees required were for the 30 feet high "stern post" which took some of the greatest stresses placed on the ship. Other valued oak trees had "Y" shaped curved branches which enabled the knees and clamps to be made from one piece for increased strength. Perhaps the most difficult of the trees to locate were the timbers used for the wing transom needing a very wide forked mature oak tree. Light supple wood like fir and spruce was required for the decks, masts & yard arms. Seven mature elm trunks were used for the keel.
The Victory having 3 masts and a bow sprit is called a rigged ship vessel. Each of the masts supports yards horizontal spars were named after their respective masts. The lower yard, topsail yard and the topgallant yards were made from either fir or pine because of its light weight and being flexible. The masts required so much bulk it took 7 trees to make each one, each tree were combined and built-in as one with iron hoops and joined tightly with hundreds of yards of ropes. The masts used 27 miles of rigging and carried four acres of canvas for the sails. Two tons of iron and copper nails are needed for the deck. Iron bolts were passed through the timbers and joints with the ends clenched with washers holding the ship together. A ship the size of Victory required more than 26 miles (42 km) of flax and hemp rope with the largest rope for the anchors being 19 inches (47 cm) in circumference. As an historical note typically, hemp contains below 0.3% THC, while cannabis grown for marijuana can contain anywhere from 6 or 7 % to 20% or even more. The smoking lamp was not lit on board Victory.
Close to four acres of sails were needed comprising of 37 sails with a total sail area of 6,500 square yards (5, 428 square meters). Dundee weavers who manufactured the bolts of cloth for the Navy during this period and would have spent around 1,200 hours just to stitch the top sail together. Spare sails were needed so an additional 23 sails were carried on board. When in full sail HMS Victory carried thirty seven different sails. These canvas sails were mostly hung from horizontal yard arms mounted on her four masts, the bowsprit, the foremast, the mainmast and the mizenmast. Just the right combination of sail had to be rigged, to little sail and the ship did not move fast enough through the water. Too much sail in a strong wind and the mast might snap. At times little sail was necessary for leaving or entering ports. To trim or adjust a sail the crew had to climb the rope ladders to their assigned "yard" the horizontal bar that supported the sail. The orders were to "make sail" or unfurl the area of sail to catch more wind, or "trim sail" to reduce or furl the sail area by rolling up and tying down the sail. The crew of Victory was expected to hear the order, climb the rope rigging ladders to their assigned station and have full sail in six minutes. 120 plus men were needed to accomplish this task and it was not uncommon for inexperienced sailors to fall to their death from wet ropes and gusts of wind. HMS Victory's design allowed speeds up to 8 knots or 10 mph, and being a First Rate ship being maneuverable required her for active service between 1778 and 1805 and became one of the most sought after ships in the Navy.
The Victory carried 7 anchors of various sizes; the two main anchors were used for holding the ship in deep water. The larger and heaviest of the two weighing 4 tons was always rigged on the starboard or right hand side of the ship due to prevailing winds found in the northern hemisphere. It was the heaviest work on board to raise the anchor, and at the center of the ship were two capstans connected together vertically. All hands helped in this being the most difficult job on board for sailors and marines alike. The capstan was a big wench with 12 heavy wood bars made long enough for six men to stand side by side and walk around the capstan pushing against the bars to raise the anchor. Around 144 men were needed to raise the largest anchor, the huge anchor cable made of hemp was very heavy especially when wet. The anchor rope cable was carefully coiled to prevent the cable from rotting and the crew stored it on a special slatted floor allowing the water to drain off and air to circulate around the rope to dry. Below the water line additional protection was needed for the ships oak hull due to the teredo worm. The teredos are not worms at all, but rather saltwater clams notorious for boring into and destroying anything wooden immersed in sea water, like a wooden ship. The remedy for ships of the period was covering the hulls bottom with copper sheeting. Victory's hull needed 3,923 copper sheets of 4ft by 1ft pieces (15,692 sqft) weighing a total of 17 tons.
Six boats carried aboard HMS Victory were comprised of a Launch, Barge, 3 Cutters and a Pinnace which is a light boat, propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a tender for guiding merchant and war vessels. These boats were used for many purposes including conveying stores, personnel, mooring and anchoring the ship. They were also employed for towing when calm wind stalled the ship. The Launch was the largest of the boats on board being 34 feet (10.3m) long and used for carrying men and supplies, and at times anchor work. The boat was usually rowed by 16 oarsmen, and could also be sailed. Troops were ferried to shore in the boats and were the first assault craft to be used in war. The boats were not considered lifeboats, to lower a boat took too much time to save a sailor who fell overboard, life at sea was expendable. During battle removing wooden objects was necessary to reduce collateral damage of splintered wood flying across the deck. All wood items were sent below the main and gun decks, like mess tables, benches and furniture. The boats were towed behind to limit cannon hits creating flying splinters. When clearing the decks for action was called an experienced crew could clear the decks in a ship the size of Victory in ten minutes.