:: SAILING FRIGATES ::

The ironclad Numancia
The ironclad Numancia

HMS Victory
HMS Victory

Anatomy of the ship of the line
Anatomy of the ship of the line

Evolution of the ship of the line
Evolution of the ship of the line

The art of transom
The art of transom

Sovereign of the Seas
Sovereign of the Seas

Gallions
Gallions

Galleys and galleasses
Galleys and galleasses





The largest part of the 18th century was a period of stagnation for the British naval builders, mainly because of the many rigid rules which tied their hands. Because of this the French and Spanish ships continued being larger and better than the British counterparts of the same class. Parallely, the frigate, a warship of fifth or sixth rate, gained importance in almost every navy. It was sought a robust and fast ship capable of operating in any weather condition, to be used mainly to protect convoys and for privateering war. The following pictures show the blueprints of a Spanish 22-gun frigate from 1750, belonging to the Album of Jorge Juan, and a drawing of the Spanish 30-gun frigate Venus, built in La Carraca in 1756.

Blueprints of a Spanish 22-gun frigate, 1750

Spanish 30-gun frigate Venus, 1756
According to their size frigates were well armed and during the 18th century the cannons were installed in a single deck. The first frigates generally carried from 24 to 28 cannons and a complement of 160 crewmen. In the mid century many were built which had 32 or even 36 cannons, and in the late century there were frigates with more than 40 cannons. The following pictures show a cutaway of the American 36-gun frigate USS Confederacy, launched in 1778, and a drawing of the Spanish 34-gun frigate Diana, built in Mahón in 1792. Comparing this ship with the Venus, we can see the much more complex and efficient rigging equipped with the innovations appeared in the second half of the century: gaff mainsail, gaff topsail and staysails.

American 36-gun frigate USS Confederacy, 1778
Spanish 44-gun frigate Diana, 1792
Almost all of the French warships of the 18th century were built with slightly inclined ends, and so their hydrodynamic section was concave near the keel. This typically French characteristic can be seen in the frigate Flore from circa 1780, depicted in the following drawing. Also in those years were typical the gangways running along the sides of the waist, leaving space for the boats between them. In the early 18th century it was made a change in the tops, which had been of circular shape until then; their rear part was flattened and in the late century they were of almost square shape. In the French ships the shape of the caps was changed to make them like the British model. The Flore was armed with thirty 9-pound cannons and had an overall length of 47 meters, a length of 37.95 meters in the keel, a beam of 10.36 meters and a draught of 5.03 meters.

Details visible in the illustration, from prow to stern, are: capstan (red); kitchen vents (black); belfry (red); pulley wheel for the tack of the main sail (black, after the fore channels); gangways of the waist; pulley wheel for the tack of the fore sail (black, next to the external ladder on the hull); companionway of the ladder which descends to the gun deck (brown, just before the mizzen mast); pulley wheel for the sheet of the main sail (black, in the railing next to the mizzen channels); steering wheel (which had started to replace the steering lever in the early century, but in the mid century there were still many ships which used steering lever); skylight (brown); box for signal flags (red).

French 30-gun frigate Flore, circa 1780
In the last years of the century were laid down in United States the keels of three frigates which would be the largest of their time. The USS United States and the USS Constitution were launched in 1798, while the USS President, the best sailer of the three, had her launching delayed until 1800. From the figurehead to the stern she had a length of 62.18 meters, her keel had a length of 44.60 meters and her beam was 13.49 meters. Her official classification was that of 44-gun frigate, but her actual armament comprised thirty-two 24-pound cannons in the main battery and twenty-two 42-pound carronades in the weather deck.

American frigates had six meters more in length and almost one more in beam than the most modern British 44-gun frigates, and four meters more in length than the contemporary French 40-gun frigates. The USS President, captured by the British in 1815, had a fantastic rigging fitted with skysails in every mast and a gaff topsail. On the other hand, the USS Constitution was reconstructed and preserved in a dockyard at Boston. It was said that she was able to reach a speed of 13.5 knots and that the USS President was even faster.

American 56-gun frigate USS President, 1800

The frigate in the 19th century

The beak, as the ornamented stern and the balconies, was destined to persist until the end of sailing warships. But the sides of the beak changed their appearance and from a gently curved trellis they became true bulwarks rect from the fringe, as it can be seen in the French 60-gun frigate Belle Poule, from 1834, depicted in the illustration below. On the 19th century, the space between the gangways in the waist was covered, so the forecastle, quarterdeck and poop deck became a single deck. But in the new warships the old names were preserved: the part after the main mast was called "quarterdeck" and the part around the fore mast was called "forecastle", whereas the areas corresponding to the former gangways were called larboard and starboard "gangways".

The Belle Poule was even larger than the large American frigates. She measured 63.70 meters from figurehead to stern, 50.75 meters in the keel and 14.80 meters in beam. She was classified as frigate and of such she had the appearance, but two whole gun decks and the number of cannons rendered her so powerful as a third-rate ship of the line from the former century. In the lower gun deck she carried twenty-eight 30-pound cannons and two 80-pound Paixhans cannons for explosive shells, and in the upper gun deck, four 30-pound cannons and twenty-six 30-pound carronades. The gunports were of a new type which allowed the cannons to rest in them when they were not in use.

French 60-gun frigate La Belle Poule, 1834
From the prow to the stern, as in the majority of the warships of that time, ran without interruption the bulwark forming two wide curves, with the former mesh railing replaced by a wooden one. There was an anchor deck after the fore mast and a small poop deck in the stern end. Beyond the stern protruded two fixed davits for a boat and other four pairs of swivel davits were placed upon the long channels which ran without interruption from amidships to the stern, after the main mast. In this time the cables of the anchors started to be replaced by chains, the square sails were no longer attached directly to the yards, but to a rib in the upper face of the yard, and disappeared forever the sails hanging beneath the bowsprit and its boom.

During the first half of the 19th century, many circumstances contributed to increase the demand of large and fast merchant ships. The monopoly of trade with the colonies had ended and all of the maritime lines were now open with the Indian and Chinese docks, and the Gold Rush in California and Australia demanded new ships to transport emigrants and freight. The large British and Dutch sailing merchants were built like military frigates, and the so called "Blackwall frigates", started to be built in the Thames in 1837, were not very different from the large frigates of that time. The first of them, the HMS Seringapatam depicted in the illustration below, had a tonnage of 818 tonnes and the largest one reached 1400 tonnes, measuring 55.80 meters from the stem to the sternpost and 12.20 meters in beam. The armament comprised 46 cannons installed in two gun decks.

British 46-gun frigate Seringapatam, 1837
From the shipyards at Blackwall, the first ones in the Thames which used the technology of iron construction, departed the most famous frigates of that time. In the 1840s the navies of the world were in a rush to acquire the first steam warships which should give them a decisive advantage against the enemy sailing ships. But the first steamships had to be as well sailing ships, for the engines were still rather unreliable. Also from the aforementioned shipyards departed the most important steam warships commissioned by the Spanish Navy, among them the Isabel II, depicted below. Built circa 1850, this ship still had a wooden hull and was propelled by paddle wheels, which had a short life before being totally abandoned in favor of the much more practical rear propeller.

The Isabel II had a displacement of 2879 tonnes, an overal length of 66 meters, a beam of 14.50 meters, a depth of hold of 6.40 meters and a draught slightly above 5 meters. Her engines, of 1500 indicated horsepower, could move her at speeds over 12 knots in favorable conditions. Certainly, she was slower than many sailing ships, but her performance was not tied to fickle Eolos. She had a complement of 300 crewmen and was armed with sixteen 68-pound cannons, seven on each band and another two, rotary pieces, in the prow and the stern. Obviously, more cannons could have been carried if not for the paddle wheels, but nonetheless this armament was heavy. Ships like this one took part in the Crimean War, in which the devastating power of the new explosive shells was clearly seen.

Spanish steamship Isabel II, 1851
The following photograph shows a Spanish frigate from the Gerona class, launched in 1861 and commissioned in 1864-65; it is a great example of the appearance of the last frigates fitted with a full rigging, with gaff sail in every mast. They had a wooden hull and round stern with gallery. These ships had a displacement of 3980 tonnes, an overall length of 81 meters, a beam of 15.40 meters, a depth of hold of 7.41 meters and a draught of 6.33 meters. Their steam engine of about 1800 indicated horsepower and single propeller could impulse these ships at speeds of up to 12.5 knots. The complement was from 550 to 600 crewmen and the armament comprised thirty-four 200-millimeter (68-pound) cannons and fourteen 160-millimeter cannons.

Spanish 48-gun frigate of the Gerona class, 1865
Ships like these were the transition from the sailing frigate to the armored frigate or ironclad. The frigate, which had been a modest auxiliary ship a century ago, had eventually become the new capital ship.



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