Thursday, 3 December 2009

No mast, no rigging, no grappling

Grappling has been used since the earliest sea battles. It is one of several methods used to establish a stable platform or limit the enemy's movement so that a good old bout of fisticuffs can follow instead of the combatants poncing about all over the sea. At different times and places opponets have roped their own ships together, roped the opponent so he can be pulled closer, bound alongside or be capsized.

In piratical actions in the 18 and 19th centuries and when naval ships in the same era went after prizes it was a tactic to avoid grappling the rigging of an enemy ship. Damage to the rigging rendered the prize damaged and perhaps unsailable. Boarding often took place between the sterns of ships where the poop offered space to fight.

We have direct evidence for grappling being used to capsize ships by the Pharonic Egyptian naval forces at Medinet Habu by Rameses III's fleet.

In the Classical Greek period it was usual for the sails and rigging to be left behind when ships went out to fight. A sail onboard meant extra weight and extra obstacles to be avoided as one tried to flee a sinking ship. It was also a psychological factor if the crews knew escape was dependent on rowing faster than the enemy. They should use their skill to win. Cleopatra may have had a different fate if she had had no sails aboard at Actium ?

The absence of a mast and rigging, though' would mean that all those nice places where a grapnel or 'iron hand' could be lodged were not available. When ramming tactics became less dominant and many ships were broader and more stable, as well as more massive, a mast and rigging may not have been such a problem to have up in battle - unless one should reduce the lodgement possibilities for enemy grapnels?
Getting grappled in the mast rigging could spell doom to the ship as it did to the Sea Peoples against the Egyptians. The movement of a single man across the beam on a trireme could be felt by the rowers. The deck troops sat down for most of the time to avoid stability problems. How lethal would dragging such a ship over by the mast be ?

1 comment:

  1. Nice work on the research, much better than my own.

    Got any more? Like to see it.