[Help with obscure historical stuff] Sailing in the 16th & 17th centuries

edited September 2009 in Story Games
I need to research sailing technology and techniques from the 16th & 17th centuries for a maritime-focused sort of Baroque-punk campaign idea. Types of ships, sails, cannon, the relative advantages and disadvantages of the types; techniques for sailing inland seas, high seas, oceanic coastline; techniques for outsailing pirates and enemy warships; techniques for fighting pirates and enemy warships; and so on. As much detail as I can find!

I probably won't use all the details for the actual campaign (for one thing, it's alt history), but I want all of it so I can make educated decisions as to what goes in and what doesn't.

I don't know where to start. Can anybody name some good sources? I don't mind dense and dry reading, but I'd prefer some stuff with a bit of attitude. Secondary research is okay. Perhaps there is a GURPS book on this? If so, is it worth a look?

Thanks!
-Marshall

Comments

  • Go to a nautical museum. Seriously.
  • I read a book called Under the Black Sail ages ago that had enough of the basics of this sort of thing to be a starting point, anyway.
  • Specifically 16th and 17th? You could probably delve into any of the Patrick O'Brian books ("Master and Commander" about 18th Century into 19th Century sailing) for tactics and flavor. The ships and munitions will probably be different but will be very close to the century before.

    Also, you can find any number of sailing movies that will give you the rundown on basic sloop style (generic sailboat) sailing tactics which are the essentials for anything before you go to multi-mast and complex rigging boats.
  • I'd start with a list of famous maritime explorers from the appropriate time period and look for biographies. Then I'd check the bibliographies and references of those.
  • Posted By: deadlytoqueI read a book called Under the Black Sail ages ago that had enough of the basics of this sort of thing to be a starting point, anyway.
    That's David Cordingly's Under The Black Flag, I think. Vincent references it in Poison'd. It's good. It's about pirates.

    Graham
  • Marshall, I have a ton of nautical history books. I even wrote an essay on the development of sail that the Pirates of the Burning Sea folks had linked from their website back before their Sony days. I was known on the 7th Sea discussion forums for criticizing the inclusion of the Caravel in the 7th Sea naval rosters...since the Caravel was invented expressly to deal with the difficulty of rounding the horn of Africa...and there is no Africa in Theah...hense there should be no Caravel in Theah...yeah, I was THAT guy.

    I'll try to hook you up with some good sources this weekend. Once you find a good general source, the bibliography will help lead to others.

    I hate to contradict the King but 16th-17th age of sail bears little resemblance to 18th-19th age of sail...save in the grossest sense of ships made of wood with masts and sails. So if you are looking to be reasonably accurate you'll want to avoid crossing periods.
  • DoubleKing,
    Yes, 16th-17th century specifically. The PCs are gonna be from Portugal, and the Spanish will be primary antagonists. I might work the Ottomans and the British in there too, but it's mainly going to be Portugal vs. Spain.
    Posted By: ValamirI was known on the 7th Sea discussion forums for criticizing the inclusion of the Caravel in the 7th Sea naval rosters...since the Caravel was invented expressly to deal with the difficulty of rounding the horn of Africa...and there is no Africa in Theah...hense there should be no Caravel in Theah...yeah, I was THAT guy.
    Awesome. That is exactly the sort of detail that I want to know.
    (One of my best -- what I consider best, at any rate -- GM skills is incorporating such details functionally into play, on the fly. For instance, one time in a Rustbelt game, somebody got envenomed by a mutant animal, so the doctor PC was going to apply an antivenom. My Random Knowledge Database turned up "antivenin," and I said, "Hey, here's a thing: the wrong antivenin can be more deadly than the poison in the first place," and turned what would otherwise be a simple, I-cast-Cure-Light-Wounds (bleccch) kind of situation turned into a moment of conflict and drama, via added realism.)
  • Look to Patrick O'Brian's Men-of-War: Life in Nelson's Navy, for some breezy overviews, and A Sea of Words, Third Edition: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian by Dean King for much deeper look at naval terminology, courtesy, and so forth.Much too late for the time period you want, but some things change slowly. Of course you can always just dive into O'Brian's fiction books, which are a real treat (provided some onion-eating frog hasn't carried away your topgallant on the lee gage).
  • edited September 2009
    I'll hit you up with one of my favorites.

    Ships and Science

    This one won't get you precisely what you're looking for, but its a fascinating read. Its essentially a biography of one of the first guys to start thinking about designing ships based on scientific principles rather than just the art of the craftsman passed down through the generations. He wrote a book in the 1700s that was hugely influential in directing the future of ship design and that book really marks the boundary between 16th and 17th C ship design and 18th and 19th.

    Reading it provides a wealth of understanding of how the ship's of the American Revolution and later Napoleonic period were hugely different from the ships of the Age of Exploration. Understanding those diffrences might fill your brain with a wealth of the random facts you like to have even if its not directly applicable to your questions above.
  • Posted By: ValamirI'll hit you up with one of my favorites.

    Ships and Science
    Does the library where I work have it?

    Yes.

    Yoink!

    Thanks, Ralph.
  • Posted By: Valamir16th-17th age of sail bears little resemblance to 18th-19th age of sail...save in the grossest sense of ships made of wood with masts and sails. So if you are looking to be reasonably accurate you'll want to avoid crossing periods.
    meh, you win some; you lose some. i know small 30' boats... what the hell do i know about historical sailing? i shall again defer to your extensive passions.
  • edited September 2009
    I've put my 13 page overview of the history of the ship in Europe up on the Ramshead Website there is an excellent source book listed that I drew most of that information from.

    Also I offer:

    Inside Story: A 16th Century Galleon by Richard Humble
    Its hard to find new but well worth the effort as its ideal as a roleplaying source. Its part of a series geared towards young readers of taking a single topic and exploding it out with diagrams and short essays on related topics. Which means is chock full of 3d cutaway diagrams, illustrations of tools, pictoral depictions of a "day in the life" and all sorts of fun facts. As a for instance on page 13 is a picture whose caption reads "The Barber Surgeon with a selection of the 64 items found packed in his medicine chest". On page 14-15 is a two page spread illustrating a galleon under construction in dry dock which I used at the game table as a visual reference for a sword fight. The spreads on pages 28-31 show interior cutaways complete with people at work and barreles and coils of rope which made an excellent reference during a boarding encounter.

    Historic Sail the Glory of the Sailing Ship from the 13th to the 19th Century by Joseph Wheatley is another great visual source. The book contains 91 full color plates with each spread including a gorgeous illustration of an actual ship and a 1 page description of the ship and its historical signfigance. Doesn't answer the questions directly, but great for display.

    Ships and Seamen of the 16th Century is a great reference if you can find it. I found a heavily damaged copy for about $30 but most go for over $100. Its the closest thing to a direct material on your questions you're likely to find if you can find it.

    There's lots of period book on English seamanship, but finding sources on Portuguese or Spanish ships that are deeper than a broad overview is hard. Most English Language texts describe Portuguese and Spanish naval history only until the Spanish Armada gives them an excuse to switch to the topic they really want to write about...English and French navies. Perhaps some of our Iberian friends can point to a good source more directly relevant to your specific setting.
  • Curses! My library system doesn't have it.
  • Posted By: Marshall BurnsCurses! My library system doesn't have it.
    Inter-library loan, baby.
  • I love this shit almost as much as Ralph, but I gotta ask, why the fuck do you need any of the information you are looking for? I should think reading wikipedia would be enough for an overview for a campaign to get flavor and to make sure you know which side starboard is...
  • Carla Rahn Philips' Six Galleons for the King of Spain is an in-depth source on the building, outfitting, and maintenance of Spanish galleons in the early 1600s.
  • I recommend any biography (the ones by Joyner or Zweig are good) of Magellan, since it's a pretty well documented (by Antonio Pigafetta) VERY long trip around the world in 1519-1522. To me , his voyage dwarfs anything else by explorers, but that's just my perception. And since Magellan was a Portuguese among Spanish captains...his story reads like a book of plot hooks for a campaign !
  • Posted By: Ken Sentowski!I love this shit almost as much as Ralph, but I gotta ask, why the fuck do you need any of the information you are looking for? I should think reading wikipedia would be enough for an overview for a campaign to get flavor and to make sure you know which side starboard is...
    Storygames brain damage!

    I don't want an overview for a campaign and flavor. I want concrete details that I can introduce consequentially into the game to develop the Conflict.
  • Posted By: Lee ShortCarla Rahn Philips'Six Galleons for the King of Spainis an in-depth source on the building, outfitting, and maintenance of Spanish galleons in the early 1600s.
    Posted By: ManuI recommend any biography (the ones by Joyner or Zweig are good) of Magellan
    Jaheseus H. Christ, the libraries in eastern Oklahoma SUCK. I can't find any of this stuff.
  • Posted By: Marshall Burns
    Storygames brain damage!

    I don'twantan overview for a campaign and flavor. I want concrete details that I can introduce consequentially into the game to develop the Conflict.
    That is, perhaps, the dumbest fucking thing I have fucking seen on SG, and that is saying a lot. Does this desire mean everyone in the game needs to have passed the lieutenant's exam in the Kings Navy before they can play?
  • Get garrett mattinglys The Armada its a great read
  • edited September 2009
    Posted By: Ken Sentowski!That is, perhaps, the dumbest fucking thing I have fucking seen on SG, and that is saying a lot. Does this desire mean everyone in the game needs to have passed the lieutenant's exam in the Kings Navy before they can play?
    What the fuck ever. I've done it before and I do it all the time. Nobody else has to know all of this stuff for me to make use of it.
  • The two books I referenced are way more likely to be in your system or easily ILL-able, being companions to a popular press series.
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