Lesson #413: Armed Yachts

As promised, this week we take a look at armed yachts. Because it amuses me when disparate things come together to make a frankenthing.

Sometimes when I look into things, I come out of it feeling like I don’t have a good understanding of what the story is. This is one of those times. I think maybe my understanding of what a yacht is not as fluid as it should be. I also think I’m unclear about who actually owns the yachts, particularly in relation to the Royal Yacht Squadron. All the reading makes it seem like membership in certain yacht clubs — in this particular case, those yacht clubs that are part of the Royal Yacht Squadron — means that one’s vessel may be commandeered by a country’s Navy in times of need. So I guess I own the boat until I don’t, but then I might again? But also, these vessels were staffed in ways that suggest that these yachts were not the size of the boats I’m imagining in my head, so how big were they and what function were they serving in peacetime? I have a lot of unanswered questions.

Anyway, the requisition and use of private yachts in times of war has been used by the American, British, and Canadian Navies. The former two used them in both the First and Second World Wars, the latter in only the Second World War. While the British Navy appear to have operated under a volunteer system — in which a yacht-owner would become a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, which could commandeer the vessel at any point — the US Navy appears to have bought most their yachts from the previous owners and then retrofitted them with weaponry. The Royal Canadian Navy seems to have done the same, though they had only a small fleet of a dozen armed yachts.

The earliest reference I can find to armed yachts is a tally of yachts belonging to the Royal Yacht clubs in England in 1846, which the authors of The Royal Yacht Squadron estimate had a total of 530 vessels carrying 1500 guns. These yachts were outfitted with guns anywhere from one-and-a-half pounders to nine pounders. Some World War II era American armed yachts were outfitted with .50 caliber guns. That seem like a lot for a yacht, but, as previously mentioned, my yacht knowledge is nil. So, you know, what do I know? Scholars suggest that arming yachts was a remnant of the days of privateers and piracy — which will come full circle later.

I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find out how many of the 700 vessels of the Little Ships of Dunkirk were armed yachts because I felt like that would give me a better grasp of exactly what I was looking at, as far as the size of the vessels. Most of what I found was about the historical accuracy of the use of the Little Ships in the film Dunkirk. I could find only one mention of armed yachts, a record of the sinking of the HMS Narcissus off the coast of Dunkirk on 1 June, 1940.

I can find no information on the Royal Yacht Squadron’s website about whether their vessels are still armed, nor whether vessels belonging to the Royal Yacht Squadron may still be commandeered in times of war.

There is actual art dedicated to armed yachts, in case that sort of thing interests you.

Finally, armed yachts are not a historical blip, though obviously there’s a different context for arming yachts these days.

I just wrote a whole lesson about something I still don’t understand at the end of it. This a. must be how astro- and theoretical physicists feel all the time and b. is why I was never good at bullshitting research papers. This post feels like it’s five separate posts that only vaguely connect together, and nothing is clear at all. This is the point in writing where I’d scrap the entire thing and go back over the research to find a different topic.


Lesson #33: Sailing Ships

I have a strange fascination with boats. Which is ironic since I do not do well on them. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do fine with rowboats, canoes, motorboats and other small freshwater craft. I get terrible seasickness on ocean vessels. But I have an inherent need for big water. I am a paradox, what can I say?

Some day (at the rate I’m going when I’m 118), I’m going to retire to a fishing village in Nova Scotia and spend my retirement watching the boats and eating fresh lobster. And cod if the fishery ever comes back.

Right. Boats.

There are a bunch of terms I know* as far as sailing ships go, but I don’t know what they mean. So the time has come to look them up.

Barque: A ship with three or more masts that are rigged with square sails on all except the mizzenmast.

Barquentine: A ship with three or more masts rigged with square sails only on the foremast.

Brig: A two-masted ship with square sails on both masts.

Brigantine: A tw0-masted ship with square sails only on the foremast.

Clipper: modified super fast schooners…multiples masts rigged with square sails and raked bows used most often in trade in the mid-19th century.

Cutter: A ship with a single mast rigged with two or more foresails.

Frigate: A three-masted, square-rigged warship.

Galleon: A trading and war ship with three to five masts and square sails, except for a lateen sail on the mizzenmast.

Ketch: A two-masted ship in which the forward mast is taller than the mizzen and the mizzenmast is ahead of the steering position.

Schooner: A ship that has two or more masts of equal height (though the mizzenmast may be slightly higher than the rest.)

Sloop: A single-masted ship that has a foresail forward of the the mast.

Yawl: A ship similar to the ketch except that the mizzenmast is behind the steering position.

*Should I admit that a lot of it comes from the music of Great Big Sea?

Lesson #1: The Shipping Forecast

I was putzing around on the BBC Radio webpage this evening because its player volume control goes to 11 (yes!) and I noticed there’s such a thing as a shipping forecast, so I thought I’d listen to it and see what it said.

Here’s what I got: Southerly 4 or 5 becoming variable 3 or 4, moderate or rough decreasing slight or moderate, mainly fair, moderate or good.

Here’s what I understood: Southerly.

Here’s what I learned in my follow-up research: the report breaks down into layman’s terms as, “southerly winds at Beaufort force 4 (moderate breeze) or 5 (fresh breeze) changing direction at a force of 3 (gentle breeze) or 4, seas moderate (1.25 – 2.5 m) or rough (2.5 – 4 m) decreasing to slight (0.5 – 1.25 m) or moderate, weather mainly fair, visibility moderate (2-5 nautical miles) or good (over 5 nautical miles).

Other notes: If winds veer, they shift in a clockwise direction, if they are backing, they’re moving counterclockwise.

The areas sometimes have fun names like Viking (off the coast of Norway).

The Beaufort force scale has 12 levels, the highest being hurricane force.

Here’s all the terminology except for the one I most want to know the meaning of, which is “losing its identity.