The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 22 Mar 1853

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p.2 How a Ship Is Launched

When a ship is building, her keel reels on a series of blocks of wood placed about three feet apart, and she is supported on either side by pieces of timber, one end of each "shore," as these timbers are technically termed, resisting on the ground, and the other "shoring up" the ship, or in other words, keeping her from falling over sideways. The ordinary practice in building ships is to place the stern next the water, and the head of the ship up the yard, so that the vessel shall go stern foremost in the river. When the launching time comes, the ship requires to be released from all these supports and barriers, and it may interest the country reader at least to explain how this is done.

First of all, large beams of timbers are placed lengthwise under each side of the ship, with a slight inclination toward the water end of them. These timbers are bolted to blocks of wood in the ground, and they have other pieces of timber bolted to the sides of them, so as to form "ways", as the shipwrights say, or grooves, by which the ship is to move into the water. The next process is to place another beam of timber on each of these "ways," and to bolt smaller pieces of timber upon them, which are fitted, but not fastened, to the ship's side, so as to form a kind of cradle in which the vessel is to rest, which goes with the water. The beams of timber fixed to the blocks are plentifully greased with soft soap and oil, to make the vessel move smoothly, and when all is in readiness, the supporters are knocked away, and the ship glides into the water.

The ship is liberated by striking down her "dagger" which are the last hindrances to taking the water. There is a "dagger," so called, at each end of the ship. It is just at the head of the launching timbers, and is simply a square piece of wood, placed in a slanting direction, one end of which rests against the fixed beams of timber which lie under the vessel, and the other end is placed against the cradle on which the ship rests. It is an honorable distinction in a ship-builder's yard to knock down the daggers, and it is the custom to award the honor to the two oldest apprentices. Underneath the dagger a small piece of wood is placed on an end, to prevent the dagger falling of itself, and a chisel is also driven into the wood to keep the "tom," as it is called, in its place. These are alike on both sides of the ship, and, as it has been stated, it is the privilege of the two oldest apprentices to take charge of the department.

The real interest of a ship launch is a brief but exciting thing. It commences when the men lie along under the vessel to "give her a rally," that is to drive in a number of wedges to ease the ship off the blocks under her keel. A couple of hundred men may be about the ship in this work, and at the voice of the leading man, every one of them strikes his wedge, at the same instant gradually raising the ship, and producing a sound like muffled thunder. The centre blocks are then removed, and the shores taken away from the sides of the ship. The ship is now ready for launching, and the master shipbuilder and his friends stand at the head of the vessel.

The men place themselves down each side of the ways, the signal, "Out oakum," is given, and immediately the oakum, which has kept the dust from the grease, is removed. "All out, sir," is the response. "Out keys," is the next command, and as quickly as in the former case, the men remove some small pieces of wood, which have been placed down the ways to assure them that all continues true. - Again the men respond, "All out sir," and they hasten from the sides of the ship. The whole interest is now in the daggers, both of which the master shipwright sees. "Out chisels," "Out small toms," "Down daggers," follow in rapid order, and the ship is freed from her restraints. A bottle of wine from the fair lady breaks on the ship's head, she glides down the ways, a big wave rises as she touches the water, enlarging itself as she gets off the stocks, and the ship is launched.

-Oswego March 18 - propeller Ogdensburgh and St. Lawrence loading for Canada.

-death of Capt. James Sinclair, 72 years old.

Lake St. Clair - (repeat)

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22 Mar 1853
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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pd [more details]
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 22 Mar 1853