George F. Campbell

The neophyte shipmodeller`s jackstay

Sir Walter Raleigh, writing about the end of the 16th century, mentioned the capstan as being a recent innovation, but there is evidence of its use some time earlier than this. It would be a simple tree trunk rounded off and extended to the deck below, fitted possibly with chafing battens or whelps and turned by handspikes running thru holes near the cap as in Fig. 41 A. This arrangement evolved into the familiar pattern of 41 В which was basically a four or six sided trunk faced with heavy whelps or chocks and capped by a thick heavy disc called a drumhead to take square ended capstan bars. These were fitted in naval craft larger than cutters or schooners. Large warships, 3-deckers, would have capstans doubled up one above the other on each deck. Frigate sized ships would have only the single capstan but it was frequently capable of being lowered down bodily to leave the top deck clear to stow a boat. Fig. 41 В shows 4 whelps but 6 or more, narrower ones would be in order. The drumheads were about 6' 0" diameter on 1st rate ships.

The cable was brought in by means of a messenger rope, Fig. 42, whose ends were seized together to form an endless run around two rollers at the bows and then around the capstan; it was seized to the cable by short ropes called nippers and as each nipper closed up to the capstan a boy (a nipper) would quickly unbind it, run forward and tie to the cable again as it came through the hawsehole.

When the anchor was laid out, the cable was taken around the riding bitts to hold it. Naval ships kept to capstans whilst merchant ships turned to the pump handle type of windlass, Fig. 41H. It required fewer men to operate but was very slow; maybe a couple of hours or more to bring in the anchor.

In case you come across the terms, the windlass parts consisted of two heavy side timbers (CARRICK BITTS) with long knees, to take the windlass barrel ends and a centre post called the PAWL BITT which held a gravity type pawl plate and was crowned by rocker arms to take the handles. These arms each raised a ratchet which in turn engaged and turned the windlass barrel.

The tapered windlass barrel, 4 or 6 sided, had heavy whelp chocks on each face and possibly a small warping barrel on each end. This type of windlass could be standing on the open deck or, as was common with clipper ships in mid 19th century, placed beneath an anchor deck or forecastle in which case both the CARRICK BITTS and the CENTRE PAWL BITT were carried up above the deck. The ship's bell was usually hung on the center bitt.


were fitted on merchant ships' forecastles for mooring lines as in Fig. 41C. This type, basically metal, had no spindle below decks, but a supporting pillar. Another similar type. Fig. 41ID, was a patent geared windlass. It has 2 drumheads which worked at different gear ratios.

Apart from the forecastle head capstan the latter day sailing ships had them placed about the deck in various positions including aft to work the heavier running rigging and also for mooring. These were somewhat smaller and more slender than the forecastle one and often had domed tops like Fig. 41E. In Fig. 41G is a simple deck winch on bitts, common on late 18th and 19th century ships. Small vessels often fitted them on the bowsprit bitts and sometimes used them for the anchor cable. This also evolved into the all-metal crab winch (hand) still found ashore with little difference and used afloat for running rigging or working derricks.

Don't forget, when you fit a capstan the capstan bars should be stowed handy nearby. Stow them horizontally or vertically in racks against rails or a bulkhead, or if you have a spar deck gangway like 40F they look good in circular stands around the pillars.

FIFE RAILS were at the foot of each mast, to belay certain lines most practically served from these points. Fig. 43A is a fife rail combined with bitts which have sheaves to take heavy running gear. The knees are optional. 43B is the final type of conventional fife rail on windjammers and clippers. The posts could be ornamental or plain and with timber heads above the flat rail sometimes. They were 3'sided as shown or horseshoe shaped, or as two separate rails, each side of the -mast. It was the common practice to lengthen the fife rails around the main mast and utilise them as supports for the pumps' driving crank and flywheel. The pumps were placed inside the rails. Sheaves in the stanchions are optional.

Similar leads for heavy gear can be arranged by fitting pulley blocks to a mast hoop at the base of the mast.