Sunday, 14 July 2013

Where's the Galley?

I've been writing an historical novel set in the seventeenth century.  The majority of action happens on a typical cargo ship of the era.  I thought it would be easy:  read a few books, trawl the Internet and hey presto I'd have the layout ready for my characters to interact.

No.  It turns out that 'typical' and 'standard' were not words in our shipbuilding ancestors' vocabularies.  They kind of played it by ear, following the last build that must have worked 'cause it didn't sink when they launched it.  No wonder sailors were superstitious.

There were design rules, well, more guidelines for hull shape and rigging and I may go into that in another blog (never fear, I will never go too technical), but internally it was pot luck.  Remembering of course, national differences too.
Good examples of ships, a little early but still applicable are the Mary Rose (the hulk of which is in Portsmouth, England) or the Golden Hind (one replica in London and another in Brixham, Devon).   The Mayflower (replica in Plymouth, MA) is much closer to the time period.

Right, so if you read most books or visit websites or even visit some of these ships (well worth it), they will tell you because of the risk of fire the galley was built in the lowest part of the ship, often known as the orlop deck.  This was where the stone ballast was laid to stop the ship turning turtle when a breeze got up.
It makes perfect sense, place your galley on the stones that won't be set alight while cooking.  Galley cooking equipment is very heavy being brick surrounds supporting large metal pots and so it helps keep the ship stable.  David Childs, in Tudor Sea Power, describes wood burning cauldrons/galley range on the ballast.  In The Galleon by Peter Kirsch confirmed the same thing.  On the Mary Rose they found the remains of the Galley exactly there.  There's your proof, brilliant, case closed, job done.

 So why is this photo, of a model in the Dorset County Museum, showing the galley as far from the orlop as possible without sticking it up a mast?

Model of the Mary and John circa 1630
Close-up of Galley region.
 If you look at cutaway illustrations of the Mayflower, a similar era vessel, the galley is in the same position.

The model is not wrong.  That lovely fireproof ballast is where all the water that doesn't drain over the sides gathers.  On a long voyage that water grows stale adding to that the fact that the animals on board didn't take trips to the heads when they needed to relieve themselves and stale water is worse than you an think.   It could end up stinking like an open sewer.

Old salts knew that if somewhere stank to high heaven, it probably wasn't a healthy place to prepare food so it would be moved.

Also the galley, being the only place to have a fire aboard, was the only place sailors could dry out their clothes or have a smoke.  They tended to congregate down there and Masters of ships are never happy if the bulk of their crew are out of sight.

So where did I put the galley?

I put it roughly amidships one deck up from the orlop.  My Master wanted to keep the ship stable, he had cargo he could keep lower, but didn't fancy having the galley as high as the Mayflower or the Mary and John.

Useful Links
Mayflower II
The Mayflower Steps, Plymouth, UK - cutaways of the ship
Mary Rose Museum
Guide to the Ship. Pick 'Cook' and learn about the galley

Richard Schlecht, a Brilliant Illustrator, who has done a great cutaway of the Mayflower, you have to search for it though.

Golden Hind, Brixham, Devon
Golden Hinde II, London


Useful Books
Tudor Sea Power by David Childs
The Galleon by Peter Kirsch

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