RECORD: Sulivan, N. A. 1951. Management of Ships Under Sail. The mariner's Mirror 37: 243-245.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned and OCRed from a photocopy provided by Gordon Chancellor by John van Wyhe, corrected by Kees Rookmaaker. RN1

NOTE: Bartholomew Sulivan (1810-1890) was 2nd Lieutenant of the second Beagle voyage.

[page] 243


The following notes were written by my grandfather, Admiral Sir Bartholomew Sulivan, and relate to the period 1832-46. I have not enough experience to know whether any of his ideas were out of the ordinary, but coming from such seamen as himself and Fitzroy, they may be worth recording. Bartholomew James Sulivan entered the Navy in 1823 through the R.N. College. He was second lieutenant of the Beagle, surveying the coast of South America, and on a voyage round the world with Charles Darwin. In 1842 he commanded H.M. Brig Philomel for survey of the Falkland Islands and Rio Plata. He also took part in the Parana campaign of 1845-46, when a combined Anglo-French squadron forced the defences at Obligado, and he piloted ships 100 miles up river to Corrientes and back, often under fire. In the Russian war of 1854-55, he commanded H.M. steam-vessels Lightning and Merlin as surveyor and pilot to the Baltic fleet; he piloted ships to Bomarsund which was captured in 1854. In 1855 he planned the bombardment of Sweaborg, and completed plans for the capture of Crondstadt, had the war continued. In 1847 he reorganized the Royal Dockyard Battalions. He was professional officer at the Board of Trade, 1857-65. Life and Letters, published by John Murray, 1896. N. A. SULIVAN

"On Beagle for five years and Philomel for four years, in the stormy regions of South America, through great care, and a thorough system established by Captn Fitzroy it is a singular fact that no accident of a serious kind occurred. One spar only was carried away during the nine years, and that through a defect, and a fore brace running through a man's hand in a squall. Not one man fell from aloft, not one single sail was ever split, and hardly a rope carried away. Even in the constant changes of wind in heavy gales and squalls near Cape Horn there was not a single instance of being caught by the sudden change, or taken aback, a careful watch on the Baromr and the weather, with the first change of the wind, being sufficient to insure going on the other tack in time to meet the change. It was laid down as a rule that no vessel was ever taken aback by shift of a gale, or by a squall, except through the neglect of the officer in charge, and the result certainly proved this to be the case.

Though many things were done with more care than usual, both vessels were very smart & could beat all they met at everything. The following are some of the useful rules acted on.

Except going in and out of harbour never have topsail or T-gall. sheets close home, but sufficiently slack to allow a few inches for play of the yards. This saves the great strain on the sheets and saves the rope from wear as well as from the frequent carrying away; especially t-g. sheets: and the less gear is strained when not absolutely necessary, the better it can [be] depended on when an immergency requires severe carrying on, which both these brigs did very often.

When weather allows use the helm in helping the men to handle sails if taken in blowing hard. This is especially of use in getting a jib gathered in easily. In reefing topsails even in fine weather check the lee lower braces well if on a wind or nearly on a wind. It allows topsail braces to be hauled in easily, and reef tackles easily hauled out. It also makes the hoisting more easy, and well repays the trouble of bracing up again after the sails arc set.

In taking in 3rd & 4th reefs always lay the yards & get the reef tackles out, & all ready for laying out, before the men go aloft. For close reefing case the sheets freely, so as to get reef tackles out, and buntlines well up, easily. For a third reef also ease the sheets a little, and do not have them quite as close home as before; for a close reef leave them two or three feet off.

In furling any sail blowing hard lay it so as to keep it very slightly aback. The greatest danger is through its being allowed to blow up before all. The helm may be of great help in doing this when men are on the yard.

In gale regions where reefed courses are likely to be wanted keep double reef pennants rove through second reef cringles; hook on top burtons to these and haul them close out to a taut reef band, whenever a second reef is taken in, before the men go aloft; they have then only to secure earings and beckets as fast as they can, without a moments delay.

In the heaviest weather never lay a vessel to under after sail, but if possible keep her moving through the water sufficiently to steer. A double reefed Foresail with a main staysail and main trysail will generally keep a vessel with good steerage way. Most seas are shipped through a vessel having too little head sail & so falling off& coming to, instead of being kept by the helm about six or seven points & only falling off or coming up a point or two.

In setting stud sails it is a common mistake to be rousing out a tack, perhaps over a brace block, before hoisting the sail; and often this causes the yard to go before the leach of the topsail, & perhaps a slip rope is used to prevent this, which is a lubberly proceeding. If the sail is run up at once within three of four feet, there is less trouble in getting the tack out & the yard cannot get before the leach of the topsail; and the sail will be set in half the time.

If a vessel is taken aback whether in moderate or bad weather never try to get a square mainsail up first as it binds against the mast & shrouds, & only loses time. By bracing round the after yards at once, easing off the tack and sheet, directly it lifts the clewgarnets can be hauled up easily.

During those nine years three or four boats were constantly at work in very stormy regions, and, in Beagle, often away for weeks deeply laden going over hundreds of miles of coast but in neither vessel had we a single boat capsized or swamped. This accident generally happens through neglect, often through lowering a sail to reef in a seaway. In reeling or shaking out a reef one man only should ever go to leeward to tie or untie points. & in reefing, the halliards should only be settled sufficiently to shift the tack and sheet, the sail should then be hoisted again, & then one man tie the points to leeward.

In running before a sea in a boat, if difficult to steer, take two or three knots in the grapnell rope, and pay it out astern. I have even towed a small anchor before a heavy sea in a whale boat, difficult to steer from the camber of keel. There is no boat so safe to lower when going fast as a stern boat if hung with single pennants and the tackles unhooked. I have had it repeatedly in every ship for many years & never knew it fail. The pennants should be short so as to be at the bare end before touching the water and then letting go both when one of the men gives the word, they unreeve & go with the boat. An iron stropped block with a pin to put through the two ends over the davit so as to keep it fixed in an upright position ensures the pennant running freely. I have seen a stern boat down nearly as soon as the life buoy when going 9 knots."

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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