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    The Development and Design of Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    Encyclopedia Arctica 9: Transportation and Communications

    001      |      Vol_IX-0149                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transportation and Communications

    (H. I. Chapelle)


            Vessels designed and built for work in the arctic ice were first de–

    veloped from the Greenland, Spitsbergen, and Novaya Zemlya whale and seal

    fisheries some time before 1700. The lack of early shipbuilding records

    makes it impossible to set an exact date, however. Old pictures, showing

    vessels in the ice, survive from the sixteenth century and indicate that the

    dangers of the ice pack were well known to seamen. Undoubtedly the pioneer–

    ing vessels in these fisheries were converted merchantmen, but the seamen

    who survived entering the ice in these vessels would soon desire better craft.

    The best mode of tracing the early development of the ships is by referring

    to the numerous drawings and paintings of whaling scenes before 1800.

            On the evidence of the ships shown in the early whaling pictures it is

    apparent that the converted merchantman was replaced very slowly, between

    1650 and 1725, by vessels designed and built for arctic work. The indication

    that ships were being built and fitted out particularly for use in the Arctic

    is evident in these pictures by the gradual suppression of decoration and

    beakheads; the addition of numerous wales or guards and of sheathing; and

    finally, the appearance of many ships with round sterns, no projecting cut–

    waters, and without the high quarterdecks so popular with early shipbuilders.

    However, the square-stern vessel was never wholly replaced, for it was found

    that a strong hull could be built with this form and the greater room that it

    provided, compared with the sharp or round-stern hull, had great attraction.

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

            The types of ships most used in the early arctic fisheries, as identi–

    fied from the early pictures, were "pinks" and "flyboats." These were really

    sharp-stern vessels, very full and round in the quarters, that were developed

    by the Dutch and Scandinavians and adopted by the English, French, and other

    Europeans. A few pictures indicate a type known as the "bark," which had a

    counter stern instead of the lower square transom stern found in the majority

    of ships of the period. The popularity of the round stern ships was undoubt–

    edly based upon their strength, for the stern was the weakest part of the

    structure of wooden ships of the then common types. The "pinks" and "fly–

    boats" had been developed for use in the Baltic and North seas, where they

    had met some ice as well as severe weather, and so the types had some inher–

    ent advantages that made them the natural choice of European whalers and sealers.

            The "Greenland" fisheries, centered on Spitsbergen which was then sup–

    posed to be a part of Greenland, were very popular and profitable; the hunt

    spread into Davis Strait and Hudson Strait late in the seventeenth century.

    American whaling in these waters began as early as 1732. Most of the American

    arctic vessels were large sloops, probably about 60 feet on deck. Gradually

    schooners, brigs, and ships from the colonies entered the arctic fisheries.

            Except for a few European vessels, the arctic whaling and sealing craft

    were small for their time; 60 feet to nearly 100 feet length. It was found

    that the small vessels were handy and readily worked in the ice floes, and

    their light draft was useful in a poorly charted sea. Their cargoes were very

    valuable and even the smallest vessel could carry enough to make the arctic

    venture profitable. Most of the cargoes were capable of being closely and

    compactly stowed, whether oil or furs, and this added to the advantage of the

    small vessel. Of course, the risks to the shipowner were great and the smaller

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    investment necessary in a small ship, and in maintaining the small crew re–

    quired by such a vessel, was another factor in the arctic fisheries.

            Bering Strait was first passed by a whaler in 1844, after which the

    western arctic whale fishery became the most important. The arctic whaling

    and sealing fleet of the United States, in 1846, consisted of 678 ships and

    bark-rigged vessels, 35 brigs and 44 schooners, all valued above $21,000,000

    at the time. By 1850 there were 736 vessels of all rigs in the arctic fish–

    eries. A decline then set in, and the number of arctic whalers and sealers

    gradually diminished; the final blow came in the early years of the present

    century when the commercial demand for whalebone ended. Arctic whaling has

    not been practised commercially since. Sealing, however, has continued until

    the present time; the Pacific grounds having been first nearly exhausted and

    then finally closed to seal hunters, the last sealing activity has been on the

    east coast of Greenland. The American sealing industry, which had been center–

    ed at New London, Conn., had not only exploited the eastern arctic waters but

    also the Antarctic; but when these areas were exhausted the rise of the Bering

    Strait sealing grounds caused San Francisco to become the center of the in–

    dustry. New Bedford, Mass., had been the center of the whale fishery in the

    east; now the rise of the wes tern arctic whale fishery made San Francisco

    the headquarters of the whaling fleet.

            The whaling and sealing vessels engaged in some arctic trading as well,

    and until comparatively recent times it was impossible to distinguish trader

    and fisherman by either their vessels or their intent. Some of the vessels

    were ordinary seagoing craft, even built for South Sea mission work or as

    yachts, and adapted to northern waters merely through the addition of sheathing;

    others were specially built to withstand the ice pack as well as possible. They

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    carried sufficient food, fuel, and gear to permit wintering, yet had capacity

    enough for their cargoes in addition. Each ship had to be independent of all

    support for two or even three years in extreme cases; only the Greenland fish–

    eries were worked on a one-year boyage, as a general rule. In the long season

    when whaling and sealing were impossible, the vessels could often trade very

    profitably with the Eskimos.

            The ice-working ability of a sailing vessel was necessarily limited and

    any real ice-breaking characteristic was unobtainable. Therefore the aim in

    the design of the arctic whaler and sealer, as long as sail alone was the motive

    power, was to produce a very strong ship capable of withstanding ice conditions,

    yet one of relatively large capacity in proportion to her size. She also had

    to be as good a sailer and sea boat as these requirements would permit, to enable

    the ship to make reasonably quick and safe passages to and from the arctic

    grounds. Unfortunately these requirements did not allow a hull-form that was

    suitable for withstanding the extreme ice pressure. The whalers and sealers,

    therefore, tried to do their work so that they would not be caught by floe ice

    and "squeezed." When they were caught, they often suffered losses; sometimes

    large fleets of American whalers were lost in the Arctic, particularly in the

    western Arctic. In 1871, 32 ships were lost and, in 1876, 20 were crushed in

    two memorable disasters. Hardly a season passed in which one or more vessels

    were not destroyed by the ice or by grounding.

            The inherent difficulty of building an ice-working ship having seaworthiness,

    capacity, and sailing qualities was fully recognized by both arctic whaler and

    sealers. They planned their vessels, therefore, to be strong enough to stand

    the shock of ramming ice floes and fitted them so, particularly through hard–

    wood sheathing, that ice would not cut through the sides. To avoid being crushed

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    they had their sides strengthened, but their hulls being of unsuitable form

    to withstand extreme pressure, they invariably attempted to utilize some safe

    harbor in the Arctic in which to spend the winter. If caught at sea in the

    ice they usually left their ships and lived ashore, carrying supplies with

    them. This was done before the movement of the ice floes in the spring made

    passage over the ice hazardous and before the ships were liable to damage. If

    the ship was not crushed they usually succeeded in returning to her but some–

    times they vessel became derelict. When ships were destroyed their crews

    usually escaped to other vessels, sometimes only after laborious and perilous

    boat voyages alongshore through floating ice to open water, or to some winter


            Unlike the whaling vessel, the sealer often roamed far from the known

    fishing grounds, as he was part fisherman and part trader to a far greater

    degree than the whaleman. The sealing vessel was therefore a small vessel,

    usually, light in draft and strongly built. The sealer tried to find a safe

    winter harbor well in advance of the closing of navigation and, if possible,

    where there were Eskimos with whom trade could be carried on during the closed

    season. Only in the eastern Arctic were large vessels employed in sealing;

    these were European vessels whose size was determined by their trans-Atlantic

    passages and long vouages. The Labrador sealing still practiced has been car–

    ried on with such vessels, though now they are operated out of Canadian ports.

    Only the East Greenland sealing has remained in European hands.

            The American sealing vessels were sloops in colonial times but the

    schooner soon became popular. Certain characteristics were soon developed in

    the designs of schooners for the sealing trade brought about not only by geo–

    graphical elements in their employment but also by economic factors. When a

    sealing schooner was built, particularly during the early nineteenth century,

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    she was designed and built not only to work in ice if necessary but also to

    make long voyages to the sealing ground. When built she might first go to

    the grounds off Cape Horn or on the southwest coast of South America one voy–

    age, and the next she might try Hudson Bay, Davis Strait, or Baffin Bay. Long

    voyages in the small vessels suitable for some of the sealing grounds made it

    desirable that the vessel sail very well; the stormy seas she had to meet made

    seaworthiness most important. Since the sealer would enter unexplored or un–

    charted waters, light draft was also very important.

            New London having the ownership of most of the sealing fleet in this

    period, the sealing schooner models developed here to the highest degree as

    early as 1790. Figure I shows the lines of a typical sealing schooner of the

    New London type, of the early nineteenth century. She is what was termed a

    "pilot-boat" model, since she resembled the pilot-boat schooners that then

    Characterized American ports — she differed from them sharply in proportions,

    however. The sealing schooner was marked by great beam and small depth in

    proportion to her length; she had, as a result, less rise in her bottom than

    would be found in pilot-boat schooners of her time. The sealer carried a very

    large rig, consisting of the usual fore-and-aft sails of the pilot-boat schoon–

    er (main, fore, jib, fore staysail, jib topsail, main gaff topsail, and main–

    topmast staysail) and a square course and topsail on her foremast. She also

    had some light sails when sent to the Cape Horn sealing grounds, to make her

    passage through the Doldrums and Trades as rapid as possible. On her voyage out

    she earned nothing and represented outlay only, so the shorter the passage the

    sooner she began to make a return on the owner's investment. The plan shown

    was redrawn from a French drawing made in 1828 from measurements taken off one of

    these schooners. Builder's models of similar schooners are now in the Mystic

    Marine Museum, Mystic, Connecticut, and show the drawing to represent what might

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    be termed a "standard" vessel in both model and size. Few of the sealers

    of this period exceeded 70 feet in length.

            Relatively little consideration was given in these sealers to producing

    a vessel particularly suited to resisting ice pressure, for reasons that have

    been noted, but the model came nearest to producing a hull to resist crushing

    of any commercial type of craft used in arctic waters. The requirements for

    speed, power, and seaworthiness in this case produced a vessel that might

    "squeeze out" under ice pressure because of the dead rise in the very shallow

    hull used. The construction of the New London sealers was very strong; nearly

    all the timber employed in their construction was white oak and they had, in

    addition to the hull planking of oak, a strong sheathing or oak, maple, or

    beech. The sealing schooner usually carried four "skiffs" or "canoes;" these

    were light square-stern round-bottom dinghies, 15 to 17 feet long, clench plank–

    ed, and fitted to row and sail.

            This class of schooner may be considered the only distinctive model of

    sailing sealer the fishery produced; the Pacific sealers of late date were

    either converted yachts or fishing schooners, until the western arctic sealing

    degenerated into a trading venture. Then the sealing vessels became trading

    craft in fact and should be so classed.

            As long as sail power was all that was available for use in arctic work,

    a great deal of attention was given to sparring and rigging the vessels proper–

    ly. Generally speaking, the sloop and schooner rig, without any square sails,

    was considered wholly unsuitable for work in the ice. The reason was a simple

    one; the difficulty or rather, the almost impossibility, of stopping and back–

    ing a fore-and-aft-rigged vessel made working in heavy ice with such rigs im–

    practical. Therefore all arctic vessels were rigged with square sails; schooners

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    and sloops with square topsails and a large course. Brigs, ships, and barks

    were common among larger craft; the bark seems to have been the predominate

    rig, among whalers at least, after about 1800. With vessels fitted with square

    sails, it was usually possible to stop the ship when underway, or to back her

    under full control, by backing part or whole of the square sails. The vessel

    fitted with square sails, even though sloop or schooner rigged, was also well

    suited for long ocean passages where she might run long distances with fair

    winds, without the need of tacking.

            The fierce gales met with in certain arctic waters made it necessary to

    design the rigs so that sail could be reduced quickly, and spars and rigging

    had to be very strong. It was general, therefore, to find the arctic vessel

    fitted with a rather small spread of sail in proportion to her size, and re–

    straint was exercised in the fitting of light sails. Only in a few types,

    such as the New London sealing schooners, were large rigs employed; in these

    the hulls were made wide and very powerful so that the sails would not over–

    power them in strong winds. In most types the relatively snug rig led to

    sharp, narrow hulls that could be easily driven by their small sail areas.

    Such vessels usually were good sea boats, rolling deep but easily, and so

    were comfortable vessels for their crews. The good features of the narrow,

    snugly rigged vessels were finally brought to a high level in the steam power–

    ed auxiliaries built for whaling and sealing in the '70's.

            With the introduction of steamers into the sealing fishery in the East,

    the European sealers built a distinctive class of ship — low-powered auxil–

    iary barks that were on the same model as contemporary steam whalers.

    These steam sealers usually had their boilers and engines amidships, with the stack

    between fore and main masts, whereas the whalers had their engine rooms farther

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    aft and their stacks were between main and mizzen masts, leaving a large

    cargo hold amidships required by their cargo. The European sealers were

    about the same size as the American steam whalers, 150 to 180 feet long;

    most of the sealers were built in Scotland. The majority were wooden vessels

    but a few were built of wrought iron. The European sealer was employed for

    much arctic exploration work, in the '70's and '80's, and is represented by

    such craft as the Alert and the Bear , employed in American expeditions in the

    '70' and '80's, This class of ship may therefore be discussed in detail as

    exploration vessels.

            The Greenland sealing employed not only these auxiliary barks, but also

    a number of smaller craft, many owned by Scandinavians, Dutch, and Germans.

    By 1900, sealing vessels employed in East Greenland waters had developed into

    a recognizable type, much like the North Sea and Baltic steam trawlers in

    model, very strongly built. The ice conditions in this area were unusually

    severe; broken floe ice of great area often covered the sealing grounds and

    very severe storms were met along the coast. As a result, the sealers made

    no attempt to produce a stram ice-breaker and instead developed an ice-work–

    ing ship capable of nosing her way through the leads in the floes. To do this

    the ships were built with deep, almost straight stems, heavily armored, which

    could be used to pry open a narrow lead through which the vessel could pass.

    Special consideration was given to fitting the stern so that the ship could

    back in the ice without damage to either rudder or propeller.

            Low-powered steam plants were commonly installed, giving rather low speed

    to the ship, but sails were used in making long passages, in addition to using

    power. The boilers were designed to burn coal, or blubber when necessary.

    Most of these small sealing vessels were between 70 and 100 feet in length,

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    ketch-rigged with small sail area. Under power few could make over 8 knots

    in smooth water. Men who have used these vessels consider them most suitable

    for East Greenland waters; they admit, however, that the ships cannot break

    even light fjord ice with their low power. The low power used in these craft

    permits low fuel consumption; a very important factor in small vessels work–

    ing in arctic waters far from a supply base. Low-powered diesel engines came

    into use in these sealers about 1908; many sealers prefer steam since the latter

    permits greater flexibility in the fuel employed and also gives steam economic–

    ally for heating, working powerful windlasses and winches, and for de-icing

    the ship. In the small sealers wood construction is generally preferred to

    steel; the wooden hull is supposed to be less liable to damage in the ice;

    probably the relative low cost of the small wooden hull is the real factor.

            Figure 2 shows the characteristics of the East Greenland sealers, though

    the vessel is somewhat larger than usual in this class. The design was in–

    tended for a combination sealer and supply ship, to work with two smaller

    vessels, and in model and arrangement incorporated the features considered

    both desirable and necessary in these sealers. The deep and angular forefoot,

    heavily sheathed, armored, and internally dtrengthened, was desired in lieu

    of an ice-breaking bow which would allow the ship to ride out onto the ice.

    The owners believed that the ice-breaker bow would be wholly undesirable be–

    cause the ship was relatively small and so had not enough weight to break the

    hard, thick floe ice, and such a bow would not serve to nose through floating

    ice with the low-power, low-fuel consumption objective. An 850 h.p. European

    reversing diesel was to be used. The vessel is suitable for a uniflo-type

    steam plant which would probably be more economical since it would reduce the

    number of heating and power units required in the ship. Much attention was

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    given to the stern in this ship, a profile being adopted that would give the

    best backing effect in the ice without damage to the rudder, wheel, or stern

    structure. This was accomplished by constructing the sharp stern very strong–

    ly and armoring in the same manner as the bow, building the rudder extremely

    strong, and setting both rudder and propeller well under the hull. The head

    of the rudder was recessed into the stern deadwood, when the rudder was center–

    ed, as a further precaution in the protection of this member. Propeller was

    made of cast nickel steel and the tail shaft was high tensile cold-rolled

    steel. The shafting was supported at each end of the propeller aperture by

    heavy bearings. The construction is indicated in a section in the figure,

    which shows the very heavy framing and planking. At all bulkheads cross-brac–

    ing was employed to support the bilges and sides, in addition to heavy hanging

    and lodging knees. The frames were closely spaced and the spaces between them,

    in the bottom, was chocked solid and caulked to give a solid timber bottom out

    to the turn of the bilges. Forward deckhouse had steel sides; an "ice bridge"

    was placed on its roof for conning the ship in the ice. All winches and wind–

    lasses were enclosed in either deck houses or trunks, with steam lines to pre–

    vent freezing. Water tanks were fitted with steam coils for the same purpose.

            An attempt was made to form the ship so that she could "squeeze out" when

    caught in a pressure area in the ice. Whether or not this design has suffic–

    ient flare to the topside to permit this cannot be determined, the amount of

    flare being limited by the need of having a seaworthy ship in open water. By

    employing a slack bilge the owners hoped that the easy heeling of the ship

    would add to the effectiveness of the flaring topsides in a "squeeze." In

    order to save fuel and to help steady the ship, she was rigged as a three–

    masted schooner with leg-of-mutton sails and a large jib, giving sufficient

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    area to permit sailing in strong winds, at least. There was no requirement

    for shallow draft and, with the sharp model, the hull had to be deep to obtain

    the required capacity.

            The construction of this vessel was extremely heavy; frames and plank

    were of oak and sheathing, outer keel, rudder blade, outer stem and post, and

    shoe were of greenheart. The interior longitudinals were pine. All bulkheads

    were double-diagonal planked with convas between the skins. Steel diagonal

    strapping was used on the outside of the frames, 5 to 81. Steel border-angles

    were fitted to secure the bulkheads to the ceiling tightly. Four bulkheads

    were employed. The engines and tanks were hea ily shored to prevent movement

    when the vessel hit ice. In general, the ship was very plainly fitted, but

    all quarters and working spaces were well insulated. Cargo winches were of

    ten tons capacity. Much attention was given to pumping systems; in addition

    to the usual hand pumps placed inside the deckhouse over the engine room,

    two independently driven power pumps were required, as well as one driven by

    the main engine. The power pumps could also be used as fire pumps. The use

    of the diesel necessitated installation of a cooling system that would permit

    accurate temperature control. A small water condenser was also required. On

    the whole, the design seems to represent a more complete vessel than was usual

    in these sealers; however, the ship was supposed, to incorporate the elements

    of design, fitting, and construction that experience had shown to be most de–

    sirable in the work, with due regard to cost. A vessel of similar model could

    be built of steel, with some modification, at less cost today but, in spite

    of this, the sealers appear to prefer wooden hulls.

            The first sailing whalers designed for arctic work were characterized

    by strength, retaining seaworthiness and reasonable sailing qualities. On the

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    eastern whaling grounds the area had been known long enough to be reasonably

    well charted by the time shipbuilding records permit examination of the de–

    sign of such craft. Hence, perhaps, the vessels built for the eastern arctic

    whaling were little different in model from the whalers used on the open sea.

    But, with the opening of the Bering Strait whaling grounds, uncharted waters

    became a consideration and so a modified model of whaleship came into existence.

    Figure 3 is the lines of two whaling barks built in the United States in 1854–

    58 for the new fishery. One of the vessels built from this model was the Gay

    Head , a successful arctic whaler that was lost in the great arctic disaster off

    Point Belcher, Alaska, in 1871, when 31 other vessels were crushed.

            The model differs from the older whaling ships in being relatively wider

    and shallower. The reduction in draft gave greater margin of safety in the

    unknown Arctic Sea, of course. Otherwise the design showed no important changes

    in hull-form. The very raking bow may have given some slight ice-breaking

    power; however, this appears to have been accidental rather than intentional

    in the design. Obviously, sail gave insufficient power to allow ice-breaking

    in any but thin ice; for this the rather upright stem, well armored, served

    well enough. The plan will serve to indicate the general design of many arctic

    whalers, however; the sailing vessels were commonly between 100 and 140 feet

    in length, usually bark rigged, and built with a good deal of consideration

    to handiness and sailing qualities. Though heavily constructed, they depended

    upon ice sheathing to a great extent for protection, and so their safety was

    more a matter of management than of structure and model when on the arctic whal–

    ing grounds.

            The sailing vessel was found to be seriously handicapped in arctic work,

    as her movement, and therefore her safety, depended upon favorable winds. As

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    more experience was gained in the western Arctic, the advantages of steam

    whalers became apparent. Some of the European steam whalers and sealers

    employed in the eastern Arctic were purchased by American owners for the

    western arctic fishery, but legal and economic factors made this unsatisfac–

    tory. Beginning in the 1870's, American steam whalers were built both in

    Maine and California for the Bering Sea and arctic fisheries. These were

    wooden vessels, 140 to 180 feet long, with small steam power and full sail

    rig. The vessels were on a rather standardized model, sharp-ended and with

    much rise to the bottom, raking flaring bows, and light round sten; a good

    example is shown in Figure 4. This was a design prepared at Bath, Maine, in

    1880, supposedly for the ship Belvidere built that year, the Mary and Helen

    launched in 1882, and the Navarch built in 1892, but the customhouse records

    show these vessels differed in dimensions from those of the plan. It is pos–

    sible that the ships were lengthened in building; the other dimensions given

    by the customhouse are insufficiently reliable to be of much value as a guide

    in checking the identification. The sharp, deep model of these whaling steam–

    ers is well shown in the plan; they were designed to sail fast and steam well

    with small power. It was learned by the time these vessels were built that a

    sharp-lined hull could steam in heavy weather with relatively small engine

    power; here again fuel consumption governed the amount of power placed in these

    ships. The whaling steamer Orca , built at Sen Francisco in 1882, on a model

    very much like that shown in Figure 4, had a nominal horsepower of 280, though

    she measured 177 feet in length, 32 feet 6 inches beam outside of sheathing,

    18 feet-11 inches depth in hold, and 462.39 tons, net.

            These steamers usually had two-bladed propellers which could be brought

    in line with the sternpost in sailing; some had propellers that could be lifted

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    up into a well in the stern for sailing. Many of the ships had telescoping

    smokestacks as well, that could be lowered out of the way of sails and rigging.

    The arctic steam whalers usually carried from five to seven whaleboats, each

    28 feet long. The use of iron knees, diagonal iron strapping in the sides, and

    extensive armoring of stem, sides along the waterline, and around the stern

    made these vessels very strong and well protected from the ice, though their

    form made them vulnerable to great ice pressure. Some of the vessels had

    pilothouses, others did not. The crews were usually housed in deckhouses, as

    in most arctic ships.

            The construction is shown in a typical cross-section in the drawing and

    requires no explanation. By the time these whaling steamers were being built

    experience with both commercial and exploration vessels in the Arctic had

    taught good methods of structural design for ice-working ships built of wood.

    The use of iron knees in place of the earlier wooden members had given more

    cargo space but had created a new problem; the iron knees were affected by

    frost. This was solved by sheathing the iron knees with an insulation of tarred

    felt and wood sheathing.

            The type of vessel shown in Figure 4 not only represented the final de–

    velopment of the arctic steam whaling ship but also fairly represents the model

    used in the large eastern sealing steamers of the same period. The variations

    in hull-form in these ships were minor; most did not have the hollow garboards

    at the keel, shown in Figure 4, which was a source of weakness in grounding or

    working in heavy floating ice; instead they had a rather flat bottom. There

    were some differences in rake of bows, profile, and form of sterns and degree

    of fullness in the entrance and run, as might be expected among ships built by

    different builders. A good deal of ingenuity was expended in producing these

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    ships, so that they might be cheap and efficient; some had feathering pro–

    pellers (apparently intended in the design shown in Figure 4) and many arrange–

    ments were made to allow easy removal and replacement of the rudder. Cargo

    was made as compact as was possible, many ships having a steam "digester" to

    dry out oil, and bailers for packaging whalebone. Stoves and other heating

    systems received much attention; some of the whalers were better fitted out

    than contemporary government-fitted exploration vessels.

            In considering the designs used in these commercial vessels built for

    arctic use, the fundamental limitations placed on their design should not be

    overlooked. The first of these was the need of the ships being self-contained

    for long periods of time; hence the small power given their engines so that

    the relatively small quantity of fuel they could carry would suffice. Another

    limitation was the need for cargo capacity above and beyond the coal and sup–

    plies for crew they had to carry. Still another factor was the requirement

    that they be good sea boats, with a fair turn of speed, so that their voyages

    to and from the whaling grounds would be both safe and short; the trips out

    and back produced no profit. The necessity of great strength led to heavy

    weight-displacement, with a decrease in dead-weight capacity in given dimen–

    sions. With respect to this, there were practical limits, learned by long ex–

    perience, on the size of ship intended for arctic whaling and sealing. Too

    big a ship was unhandy in the ice, required too many in the crew — too many

    mouths to feed — and was too expensive to build and fit out for the fisheries.

            It can be seen that the purpose in the design of these vessels was not

    to produce the ideal ice-working ship, or a ship for but a single purpose,

    (as in the modern icebreakers for example); rather the objective was to turn

    out a vessel that would meet many conflicting requirements to the best advantage

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    commercially. While the steam whalers were able to penetrate the Arctic

    farther than the old sailing vessels (the steamers often wintering as far

    east as the Mackenzie), they still were subject to loss in the ice as had

    been the earlier craft. By the end of the whaling in the Arctic, the design

    of ships to "squeeze out" under ice pressure was understood and it was also

    well known that such vessels were not suitable as carriers for commercial work,

    not only because of their form but also because so much of their displacement

    was required to carry their massive construction.

            The long survival of sail in arctic commercial ships requires acknowledg–

    ment; sail was not retained because there were doubts as to the reliability

    of the steamers' engines but rather because the use of sails permitted fuel

    saving and allowed the employment of small engines and boilers. The little

    space that thus must be given up to motive power allowed more of the hull to

    be utilized in cargo holds and for supplies. While there appear to have been

    no doubts about the reliability of engines and boilers, many arctic navigators

    looked upon the propeller as a source of weakness. It might readily be so

    damaged in heavy ice as to be put out of commission, circumstances might be

    such that repairs could not be effected. The use of sails might then save the

    ship. In the years when the arctic settlements were no more than trading posts,

    the need of a ship being self-sufficient brought about the practice of sailing

    the vessels as far into the Arctic as possible and only then employing the en–

    gines. Even then the small power of the engines could be increased by using

    the sails when occasion demanded. The rig need not be large and could be made

    strong and so as to be easily repaired. The disadvantages of the use of sail,

    in possible loss of men or in injury to crew members, and in the need of train–

    ing in handling sails, were fully appreciated but were outweighed by the prac-

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels

    tical advantages of this very old mode of ship propulsion. It is because

    of these matters that, even today, there are many experienced arctic naviga–

    tors who require some sail in their vessels, particularly in small vessels

    that must work without support from supply ships or bases.

            In the examination of all vessels used in commercial work in arctic waters

    it must be remembered that the cost of the ship, and of its operation, is one

    of the factors in its survival. If the ship is so expensive in build – due

    to power, size, fitting, and specification — or is so expensive to operate —

    due to fuel consumption, mechanical repair and maintenance, or numerous crew —

    that the owners cannot show a profit, then the vessel is useless for her pur–

    pose, no matter how carefully designed she may be. It is this that makes com–

    parison between arctic commercial craft and the government-financed or pri–

    vately fitted exploring vessels impossible in a practical sense. The economic

    factor has, indeed, made the development of the arctic commercial vessels very

    slow and is the explanation of the supremacy of the wooden hull, sails, and

    stram power over the modern steel ship and diesel in this field.

            The arctic sealer and whaler are now almost matters of the past – no

    longer is it necessary to fit out such craft for a long stay in arctic waters,

    far from the support of civilization. It is only when it will be necessary

    to fit ships to meet similar requirements of use in the Arctic that the lessons

    to be drawn from a study of the designs of arctic whalers and sealers will be

    of practical value.


    H. I. Chapelle

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    EA-Trans. Chapelle: Arctic Whaling and Sealing Vessels


    Hawes, C. B. Whaling . 1924, Doubleday Page & Co., Garden City, N.Y.

    Hohman, Elmo P. The American Whaleman . 1928, Longmans Green, New York.

    Jenkins, J. T. A History of the Whale Fisheries . 1921, Witherby, London.

    Starbuck, Alexander A History of the American Whaling Industry to the Year 1876 .

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