The British Navy during the 17th Century

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The ship of the line was the last of the sailing wooden warships. A ship of the line is a ship that fit the standard of a ship deemed suitable to sail in the line of battle. It evolved during the 17th century, and significant advancements were made during the Anglo-Dutch wars. By 1700, the ship of the line reached the form it would retain until wooden sailing ships were done away with entirely in the 1830s. It was during this era that the English grew to become a great naval power through the use of the ship of the line.

Every aspect of a ship was debated by shipwrights, the men whose job it was to both design and build ships, in order to create the quickest and most maneuverable ship possible. One very important aspect to maneuverability was the keel to beam ratio. The keel of a ship is the longest plank running along the center of the ship’s underside from front to back. The frame of the ship was built upon the keel. This plank was typically made of elm because of its durability when immersed in salt water for extensive periods. The beam of a ship is the width of the ship, from port to starboard at the widest point. A ship with a high keel to beam ratio was very long and although it would be able to house more guns along its broadside, it would also be less maneuverable. It was determined that the arguably “best” keel to beam ratio wavered between 2.5:1 and 3:1. Depth was a second factor important to a ship’s design. If a ship was deeper, then there was more material above water for gun placement. If ships were shallow, it would be difficult to build the triple-decker ships that were popular later in the 17th century. This is why the Dutch did not build very many triple-decker ships; the coast off the Netherlands is very shallow. It was also during the 17th century that the steering wheel was invented, although it is difficult to credit a particular country because not many records of ships were kept. Before the steering wheel, ships were steered by a...
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