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Artifact of the Month: Chainplate

Terry defines a chainplate and describes its function aboard a sailing ship.

Author: Terry Williams, Conservator

Batavia rigging
Batavia rigging, with chainplates attaching deadeyes to the hull

Have you ever looked at a modern-day sailboat and been awed by the technological advancements that have made sailing the adventure it is today? Or considered the humble beginnings of sail?  

The Age of Sail, when sailing ships ruled the seas, lasted roughly from the 16th to the mid-19th century. It is bracketed by the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 to the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862, when the steam-powered ironclad CSS Virginia destroyed the sailing ships USS Cumberland and USS Congress. The former being the last sea battle with an oar-propelled galley and the latter, the beginning of the reign of coal-powered ships.

Seafaring cultures built and rigged their vessels using available materials and traditional methods. The starting point for sailing craft was the single square-shaped sail, set on a single mast or pole-framed structure. Over time, travel between distant ports would allow an exchange of boat-building and rigging techniques. Competition gave rise to newer ship designs, building methods and higher, more complex rigs. When practically applied to a wooden boat, these designs created very large ships that required several masts and sails to provide thrust. As sailing vessels evolved, the number of possible rigging configurations became virtually endless.

Chainplate from site 31CR314

All this leads to our evidence for rigging. You may recall that back in February we described one of the deadeyes. This month, we will take a look at the chain links that work in conjunction with a deadeye, known as the chainplate. The chainplate would have attached to the side of the hull and formed part of the ship’s standing rigging, of the rigging that gave the masts their stability. One of our chainplates has been conserved and is three feet long, with the links approximately 12 inches in length each.

In the evolution of rigging components, securing the mast rigging to the ship was at one time done with flat iron bars, eventually evolving into chain links. La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge sailed in the heart of this transition period. Even though it is likely that most of the chainplates recovered from the site to date were spares, and so were not purpose-built for the vessel, it is still significant that there is no evidence of solid bar chain plates. Time will tell, as only complete recovery will confirm the ship’s rigging configuration.

-Rigging from the replica of the Dutch ship Batavia. Image by Ökologix, 2007. Public Domain.
-Chainplate from the La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge site. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Dempsey, A. 2020. Reconstructing the Rig of Queen Anne’s Revenge. MA Thesis, Texas A&M University, Department of Anthropology.

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