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The Careening and Bottom Maintenance of Wooden Sailing Vessels

Michael Goelet
Thesis: May 1986
Chair: Steffy
Nautical Archaeology Program


The careening of large wooden sailing vessels was a complicated, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous operation. It was a practice that endured from the time that some ships were too large to be easily hauled ashore to the beginning of the 20th century. During most of that time careening was the most widely used and, in many cases, the only method by which a vessel's bottom could be made accessible for maintenance.

That practice, once so commonplace, has now almost vanished from living memory. Paradoxically, careening in past eras was such a normal occurrence that relatively few individuals bothered to record it, and, it they did, customarily made no effort to explain the techniques used. As a result, most of the existing literature is fragmentary and of a cursory nature.

The major objective of this work is to rectify this situation by gathering together the scattered pieces of information and correlating them into a descriptive whole.

Research has focused on the assembly of a body of information encompassing a period commencing in the late-15th century and terminating about 400 years thereafter. The study deals almost exclusively with vessels which originated in northern Europe and North America and emphasizes the period between 1750 and 1850.

Both general and specific descriptions of the standard procedures required to careen large sailing vessels are included. IN many instances, the reasons for various procedures are explained and the techniques employed on different vessels are compared. Where interpretation or clarification of material seemed necessary, this has been attempted. When no parallels for a technique were found, hypotheses were tendered.

Abbreviated sections describing some of the maintenance work that normally might have been accomplished in company with careening are included following the discussion of the major subject.

While the body of the work is basically of a descriptive nature, its relevance to nautical archaeology is discussed briefly in the concluding section.

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