HERE is a letter from a yearning gentleman who asks me to supply him the names of the sails on the Thomas W. Lawson. To relieve me of any financial burden in this matter, he encloses a self-addressed stamped postcard. He also thanks me in advance. A postcard? The sails on the Lawson?
I remember seeing, somewhere, a common pin on which the 23rd Psalm had been engraved. The thing was in a museum, of course, and there was a magnifying glass in a bracket so anybody who had never memorized the psalm could do so. The Thomas W. Lawson was the only seven-masted vessel ever built, and offhand I am not sure if she had 350 sails or more or less. It seems to me a full-rigged ship, with three masts, that carried 38 ``kites,'' of which one would be the main-royal studding sail. I realize for postcard purposes that can be reduced to stun-s'l.
I never really memorized the sails, but I was of an age with boys who could rattle them off from jibs to spanker, and our town was then still supplied with old salts who could readily correct an upstart who left one out. Cap'n Jule Soule, who lived at the bottom of our street, told me once, however, that sails that went to sea didn't always come back. He explained that sails properly fitted in harbor didn't always draw well at sea, and a good master would see a fault before long and correct it.
Cap'n Soule's best example was the legendary Dash, built in our town for a privateer in ``Mr. Madison's War.'' When she left the Harraseeket River on her first foray (Edward Kelleran, master) she was rigged as a tops'l schooner. Capt. Kelleran opined that she could stand more sail, so he fitted her as a hermaphrodite brig and added a ``ringtail,'' an extra sail off the main boom that could be spread when more speed was needed. Now square rigged forward and schooner rigged aft, she had a strikingly different appearance, and there was nothing afloat at that time that could match her speed.
Speed was important in privateering, but not always in merchant vessels, where cargo space was considered and safety was more likely to prove profitable. It was in the California gold rush days that the clipper was designed - the clipper got there fast!