Building 18th Century Ships: A Tutorial ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Shipbuilding in minecraft. There’s just something enticing about it that makes so many players want to have a go. The challenge, perhaps. The promise of the end result. A deep seated love of all things nautical. Whatever it is, unfortunately far too many of them turn out looking rather poor. It’s a real shame, but I think I can see why. There’s a lot more knowledge and minecraft skills that go into something as complicated as a ship than there are in many other types of builds, and what I’m hoping to do with this guide is help people to develop that knowledge. I’m not going to post any pictures of what I consider to be ‘poor’ ships, because that wouldn’t be fair on the players who built them.
My own focus in shipbuilding is on the warships of the 18th and early 19th century. The man o’war. But most of the principles remain the same for just about any sailing vessel you might want to build. I decided to write this tutorial after I'd only built one ship, and it came out like so -
Since then I've built many more and I've got a general thread for screenshots of all of my ships.
This guide was first written as I was building my second ship. I'm gradually updating it, and I now have 8 ships in my 'fleet'. The main focus of it is still on my second ship, but I plan to keep updating for as long as I can think of things to add.
Please don't think that you can't build ships like these. I had a nice headstart of 20-odd years of being fascinated by these ships, but a little research and careful building can get anybody building something like this.
Where do people go wrong?
I think, on a fundamental level this is the first question we should ask. What is it about most minecraft ships that just doesn’t work? There’s a few major things that I can think of.
Think of the sort of sailing ship you want to build. How big do you think it is? Chances are it’s far smaller than you thought. Both in overall size and in how cramped it is in the interior. But on the other hand, despite the relatively small hull, the amount of sail area should be huge.
That’s a lot of sail. Now, most minecraft ships that I’ve seen tend to get everything backwards. I see huge hulls with tiny little masts perched on top, looking like they’re lost in the huge amount of deck space. Those ships are going to be lucky if they can manage half a knot. I’m sure you know the ones I mean.
And then inside they have decks with luxurious open spaces and high ceilings. That sort of extravagance is unheard of in this sort of vessel. Every little bit of interior space is precious, and so most ships of the era were very cramped. Most decks would give the sailors just about enough room to stand – and that’s if they were lucky. If they were any larger, they'd be packed with cargo, not luxurious cabins. You can see for yourself if you visit a historical sailing ship. I’ve been lucky to visit the replica of John Cabot’s Matthew and the HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the remains of the Mary Rose. Those last three are all at Portsmouth and well worth a visit. So is the historic dockyard at Chatham, which among other things has a fantastic rope house and a sail loft featuring one of the sails that Victory flew at Trafalgar.
Walking down the Victory’s gun decks gives a real feel of how cramped the conditions would have been. I had to stoop considerably and I’m only fairly tall at 6'2"/185cm. Just imagine stooping on a deck like that while you had to share it with a few hundred other sailors.
I think most of these problems with proportion could be solved simply by people looking at pictures of real ships as they build. It will help you to realise what’s going wrong as you work.
Wait, it’s minecraft. Everything’s blocky. Yes, but that’s not quite what I mean. Most realistic sailing ships are full of organic curves, but most of the minecraft versions are full of straight lines and angles. Simply because it’s simpler to do it that way. I know – I’ve made my first rate’s hull straighter than I’d have liked just because I was working within the limitations of the game. I've gradually improved on that aspect with my later ships.
But I see a lot of ships where the curves are almost entirely missing. I see bow designs that would look more at home on a speedboat than on a galleon. I see huge stern castles that would unbalance the ship, but not even a hint of a forecastle.
But probably the worst victims of blockiness are the sails. I think it tends to come about because people build their sails along one of minecraft’s axes, which lends itself to ordered building with a lot of straight lines. But for sails we don’t want that. It's mostly not realistic anyway - a ship running with the wind directly behind it would be a pretty rare event, when the direction of the wind and the direction the captain wanted to sail happened to line up perfectly. Normally the wind will be coming from a different angle and the sails will be turned to catch it. The ship still moves 'forward' rather than in the direction of the wind because that's the path of least resistance.
He's really very good at getting those curves looking natural. Drop him a comment, say hi.
So, moving back to my own ships, let’s stumble blindly towards...
Walkthrough of a 6th rate frigate
I figure the best way to get my point across is to do a step by step of how I build a ship. Since I’ve already got a first rate, I’m going to do a 6th rate frigate. The 6th rate was a dependable workhorse, and the 28 gun designs were some of the most successful. They combined speed, a potent single gun deck, manoeuvrability and long range cruising, and did the majority of a fleet’s duties aside from major battles. They scouted and patrolled, sailed the oceans, prowled for enemy merchant ships. And since they usually operated alone they’re quite popular for fiction like Hornblower and the Aubrey-Maturin series.
Before you do this it’s best to make sure you have some sort of editing mod ready. I use World Edit through Single Player Commands. This lets me build the ship in mid air and then copy and paste it into the water when I’m happy. It makes building the underwater sections that much easier when you don’t have to fight against the water to do it.
Copy and paste also lets you keep several different versions of the same ship, which can be handy. You can have a version at anchor, one under way with the wind behind it, one tacking into the wind. There’s loads of possibilities there.
So, onto the ship. I’ll build it in a superflat map. No particular reason.
I’ve copied and pasted a version of my first rate in, so I can make sure I’m on track with regards to size. Obviously, this 6th rate needs to be smaller. It’s not perfect relying on real life dimensions because it’s tricky to match them with the limitations of minecraft. For example, going back to gun decks. Mine are as small as I could make them vertically; one block for the deck and two blocks air for the player to fit in. That’s 3 metres. The Victory’s gun decks, there’s less than 2m between them, and I’m sure the deck itself isn’t a metre thick. So quite often your minecraft ship will work out a little bigger than it should be. I’m more interested in keeping mine in proportion with each other.
Here it is. It’s a slightly earlier version, so it’s missing a lot of the rigging. I think some of the spars are slightly weird lengths too, but never mind, let’s press on.
Just looking up some examples, the last class of 28 gun 6th rates built for the Royal Navy was the Enterprise class, and there’s dimensions on Wikipedia. Compared with HMS Victory, the sixth rate needs to be roughly half the length and two thirds of the beam (that's the width). Since the hold of the first rate is around three metres deeper, I’ll build the 6th rate a few blocks higher up, since I like the idea of keeping their waterlines at around the same level in my superflat 'shipyard', just so I can compare them easier.
I’ll start with the hull, since that ought to be the first part of a ship build, and it’s certainly the first part I do.
I like to have a real life model to work from if I'm trying to make a particular type of ship. I’m going to base this one roughly on this sketch of HMS Medea’s hull. HMS Medea was one of the aforementioned Enterprise class 6th rates, commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1778.
I'm not planning on replicating that hull exactly block for block, but I want it to end up roughly like that.
Here's some pointers on how the hulls of these ships were built historically -
>> Hull Tips
These are a few things that you want in your hull.
A strong keel - The keel should stand proud of the bottom of the hull. At the rear of the ship, bring it to a vertical end, projecting past the rest of the hull. The rest of the hull shouldn't be vertical, but the keel should. This vertical end is where you're going to attach your rudder.
A rounded front end - It's very easy to think of modern bows coming to a point and imagine that ships of the past were constructed this way too. It's more complicated than that. But probably the best way I've found to do it is to have a rounded front end, then have the line of my keel come forward to form the point of the bow. This is closer to how ships were usually built. Have another look at that sketch of HMS Medea's hull to see what I mean.
Tumblehome - This is the term for the slope of the sides of the ship. Again, it's not something that a lot of players think about, and they build ships where the top of the hull is the widest point. Really, they were wider at the waterline and got narrower towards the top of the hull. It helped stability, especially on ships that carried a lot of cannon. The closer the guns were to the centre of gravity the better, because it made the ship more stable. So upper decks were closer to the centreline to help that. Here's an example -
Raised forecastle and stern - This will depend quite a lot on the era of the ship you're trying to build. In the middle ages, the main method of ship-to-ship combat was to collide and board your opponent. The raised forecastle and stern castle developed to essentially act like a land castle - if you were boarded your crew could barracade themselves into the 'castles' and force the attackers to break in. Since they were tall they were also great for archers to shoot from.
As cannons started to become more important, a lot of shipmakers began to realise that ships could handle and sail much better if these raised castles were removed, and so gradually over the ages they got smaller. Still, even on sailing ships of the 19th century you would normally find the forecastle (which retained it's name even though it was no longer used as a castle) and the stern of the ship to be raised a little higher than the middle.
Hopefully this image of a ship model can illustrate most of the points that I've made here. If you want to see some earlier stern castles and forecastles and see how they changed over the years, just google for pictures of carracks, then galleons and finally ships of the line.
I appreciate that these are difficult things to manage and to get right, but if you can you can really improve the appearance and the accuracy of your ship.
So, bearing all of that in mind, how big do I make it? I've got a few things that are going to help to determine the length. I want it to be roughly half as long as the first rate. I also want to use the same gunport spacing that I did on the first rate, because it works quite nicely, with three blocks of hull in between each gunport. Often, features like this can help you to determine how long to build your hull.
In this case I want 12 gunports along each side, since this type of ship typically mounted 24 guns on the gun deck and the other 4 on the quarterdeck.
You can see in the following picture that I've marked out the gunport spacing with blocks of red wool. If we consider that the bowsprit is going to be shorter than the 1st rate's, it's looking like it's going to work out nicely scale-wise.
Now, even with my gunport spacings marked out, I went wrong and made the hull a few blocks too short. Yeah, idiotic I know. I guess I just wasn’t paying attention. You can see the offending red block at the back of the ship - right at the line of the stern. I wouldn't be able to fit a gun in there. I’d rather take 10 minutes to fix that than settle for a ship that’s shorter than I want.
So, how do I build the hull? I'll explain an alternative method a little bit later, so it's probably best to read the whole hull section before you go any further with building it.
As I said, I start out by laying a keel. That's the piece that runs down the centreline. It should stand proud of the bottom of the hull, because it helped to keep the ship stable and stop it from leaning too far over. I then like to run a rim around where the top of the hull is going to be, taking care to get the right sort of shape. It should be rounded at the front, reach maximum beam at around 1/3 to 1/2 of the ship's length and then gradually sweep backwards towards a square stern.
The keel and the rim around the top gives me a great starting point to fill in the rest of the hull in between.
I build up one side by eye/ by feel until I get a shape that I think looks right. It needs to look naturally curved, without too many straight lines or corners.
Since I mainly do that by eye, I can’t offer too many tips on how to get the shape right. This is where the traditional method comes in handy, which I'll explain in a minute.
After you've filled in one side of your hull you can build the other half to match, or you can take the lazy route (like I did) and use world edit (or the shiny editing program of your choice) to copy the first half, flip it and paste it. It looks like this -
Note that I haven't raised the forecastle or stern yet. Don't worry, I intend to. Not by a huge amount, because this is a late 18th century ship rather than a galleon, but there will be a slight rise.
The next step I took was to put the decks in. As you can just about see if you look closely, I’d already decided where I was putting the gun ports and so that helped with the decks. I like to build my decks with two blocks of air height - the minimum space that the player can walk through. Since I do gun decks with the gun ports being along the lower block, that meant that I put the deck itself on the row directly beneath the gun ports.
Beneath that I installed the orlop deck - another two high space that will be divided into things like carpenter’s workshops, surgeon’s sickbay, powder stores, cable stowage and so on. The orlop was the lowest proper deck of one of these ships, and it was usually partially or completely below the waterline, so windows were a bad idea.
The space beneath that is left 3 high (on this ship), and it’s very much the bowels of the ship. I’ll fill that with gravel blocks to form the ballast.
Up top, there’s a forecastle, quarter deck and poop deck. As you can see, these mean that the gun deck is half covered, half open to the sky, and the slight raising of the forecastle and the stern has been put into place.
So, that's the way I tend to do it. It produces results, but it does rely on having a very good mental image of the sort of hull shape you're aiming for. How do you produce results like that if you're not quite so sure on how to shape the curves of the hull? Go for the traditional method of shipbuilding.
The Traditional Method
The traditional method of shipbuilding built a sort of skeleton of the ship first, and then planked over the sides. We've already started with the 'spine', which is the ship's keel. The next thing that was added were the ribs - known as ribs in both biology and shipbuilding. These came out from the keel and extended to upper deck level, and set the shape of the sides of the ship. You can concentrate on one 2-D rib at a time, and hopefully if they're close enough together you shouldn't have much trouble filling in the gaps between them.
When you're building ribs, they should have a shape somewhat like this, especially the ones placed at around midships. I've built this rib at a much larger scale to give a better representation of the curve. The bit of wood sticking out of the bottom is the line of the keel, the blue wool represents roughly where the waterline should be.
So, let's roll back my frigate to just the keel and a rim around the top of the hull. Then I can put ribs in running from the keel up to that rim. If you notice, this time the rim takes into account the raised forecastle, quarter deck and poop deck. I installed ribs at regular intervals. The bulge that you notice in the large scale example rib above should be most prominent at around the middle of the ship. As you go towards the ends it should get less pronounced.
Here's some screenshots of the hull with the ribs in place. I've taken them from several angles to give a good overall idea of how they fit in.
From this point you can fill in the gaps inbetween the ribs relatively easily, but still take care to make sure everything's rounded off and that there aren't any sharp corners. If I were to fill in those ribs, I'd end up with a hull almost exactly the same as the one I originally built - after all, the ribs are actually segments of that hull copied and pasted with world edit, to make sure that both methods were showing the exact same hull.
If you still feel that the gaps between the ribs are too large to feel comfortable filling it in, you can always add more ribs in between.
Finishing the Hull
I’m aware that it looks rather dull at the moment, and that’s because it’s out of the water and it’s also entirely one shade of wood planks, so bear with me. The important thing is that it's the right shape.
The next thing I’m going to do is decide where to put the masts. I’m going to use birch planks for those, for a bit of contrast. The mizzen and the mainmast are pretty close, but that’s alright because the mizzen is going to be quite small. Some smaller 6th rates only carried two masts.
But I didn’t like that. I felt like the foremast should have been further forward, and the mainmast needed to move a bit further forward with it. I extended the quarter deck too because I wanted to go as far along the ship as the mainmast. With these things it's always better to go back and improve things that you think aren't right rather than living with something you're not happy with. This is the result.
So, why don’t we add some colour and stop it from looking so dull? You can do this at any stage, but I feel like doing it now. I’m going to use the same colour scheme as my first rate – black above each gunport and bands of black running around the hull with a gold and black scheme for the stern cabins. It’s a bit like the fabled Nelson Chequer, but instead of black and yellow I’ve gone for black and plain wood.
Immediately this helps to give the ship some variation and to pick out its features. The gunports were very hard to spot when the whole thing was plain wood, now they're obvious. Which is deliberate, as it helped to show enemies just how dangerous you were. The stern cabins were usually ornately decorated which is why I've used the gold.
This photo of HMS Victory's stern gives a good idea of the sort of decoration the sterns of these ships usually had. You can also clearly see the tumblehome along the gun decks.
Of course you’ll use a colour scheme that suits your ship. I could also have done the ship a different colour beneath the waterline, but the hull is only one block thick and I’d rather keep the interior looking wooden. The black bands match up with where the decks are, so you don’t see them from the inside. As ever, if something looks a bit off, fix it!
>> Aside: The same techniques on a larger ship
I'm putting this in here because I was building this ship, a 74 gun 3rd rate ship of the line, and I took some screenshots of the hull that I think nicely show some of the features of an 18th century ship hull, perhaps showing up a bit better in the larger ship than they do in the frigate. Think back to the section on the features you'd see in a hull; the curved timbers, the keel, the tumblehome.
Here’s an idea of how the frigate's looking when it gets plonked in the water –
I haven't done that 'properly' yet, so the hull is full of water.
Time to go back to my shipyard in superflat. Though, if you want you can put the ship back in the water now since we’ve done the lower hull. I’ll leave my explanation of how I do that 'for real' until later.
Next, I installed railings, ladders and the cannons. Not much explanation is needed really. My cannons are pretty simple - a dispenser block, and I place two iron blocks behind it to give it that roughly correct long cannon shape. I stick a button on either side of the iron block that's directly behind the dispenser to trigger it. You could also hook the lot up with redstone so you can fire a whole broadside with one button.
I know a lot of players like to install TNT cannons, but I don't because I try to go for realism as much as I possibly can - and TNT cannons are just too big for that. But if you want them, go for it.
You can see my cannons in this pic. Note that there's four on the quarterdeck, and the rest are on the gun deck which is partly open to the air and partly under the forecastle and quarterdeck.
I also fitted out the orlop deck and filled the hold with ballast. I like to divide the orlop up into compartments with fence gates as doors and small windows where the pane is a piece of fence. You can use them for the ship’s surgeon, carpenter, sailmaker, the armoury, the galley, crew quarters and so on. You don't need beds for crew or anything like that, since they would normally sleep in hammocks slung across whatever space was free.
Next I fitted out the stern cabin. Because of where I’d put the poop deck, I could actually manage to have this room be 3 blocks high. That might mean that it was an extravagant ship, if it weren't for the fact that this single cabin has to serve as captain’s cabin and officer’s mess at the same time. The officers don’t get cabins, because there's just no room for them. It's a ship of war, after all.
So, what I have now is what I consider to be my ‘basic’ ship. From here I can mast it and do whatever sail configurations I feel like.
Masting the ship
Masts. I like to do them in birch planks with every 4th plank as spruce. It provides a nice ‘banding’ effect like you might see on real masts. I do the spars and the bowsprit in spruce. You can see here that I’ve done the bowsprit at a higher angle than I did on the first rate, mainly for a bit of variety. The final heights of the masts will depend entirely on how high I want to place each yardarm and how many sails I put on per mast.
Generally with a warship of this era you’ll have 3 masts, square rigged.
The crosspiece that a sail is hung from is a yard.
The first mast is the foremast
The second is the mainmast.
The third is the mizzen mast. In this case it is also the rear mast.
The mast that sticks out at an angle from the front of the ship is the bowsprit
For a regular square rigged ship, the lowest sail on each mast is the course, the next one up is the topsail, the one above that is the topgallant. Most ships of this era also have room for a fourth sail, called a royal. The yard to fly the royal isn't always put up, often stored on the deck until the captain orders it.
On the mizzen, there is a spanker rather than a course. The bowsprit normally carries one (occasionally more) square sail(s) and a number of jibs.
Typically a ship would carry even more sails than that; triangular staysails that could be flown in between the masts and studding sails that could be added onto the ends of the yards.
This ship is going to carry a standard three mast square rig. This is also known as a 'ship rig'. Other sail patterns give their vessel different names, such as brig, barque or ketch. As part of my campaign against huge ships with virtually no sails, I’ll model the frigate with two of the royals in place.
So, let's start to raise the masts.
I'll set the final heights of those masts when I decide just how high I want each yard to go.
So, what are the guidelines on the masts? Well, first off, this is how they’re really done in larger ships (image from a model ship) -
As you can see, each mast is actually several pieces that are staggered. Each one is just in front of the one below it, but since they all have a slight slope backwards I’ve decided that one mast that goes straight up is the best looking way to represent it. Attempting to do the masts with each segment forward of the previous one makes it look like the mast is toppling forward, so I can happily drop that aspect of realism to help things to work in minecraft.
The yards should get shorter the higher up you go. This means that the sails will be slightly narrower at the top and wider at the bottom. The yards for the courses and the topsails should be the longest, and they should stick out well over the edge of the ship. Remember, when the ship’s underway you should see a huge mass of sails and barely notice that there’s a hull at all.
The size of individual sails could vary. The courses were normally large, and the topsails could vary between being the largest sails on one ship and actually fairly small on another. But a good general rule is that sails get smaller as you go upward. The ones on the mainmast should generally be larger than the fore or mizzen masts.
I put a crow’s nest above each yard up to the topgallant yard. These are where a lot of the rigging will attach to. The lowest one should be bigger. On a bigger ship like the 1st rate, they get progressively smaller as you go up. Here, the lowest one is the same size as the ‘middle’ ones on the first rate and the top two are the same size as the top ones on the first rate.
These crow’s nests make fantastic attachment points for rigging. The rigging can be done with fences. It should start out wider at the bottom and narrow as it reaches the crow’s nest. Ideally the wider part will be swept towards the stern rather than the bow. The bottom set should start at the rail of the ship, so it’ll slope in a lot as it goes to the crow’s nest. The ones that go between crow’s nests will be closer to vertical.
I’d recommend that you at least do this level of rigging, because it really improves the appearance of the masts. I know some people don’t like the look of fence-ropes running between the masts, but I do so I’m going to add those next. Remember that if you can’t do the rope as a straight line (a very taut rope) then let it droop, so that it looks like a slack rope. Don’t go against gravity!
I like to run lots of these ropes backwards and forwards as you can see. If you’re going to want lots of staysails, diagonal ones can come in very handy. How many you want is all going to depend on personal taste.
You can also use other materials if you don't like fences. I know some shipbuilders like to use glass, since it's less noticeable at a distance and they want their 'ropes' to be fairly subtle.
And the final stage to making the stationary version is to run wool along the undersides of the yards to represent the furled sails. I like to do mine in three bunches with a fencepost between them, but of course do them how you think they look best.
Time to get this boat back into the water. This trick involves world edit. Basically, we copy and paste the ship into the ocean. But this brings a cube of air with it, so the ship isn’t in the water. Like so –
We can use world edit to fill the cuboid with water, but this presents a problem. If we replace all the air in that cuboid with water, every block of air that's inside the ship and below the waterline would also be replaced with water. So,my method is to fill the air gaps in the ship with something else, then change air to water, and finally change that 'something else' back into air.
I like to use light grey wool. No particular reason. You can use any material that you haven’t used in the construction of the ship. Dirt, or brick, or sandstone. Whatever. It’s important that it’s something you haven’t used in construction – because if you’ve used it in the construction, then part of the ship will disappear when you world edit your material back to air.
You can fill it manually, but I prefer to world edit a big block, replacing air with your block of choice. So here, every air block within that cuboid region has been converted to light grey wool. Outside and inside the ship. The next bit’s a little tedious – you need to manually remove the wool from outside the ship. This will leave it so that all of the air pockets inside the ship that are below the waterline will be filled with light grey wool.
So, once you've removed it from outside, the ship is full of light grey wool below the waterline. Select the cuboid area that should be underwater and use world edit to replace air with water.
Then - with the same region selected - you can replace light grey wool with air. Make sure you do it that way round! What you should be left with is a ship that’s happily sitting in the water but isn’t full of water.
And here is the finished article!
Now, onto sails. I’m going to copy and paste the ship so that I can have one version with sails set and one without. This time you don’t need the light grey wool trick, when you copy and paste it takes the water with it. Just make sure you paste it at the same y- level as before. One way to make sure of that is to copy it while sitting in a boat on the ocean, and to paste it while sitting in a boat on the ocean. Since copy and paste works relative to the player, this makes sure that the ship sits at the same level in the water. If it doesn't, just undo and try again.
As I said earlier, the majority of sails I see in minecraft are perpendicular to the way the ship is sailing – that is to say that the wind is directly behind the ship. This means that the sails are along one of minecraft’s axes, and makes it very easy to do sails that have a lot of straight lines and don’t look natural. You can pull it off, but you have to be careful.
I prefer to treat it as though the wind is coming from an angle. It makes sense – most of the time the wind won’t be blowing in the exact direction that the captain wants to sail. If you rotate the wind ever so slightly you can get some very organic looking sails.
I’m going to do the sails here with the wind going in the same direction as on my first rate, so that I can put them side by side and have them going in the same direction. I've done the same thing with a lot of my ships, so they can all be siling along together.
The first step is to rotate the yards so that they’re all facing the same – or at least very similar – direction.
On most square-rigged ships, the maximum that they could turn before they started to interfere with the rigging was about 45 degrees.
Now, as for making the sail itself, I don’t really know how best to describe it, so I’ll show a few work in progress pictures of doing one of these sails. See how the angle helps it to have a more ‘organic’ look.
The exact shape of your sails will depend on how large they are, much wind you want and what angle you've chosen for your yards.
They’re probably not going to look perfect to start with. Mine usually don’t. The trick is to just keep tweaking them until you’re happy. I can be pretty sure I’ll be tweaking at least one of these sails each time I look at the ship. Another thing to remember is that the sails are probably going to look a little weird from some angles but great from others. That’s something that can’t really be helped.
And a final thing I’d recommend is to build each one separately, and not to a set plan. It’s not going to seem quite so organic and flowing any more if every single sail is exactly the same.
The courses (that's the bottom sails) should draw in a bit at the bottom - the two bottom corners are secured somewhere on the hull after all. The topsails, topgallants and royals are secured on the ends of the yard below, so these sails should be slightly wider at the bottom than they are at the top.
Finally, a look at what we’ve just built. Does it solve the problems of the common minecraft ship? I think so. Unlike many, the hull is comparitavely small compared to the area of sail that can be put on. The ship is quite close to a real hull shape, although I didn’t set out to make it block for block. The sails are pretty organic and as un-blocky as I could make them given their size.
That's the frigate done. The next couple of sections deal with how you might want to model the sails differently depending on how strong you want the wind to be and which direction it's coming from.
Different amounts of sail
Nearly every minecraft ship I've seen has all of its sails set, but remember that this isn't always going to be the case. Unfortunately I'm not too knowledgeable on which sails should be set when. I know a lot about the construction of the ships, but I'm no sailor.
My extent of knowledge just about extends to the fact that fewer sails are set in stronger winds. This might seem a little off, but it's because of the strain on the masts. In light winds you need as many sails as you can get to try to get moving. In stronger winds, you can achieve the same sorts of speeds with fewer sails, and keeping all sails set is putting a lot of force on your masts and your rigging. In really strong winds - I'm talking gale force and storms here - the higher yards and mast segments might be taken down entirely to avoid damage.
The ship that I built after this frigate is a large merchant ship known as an East Indiaman. I decided to model it going at right angles to the direction of the frigate, so that meant that the wind was coming almost from the side, and just slightly behind the ship.
For this I figured that the yards would be rotated to their maximum of 45 degrees(ish). But I also thought that the square sails would be less effective at catching this sort of wind than the lateen, jibs and staysails. So I set as many of the triangular sails as I could, but only set three of the square sails. I think it turned out quite effectively -
I hope that gives you a few other things to think about with sails, rather than just having all of them set, and perpendicular to the direction of travel.
Sailing into the wind
But wait - how do square rigged ships sail into the wind? It seems ridiculous that they wouldn't be able to sail towards the wind at all, and I do know that they can travel towards the wind by 'tacking' or 'wearing'. Basically, zig-zagging towards the wind. This means that they can't travel directly into the wind, but they can make progress in that direction.
But that doesn't make much sense on the face of things. Surely there should be at least some component of force pushing the ship forward, and that's lost if you're sailing towards the wind.
This is something that I've only just looked up myself. For all of the ships I'm building, I'm trying to keep the wind direction the same, and rotate the ships. The frigate is sailing with the wind almost perfectly behind it. The East Indiaman is sailing across the wind with the wind just slightly behind. What about my other two directions? How would I model the sails then?
It turns out that it's all about lift - in the same way as with an aircraft's wing. The sails are turned so that the wind runs across them rather than pushing them. So long as a small part of the wind is puffing the sails out, the wind will run across the front of the sail faster than it runs across the back. This is the exact same way that an aircraft's wing works, except rather than providing lift it provides forward thrust.
You can't travel towards the wind at all just relying on wind to push the sails, so you need to make use of this.
A bit of a vector-based explanation -
This is an overhead view of my East Indiaman. The Blue arrow represents the wind, the green arrow is the force. Red is the vector components. As you can see, the circled component is a part of the force that's pushing the ship forward. This is due to the wind pushing into the sails.
What if I rotate the wind, so that the ship's sailing into it?
With the wind coming from this direction, there's no way it can directly push the ship forward. The sails are turned so that the wind puffs them out a bit, then it runs over the front and back. It has to move faster over the front, creating a lower pressure area in front of the sail/higher pressure behind, producing the green force. And, this force has a component (again, circled) which pushes the ship forward. Hurrah!
It's probably not going to be possible for the ship to sail any closer to the wind than this, but then that's where tacking and wearing come in. They're both methods for causing the ship to zig-zag into the wind, and they're how you sail towards the wind.
If and when I build a ship that's meant to be tacking into the wind, I'll stick some screenshots in here.
It's not exactly vital to shipbuilding, but it's something that's worth thinking about and can provide some interesting sail configurations.
Even with the other big things that I’ve built – and seen others build – in minecraft, nothing is quite so satisfying as looking from distance at a ship on an endless ocean, sails set, the sun rising or falling behind it and knowing that you’re the one that built it.
I've read your guide with great pleasure nice guide, ample pictures to support the text. So big thumbs up for that, nice guide. I like your focus on proportionality and real sizes, that's also a thing i think is important and many people seem to loose that out of sight, make the most awesome looking ships, but irl they would be oversized to say the least.
That's why i'm asking you a favor check out two 'golden age style' ships i've build a while ago and judge them on proportionality and how realistic they are (the interior is inferior, that's a thing i can say in advance xD). I'm not that big of a ship person myself but i felt other ships lacked upside down stairs and slaps to add detail and i thought it would be a challenge to do it myself. I took some inspiration from the Batavia but the end result is pretty different, i took some creative liberties to cover up problems minecraft poses. so please check them out and tell me what you think about proportionality/shapes/sizes/etc. anything really.
Yeah, I think of your two versions the smaller one is my favourite too. I think I've got a soft spot for smaller ships.
And thanks for mentioning the Batavia, I've enjoyed reading about that one. It was a name that I was vaguely familiar with, but didn't really know anything about, so I've just browsed through the wiki article.
I think you've done a pretty good job of capturing the lines of the hull, though perhaps I'd have tried to have the width already at its maximum at around the waterline rather than reaching it just above. I'd have probably done it with a very slight tumblehome too. But overall I think it's a harder shape to get right than the late 18th century ships that I've been doing - that classic galleon type curve from the prow up to the raised stern castle.
I'd say that the pictures are a little bit unflattering for both ships. They look a lot better in the video, which was a nice surprise when I started watching them. Nice choice of music too!
I'd say that the masts are too short for my tastes. For both of them, I'd have built the masts with three spars, so that they can set courses, topsails and topgallants. They feel especially short on the larger one, probably because of its larger hull, and the masts being proportionately smaller. I'd raise the masts on the larger one to add the topgallant spars, and I'd probably raise the masts on the smaller one and increase the spacing between the spars. The iron railing rigging works really well. I'd also say that the foremast on the large one could do with being slightly further forward. I think people often seem to underestimate just how far forward foremasts usually are.
I'm not sure what to say about the inside. I think I'd feel a little lost when it came to fitting out a ship that wasn't packed with cannons all over the available space! I might try to build an East Indiaman soon, so I guess I'll see what I manage in terms of cargo space. But even then there'll be a decent sized gundeck.
I was going to download your schematics and have an explore myself, but I had some trouble getting MCEdit to work, so I haven't been able to do that, which is a shame because I'd have liked to. Aside from those things I mentioned - and I was having to struggle to find things that I didn't like - I thought they were some of the better ships that I've seen.
I've pushed forward adding sails to them for quite a while, but i think i'll get around to that pretty soon and when i do i be sure to see how the ships look after implementing the feedback you gave really appreciate it, i'm really not that familiar with ships so i'm pretty oblivious to these things.
I'm planning on expanding this. I think I can explain in more depth how I build hulls and put in a few more pointers. And I've got another ship with different angles of sail that I'll use as a further example.
The downside is that all these pictures have killed my photobucket bandwidth, so I'm about to try re-uploading everything to imgur. Bear with me, there's a lot of screenshots!
EDIT - Experimental image change seems to have worked out nicely. Time to start migrating the rest of them over...
Yeah, like I said in my last post, the amount of pictures combined with the amount of views has killed the bandwidth allowance on my photobucket account. I've been reuploading all of the screenshots to imgur, I'll get the post fixed with the new links in a few minutes.
The pictures are fixed and the guide expanded. There's a new section on hull design and a new section on different amounts of sail in different wind situations.
If the pictures break again, please let me know. Especially since all of the ones that aren't pictures of my builds aren't mine and I'm not hosting them, so they might easily break without me knowing.
Cheers guys,it's nice to hear that this has been useful.
I've just made another edit with a bit of an explanation of how square rigged ships like these can sail into the wind. It's by no means necessary for building your ship, but if you fancy having a ship sail towards the wind it might come in useful.