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Here's the setting I'm working out. The fantasy ship I came up with here (see "Dawn Treader" post at the bottom) needs to leave the harbor in a hurry. A strange "magical" purple fire is spreading across the docks and quickly approaching. The entire crew of about 30 people are onboard.

This is a single-masted, square-rigged ship of a style somewhat like this: Dawn TreaderDawn Treader Plan

The ship is docked facing inland, so it effectively needs to back out of its current position to leave the harbor. What are some of the best and FASTEST ways that this could be achieved? Please be detailed in your approach. And please feel free to toss in as many sailing terms/commands ("weigh anchor," "cast lines," etc.) as you can think of.

Some general ideas I have right off include:

  1. Kedging the anchor ... but I'm trying to understand the details about how this works. As I understand, it involves using a small boat to basically pull the ship by its anchor. Then the anchor is dropped (surely it takes several men to lift it) and reeled in, further pulling the ship.
  2. Using the ship's oars, but the dock would be in the way on the starboard side.
  3. Turning the sail backwards and catching the eastward wind.

Any of these (or a combination of these) methods seem like decent options, but I'd like to better understand their viability and details about how they'd work. I'd also love to hear any different ideas for getting the ship out fast.

Hurry, the fate of 30 souls depends on your solution!

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    $\begingroup$ How technical or pseudo-magical are we allowed to get? How specialized? The ship could, for example, have a bunch of Chinese-style rockets to give a sudden burst of speed, but this implies gunpowder or its equivalent, and gunpowder might not be practical to have this be a permanently-mounted system because the rockets would get damp. Otherwise I envision the dragon-head "breathing fire" for thrust (which would be super-dramatic and story-consistent with a 'Dawn Treader' type ship). Your world does have magic, so it's a possibility. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Mar 27 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ If you keep the name "Dawn Treader" readers might be disappointed not to find Reepicheep on board. Or perhaps delighted to find that he is aboard! Reeps! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Mar 27 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus, this world does have magic in some limited ways. One thing different here is that there are many gemstones or power crystals that give way to certain generally small-scale technologies. Small appliances and indoor lighting, for instance, are powered this way. More along the lines of actual "magic" are certain individuals with genetics passed down from ancient angelic-turned-mortal beings. Let's say this doesn't really apply to any of the characters involved in this scene. $\endgroup$
    – Luminocity
    Mar 29 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk, Dawn Treader is just an inspiration/framework. I am not copying the exact name or ship. $\endgroup$
    – Luminocity
    Mar 29 at 2:29
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I'm guessing that the fires velocity depends on the quickness of the escape, i.e. the DawnTreader will make it out slightly singed in any way - so why not make this the Tokio Drift of cast-offs?

Situation: Ship moored on port(side), wind from dead ahead, exit back-and-starboard.

The fire approaches rapidly, so the captain knows this is all-or-nothing time: Order any soul capable of climbing the riggin up, with knives in teeth, have the moorings hacked away with the shipguards axes. All (nonclimbing) hands take up staves to push off - stern first, let the gangway fall where it may. The hands now atop the rigging: hack loose the sail. Full back main, Lash the rudder to dead ahead/amidships.

The ship now is blown backward, in the general direction of the harbor exit. The rudder will not stand for long, get oars updeck at once.

Prepare to jibe, then, as soon as you are clear of the dock, Jibe. Rudder hard port, Sail yards full aft on port. The rudder will fail, so have every oar punched into water behind the stern on port. If any rowers are ready yet: up-and-out on port, push on starboard. As soon as she has turned a quarter, rowers on port pull to the blood, Sail yards: on port full forwards, on starboard full back.

Rudder-oars need to come out as soon as she is making headway. Backup rudder will not be ready in time, so you'll have to make do with adjusting the sail - possible as long as the wind is from aft (as it is now).

Don't look back, there's too many fine vessels currently catching while still in the process of getting their boats and anchors sorted for kedging (and some less-fine vessels that lost their mast and/or bearings on a maneuver just like yours, also burning)

[This is the equivalent of backing up with a car and then throwing the break in unison with the wheel to drift around, afterwards powering forward]

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  • $\begingroup$ Some fun stuff here! So, to turn the sail backward, you have to cut it loose? How is it then held in place as it goes full back? Can you better help me understand "lash the rudder"? Does this mean to turn it? Then you suggest that it will fail. Do you mean it would break? How then would they steer once in open water - with oars? You mention a backup - is this something that can be replaced at sea? Just FYI, in my scene I have the ship moored on starboard. Although, I guess "port" is usually the side they dock on, isn't it? Ugh, sorry, I'm new to a lot of this nautical stuff. $\endgroup$
    – Luminocity
    Mar 31 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ What exactly does "sail yards full aft on port" mean? Also, please keep in mind that there is just one big sail on this ship (see reference image in the question). $\endgroup$
    – Luminocity
    Apr 1 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ I ended up going more in this direction...although the kedging route (particularly shooting a kedge anchor from the ballista) was a very close second. $\endgroup$
    – Luminocity
    Apr 3 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ The cutting loose only refers to getting the sail unfurled - as with the moorings, a competent sailor might be even faster just undoing the knots/fastenings, but in the heat of the moment the cutting loose might have the more assured outcome. About the rudder: They will most certainly have a spare rudder on board, depending on the point of failure it can be anything from an easy four hands/ two hour fix at sea to something that will take most the crew to their limits for a day. About the sail yards: the main sail is wrangled by (at least) one rope to each lower edge. $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Apr 6 at 4:51
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    $\begingroup$ The lashing of the rudder is necessary because going backwards puts a huge amount of stress on the rudder, and as soon as the rudder begins pointing in one direction the game is lost (i.e. the rudder will then fully swing into that direction, an remain glued there as long as the ship is going backwards). The rudder will have a facility for binding it with rope, as there are a lot of courses that would otherwise require a lot of constant force from the person at the helm. As soon as the ship has some speed backwards, moving the rudder will slam it violently to that side, certainly damaging it. $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Apr 6 at 4:58
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This is crucially dependent on two things:

  • The direction the wind is blowing. A ship with a simple square rig like this can only sail "into the wind" to a very limited extent.

  • The skill of the "sailing master" - the person who gives the detailed orders to the sailors. Depending on the command structure, this may be the ship's captain, or it may be an officer whose job is sailing the ship.

The first step is to un-moor the ship, by unfastening the ropes that hold it to the quay. The next is to push off from the quay, using long poles or oars, so that the ship can move more freely. Pushing off also gives a chance to start turning the ship towards the harbour entrance. If the sailing master is skilled and the crew respond well to his orders, these steps take about 5 minutes; if skill is lacking, they could easily take half an hour.

Now, the wind. If it is favourable for getting out of the harbour, all that's needed is to turn the ship to face the right way using the oars, set the sail, and steer carefully to avoid hitting anything. You need to do these things in the right order: if you get them wrong, the sail can inhibit your attempts to turn the ship.

If the wind is unfavourable, you leave the sail down and just row out of the harbour.

In an emergency departure, you don't try unconventional moves in a ship like this. Operating it is a team job, and you would have to work out and explain each man's part, which takes too long. Instead, you use the basic manoeuvres that the crew already know how to do, and put them together into a sequence that gets you out of the harbour.

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Push off.

Your ship has oars and is pressed tight up against the dock so they can't be used, but that's also the solution, you can push directly against the dock.

Call all crew to the starboard side, then literally push the dock away with muscle power until theres enough room to insert the oars between the ship and the dock. Then use the oars (with all hands), to push even further away from the dock such that the oars can enter the water. Then row backwards out of danger.

Here's a guy using a single finger to pull a 200 tonne ship, so your 30 men should be able to make light work of this.

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    $\begingroup$ From experience with smaller boats that weren't using motors, this is certainly how it is done. Barges on rivers were often propelled and steered simply by guys with poles pushing against the bottom. Many harbors would be relatively shallow, and crews would likely use oars and poles in exactly this way. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Mar 27 at 13:34
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Kedging.

The kedging maneuver involves a rowboat moving as far as possible from the sail ship and then dropping a anchor tied to the big ship. This might be an anchor purpose built for the maneuver. Then people on the ship pull on the anchor line and pull the ship along.

the constitution kedging away from pursuing ships https://historyarchive.org/works/images/naval-actions-of-the-war-of-1812-1896/04-the-constitution-towing-and-kedging

https://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/art/exhibits/conflicts-and-operations/the-war-of-1812/uss-constitution-escaping-a-british-squadron.html

Meanwhile, the ship’s boats began towing the ship away from the enemy in a maneuver called kedging. This operation involved carrying a kedge anchor as far ahead of the ship as the cable would allow. Once the anchor settled in the seabed, the crew hauled in the cable and the ship was pulled forward through the water. As the first anchor came aboard, a boat dropped a second anchor ahead of the ship, keeping it in constant motion. This worked well, but the British soon discovered the trick and deployed their own anchors...

Using anchors to move fast! It seems like an oxymoron.

One of the crew could produce a pair of kedging anchors. Perhaps your less nautical characters are unaware of the maneuver and are skeptical; not the old salts who immediately get busy. Ships boats with minimal persons on board take turns moving out the kedging anchors and persons aboard the ship would pull. A nice thing about this as written fiction is the two little boats scuttling ahead while everyone on board including officers pull on the anchor lines.

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  • $\begingroup$ Typically how big are these kedging anchors, and how heavy? Would a ship like this typically have two of them? $\endgroup$
    – Luminocity
    Mar 29 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Luminocity - from what I read kedging anchors are lightweight as anchors go and can be used as regular anchors in situations of low current / wind. A ship as big as the Dawn Treader would certainly have spare anchors of some sort because you might lose one. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Mar 29 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ But how about this cool idea - kedging with no boats! Press the ships ballista into use and fire the anchor out behind the ship then pull back against it. Once you have pulled it up, fire again. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Mar 29 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ no joke, that same idea came to me just as I was writing at the coffee shop this afternoon. I was working on this very scene. The dock has burned up next to them and now their oars are burning after trying to push away from the dock. Being no ordinary fire, it spreads almost immediately on contact and caused several of the oars to snap. After that, I kept thinking: they're not going to have time to kedge with separate boats before the ship burns. What if they shoot the anchor?! Ha, I'm amazed you thought the same thing. Guess it must be a decent idea! $\endgroup$
    – Luminocity
    Mar 30 at 4:38
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    $\begingroup$ I am picturing the scene where the guy manning the ballista complains that with the anchor on it, the javelin wont fly straight. It is pointed out to him that his target is the water, which he will have no trouble hitting. They have seen him shoot the water many, many times before. Re hauling it in - if magic fire was eating the oars I think the crew will grab and pull. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Mar 30 at 13:59

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