Shipping, Aids to

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Shipping, Aids to

A long series of improvements in navigation from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries saved time and prevented accidents. Navigators traditionally reckoned latitude and something they called longitude by means of a magnetic compass and a sextant, octant, or astrolabe for observing the sun, moon, and stars, taking the time distance between two places as 4 minutes for each degree of longitude. Captains also carried a logbook or rutter (rou-tier) in which they sketched the shoreline wherever they made land. Portuguese pioneers in overseas exploration made great improvements, drawing maps and compiling tables of the tides and the moon. The oldest surviving manual of navigation, Regimento do Astrolabio e do Quadrante, first printed at Lisbon about 1480, and survives in an edition of 1509. Such early methods were still used even in the eighteenth century when a combination of astronomy, mathematics, and craftsmanship made huge strides in navigation, helped by scientists at the French Royal Observatory (founded near Paris in 1672) and the Greenwich Observatory near London (1675). Provoked by the wrecking of a British fleet on the Scilly Isles in 1707 that resulted in the loss of all hands including Admiral Cloudesley Shovel (1650–1707), the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge offered a prize for a practical method of calculating longitude. A Yorkshire craftsman, John Harrison (1693–1776), won the award in 1773 with the first accurate chronometer. Thereafter, the British navy made scientific marine surveys around the world, notably under George Vancouver (1757–1798) on the southwest coast of Australia and with Peter Puget (1765–1822) on the Pacific coast of North America. From 1790 the navy's official hydrographer compiled the information and published charts, some of which were still serviceable in World War II. Such publishing, like the commercial and financial newspapers first printed in sixteenth-century Amsterdam and Rotterdam, was a vital aid to merchant shipping.

In the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a great series of engineering projects assisted shipping more and more. Once ships became so large that they could no longer be beached, docks, quays, dockyards, harbors, breakwaters, and warehouses were essential. By 1914 London had 30 miles of quays and 320 wharves stretching for 15 miles along the Thames River. Liverpool, the second port in the British Empire, was not much smaller, and there were similar facilities at ports all over the world. Sir John Jackson's engineering company even built a breakwater at the small port of Victoria, Vancouver Island. Lighthouses had been attempted on dangerous coasts and islands even in Roman and medieval times. A famous one, the Phare de Cordouan, was gradually improved at the mouth of the Gironde leading up to Bordeaux, and stood over 186 feet high by 1727. Another, the Eddystone Light off Plymouth, was built and rebuilt in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In medieval England the Gild of the Trinity, a religious order, undertook the charitable care of lighthouses, and it evolved into the Corporation of Trinity House, which was chartered by Henry VIII (1491–1547) in 1514. It is still responsible, under a Court of Elder Brethren, for lighthouses, lightships, buoys, and marine welfare in England, Wales, the Channel Islands, and Gibraltar. The dangerous Scottish coast, served by its own Northern Lighthouse Board, had many lighthouses built by the enterprising Scottish family of the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894). Great canals were undertaken to shorten voyages: the Suez Canal, completed in 1869; the Manchester Ship Canal, leading more than 35 miles inland from Liverpool by 1894; and the great Panama Canal, joining the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by 1914. Steamships depended on supplies of coal wherever they went, and the British government stocked Welsh coal at stations around the empire and elsewhere, such as at South American ports, where native coal was lacking.

Certainly the development of marine insurance helped to reduce insecurity in the shipping business, but other things did also. Pirates were a danger everywhere in medieval times and still active in the nineteenth century off the China coast, and in the Strait of Malacca, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and the Mediterranean Sea off the Muslim coast of North Africa. The peacetime task of every navy was to watch for pirates, and in August 1790 the new United States of America joined the effort when Congress founded a navy of ten ships, which evolved into a coast guard concerned with every aspect of safety off the American coasts. Piracy as well as slave trafficking was controlled the world over by the British navy, which was assigned to protect an empire that came to include about one-quarter of the globe and to manage nearly half of the world's seaborne shipping; when it withdrew after World War II piracy flourished again, and it still does. Meanwhile, the insecurity inherent in competition was reduced in Britain from 1802 by the formation of a Society of Shipowners, which evolved into a voluntary Chamber of Shipping, a kind of specialized chamber of commerce. By then chambers of commerce had existed in France for a century, but characteristically as bureaucratic agencies of the central government in which venal financiers had much influence. Docks, harbors, and coastal shipping came to be protected by special police forces, such as the Marine Police active in London from 1798 and, much later, the Shanghai Municipal Police, who watched over the International Settlement at Shanghai from 1854 until the Japanese occupation during World War II.

Merchants and naval authorities were slow to find way of assisting Saint Nicholas, age-old patron saint of mariners, in preserving crews from plagues and diseases caused by overcrowding in unsanitary, poorly ventilated ships carrying poor food. Quarantine, a term derived from the forty (quarante) days thought necessary to isolate ships bringing plagues to Europe from the Levant, was enforced at Marseille from 1526. French authorities valued the Newfoundland fishing fleet as a source of healthy sailors who were unable to contract diseases at tropical ports. The deadly scurvy that resulted from a lack of vitamin C was prevalent, and even when a Scottish naval surgeon, James Lind (1716–1794), published an informed and serviceable "Treatise of the Scurvy" (Edinburgh, 1753), many ships were still fed nothing but biscuit and other dried or salted food. Few captains were like James Cook (1728–1779), who, by stocking sauerkraut when citrus fruit was lacking, lost hardly a man on his long voyages. The lesson was learned near the end of the century, and by 1804 some 50,000 gallons of lemon juice were issued annually in the British navy. In 1867, when the Merchant Shipping Act was amended to make citrus compulsory on British merchant ships, Lauchlan Rose of Leith, Scotland, patented a process for bottling lime juice; Rose's Lime Juice is still on the market.

Shipping was aided by improvements to the ships themselves. Among the famous examples is the Dutch herring buss, a specialized vessel developed in the Netherlands for following the great schools of herring after they left the Baltic for the North Sea late in the fifteenth century. A little later Dutch builders designed the fluitschip, a tubby, shallow-drafted freighter rigged to be sailed economically by a small crew. Most of Europe adopted the fluit in the seventeenth century; it was better for cargo purposes than the full-rigged ship. In the eighteenth century French builders began to sheath ships in copper, which prevented teredos, barnacles, and weeds from fastening on the ship's bottom. A copper-sheathed hull did not need careening, and sailed faster than usual. After solving the problem of copper's galvanic action on iron bolts in the hull, the British navy coppered all of its ships during the 1770s and 1780s.

SEE ALSO Board of Trade, British; Board of Trade, Spanish; Cargoes, Finance, Insurance; Freight; Cargoes, Passenger; Containerization;Hanseatic League (Hansa or Hanse);Panama Canal;Shipping, Coastal;Shipping, Inland Waterways, Europe;Shipping, Inland Waterways, North America;Shipping Lanes;Shipping, Merchant;Shipping, Technological Change;Ships and Shipping;Ship Types;Suez Canal.


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