post we talked about closed quarters; a crew lying under hatches when their ship is boarded by an enemy to protect men, cargo and, to some degree, ship. But what of those hatches and hatchways; and just what is hatchelling anyway? How glad I am that you asked.
Hatchways, to begin at the beginning, are the openings in a ship’s deck that allow passage of men and goods (sometimes animals as well) up and down between decks. In a ship of frigate size or larger, three hatchways – fore, main and after – can be found on the main deck with others below depending on the design of the ship. Generally speaking the hatchway coverings are made of wood and are called hatches. There are also such things as hatchway nettings. These are sturdy rope nets placed over hatchways to allow for light and ventilation while still obstructing falls of men or objects to decks below. Hatchway nettings were more common in smaller ships – brigs, sloops and so on – in the Great Age of Sail but should not be discounted aboard any ship given the right circumstances.
Hatchway screens are pieces of heavy wool or fear-nought, sometimes purposefully soaked with water, that were put around the hatchways when preparing a ship for a firefight. These would screen the various decks from the black powder magazine, making an unthinkable fire or explosion potential more controllable. In an instance where “battening down the hatches” – such as the aforementioned closed quarters – was necessary, hatch bars would be used sealed most often with chain and padlocks. Hatchway rings were used to lift the hatches off the hatchway. The hatches were not, as is the case in many modern replicas, on hinges but free on all sides. This made them easily removed, despite their weight, by a few men employing the hatchway rings.
Gun brigs and bomb ketches were sometimes fitted with hatches instead of lower decks, forming what was known as a hatch deck. A hatch boat, a small craft that can also rightly be called a pilot boat, might have only one deck besides it hold composed entirely of hatches.
The term to lie under hatches, by the way, generally meant to stow something in the hold. However, it could also mean stowing away or, in the most extreme being gravely ill, in horrible circumstances, or even dead.
Then too, a once forgotten and recently remembered canine can be named Hatch.
Hatchet fashion is a combat term. A cutlass or saber might be used hatchet fashion to hack at an enemy as one might with an ax, rather than thrusting as with a foil or epee.
Finally, hatchelling is the process of preparing hemp for rope making. This is a word not often heard in seafaring today, but it would bring an air of authenticity to historical fiction touching on the nautical, I must say.
Happy Saturday once again, Brethren. May the sea be good to you, and may you may you never lie under hatches, except after a long and fulfilling life.
Header: The Pirates’ Cove by Montague Dawson