Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tools of the Trade: All in the Color

Sailors are generally ship-proud.  Like housewives of old whose identity infused itself into their clean, tidy and good looking home, sailors want their ship to be the prettiest on the water.  One of the things that goes into sailing the best looking ship is the trim of her paint.  How well the paint is kept up, and what colors are chosen, has a lot to do with the personality of the ship and the pride of the sailor.

In the Great Age of Sail, certain colors were virtually synonymous with certain ships.  Nelson was famous for the black and white checkers he favored around the gun ports of his vessels.  This pattern, though tricky and time consuming to execute, caught on in the Royal Navy - particularly after Nelson's death but ultimate triumph at Trafalgar.  Ships that sported this design were generally painted black or a very dark blue to allow the checkered design to stand out.  From there, favorite combinations included everything from Nelson's black and white to such surprising combinations as scarlet and lilac, crimson and gold or salmon pink and brown. 

Across the Atlantic, the U.S. Navy tended to a more neutral pallet.  Black with cream was a very common combination but some of the larger frigates took on more distinctive colors.  USS Constitution, for instance, was famously recognizable for her contrasting black and white - no checkers, thank you.  As the picture above, from the ship's official website, shows, she carries those colors to this day.

A few other things, particularly those that might trick the eye as to a ship's flaws or help the crew in their day to day doings, were also taken into consideration.  For instance, decks were almost universally painted a light color such as white or cream.  This allowed the crew to see better at night.  Darker colors were favored for the hulls of larger ships while lighter colors - particularly white - were the choice for smaller ships.  This gave the larger ship a more lovely line, and the smaller ship the look of a larger one.  High gloss, in the form of lacquer, was usually avoided as it was thought to accentuate unmentionables such as a wide bow or a heavy bottom.

One rarely finds anything more beautiful on this planet than a well maintained ship.  If you haven't yet, now is a good time to think about a new coat of paint for your vessel, Brethren.  Maybe some purple and scarlet checkers, just for a change?

Header: USS Constitution in her glory, as noted above from her official website


Timmy! said...

I'm not sure about the purple and scarlet checkers, Pauline, but I do think that Brigit would make a good sailor. She's been doing a good job of keeping our home clean, tidy and good looking while you are recovering.

Pauline said...

Amen to that; and how thankful I am.

Blue Lou Logan said...

Let us not forget as well the statement that can be made by the color of the sails. White--which, back in the olden days, probably was a more natural color than we now think of--is the standard. But many boats today will sport crimson sails or some such (black is even more bold), not to mention the many colors that go into the huge, billowing spinnakers.

Pauline said...

Good point, Lou! Thanks for adding more to this post.

Richard Page said...

Yellow, surely? During the Napoleonic War, most European Ships had developed a 'national colour' which predominated on the hull of the ships - usually in a broad stripe running the full height of the gun decks - Spain used red, France white, Britain yellow; America, being a close ally of France, also used white. Nelson, apparently, had his ships gun-ports painted black, to achieve that beloved checker-board effect!!

Pauline said...

Richard: Excellent point and a great addition to this post. Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope we hear from you again.