In answer to Hugh Conway-Jones recent enquiry into the use of ballast logs I would comment as follows. Before a sailing vessel could be loaded, practically without exception ballast material in the form of stones, shingle and sand, and even river mud had to be discharged – again manually. Slag waste was often used, as in Santa Rosalia, and dependent upon where the ship was bound this material might find a nominal purchase price as building materials, rather than being merely dumped overboard in the ballast grounds as was usually the practice. Lack of adequate ballast and the shifting of ballast was the cause of a number of losses, and indeed the almost total lack of adequate ballast when a vessel was lying waiting to take on cargo supported only by chained ballast logs. The use of these was described by Cdr. H. T. Molyneax, an apprentice on the Iverna lying in Astoria in 1911:
"Before the ballast had been dug out, four logs each weighing about 100 tons were floated alongside and made fast to chains leading through the scuppers and around the masts. The chains were adjusted to hold the logs just clear of the water to act as ballast so that the holds could be completely cleared for loading."
The practice was however fraught with danger when these were either inadequately secured or the vessel was caught in a sudden unexpected squall, even when the vessel may have been alongside a quay. An incident of this kind accounted for the total loss of the vessel Andelana waiting anchored in 1899, to load, and which capsized overnight with the loss of all her crew, their skeletons not being discovered until some years later by divers working on the wreck. The use of such ballast logs was widespread within the Pacific northwest where timber of sufficient size was readily available, and also found to a more limited extent within Scandinavian countries. The use of ballast logs, or boom ballast to use another expression, was however been common practice for sailing ships in harbour. One or more booms were slung over either side and secured to the vessel just above the level of the water, the weight thus bringing the vessel lower in the water to achieve a modicum of stability. As the cargo was loaded the vessel would naturally sink lower until the ballast logs were floating freely, at which time they were disconnected and floated away. Such practices were common in harbours and ports around the coasts and seen in all manner of shipping, from the smaller coasting ketch and schooner to the large commercial squarerigger. Without exception however, any vessel secured by means of ballast logs did not move in this manner, even within the harbour, until sufficient material had been loaded to provide the stability necessary to enable the ballast logs to be dispensed with. Within the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal as in other waterways, the use for coasting vessels was quite common. There were exceptions however - the spritsail barges of the Thames and East Coast because of their design were able to remain stable without the use of ballast booms whilst loading, and indeed sail in such condition. This was a factor of the square 'box-like' design of the hull and the specialised rig of the vessel, albeit sailing these vessels 'light' would clearly provide a measure of imbalance which would have to be taken into account in the amount of sail carried.
From David Clement
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Capt Ralph McDonell
Sirs / Mesdames, I am visitor #104790 to your website, and am fascinated by your letter re BALLAST LOGS. I have not heard of these before, although I am a retired master mariner.
I can, I think, follow what Cdr Molyneux has written, but would query his details.
The logs were obviously very large, and Astoria is in what was once (and perhaps no longer is) a very busy exporting district for what we in Australia know as `Oregon' timber. No doubt the trees there were huge, and so too could have been the ballast logs. BUT...
As regards lifting a 100-ton weight even partly out of the water, that, I suggest was far beyond the capacity of any sailing ship, particularly with chains. More likely, it seems to me, the chains attached to the floating logs would hve been tightened as far as possible with `chain blocks' or rope tackles, and made fast aound the masts, before any ballast was discharged. Cdr Molyneux may have seen the logs partly out of the water after discharge of ballast had started.
My Seamanship book tells me that a cubic foot of pitch pine (which may be somewhere near of the same density as Dougal Fir etc) weighs 40 pounds per cubic foot. If we assume that on each side of the ship there were two logs EACH of which weighed 100 tons, and that each of them was of a little more than 8 feet in diameter, then each log would have been 100 feet long, to make the 100 tons. That size of timber was available, but could not be lifted by any sailing vessel. The logs, too, would have had a limited life because of all the knot holes. But that does not detract from your fascinating letter from the Cdr.
On the subject of sailing vessels, ballast and big timber, I am a director of a non-profit coy: that owns the ALMA DOEPEL, a topsail schooner built on a New South Wales river midway between Sydney and Brisbane, of local hardwoods. Her keel was ":squared" in the forest by one huge man, a Finn by birth, with a broad axe. Being a keel, it could have no knots, so there were at least 100 feet clear of knots from where it was cut above the root buttresses, before the first branch ! That keel is still in her, and it measures about 14 inches by 6 inches by 100 feet, all from one half of the one tree, for the centre of such huge trees rots. Big Mick cut down and split the log, then squared the keel. Bullocks hauled it to the river.
As regards her trading, she always carried timber from `outports' (isolated timber mills mostly) after unloading general cargo from Melbourne, from 1916 until 1959. Instead of ballast for departure from Hobart, she loaded "stiffening", in the form of the same timber as she was to load in her outport. That timber was carried to Hobart in smaller ketches, specially for ALMA to load.
But I have not discovered what those ketches did for bottom weight when leaving Hobart for the outport. [Big fleas have little fleas.....]
ALMA was 100 years old in 2003, and we are working on getting back into survey for Sail Training of Australian youth.
Thank you for an interesting article, and best wishes. Capt. Ralph McDonell OAM, Melbourne, Australia.