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moyomongoose

I Use to Wonder What Makes a Wooden Ship Sink to the Bottom

I've always heard of the old sailing ship wrecks where those old wooden ships in the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and early 19th Centuries would sink to the bottom.
I had wondered why a wooden vessel would not simply remain partially afloat just below the surface of the water even if it is a sunken ship...being it is made of wood and wood floats.

I began doing research on why that is, and the results seem to suggest it is the ballast in the bottoms of sailing ships that pulls them to the bottom upon filling up with sea water.

The explanation of having ballast makes a lot of sense. And I can relate to that through my own experience of making actual working toys and models of sailing ships and sailing boats when I was a kid.
I have found out early on from the very first toy models of sailing vessels I have ever made, that if you don't have a lot of ballast in the hull, the wind will grab the sails and blow the boat over on it's side. And with a tall sail mast it doesn't take much wind to knock a boat on it's side if you don't have enough ballast weight in the bottom of the hull...The research I did suggests that goes for real sailing vessels too.

When I was about age 8, it was a disappointment to me when I launched the very first toy sailing boat I made, only to watch the wind immediately tip it over...That boat had no ballast in the hull.
After some of my older brothers told me a sailing boat needs ballast to stay upright. In the next toy boat I made, I added ballast in the form of a few empty Testor's model paint bottles...That boat I decided to turn loose the next time we took a trip to Lake Ouachita.
When I set it loose to cross the lake, it sailed okay for about 30 feet...Then the wind blew it over. There was no way to get out there to set back right again...That's when I found out the few empty Testor's paint bottles were not enough ballast.
Since then, I found out you really need a lot of ballast in the hull if you expect a boat with tall sail masts to stay upright...I used several pounds of stones held in place with contact cement as hull ballast in the later model boats I made, and they did okay.

From the painting of the H.M.S. Mayflower linked below, one can easily imagine how quickly it would have capsized had there been no hull ballast...especially in rough seas.
  https://www.google.com/search?q=hms+mayflower+1620&...

According to the research, when one of those old wooden sailing ships get a busted hull (either from war, storm, or other mishap at sea), it is the ballast that pulls the wooden ship down to Davy Jones' Locker when it takes on too much water.
Viewed: 42 times
Added: 5 months, 2 weeks ago
 
MrBadAssPiplup
5 months, 2 weeks ago
A tank at the bottom usually.  Ones from Great Britain usually used gravel.
moyomongoose
5 months, 2 weeks ago
I can see where gravel makes a good ballast.
TheGroundedAviator
5 months, 2 weeks ago
And later pig iron.
Beartp
5 months, 2 weeks ago
Ballast and other materials when they get holed take on water regardless of form it can also pull the ship down. Near the poles ICE build up is major concern for ships. The balance between weight on the ship and displacement of water is a factor which is why metal and concrete ships also float
moyomongoose
5 months, 2 weeks ago
Near the poles, I guess one could say the only consolation is that ice floats.
ThaPig
5 months, 2 weeks ago
If it's cold enough for ice, it's too cold for people to survive in that water, as happened with the Titanic.
For example in the movie, after Jack sinks, Rose grabs a whistle from a dead person and calls a boat. In reality, after the time she had been in the cold water, her hands would have been entirely numb and her fingers would be useless to hold a small object. She would have sunk with her diamond.
Beartp
5 months, 1 week ago
Well that works till the ice is heavy enough to capsize the ship crush it or push it completely under. Is your ship still floating when the 5 or more feet of ice covering it is holding it a foot or more under the surface
moyomongoose
5 months, 1 week ago
Even if it is still floating, it sounds like freezing to death would become the main concern.
ThaPig
5 months, 2 weeks ago
It's not just the ballast, the main problem with a ship made of any material is water gets inside it. and water weights a lot.
Whether is a storm, hitting an iceberg, or another ship shot a cannonball at it, once the water starts filling the ship, it will weigh a lot more than just the wood. Ships are also usually filled with other things like the cargo they are transporting and people (who are also made mostly of water)
moyomongoose
5 months, 2 weeks ago
That's some of it too...Some of the research sources did mention cargo.
ThaPig
5 months, 2 weeks ago
Also, nails.
moyomongoose
5 months, 2 weeks ago
I guess nails is a small part of it...Though every bit does add up.
Beartp
5 months, 1 week ago
There was at least one ship on the great lakes that sunk due to the water being absorbed by the cargo of grains they were hauling  
TheGroundedAviator
5 months, 2 weeks ago
Balance is a crazy science and ships must have it, wooden ships started with rocks and gravel and later pig iron.

What makes them sink is the same as any other ship, if the ratio of water inside overwhelms the buoyancy of the hull.
moyomongoose
5 months, 2 weeks ago
I wonder if a ship built of really thick wood would have overcome the negative buoyancy of the ballast and cargo in the event of a sinking.  
However, then again, there is the factor of keeping the construction of a ship (like anything else) financially feasible, practical and affordable. I'm sure wood even in the old days wasn't free...not to mention limiting a ship's cargo capacity due to the added weight of all that extra wood.
TheGroundedAviator
5 months, 2 weeks ago
Major shipbuilding nations often had "navy forests" too ensure wood. I'm not certain but eventhe weight of wood can even sink after a certain limit. I'm no wooden ship expert.
moyomongoose
5 months, 1 week ago
I have to admit, I'm no wooden ship expert either. However, I was thinking more wood means more float.

But then...What ship builder could build a ship that way in those days and turn a profit?
TheGroundedAviator
5 months, 1 week ago
It's as much about volume, mass and size. When metal ships came out they all thought they'd sink, but they got their numbers right.

This is the best video about wooden ships and how far they got in size and how wood just no longer could handle it anymore.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4OhXQTMOEc
Beartp
5 months, 1 week ago
Well remember alot of those ship were built of HARD OLD growth lumber not the modern quickly grown pine we use alot of today. That lumber is part of how Old Ironsides got its name the old growth wood would cause cannon balls to bounce off
ZwolfJareAlt306
5 months, 2 weeks ago
Ballast and cargo, yep…
FoxWolfie
5 months, 2 weeks ago
Ballast is also what keeps submarines from flipping over while they're under water. Most of the weight is at the bottom, so the less weighted portion remains facing up.  In the case of submarines, the ballast makes weight of the overall vessel about the same as the water it displaces, giving it neutral buoyancy.  Then they just pump sea water in or out of tanks to slightly increase or decrease the total ballast, so they can be a bit heavier or lighter than the water around them, to move up or down.

If they could design wooden ships to separate from their ballast when the hull is compromised, they'd remain afloat, though possibly capsized or on their side. Most types of wood naturally floats.  All bets are off for steel hulled ships though, as even without ballast, those are much heavier than water if they become flooded.
moyomongoose
5 months, 2 weeks ago
I had thought of the idea that it would have been a good thing if they could have had a way for ships to drop and jettison their ballast in the event of a potential sinking.
However, it might be that the technology of those days and times wasn't advanced enough to allow such an idea to actually work.

That's interesting what you mentioned about submarines. I never gave it any thought about those.
Beartp
5 months, 1 week ago
Look at some of the oldest submarine ideas AKA the Turtle it was human powered and  made out of wood
moyomongoose
5 months, 1 week ago
I heard of a man powered submarine the Confederate Navy had during the Civil War that was made from the boiler of an old scrapped railroad locomotive.
Beartp
5 months, 1 week ago
   Sure the CSS Hunley   the Turtle predates that by almost a century
Irfie
5 months, 1 week ago
One of those simple questions that make you feel dumb.
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