Re: Backing (Up) Ships
All very good points concerning backing a square rigged ship. One thing
that I should have added in my post yesterday concerning the specifics
of that engagement was the wind direction. During the period when the
CONSTITUTION threw her main and mizzen topsails "Flat aback" the wind
was directly off the stern running East Northeast. Under those wind
conditions and with only the main and mizzen topsails aback and the top
gallants still set there is no way back for the ship to actually back up
but only to slow down - unless the water current exceeded the forward
speed of the vessel. There is nothing to indicate that to be the case.
Had the ship had the wind from ahead, on her bows or even abeam then a
square rigged shipped could brace her yards in a manner to put all her
square sails (or even most) aback and actually move backwards making
sternway. However, none of those wind conditions were the ones that
existed during that time during the engagement.
The backing of sails was normally used in coming to anchor, speaking
another vessel, putting over or receiving a boat, or if coming up a
narrow river or estuary. It was very unusual to find it being utilized
in a naval engagement.