A refit Ketch that has a stronger and more resilient hull.
The ketch developed around the middle of the 17th century. The ketch design has a short bowsprit with at least one triangular headsail, the main mast stepped abaft with a topmast carrying square course and topsail -- later versions added a topgallant -- and a mizzen mast with a triangular lateen sail. The hull form was relatively stubby with a round stern and a narrow transom like the Dutch flute and a plain curved stem. Larger ketches were built in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Ketches ranged in size from 40 feet to over 120 feet long for some of the 19th century versions, with a displacement from fifty tons to three hundred tons. The addition of the mizzen mast to what would have been a single-masted ship made them more seaworthy and more controllable on strong winds or heavy weather. This released them from costal waters and let them become true deep-water sailors. The original ketch design gradually developed three variants: the trading ketch, the gun ketch, and the bomb ketch -- though this is not to say a trading ketch or bomb ketch wouldn't be armed.
The first notable ketch was the Nonsuch. She was an eight-gun ketch built in 1650 at Wivenhoe, Essex, England. She was purchased by the navy in 1654 and served until 1667, when she was sold to Sir William Warren. The Nonsuch was small for a ketch. She was only 50 feet long and 15 feet in width. In 1667, the Nonsuch was loaned to Médard Chouart and Pierre Esprit Radisson. They sailed from London, Sieur des Groselliers, on June 5, 1668, with a cargo of "wampumeage." They sailed into Hudson Bay and on September 29, 1668, landed on the south shores of James Bay. There they built Fort Charles (later renamed Rupert's House) on the Rupert River. After trading with the Indians for a year, Groselliers returned to England in October 1669 with a cargo of furs. The following year the Hudson's Bay Company was formally incorporated and given by king's grant an area equivalent to nearly forty percent of modern Canada. The Nonsuch regularly patrolled the waters around the trading colony and had several engagements with raiders who were believed to be French privateers. The Nonsuch was instrumental in founding one of the oldest commercial organizations in the world. A plan of the Nonsuch can be seen and even purchased at this website.
Trading ketches tended to be smaller than their naval peers, averaging between 40 to 80 feet. One reason, of course, was to reduce crew size. Average crew on a trading ketch was about two dozen. The smaller trading ketch could easily maneuver in all sizes and depths of harbors for loading and unloading of merchandise directly onto the pier. In addition, the smaller ketches were easier to handle than the large ones. Trading ketches were used by many nations in and between the Caribbean and Americas. Although capable of blue-water sailing, larger vessels were usually used to transport goods from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
Gun ketches were used primarily for coastal patrol, small convoy escort, and fishery protection. A gun ketch would carry between four and eight cannon (ten on some large ketches built by the French), usually four to six pounders, and was generally 60 to 80 feet in length with a crew size of 70 to 90 men. Probably the most famous gun ketch in history was the USS Intrepid. Intrepid was a 64-ton, four-gun ketch, originally built in France in 1798. She was subsequently sold to Tripoli, renamed Mastico, and used by the Barbary Pirates based there to capture the USS Philadelphia on October 31, 1803. She was herself captured by USS Enterprise on December 23 of that year. She was placed under the command of Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and on the night of February 16, 1804, Decatur and his men sailed Intrepid into Tripoli harbor, boarded the ex-American frigate Philadelphia, and set her afire. Tripoli harbor was fairly shallow and only a shallow draught ship could have made the daring plan work. While the attackers made good their escape, the Philadelphia burned and sank.
Strategy and Use
As should be clear by now, ketches are a genuinely versatile ship. They're quite likely to be many players' second command, when you're ready to move up from your sloop, because they serve well both as fighting ships and as merchant vessels.
While smallish, ketches are not without their defenses. The ketch in Pirates of the Burning Sea can mount up to ten guns, and the heavier timbers of its hull allow for larger gun weights than sloops or schooners.
With two masts instead of three, the ketch sails better with the wind astern than larger, three-masted vessels, whose sails shadow each other, and it can certainly make better time with the wind at its back than the fore-and-aft rigged vessels favored by pirates and privateers. The robust hull and the two-masted rig mean the ketch fares better in heavier weather and stronger winds than smaller vessels, and even some of the fragile larger vessels like xebecs.
With armament proportional to its size and a moderate crew, the ketch can ably defend itself against lighter vessels. When faced with heavier opponents, the ketch's respectable speed and reasonable draft mean a fortuitous escape is likely.
Another notable advantage is that the Ketch has a 'heavy' variant. No other ship in its level bracket has a heavy variant, making the 'Dolphyn' Heavy Ketch surprisingly thick-skinned compared to its rivals such as the 'Bermuda' Sloop, 'Mediator' Cutter, and even the 'van Hoorn' Snow.
In the end, some may disparage the ketch as "average". However, those who appreciate the ketch for its versatility affectionately call it "balanced" and would sail nothing else.
Other variants of the Dolphyn:
Ketches are closely related to the more prevalent brigs. Both are two-masted, square-rigged vessels of similar dimensions. The main technical difference between the ketch and brig rig is that a brig has fore and main masts of equal height evenly distributed along the length of the ship, while ketches have a tall mainmast in roughly the center of the ship, and a shorter mizzen mast between the main and the stern.
Ketches differ from true "ships" in that they tend to be somewhat smaller, and they lack a foremast.
- Larger and more heavily armed than sloops.
- With both a main and a mizzen mast, the ketch handles better under a wider variety of wind and water conditions than single-masted vessels.
- A small, sturdy vessel, the ketch makes a fine light warship, and its rig and hull design make it a versatile trader for both coastal and deep-water routes.
- Large, clear deck from the mainmast forward makes it possible to mount mortars, turning the ketch into a floating siege weapon.