I was reading the book The Republic of Pirates and was fascinated with how much affect wood rot had on the progress of the Pirates. They would need to constantly stop to repair their ships, and sometimes the ship would only last one round trip because of effects of the rot and wood worms. Below, he goes into detail the amount of maintenance required by the wood worms:
Worse yet, the sea itself was home to shipworm, a ravenous wood-eating parasite that would bore through the warships’ oaken hulls, causing them to leak. The only effective means of fighting the parasite was to careen the ship every three months: emptying the entire vessel and, in shallow water turning it first on one side, then the other, scraping and cleaning all the parasites and bottom growth that had accumulated there.
It was extremely interesting when the author mentioned the Manila Galleons which were part of the Spanish treasure fleet. The part that interested me most was the mention of tropical hardwoods:
The Manila galleons were another story. They were built to be impregnable: flouting fortresses of 500 to 2,000 tons, bearing hundreds of men and tiers of heavy canon…..Dampier himself had attacked a Manila galleon during his last cruise, but, in the words of one of his crewman, “They were too hard for us.” His ship’s five-pound cannonballs hardly made a dent in the treasure galleon’s tropical hardwood hull, while the Spaniards’ twenty-four-pounders smashed into his ship’s worm-infested hull.
I was curious about their mention of Tropical Hardwood since that is what East Teak specializes in selling. I decided to do some research on what type of hardwoods were used in these Spanish ships.
I was unable to find specifics on the Spanish ships manufacturing but did find out about English ships made in Bombay that have an extremely long life because they are made of teak. They are from a later time period but still show the benefits of tropical hardwood vs traditional Oak construction.
I was excited to find that one of these ships is still in existence as a museum ship it is called the HMS Trincomalee. She is the oldest warship afloat anywhere in the world.
The HMS Trincomalee was built in Bombay in 1816 using teak wood from Malabar. Her original cost was £23,000 which is $2.2 Million dollars in current value. She was in Royal Navy Service on and off from 1819 to 1857. From 1857 to 1986, it was used as a training ship for Naval Volunteers and youth. During WWII, it was used as a storage ship and as a training ship for new recruits. Finally, in 1990, formal restoration of the ship began. Despite her extensive restoration, Trincomalee is still 65% original due to the high quality of Teak, which keeps well in salt water.
Images from Flickr/Reading Tom
So in the end, I was not able to find out what type wood the Spanish ships used, but I was able to find out about the HMS Trincomalee which is a great testament to the ability of teak to last 100s of years. It is amazing to think that a ship is still 65% original and floating, while still 200 years old. It has survived such harsh weather and heavy use is a testament to the amazing natural abilities of Teak and the craftsmanship of the Bombay shipyard. If you are ever in Hartlepool, GB make sure to stop in and check in on this amazing ship.