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A razee or razée (pronounced /rəˈziː/)[1] is a sailing ship that has been cut down (razeed) to reduce the number of decks. The word is derived from the French vaisseau rasé, meaning a razed (in the sense of shaved down) ship.[2]

Contents

Sixteenth century

Sir Richard Grenville's Gallant Defence of the Revenge

The Queen's ships built in England by Sir John Hawkins and his shipbuilders, Richard Chapman, Peter Pett and Mathew Baker from 1570 were of a "race-built" design.[3] The description derived from their "raced" or razed fore-and aft-castles, which, combined with their greater length in relation to their beam, gave them a purposeful, sleek look. Their builders described them as having "the head of a cod and the tail of a mackerel".[3] In 1570 Hawkins began a partnership with Richard Chapman to build or rebuild warships for the Queen's Navy Board at Deptford Dockyard. The prototype of these new style galleons was the 295-ton Foresight in 1570, built by Chapman. Her success was followed in 1573 by the 360-ton Dreadnought (built by Matthew Baker) and 350-ton Swiftsure (built by Peter Pett). In 1577 the 464-ton Revenge was built, together with the smaller (132-ton) Scout. Following Hawkins's appointment as Treasurer of the Navy in 1578, further vessels along similar lines emerged during the next decade. All these ships were to do sterling service during the fight against the Spanish Armada.

Seventeenth century

Sovereign of the Seas, 1637, by J Payne

During the transition from galleons to more frigate like warships (1600 – 1650) there was a general awareness that the reduction in topweight afforded by the removal of upperworks made ships better sailers; Rear Admiral Sir William Symonds noted after the launch of Sovereign of the Seas that she was "cut down" and made a safe and fast ship. In 1651 Sovereign of the Seas was again made more manoeuvrable by reducing the number of cannon. Ships were razeed not only by navies but also by piratesCharles Johnson's A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates[4] describes George Lowther refitting Gambia Castle in 1721:

They one and all came into measures, knocked down the cabins, made the ship flush fore and aft, prepared black colours, new named her the Delivery, having about 50 hands and 16 guns.

This did not reduce the number of gun decks, but had the effect of making the razee ship much handier, since the forecastle and aftcastle no longer created windage, top weight was reduced, and the ship was made lighter overall.

Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries

Razee HMS Indefatigable (right) fights La Virginie, 1796, by John Fairburn

In the Royal Navy, the operation was typically performed on a smaller two-deck ship of the line, resulting in a large frigate. The rationale for this apparent reduction in strength was that the smaller ships-of-the-line could no longer be used safely in fleet actions as the overall size of ships increased. The resulting razeed ship could be classed as a frigate and was stronger than the usual run of frigates. The most successful razeed ship in the Royal Navy was HMS Indefatigable which was commanded by Sir Edward Pellew. Other Razees of several nations include:

Late Nineteenth century

USS Cumberland before conversion
USS Cumberland as a Razee

In the United States Navy, several of the final generation of sailing frigates launched in the 1840s were cut down to become large sloops-of-war. Advances in metallurgy and artillery in the 1850s allowed the casting of guns that fired substantially heavier shot than had previously been in use, as well as exploding shells. Thus, when the decision was made to rearm these frigates with heavier but fewer guns, the reduction in crew size allowed the ships to be razeed. Their sail plan and size made them superb sailers. Although these ships carried a heavier broadside as 20 gun sloops-of-war than they did as 40 gun frigates, because they mounted fewer guns they were rerated as nominally smaller sloops-of-war. Such ships include USS Macedonian and USS Cumberland.

References

  1. ^ OED
  2. ^ Razee at Dictionary.com
  3. ^ a b Herman, Arthur (2004). To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0060534240.  
  4. ^ A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, Charles Johnson, 1724. (Modern paperback by The Lyons Press, 2002, ISBN 1585745588)
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