Building the Baltimore Pilot Schooner Arrow
The numbers in brackets refer to references at the bottom of the page.
Like all Baltimore pilot schooners, Arrow was built for speed and her builder, Thomas Kemp, noted that she had 'very long spars and a very sharp hull' (1). By using the term 'sharp', Kemp was referring to Arrow's deadrise, the angle of a vessel’s bottom, floor, and frame as it rises above the horizontal. Light, sharp and sitting low in the water, the raked masts of pilot schooners exuded speed. Their Master Carpenter Certificates described them as 'round tuck' or 'round tuck pilot boat schooner' (William Price), 'round tuck pilot boat schooner' or 'round tuck privateer fashion” (Thomas Kemp), 'sharp built schooner' or 'pilot boat schooner' (William Parsons), 'round tuck pilot boat schooner (or built) schooner' (George Gardner)(2).
Speed, the hallmark element of pilot schooners, was determined by a number of factors. Among them, the weight of the vessel and the amount of sail that caught the wind to provide propulsion. Pilot schooners usually had only one light deck and that one had a shallow draft (3). In addition to the weight of the vessel and the amount of sail other factors was the relationship between length and beam, and the relationship between length and depth. To better understand this we need to explore some definitions:
LOA – Length overall – is the extreme length from one end of the vessel to the other. In the case of a sailing vessel it would include her bowsprit/jib boom and davits off the stern.
LWL – Length at the waterline - is the length from the forwardmost point of the waterline, measured in profile to the stern-most point of the waterline.
LBP (or LPP) – Length between perpendiculars – is the length at the summer load waterline from the sternpost to the point to where it crosses the stem.
B - Beam or breadth – is the width of the hull.
BWL – Maximum Beam at the waterlineT (or D) – Draft is the vertical distance from the bottom of the deepest part of the hull to the waterline.
D (or Moulded depth) – is the vertical distance measured from the top of the keel to the underside of the upper deck
FB – Freeboard – is the difference between Depth and Draft – that being the distance from the waterline to the upper deck.
Deadrise - the angle of a vessel’s bottom, floor, and frame as it rises above the horizontal.
The particulars for ARROW under the American measurement system were:
- Length: 71.25 feet
- Breadth/beam: 23.33 feet
- Hold/Depth: 10.33 feet
- Tonnage: 180.78
Where the schooner Arrow is concerned, we do not know the values for her LWL or BWL. However, we are able to calculate the ratio between her length and width as well as the ratio between her length and depth.
Ratio of length –width: 71.25ft / 23.23 ft = (3.067:1)
Ratio of length – depth: 71.25 ft / 10.33ft = (6.897:1)
While these relationships contribute to a vessel’s speed, her Block Coefficient defines that speed. The formula for block coefficient (Cb) is equal to the volume of the vessel divided by beam at the waterline times the length at the waterline times the maximum depth from the waterline to the deepest part of her hull.
Hence, the 'sharp' or finely shaped hull of a sailboat with its 'S' curved futtucks (A) would have a very low Cb, while a nearly rectangular barge (B) would have a Cb that is quite high (see diagram).
Rigging and rake also determined the speed that a vessel could attain. The design of the sharp-built schooner, with its 'fine lines, narrow, fine bow, and long run aft' and its sharply raked masts, allowed the most efficient use of wind for the size and weight of the vessel, while still barely maintaining maneuverability by an experienced captain and crew. During the War of 1812, the preferred material for American sails was cotton, rather than the heavier flaxen duck that had been used previously. Cotton sails held their shape better, were lighter and required less wetting down to catch a wind than flaxen sails (4). In addition to speed, maneuverability was crucial and the drag of the schooner’s keel imparted this gift. Drag, the difference in depth at the bow compared to the depth at the stern gave the Baltimore/Chesapeake pilot schooner her maneuverability. Fore and aft rigged with an accentuated drag and the deadrise of a sharp vessel such as Arrow would allow for beating to the wind and 'turning on the proverbial dime' (5).
There were thirteen major Baltimore-based carpenters who built the majority of this type of schooner. The premier carpenters on that list (in order of schooners built) would be William Price, Thomas Kemp, William Parsons, and George Gardner. William Price was considered by some to be 'the Dean of Fell’s Point shipbuilders' (6).” Between 1804 and 1816, Thomas Kemp built 61 such vessels – an annual average of 5.08 (7).
During the peak war years 1811 to 1815, there were ninety-five Baltimore-built schooners (8). During the early years of the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815), both Great Britain and France purchased vessels built in American yards and accordingly, like other American ports, the builders of Baltimore reaped their share of this economic windfall. The man who built the pilot schooner Arrow, Thomas Kemp, was among Baltimore’s better known naval architects so his work was appreciated on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, during 1805 Thomas Kemp constructed another, smaller, schooner named Arrow which was sold to British clients. However, this shipbuilding boom declined after 1805 and there were a number of reasons for the decline. After the Battle of Trafalgar, on 21 October 1805, Britain gained unquestioned superiority at sea. With Lord Nelson’s resounding victory at Trafalgar, Napoleon’s plans of an invasion of the British homeland evaporated. The war became stalemated, the emphasis shifted from sea to land-based operations. Factors such as The Nonimportation Act of 1806, and the Embargo Act of 1807, stopped all trade with foreign countries. These measures were superseded in 1809 by the The Nonintercourse Act, which restored trade with all nations except Great Britain and France. Macon’s Bill No. 2 restored trade with both Great Britain and France, but gave the President the authorization to revoke that status if either had not rescinded its respective offensive measures (British Orders in Council and the French Decree of Milan and Decree of Berlin).
Arrow slid down the ways of Thomas Kemp’s Fell’s Point yard on 7 December 1811. Kemp built a number of 'roundtuck pilot schooners' that year, among these were Comet, Rolla, Wabash, and Arrow. Kemp mentioned in his letter book that Arrow 'was built for 25 per ton', that being approximately $4519.50. As there is no mention in Thomas Kemp’s letter books of what species of wood were used to construct Arrow, we are left to ponder the point. However, as was the practice, Kemp used different species of wood for different parts of the vessel. For the keel, and frames, Kemp had in the past, used Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) or White Oak (Quercus Alba). Arrow was intended to be used for the wine trade and accordingly her owners, Hollins and McBlair, had deep pockets, a point which may not have precluded the use of Live Oak shipped from Georgia or the Carolinas – the price of which, at the time of her construction, was becoming prohibitive (9). On one occasion Kemp was known to have used Cedar frames in one of his schooners. Mulberry was widely used as well as Chestnut, for special purposes such as stems and stern posts, Locust was often used for trunnels and pine was used for decking (10). There are approximately twenty-eight species of pine native to the United States and of those twenty-eight, a fair number are native to the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states: 19th century shipbuilders loved old-growth, sap-rich, tall and sturdy (slow growth!) pine trees for long runs of hull and deck planking (11) and Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) was just such a tall, slow growing, sap-rich pine. During the early 1800’s Longleaf Pine was most plentiful as it was native to the coastal regions of the southeastern United States from Texas to Virginia. This species of pine would have been a timber of choice for masts and spars as well as for long runs of hull and deck planking (12). Frames were divided into two types, the upper futtuck and lower futtuck. The upper futtucks of a pilot schooner are the least curved, while the lower futtucks curve more distinctly in a somewhat lazy S-shape.
To paraphrase Geoffrey Footner, Baltimore/Chesapeake maritime historian emeritus: "the deadrise of the Chesapeake schooner looked like a beautiful female form. A continuous series of curves that are really lovely". Footner continues: "The point is that the curvature requires a hard wood that can be shaped into futtucks and sections, and bolted together to become a curved unit that, in a seaway, moves just like a beautiful woman walking away from her target. The female shape is beautiful and so was the Chesapeake (Baltimore) pilot schooner"
"To find a wood that could best do this", Footner explained, "there were really very few choices”. Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) was one choice while white oak (Quercus alba) was another". Footner surmised: "My bet is that Arrow had white oak framing, a very fine shipbuilding material, decks are more difficult to predict, but certainly not of soft pine like Loblolly (Pinus taeda)".
Shipyards around the Chesapeake produced variations of two general types of vessels: large ships and brigs that carried large cargoes; and smaller, lighter sloops and schooners in which some cargo space was sacrificed for a narrower, faster vessel (13). Baltimore pilot schooners were usually rigged as topsail schooners, with a flying jib, jib, a foresail and a foretopsail, plus a mainsail and maingaff-topsail aft. The famous Kemp-built schooner Chasseur was depicted in a 19th century engraving of her capture of the Royal Navy schooner HMS St. Lawrence (ex-Thomas Kemp-built Baltimore Pilot schooner Atlas) as 'brig rigged'. Here she is shown with a flying jib, jib and foretopmast-staysail; a foresail, foretopsail, foretopgallantsail, foreroyal and mainsail, maintopsail, maintopgallantsail and mainroyal plus a spanker.
A pilot schooner’s masts with their distinctive rake aft suggest a hint of speed even when at anchor or tied-up at the dock. Such configurations married the speed of the square sails and the large volume of wind they could capture, with the maneuverability, agility and ability to sail close to the wind afforded by the fore and aft sails on the after truck of foremast and mainmast. After the War of 1812, the pilot schooner design eventually evolved into the famed Baltimore clippers, circa 1830.
The speed of Baltimore/Chesapeake schooners baffled their pursuers and made the vessels the object of nautical curiosity. Sixteen Chesapeake/Baltimore-built schooners saw service in the Royal Navy due to seizure (prior to the war) or capture (during the war). When captured, if deemed suitable for Royal Navy service, Baltimore pilot schooners were brought into the British Navy. Sailors and captains inexperienced in the handling of such creations tried unsuccessfully to sail them. Baltimore/Chesapeake seamen had long experience with such vessels but even they were anxious to head a schooner around the Horn too often or to remain long in northern latitudes with ice-laden sails on light rigging (14). The Admiralty survey of Arrow (employing the British system of measurement), prior to her commissioning as HMS WHITNG at Plymouth Dockyard, provide the following particulars:
- Length on Gundeck: 98 ft 0 inches
- Length of Keel (for tonnage): 75 feet 8 7/8 inches
- Breadth/beam: 23 ft 7 5/8 inches
- Hold/Depth: 9 feet 10 inches
- Tonnage: 225 5/94 BM
- Compliment: 50 (including officers)
The first commander of HMS Whiting, Lieutenant George Hayes, was a skilled sailor and proved to be the exception to the rule regarding captured Chesapeake pilot schooners. Under Hayes command, HMS Whiting made an impressive tally of captures including the renowned Baltimore pilot schooner Fox off Ireland’s Cape Clear after a chase of more than 100 miles (15). When such a vessel as Arrow was refitted the strategy of the Royal Navy came in to play and HMS Whiting was fitted with ten 12-pound carronades and two 6-pound cannons. The Royal Navy favored heavy barrages with carronades at shorter ranges, endeavoring to sink their opponent, whereas American private-armed vessels employed long 9-pound guns called 'Long Toms' from greater distances. Americans aimed at the rigging then quickly closed-in to board the bewildered opponent and take her as a prize. If this strategy did not work, an American schooner would typically outrun the British vessel and return to fight at a later time, when conditions were more favorable, such as when they possessed 'the weather gage' and could better control the engagement.
When the Royal Navy attempted to copy the schooner’s construction they met with varying degrees of success. Former American President Thomas Jefferson knew this when he advised continued use of Baltimore’s schooners: "The British cannot counter-work us by building similar ones, because the fact is, however accountable, that our builders alone understand the construction" (16). During the War of 1812, American privateers accounted for 1300 Royal Navy or Royal Merchant Navy vessels captured or destroyed. So America, with no real navy, once again turned to privateers as it had during the War of Independence. From Maine to Georgia, ports along the U.S. East coast engaged in privateering and no less than 254 privateer or Letter of Marque vessels were sent against the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine. The port of Baltimore sent fifty-eight privately armed vessels, the highest number among all American ports, next came the port of New York with fifty-five, the port of Salem, Massachusetts, sent fifty-three followed by the port of Boston with thirty-five. The port of Philadelphia rounded out the top five with fourteen privateers or Letter of Marque vessels (17). Among the most successful privately-armed schooners of the war were the Thomas Kemp-built vessels Comet, Rolla and Chasseur, all built in Baltimore - all shared the same collaborative pedigree as Arrow – that being, Kemp, Hollins, & McBlair.
1. M. Florence Bourne, 'Thomas Kemp, Shipbuilder, and his Home Wades Point.” Maryland Historical Magazine, XLIX, no 4 (December 1954), 278.
2. Toni Ahrens. Design Makes a Difference, Shipbuilding in Baltimore 1795 – 1835. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1988, 69
3. Ibid. 68
5. Geoffrey Footner, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Historian.
6. Geoffrey Footner, Tidewater Triumph, The Development and Worldwide Success of the Chesapeake Bay Schooner. Mystic CN: Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc 1998,
7. Toni Ahrens. Design Makes a Difference, Shipbuilding in Baltimore 1795 – 1835. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1988, 66
9. Geoffrey Footner, Tidewater Triumph, The Development and Worldwide Success of the Chesapeake Bay Schooner. Mystic CN: Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc 1998,
11. Judy Wood, Historical Wreck Specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah (GA) District.
13. Susan B. M. Langley, Maryland Historical Trust. http://www.mdoe.org/shipbuilding.html
14. Jerome R. Garitee. The Republic’s Private Navy. Middletown, CN: Wesleyan University Press, 1977, 115
15. Log abstract HMS Whiting, 6 April 1813
16. Toni Ahrens. Design Makes a Difference, Shipbuilding in Baltimore 1795 – 1835., Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1988, 66
17. Edgar Stanton Maclay, A History of American Privateers, London, England: Sampson Low Marston & Company 1899