5 Tips – Water Travel


5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #7): Water Travel

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is water travel. You can read more in Chapter 8, “Travel by Water,” from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Confusion is Normal”

There are many reasons that determining how long it takes to travel on a wooden ship sailing is hard. This includes oarsmen being unable to row continuously, wind speed not being constant or in the same direction through a journey, damage to ships, and different degrees of encumbrance (how weighed down it is) all changing estimates. Maybe it comes as no surprise that we aren’t sure how long a trip will take, but Creating Places gives you enough info to figure it out.

Tip #2: “Know Your Ship Rates”

Wooden ships are rated based on how many guns and men they have, though the number of decks and masts can imply this as well. In a world without guns, we can still rate them based on armament. Ships of different rates were unlikely to take on ones much bigger, so take this into account when determining which vessels your story needs.

Tip #3: “No Guns? Now What?”

In a world without gunpowder, there are no cannons, making our ships tame…unless we find an alternative. Catapults, trebuchets, and ballista all have their pros and cons. The latter could be the best and most effective replacement without causing other believability issues in your work, but you’ll need to understand the number of crew needed to operate one vs. a cannon.

Tip #4: “Know Your Ship Types”

Whether it’s a galley, brig, frigate, galleon, sloop-of-war, or ship-of-the-line, our ship has an appearance, size, capability, and reputation we can utilize with skill if we know it. We don’t need to invent something new because readers seldom see these and aren’t bored with them. We can make changes at will, provided they make sense, because many variations exist on Earth anyway. Feel free to tweak the design of a known vessel…once you know where to start.

Tip #5: “Determine Base Speeds First”

Most wooden ships average between 2-6 knots over a long trip. They can be becalmed (0 knots) or reach tops speeds of 11 knots, but none sustain that without magic. We can fudge the time needed, but we should know what’s possible. This includes being able to convert miles to nautical miles (multiply it by 1.151) and then divide the nautical miles by the average knots to learn how many hours would pass.

Summary of Chapter 8—Travel by Water
Figure 58 Corvette
Figure 58 Corvette

Landlubbers have difficulty determining how long it takes for any ship, whether powered by oars or sails, to traverse a distance. This chapter explores the factors affecting sailing speeds and what vessels are most likely to be used during an Age of Sail period. Calculations are provided for realistic estimates. Both long and round ships are discussed, including the galley, brig, frigate, galleon, sloop-of-war, and ship-of-the-line. In fantasy, we have species and warrior types who might be part of our crew. We might also rule out gunpowder and cannon, which means having ships with no real fire power or which use alternative weapons, some of which are examined. Subscribers to The Art of World Building newsletter receive an Excel spreadsheet that performs calculations in kilometers, miles, and nautical miles.

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