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In 7th Sea, the primary continent of Théah is split by a large river called simply "The River." My PCs have a sailing ship, but now need to navigate the River... Can they do so with their existing ship?

There are two tiers of answers that I'm looking for:

  • Is there indication within the setting as to whether or not sailing ships can navigate the River?

  • If that information isn't available, could real-world sailing ships of the 17th century navigate very far up large rivers?

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It depended on the river and the draft of the ship, really. Some rivers were famous for their deep channels, or for having been dredged as far as an inland river port. Early sailing ships were often flat-bottomed shore-huggers and could also do rivers just fine. So… if the setting doesn't say, whether and how far up the River is up to you. :) – SevenSidedDie Apr 9 '11 at 18:37
@SevenSidedDie Er, how early is early? These ships aren't shore-huggers... They're the "pirate ships" from swashbuckling films that were designed for extended voyages out of sight of land. – AceCalhoon Apr 10 '11 at 5:06
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The primary issue I think you'd run into is not knowing the riverbed. Certain portions of rivers are known to have shifting sandbars, sunken trees or debris from a shipwreck, and so on which would not be visible from the surface of the river but could easily damage a ship or you could run aground and become stuck. You would need the help of a rivermaster or river pilot to successfully navigate a river, or at the very least you would need to station people at the bow of the craft to drop lines to measure the depth of the water.

This latter method was quite common on the Mississippi in areas unknown to the pilot or where the sands were known to shift rapidly. Samuel Clemens' pen name of Mark Twain is a measurement of river depth meaning two fathoms (a generally safe depth).

If you reach a particularly sharp bend in the river, particularly swift current, or a ford, you may need to portage the ship (that is, tow it overland to where you could safely sail from) to get past it.

Mxyzplk is right about the need for alternative power, too, as depending on the wind may not be possible. Historically, again, we can see that galleys with square sails and decks of rowers could navigate rivers, but those ships date from periods when sailing was limited to coastal waters.

In an emergency or during wartime it could be done (see the Mississippi campaign and attack on New Orleans in the American Civil War and War of 1812, although also consider that strategic rivers often have chains which can prevent transit) but it is much less safe than procuring a ship designed for river travel.

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They could portage tall ships? O_o When I look up the battle of New Orleans on Wikipedia, it mostly talks about gunboats ( which are considerably smaller than what I have in mind. Did those events also include the larger vessels? – AceCalhoon Apr 10 '11 at 5:16
You could portage any ship, technically, given enough manpower. Whether or not it's feasible is different. The gunboats AFAIK were steamship riverboats or skiffs. I guess I'm thinking more of the British ships at the Siege of Fort St. Phillip. You can see in the link there the location of the battle and some of the ships the British used. Look at the sea strength of the British in the sidebar. They had a sloop-of-war, a brig-of-war, and a schooner. That siege was relatively close to the mouth of the river, though. – Bacon Bits Apr 10 '11 at 21:42

Depends on the type of ship they have and its size. Real-world seaworthy sailing ships had difficulty with rivers because of the wide berth needed to maneuver under sail. A sailing ship could physically move down a river that has sufficient draft, but often being towed by rowboats (kedging) was the solution in those cases. Or, towing with horses or oxen for very narrow rivers. Often large rivers could be traversed (slowly) at their mouth, but obviously they get narrower and narrower the further they go inland.

However, it seems like they have deliberately designed "The River" to be ship navigable as part of the conceit of the setting. I found a reference about Eisen controlling ship traffic passing by on the River. I suspect it's not supposed to be navigable all the way to the Crescent Empire, however.

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