This weekend we’re seeing an awful lot of stories with headlines like, “Hudson County municipalities batten down the hatches in preparation for Sandy’s arrival.” So it occurs to me: How many people actually know how to batten down a hatch?
Actually “battening down” a hatch isn’t something that’s been much practiced since the days of wooden ships. Therefore, not too many photos exist of hatches, battened or not. But this won’t deter me: Illustrations here are mostly taken from sites specializing in model ships, where the model-makers are rightfully proud of their craft.
A hatch is an opening in the deck of a ship, usually rectangular in shape. The hatch has raised sides around the opening, called the hatch coaming. Inside of the hatch coaming you have a lip. Hatches are used for gaining access below decks, either for people or for cargo. After you’ve done stowing cargo below, through your cargo hatch or your main hatch, you’ll want to place a wooden grating on top of the hatch, inside the coaming, on the lip, to allow air and light to get below, but keep sailors from falling down the hatch.
Air and light are all well-and-good, but when you have heavy weather you could get water below too. When you’re shipping white water over the bow you don’t want openings in your deck. So, to prepare for high winds and heavy seas, you would batten down your hatches.
To do this you need is a big piece of canvas tarpaulin, larger than your hatch. Put the tarpaulin over the hatch, as tight as you can make it. Fold the corners, much like your basic hospital corners on a bed, with the openings of the folds leading aft (so that seas breaking over the bow don’t catch in them). Wet canvas, as you know, is watertight.
Things you need after this are battens. These are long strips of wood, the length of the hatch coamings. Nail these over the canvas, into the sides of the hatch coamings, and there you have it: A battened hatch. Yes, you’ll still ship some water, but the pumps should stay ahead of it.
Now, some variations. You can remove the grating and, in its place, put solid boards. These are called “hatch boards” or “batten boards.” Put the canvas over top of the hatch as before, and batten it down.
Nailing the batten boards to the coaming isn’t the only (or even necessarily the best) situation. If you have a metal coaming, or you don’t want to destroy your nice shellaced wood, provided you have cleats installed on the deck alongside the coaming, put the battens in place, then drive wedges between the cleats and the battens to hold the battens in place. Have the broad end of the wedge face forward, so the seas will tend to drive the wedge more securely home.
If you don’t want to or can’t nail into the hatch coaming, and you have no cleats alongside the coaming, you will tie the tarpaulin across the hatch. The hatch coaming should angle slightly in as it approaches the deck, so the line won’t slip up and off. Put your tarpaulin over the hatch, as before, and tie it on in this manner: Take a piece of line and tie a bowline in one end. Lead the line around the hatch, then put the bitter end through the bowline. A ways back, in the working part, tie a single bowline-on-a-bight, lead the bitter end through that, then haul away. Take the end back again to a fixed attachment point somewhere nearby and fashion a Spanish windlass to tighten it down as far as ever you can. Make fast.
The resulting knot is not dissimilar to this Trucker’s Hitch.
Model ships linked above for use as illustrations: