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Hemp for Shipping

Hemp was used for a ship’s sails, rigging and other ropes. After wood, hemp was the material most used in ship-building.

Hemp was treated with tar and used to fill the seams between the planks of a wooden hull in order to make ships watertight. No other natural fibre can withstand the forces of the open ocean and the ravages of salt water as well as hemp is able to.

Herman Saftleven, Rhine landscape with many boats, 1649.

Herman Saftleven, Rhine landscape with many boats, 1649.

Hemp for Shipping

Hemp made ships watertight

Hemp was used for a ship’s sails, rigging and other ropes. Hemp was also treated with tar and used to fill the seams between the planks of a wooden hull in order to make ships watertight. This process is called caulking. Sailors’ clothes were often made of hemp, and captains kept the ship’s log on hemp paper. Lamps used hemp oil, allowing the crew to read the Bible (which was printed on hemp paper) below decks. In order to make sure there was food on board, tonnes of hemp seed were an essential part of the cargo; this also enabled the crew to survive in the event of shipwrecks.

An economic superpower

The Netherlands was an economic superpower in the 17th century as a result of shipping, and without hemp, there would have been no Dutch Golden Age!

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