Part 82: Q&A - February 21
Empire Total War: The Second 80 Years War quick online Q&A
Q: Were explosions and fires common threats to ships? Wouldn't all the water remove that threat?
A: The powder stores had to be kept bone dry at all times. If they weren't, the powder would spoil and fail in battle. If a cannonball were to break into the powder hold, it only took a few sparks to set alight the powder. The crew were so worried about sparks in the powder room that men couldn't wear the hob nailed shoes of the time, and instead wrapped their feet in rags, and the man in charge of it had to work in near pitch black, as obviously one could not light a candle. Many larger, dedicated ships of war were built with this in mind with their stores well protected behind the most durable segments of the hull, but away enough from the waterline that the powder wouldn't foul.
Fires were also a threat the vessel, as even if the ship deck was wet, if a crewman dropped a fuse in the confusion of battle, or a powder charge was hit by a projectile, or a rocket managed to land amid the rigging, the sails and old rope could ignite, even if they were damp. If something did catch fire aboard a ship, it was very difficult to put out as is would often spread across the highly flammable and comparatively dry rigging. It was imperative that the crew kept the powder charges well away from the fire as they loaded their cannons, and so a ship that was alight often had to stop firing entirely until it was extinguished. If a fire ever did get completely out of hand, it was not unheard of for a crew to abandon the ship, which would eventually find its powder ignited, and therefore explode.