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The U.S.S. Essex was an Enterprise Class sloop built by Donald McKay at East Boston, Mass. It was launched in 1876. It was 185 feet long, with a 35-foot beam and a 14-foot draft. The Essex displaced 1375 tons of water. Period photographs show it had at least eight gun ports on each side of its gun deck (below the main deck). The Essex originally carried an 11 inch smoothbore on a waist pivot mounting, four 9 inch Dalhgrens in broadside and one 60 pound cannon.
The Essex had an extremely fine entrance with a figure head, a rounded stern and moderate tumble home. It was equipped with a bowsprit, a jib boom and a flying jib boom. While photographs do not indicate it was coppered on its bottom, sheathing must have been employed given its service in tropical waters. Photographs show large iron folding stock anchors at its bow. The Essex carried three life boats positioned outboard on davits on the maindeck. A large stack was situated just forward of the central mainmast.
The Essex relied upon both steam and sail power and was rigged as a functional three-masted bark. While no actual sails are shown, photographs depict the spars of her three-masts. The Essex appears to have carried at least a gaff-topsail and a spanker on her mizzen-mast, the main-mast carried a square main-sail, a main topsail, a main topgallant and a main-royal, and her fore-mast carried a fore-sail, a upper fore-sail, a fore topgallant-sail and a fore-royal. It is unknown what type of staysails it carried, although the rigging in the photographs indicate several between the masts. Additionally, the running rigging indicates it carried a flying-jib, a jib and a fore-topmast-staysail.
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