In the sevententh century, topropes were left rigged, since they were part of the running rigging and frequently used. English logbooks of the 1660s, for example, indicate that lowering the topmasts was a normal part of heavy-weather sailing, rather than a last resort, and that the topmasts might be set and doused several times in a day. In some cases, striking topmasts was a normal part of the anchoring or mooring process. By the 18th century, topmasts were more commonly left set and only struck in extremely heavy weather, so topropes were by then not often left rigged.
Interesting to hear about the log books! Always interesting to hear accounts of what was actually done in normal practice.
I had read a note by Mainwaring, if I remember correctly he seemed to be of the opinion that the benefit in striking the topmast was disputed and that it should only be done if you run out of sea room. I saw Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (from about 1610) not long ago. Interestingly, act one scene one shows exactly this. Striking the topmasts when running out of sea room. Still, -didn't end too well for them though...
How does the handling change with struck topmasts? Reduced heel? Better grip for the keel?
Hi Peter, Manwayring says some interesting things that do not seem to be borne out by other evidence (his comments on whipstaffs, for example). The logbooks make it clear that striking topmasts was a normal evolution, at least in the navy, but it does not seem to be done only in the absence of searoom (although perhaps more often there). The main advantages would be lowering the roll center of the ship and increasing stability, since the only sail area available is in the courses, and the weight of the topmasts is lower. Once reefing was introduced for the topsails, these could be used more effectively as storm sails and topmasts were left rigged.