Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tools of the Trade: A Spotless Deck

Keeping a ship in good running condition is a full time job. The running comment by experts on the great age of sail regarding the “boredom” suffered by sailors of all persuasions is a bit perplexing to me. As I see it, unless the entire crew was literally letting their ship rot out from under them, there wasn’t much time for boredom.

Maintaining a wooden deck in and of itself would probably take a crew a week, and then they’d have to start over. This was particularly true in large men-of-war and all that maintenance was over and above the morning swabs and holy stones that kept the deck spotless. Here are just a few examples of what would have been considered routine deck maintenance in the great age of sail (from a post Civil War American manual).

To keep away mildew, mix half bleach with half water and splash the deck daily before a saltwater rinse.

To remove mildew, mix three parts water to one part bleach and scrub the surface thoroughly with it using a very stiff brush (a wire bristle brush is recommended if the mildew is particularly bad).

To take off an oil spot, cover the spot with talc and allow it to set for twelve hours. Brush the talc and oil off with a hard bristle brush (cornstarch will also work for this process if talc is unavailable).

To uniformly whiten a deck before painting, use a 4 to 1 ratio of water to unslacked lime mixed thoroughly. Lay the mixture on the deck as sunset and leave it on overnight. Next day, wash this off before the sun hits it. Scrub the entire deck well with a stiff bristle brush and then rinse it with plenty of water. If small stains persist, lemon juice should take care of them. Allow to dry thoroughly before oiling and painting.

If you find a minor leak in a deck seam, soak it with linseed oil for some time. This will hold until more thorough maintenance can be applied.

Finally, here are two probably ancient recipes for deck oil:

The first is what is now known as teak oil and is made with a 50/50 blend of tung oil and turpentine. Mix and apply with a clean rag. Let sit fifteen minutes and then wipe off with a second clean rag.

The second is a generic deck oil, and it is probable that many ship’s bosuns and/or carpenters had their own version of it. For this one, mix a pint of turpentine and a pint of pine tar in a gallon of boiled linseed oil. Apply this with a paintbrush in liberal amounts and allow it to sit fifteen minutes. Wipe off with a clean, dry rag. This mixture can also be used as a soak for leaky seams.

Of course this is only a small portion of ongoing deck maintenance in truncated form. Though the work would not have been intellectually stimulating, it would most certainly have kept a man busy and tired him out. The question at that point would not have been one of boredom but one of bone-deep exhaustion. Four hours of sleep hardly seems like enough.

Header: Ships at Anchor by R.P. Bonnington


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! It's no wonder they were exhausted... I don't work anywhere near that hard and I need more than four hours of sleep a night.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! I agree and me too.