Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Tools of the Trade: Relaxing at Sea
According to Peter H. Spectre in his A Mariner's Miscellany the habit had an edge of the caste system to it. Simple seamen were more likely to indulge in pipe smoking - when they were allowed to smoke - while officers preferred more expensive cigars. Seamen generally mixed their own pipe tobacco, and Spectre generously offers a recipe for same:
Mix 72% Burley tobacco with 25% Virginia and 3% Latakia. He also advises:
To prevent the tobacco from burning rapidly in windy conditions at sea, the cut should be coarse - cube, or moderately thick flake.
This was a critical issue not only from the standpoint of waste but also for fear of fire. Sparks on a wooden ship covered with tar and carrying black powder were a fearsome threat. Losing one's wooden island in the middle of blue water was unthinkable, so certain areas - the galley in particular, where fire was a necessary evil - were designated for smoking.
When the sea and/or wind made smoking impossible or unusually dangerous, tobacco was often chewed. So called "plug" tobacco was mixed by the user, formed into a cake and wrapped in canvas. The user would then cut or tear a piece off for chewing. Once again, Spectre offers a recipe which actually does not sound as unappealing as one might imagine:
Tobacco leaves were soaked in honey, molasses, or other flavored syrup. A hole as drilled into a baulk of wood - hickory was preferred, but other species served in a pinch - and the sodden tobacco was forced into it (hence the word "plug"). Once the tobacco had cured, the plug was pulled from the hole and wrapped in canvas, ready for use.
Though the smoking of pipes on a fine day would have been possible while applying one's self to work like mending sails or making rope, chewing would have been more convenient. Either way it was a habit that seamen fell into easily. And one that was probably hard not to pursue by land as well.
Header: The Smoker by Adriaen van Ostade c 1640 via Wikipedia