Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sea Monsters: A Mermaid off Devon 1812

The head [of the mermaid], from the crown to the chin, forms rather a long oval, and the face seems to resemble that of the seal, though, at the same time, it is far more agreeable, possessing a peculiar softness… The upper and back part of the head appeared to be furnished with something like hair, and the fore part of the body with something like down, between a very like fawn and a very pale pink colour, which at a distance had the appearance of flesh, and may have given rise to the idea, that the body of the mermaid is, externally, like that of the human being… From the waist it gradually tapered so as to form a tail, which had the appearance of being covered with strong, broad polished scales, which occasionally reflected the rays of the sun in a very beautiful manner... ~ Jean Toupin writing about his experience on a sailing cruise off Devon, England in August of 1812

Header: Surprising Catch by Gil Elvgren c 1952

Monday, May 28, 2012

History: Aboard USS Essex

May 28, 1813: At the height of the War of 1812, Captain David Porter aboard USS Essex of thirty-six guns, takes five British whalers in the South Pacific. Here is an excerpt from Porter’s report to the Naval Board of around the same time:

I have completely broken up the British navigation in the Pacific; the vessels which had not been captured by me were laid up, and dared not venture out… They have furnished me amply with sails, cordage, cables anchors, provisions, medicines, and stores of every description; and the slop-shops on board them have furnished clothing fore the seamen. We have in fact lived on the enemy since I have been in that sea, every prize having proved a well-found store-ship for me.

Take a moment, you among the U.S. Brethren, to remember the heroic spirits of our service men and women of all eras on this Memorial Day.

Header: USS Essex via Age of Sail (see sidebar)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Seafaring Sunday: Jack 1782

Saw a brig standing in for the land; at 7 P.M. discovered her to have a copper bottom, sixteen guns and full of men; at half past nine o'clock she came alongside when a close action commenced.  It was our misfortune to have our worthy commander, Captain Ropes, mortally wounded at the first broadside.  I was slightly wounded at the same time in my right hand and head, but not so as to disable me from duty.  The action was maintained on both sides close, severe, and without intermission from upwards of two hours, in which time we had seven killed, several wounded and several abandoned their quarters.  Our rigging was so destroyed that not having command of our yards, the Jack fell with her larboard bow foul of the brig's starboard quarter, when the enemy made an attempt  to board us, but they were repulsed by a very small number compared with them.   ~  William Gray on board the Continental privateer Jack off Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 28, 1782

Header: After the Storm by William Bradford

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Point

The word point at sea often refers to guns, both great and small; or at least it did when ships were made of wood and men made of iron (as was the case in the era of the gorgeous painting of USS Constitution with her studding sails set above). But there were other points to be made upon wave, and we won’t skimp on any of them today.

A point of land is similar in nature to a head. It is an outcropping that reaches into the sea, projecting out and making a handing place for lighthouses and customs ports.

Point brass or point iron is a shipbuilding term referring to a particular type of plumb bob. A pointer is the arrow or indicator of an instrument, as in the pointer of a compass. Pointers, on the other hand, are props that shored up the hulls of whaling ships to help them through icy and iceberg-laden waters. This was also the term for braces used to support the bilge of any wooden ship; they were placed on the diagonal across the hold to prevent the ship’s timbers from “loose-working”: coming apart due to the heave and swell of the water on which she rode.

Pointing refers to rope and is the process by which the ends of it are tapered by hand to make them easy to fit through holes, such as the eyes of a sail. These pointings were sometimes tarred, making them similar to the end of a modern shoelace. The eye holes were thus referred to as points.

The details of a seaman’s – and particularly an officer’s – duty were known as points of service. As Admiral Smyth admonishes in The Sailor’s Word Book, these “ought to be executed with zeal and alacrity.”

As to the guns, a pointer-board was a piece of wood used to point a ship’s guns. To point a gun was, of course, to train it on a target.

Point blank and point blank range come to the English idiom not through seafaring but archery. Prior to the introduction of gunpowder into Europe, archers were highly prized in warfare both on land and sea. Practice of archery was an all-important pastime for such men (and women, as it turns out). The pre-Medieval term for what we might imagine as a bull’s eye on the practice-butt was a “blank”. Thus we come to point blank; not close or straight on but a direct hit of the arrow onto the blank.

Point blank range for the great guns aboard ship during the Age of Sail was considered between 300 and 400 yards, with some variation for the size of the bore. This was how far the ball – there is no accurate measurement for shot, chain, etc. – could fly before succumbing to gravity and beginning to arc toward the ground or water. Once guns were rifled, the use of the term fell out of favor other then to mean quite literally pressing the gun to an object and firing.

Finally, in the language of the old Royal Navy man, a point-beacher was – to use the delicate turn of phrase mastered by Admiral S – “a low woman of Portsmouth.” The engravings of Rowlandson easily come to mind.

Happy Saturday, Brethren; more tomorrow for Seafaring Sunday.

Header: Catching a Zephyr: USS Constitution off Gibraltar, 1804 by masterful marine artist Patrick O’Brien (these O’Brian/O’Brien guys really know their nautical stuff!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Booty: Grilling Safety Navy Style

When it comes to cooking on the grill, seamen – particularly those of the New World variety – have always had a leg up (Captain Morgan rum pun possibly intended). There’s a reason why the buccaneers of the Spanish Main were named after a barbeque: le boucan. So, going into Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S., it should come as no surprise that Navy Live is offering some timely tips for your grilling pleasure, and safety.

David Nelson of the Naval Safety Center reminds one and all that 49 grill related burn injuries have been reported by commands around the world in the last five years, and that’s 49 too many. His tips for keeping grilling not only safe but fun and tasty are an important refresher as we in the Northern Hemisphere head into summer. There are also links to general fire safety reminders and safe cooking temperatures for meats of all kinds.

My favorite admonition, and one that cannot be repeated enough, has to be:

And never use gasoline to get the fire going. There’s a reason why [gasoline is referred to] as the Idiot’s Friend.

And I’ll say Huzzah! to that. Click over for more tips from the men in blue. I personally want all the Brethren to have a safe – and very delicious – weekend.

Header: U.S. sailors enjoying a field mess in Cuba c 1900 via The Pirate’s Lair

Thursday, May 24, 2012

History: Laid Up at Haslar

Formalized medical treatment for service people was to a large degree pioneered by the British and by the Royal Navy in particular. In the mid-18th century, when a “hospital” amounted to nothing more than a work house for the majority of England’s population, the Royal Navy was opening impressive buildings at Plymouth and Gosport dedicated to the illnesses and injuries of sailors and marines.

The Gosport location, known as the Royal Hospital Haslar, opened in 1753 with construction continuing until 1761. The structure was large, including three stories, an attic and a basement, with wings jutting forth on either side and outbuildings to house nurses, groundskeepers, guards and cooking staff, just to name a few.

The guards may seem to stand as an unnecessary adjunct to a hospital but, in fact, Haslar was designed as much to keep invalids from running away as to cure them. The hospital was purposefully built in the middle of a murky swamp, and until the early 19th century the only reliable way in and out was by ferry. Men were divested of their clothes immediately upon arriving. After a warm, soapy bath the clean seamen were issued “Hospital Dress” which they were informed would “greatly tend to [their] recovery.” As Kevin Brown points out in his book Poxed & Scurvied, The Story of Sickness and Health at Sea, these oversized shirts were probably cleaner than the clothes the men came to the hospital wearing. They were also an excellent way to tell if a man had left without permission, essentially deserting just as he might from a ship. Men tried this trick nonetheless; Brown notes that the latrines were a particularly popular escape route. They were also used to smuggle in booze, usually by the nursing staff.

At the outset, Haslar was run by medical men. The first physician to oversee the hospital was the famed James Lind whose pioneering research on scurvy was done to a large degree at Haslar. He insisted on separating patients by illness, putting the most contagious cases on the top floor of the building. The second floor was for men recovering from fevers, STDs and the like, while the ground floor was reserved for those who were ambulatory.

The system worked rather well, and men recovered under Lind’s oversight. Unfortunately, however, discipline suffered as most of Haslar’s doctors had private practices to attend to as well. The “dispensers” and nurses began to bicker amongst themselves and the doctors could become martinets when they felt their areas of expertise had been trespassed.

Initially the nursing staff was recruited from seafaring families. Sailors’ and marines’ wives, “the most sober, careful and diligent that can be had,” were brought in to administer medicines, give baths, change bandages and take those who could get up and about on therapeutic strolls. After Dr. Lind retired in 1783, things went steadily down hill and, though there were still excellent individuals among the nursing staff, the standards in general certainly slipped.

Brown notes that the Haslar nurses “developed a reputation for stealing from patients, forging wills, and smuggling gin tied around their waists and under their stays in bladders.” Patients complained about specific women who put them in fear of their lives. In Haslar the Royal Hospital, A.L. Revel quotes invalids speaking of one Nancy Armitage:

who treated us in such a manner that we were afraid for our lives. We have neglected taking our medicine from her less she should poison us, we never thought it was in the power of any woman to so behave and shew herself in the manner as she has done to us, and we were not able to help ourselves. She strove all she could to hurt us, she broke the poker striving to kill some of us and threatened us with drawing her knife.

What became of the psychopathic Nancy is not revealed.

Meanwhile, cases of nurses trying to assist neglected patients and being reprimanded or dismissed by doctors are also on the books. The middling road included nurses who were illiterate and could not tell which medications should be given to which men. Then there were those who were too drunk or too lazy to bother with medications or bandage changing at all. Then there was Jane Brown, who was sent packing for “going to bed with four or five patients and infecting one of them with the foul disease.”

By 1795 the Royal Navy, whose legendary system of discipline could hardly tolerate such mutinous behavior, had had enough. A position of Governor of the Hospital was established, to be awarded to a seaman of at leas post captain rank. The first at Haslar was Captain Charles Craven. It would be close to 100 years before the hospital was again run by medical doctors and Haslar would remain a functioning hospital, servicing all branches of the British military, until 2007.

Header: Early 19th c engraving of the Royal Hospital Haslar via the James Lind Library online

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ships: Henry VIII's Man-of-War

As has been pointed out by scholars for some time, warfare begets technology. Either we’re inventing more efficient agents of death or we’re improving our knowledge of medicine and surgery. Sometimes, as with the Crimean and American Civil Wars, we’re doing both. Today’s ship is an example of the kind of technological leap forward that quite literally changes everything and its like would not be seen again until the rise of the ironclads. We’re talking about Henry VIII of England’s Mary Rose, a formidable ship that was named after the king's little sister.

Prior to the launch of the original Mary Rose in 1511, warships were of the cog or carrack. They featured high fore and aft castles that served as protection for first archers and later gunners who pelted enemy crews prior to large scale boardings. The idea of using cannons against another ship for anything but the killing and maiming of men did not occur and was, in fact, virtually impossible due to the lack of gun ports. Because cannon were heavy, they needed to be set low in a ship to ensure stability in the water; without water tight gun ports, such armament was not feasible.

This all changed when just such a technological breakthrough was achieved in the early 16th century. The Mary Rose was a virtual prototype for this new way of carrying and using great guns. The cannon could now be used not only against rigging and men, but also for battering and sinking ships.

Initially, Mary Rose was the flagship of Lord Admiral Edward Howard’s fleet of 20 ships which, along with a compliment of Spanish allies, blockaded the French coast from Calais to Brest. The Admiral was killed in an engagement in April of 1511 but his brother Thomas quickly took up command. Mary Rose and her sister ships were instrumental in landing English troops at Calais, but Henry VIII’s burning hatred of the French king Francois I saw the ship called back to Plymouth for a rebuild that would improve her fire and man power. Her 105 foot hull would be strengthened and, when she was again launched in 1536, she would carry 91 guns; 13 more than in her previous incarnation.

As John Batchelor and Christopher Chant point out in The Complete Encyclopedia of Sailing Ships, Mary Rose’s compliment of not only arms but men speaks a lot to the sea change in naval warfare that her new design was heading up. When first launched, she carried 200 sailors, 185 soldiers and 30 gunners. By comparison, the compliment of her contemporary, Sovereign, numbered 400 soldiers to only 300 sailors and not a gunner in sight. When she was relaunched in 1536, she probably carried somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 men, with the numbers skewed toward sailing and gunnery once again.

When England’s war with France hit a fever pitch in 1545, Mary Rose was in the thick of it. Francois I planned to invade Portsmouth with a superior fleet of over 200 ships to Henry’s 60. On July 19th, the two sides engaged with the French targeting the larger Henry Grace a Dieu. A change in the wind allowed the English fleet to advance on the French and it looked as if Mary Rose might lead the charge to beat the French ships back. Historians are still debating what actually happened but the general theory is that Mary Rose’s inexperienced crew threw open her gun ports too soon, she heeled to starboard and her lower decks flooded almost instantly. She foundered and sank with the loss of all but 35 souls. One of the most interesting creatures to go down with her ship was Hatch, Mary Rose’s dog and rat catcher.

An attempt to salvage the ship was made once the French fleet had been chased back to Le Havre, but only a few cannons were raised. It wasn’t until 1982 that a large portion of the ship along with innumerable fascinating artifacts and Hatch’s intact skeleton were raised from the deep. A permanent home for the ship and museum dedicated to her and her seafaring era are still in the works. Find out more at the Mary Rose 500 Facebook page here.

Mary Rose, though she may not seem so now to modern eyes, was a technological marvel whose design would change the way all European nations approached warfare at sea. And that is undeniably impressive.

Header: Mary Rose by Bill Bishop via The Mary Rose Project

Monday, May 21, 2012

Women at Sea: More From the Whaling Wife

We've had a look at the shipboard diary of Mary Brewster before. Mary sailed aboard her husband’s whaling vessel, Tiger, from 1845 to 1851 and left a detailed journal cataloguing her adventures. Today’s entries find Mary and the Tiger off the coast of what will become the state of Alaska and indeed very far from their home in New England.

Friday, July 3, 1846: Light winds and weather more pleasant though cloudy and bad heavy swell. One whale sighted, boats have not lowered it being too rough. My employment has been of various kinds, cooking, making poultices for some hands, and numerous small jobs. No chance for idleness here nor lonesome feelings, plenty noise and work. Day closes with the sea more regular and cloudy.

Saturday, July 4, 1846: Beautiful and pleasant all day, warm enough without fire. Saw whales and chased hoping to get one as it would serve our purpose for a celebration but none could be got. At 6 PM we made the land called Roca Pamlonia 40 miles distant. Hope to go nearer, bore by compass N by E. How pleasant to the eye is the sight of land though distant. I often feel that if I can once more see my native land and walk thereon I shall prize it more than I ever did before.

Roca Pamlonia is a stretch of rock some sixty plus miles from the mouth of Prince William Sound near Valdez, Alaska. It is a treacherous area that has been known to chew ships up in bad weather. But Mary’s longing for land speaks to the trouble of “sloth” – depression – that she fought with during her years at sea.

Header: Daguerreotype of Mary Brewster via the Mystic Seaport Historical Society

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seafaring Sunday: The Race is On

May 20, 1497: John Cabot, explorer, businessman and sometime sea dog, sets out for the New World from Bristol, England.  His voyage sets up the European race to discover and colonize North and South America that will eventually encircle the entire globe.  For better and for worse.

Header: A replica of Cabot's ship, Matthew, in Bristol Harbor via Wikimedia

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Out

Aboard ship, one would have heard today’s word a fair amount in the Great Age of Sail, usually in connection with another word or phrase. Most commonly we have outboard meaning the outer part of the ship and the opposite of inboard. Also outside planking, another shipyard idiom for the wales of a ship.

Out rigger is a term familiar even to the most lubberly among us. It generally calls to mind pictures of Polynesian canoes with a balancing wooden extension that keeps the narrow craft from tipping as it glides along under oars or sails. The term was also used to indicate a large beam or log that would have been attached to a ship at her waterline in preparation for careening. This type of out-rigger was used to secure the masts and take away some of the strain on them from the opposite tackles necessary to pull her over on her side. Another word for such devices in British sailor speak was “outlicker”.

An outer-jib was a sail particular to sloops of the 18th and early 19th century. Along with the foresail-jib, the outer-jib was set from the foremasthead and secured at the jib-boom. An out-haul or outhauler was the rope used for hauling out the tack of these sails, or the studding sail or boom sail in square-rigged vessels.

Moving mud out of canals or channels was once termed out-holling and outlet is, of course, where a river or stream empties into a large body of water. Outregans is an ancient term for canals that are navigable by boat.

A ship can out sail another, going faster in a head-to-head race or sailing a course in less time. Ships might be out of commission, not in use and barely manned if at all. They may be out of trim, which means not that they are unclean or ill-kept but that the ship is not sailing to its best ability for lack of balance either in sails and rigging or in the way her hold is stowed.

Out oars is the order from the coxswain for men to slide their oars out and set to work. Out boats is the order to hoist a ship’s boats into the water. Of course no true sailor is unfamiliar with the bosun’s call to rise and shine: “Turn out or your laniard will be cut down!” Time to roll out of your hammock, mate, or you’ll hit the blanks otherwise.

The word outlandish, which in modern English refers to something quirky or down right weird, was originally a seaman’s term for being in a foreign land. As Admiral Smyth puts it:

Jack [finds himself in] a place where he does not feel at home, or [around] a language which he does not understand.

To my mind, and even to my ear, this makes much better expression of the word than the way we now use it. Perhaps that is a sign that I’ve steeped too long in the seafarer’s grog.

Finally, the ultimate compliment from one sailor to another was to refer to a mate as the out-and-outer. As the Admiral tells us, this signified “thorough excellence; a man up to his duty, and able to perform it in style.” That last is perhaps the best part; who doesn’t want to be remembered, after all, for their panache?

Header: Painting of ships in full sail by Geoff Hunt

Friday, May 18, 2012

Booty: Get Yar Diploma!

How many times have you said to yourself “If only I had a degree, everything would fall into place; in particular, a degree in pirateology”? Probably never. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t follow that dream.

Thanks to Pat Croche's Pirate and Treasure Museum, you can now attend Joseph O’Steene’s Pirate University and graduate with what I might venture to call your BB (Bachelor of Buccaneering).

Courses included cover subjects ranging from nautical terms to sea shanties. You can even work toward your Master of Piracy Degree. Seriously, who do you know that holds an MPD?

If you’re that studious type of pirate, click over and find out what awaits. Please let me know if you graduate; I’d love to count a professor of pirateology among the Brethren. On the other hand, if you’re too busy at the hard knocks school of plunderin’, drinkin’ and wenchin’, just follow the St. Augustine pirates on Twitter for curious lore and facts about our freebooting ancestors.

Either way, happy Friday one and all. I’ll spy ye tomorrow for Sailor Mouth Saturday!

Header: St. Augustine Pirate University banner from their website

Thursday, May 17, 2012

People: Shadow of a Privateer

It was a perfect example of how the violence and barbarity that lay beneath the surface of privateering could suddenly and frighteningly erupt once the restraints of legal pretense were removed… The collapse of Cartagena negated any remaining legitimacy of its privateering commissions. ~ from The Pirates Laffite by William C. Davis

In the above instance, the “it” in question are the savage actions of a certain shadowy privateer who was a fringe member of the Laffite brothers’ freebooting band. The man was William Mitchell, and though his origins are lost to history, some of his actions remain as bloody testament to the worst atrocities committed under the guise of “privateering.”

Mitchell’s name – if it is not an alias as was occasionally the case with the privateers of the era – would lead one to believe that he was American or possibly Canadian by birth. The Anglo-Saxon ring of his moniker gives it a certain legitimacy. Privateers connected with Barataria who chose to use aliases, such as Vincent Gambi and Renato Beluche, generally stuck with Gallic names: Jean Roux for the former and Rene Brougman for the latter.

Mitchell is not mentioned in any records associated with the Laffites’ New Orleans operations and indeed his name finds no place on the rosters of those Baratarians who fought at the Battle of New Orleans. What he did prior to the fall of 1815 cannot be said with certainty. Since we know he was captaining his own vessel, Cometa, at that time, it is safe to assume that he came from a seafaring background.

Cartagena, one of the first cities in Bolivar’s revolution against Spain to declare independence, had been under siege by the Spanish for over three months as of December, 1815. Louis Aury, an old Laffite associate, was in charge of a rebel fleet whose captains included familiar Baratarians such as Dominique Youx, Jean Jannet and Renato Beluche. These men harassed Spanish ships and attempted blockade runs to feed the starving citizens trapped inside the city, but to no avail. The city finally surrendered but the Spanish – who could not take care of the withering citizenry – gave lip service to allowing Aury’s ships to rescue the Cartagenans and remove them to other shores. In the end they would chase some of those ships down and send all aboard to a watery grave.

Mitchell and his Cometa joined this mission of mercy, taking on some of the cities wealthiest citizens including her Governor.

The ships, packed with refugees, were to set out for Haiti where Bolivar was in negotiations with her President for assistance with his floundering uprising. Storms and Spanish ships beset the little flotilla. Ships were separated and some foundered all together, going down with all hands. Mitchell, seeing an opportunity, veered off from the set course and put in at San Andres Island not far from Nicaragua. Here he dumped his starving passengers after divesting them of all their worldly goods. He and his men went on to sack the only city on the island, killing the Spanish governor and taking more loot including about twenty slaves. Cometa sailed off toward the Gulf of Mexico with Mitchell and his crew richer by an estimated $40,000.

Not finished by half, Mitchell took a Spanish vessel somewhere in the Gulf and relieved her of some $25,000 in silver. With that, he pointed Cometa toward the Mississippi, intent on heading for New Orleans to sell what he could not spend, including the slaves.

Mitchell’s plan went awry at the Balize, the small customs station located where the river meets the Gulf. Here inspector John Rollins, confronting Mitchell after a sweep of Cometa, was told in no uncertain terms that the captain had every intention of selling the humans in his hold when he reached New Orleans. Since importation of slaves was illegal, Rollins seized Cometa and Mitchell was indicted on three counts of piracy in May of 1816.

The atrocities committed by Mitchell at San Andres Island could very well have gone unknown to history had it not been for that indictment, which still exists in New Orleans as case number 0909. As Davis notes in his book, Commodore Daniel Tod Patterson remarked at the time of the indictment that Mitchell would never be tried. The Commodore’s comment held more than sarcasm; Mitchell would not see a day in court.

William Mitchell continued his piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, taking ships around Barataria, Galveston and Matagorda. He used Galveston as a base while first Louis Aury and then the Laffites ran thinly veiled smuggling operations from the bay. In fact, he was one of the first to receive an essentially bogus Mexican “commission” issued at Galveston by the Laffite brothers’ associate Humbert in February of 1817. He was also tapped as something of an errand boy for the brothers, sailing back and forth from Galveston to New Orleans aboard the converted gunboat Pegasus to retrieve supplies, arms and men. His last such mission ended with Pegasus being libeled by the U.S. for carrying illegal arms in February of 1820.

After that court action, which again never saw a climax, Mitchell disappeared from the record. Davis does give us a glimpse of the pirate’s possible end, stating that he “supposedly died May 1, 1821, on Great Corn Island off Nicaragua” which is somewhat unsatisfying to say the least.

The shadowy privateer known by the name William Mitchell remains a mystery, and we have only his evident treachery and brutality to remember him by. Something he has in common with so many of history’s pirates.

Header: San Andres Island via Wikimedia

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Preserving Our Mess

Before canning and refrigeration became the norm, preserving food and beverages for long sea voyages was one of the top priorities when heading out, particularly for merchants, whalers and blue water navies. Speaking figuratively of pirates as scurvy dogs is general just that: figurative. Pirates and privateers tended to keep their sailing to short jaunts that allowed ample time on land for the eating of fruits and vegetables. When your ship was headed out from New England to the Great South Sea, or Britain to India, you needed to think long and hard about what to stow for vitals.

A good example of this kind of conundrum being attacked by human ingenuity is the beer known as India Pale Ale. Beer and ale were a favorite of seamen, who considered them both a luxury and a right. The problem was that beer did not keep well in barrels particularly in warmer climates, making it necessary to drink it up directly out of port before it went off. IPA solved this problem, to some degree, with the addition of a noticeably large amount of hops. The ale was designed specifically for East India merchants travelling back and forth from Britain to India but it caught on quickly with the Royal Navy and eventually the U.S. Navy as well. Although some modern historians of beer dispute this IPA origin story, our seafaring ancestors certainly believed it and were drinking a form of the more bitter, robust IPA happily by the latter half of the 18th century.

In the galley, meanwhile, generally perishable things like butter and meat needed to last as long as possible. It was one thing to eat a moldy potato but rancid meat could, under the right circumstances, literally kill a man. As the Brethren are probably well aware, the answer was salt. Here are a couple of examples; one for preserving bacon and the other, butter:

For bacon, a layer of very dry salt would line the bottom of a container. A single layer of bacon strips would be packed closely on that, followed by another layer of salt, then bacon and so on, alternating until the container was full. This would then be covered as tightly as possible and stowed for future use. The salt was wiped away and, if it was available, fresh water might be used to rinse the strips of any remaining salt before cooking.

A similar method would be used for butter. The churned butter would actually be mixed with salt (the origin of our modern “salted” butter). This would then be pressed down into jars and a layer of dry salt would be spread over the top. The jars would be sealed tightly and stored some place cool. Use required a bit of fresh water to wash out the top layer of salt. If necessary, depending on the size of the jar, fresh dry salt could be packed on top of the butter again until future use.

Fish and meat were of course preserved similarly. What always strikes me is the amount of salt our seafaring ancestors must have taken in over the course of a lifetime. If most our physicians today found us eating like that they would probably suffer some form of paroxysm. And yet a fair number of these men and women lived to a rather advanced age. Maybe it was something in the IPA…

Header: Mess on the deck of the ironclad USS Monitor during the American Civil War via The Pirate’s Lair (more great pictures of vintage shipboard messes here)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Literature: "Sam Swipes"

Sam Swipes, he was a seaman true,
As bold and brave a tar
As e'er was dressed in navy blue
On board a man-of-war.

One fault he had - on sea or land
He was a thirsty dog;
For Sammy never could withstand
A glass or so of grog.

He always liked to be at sea;
For e'en on shore, the rover,
If not as drunk as he could be,
Was always half seas over.

The gunner, who was apt to scoff,
With jokes most aptly timed,
Said Sam might any day go off,
'Cause he was always primed.

Sam didn't want a feeling heart,
Though never seen to cry;
Yet tears were always on the start -
The drop was in his eye.

At fighting, Sam was never shy,
A most undoubted merit;
His courage never failed, and why?
He was so full of spirit.

In action he had lost an eye,
But that gave him no trouble;
Quoth Sam "I have no cause to sigh:
I'm always seeing double."

A shot from an unlucky gun
Put Sam on timber pegs;
It didn't signify to one
Who ne'er could keep his legs.

One night he filled a pail with grog,
Determined he would suck it;
He drained it dry, the thirsty dog!
Hicupped, and kicked the bucket.

~ Captain Frederick Marryat

Header: Two Pirates in Conversation via Under the Black Flag (see sidebar)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Seafaring Sunday: First Fleet

May 13, 1787:  A flotilla of 11 ships, with over 1,300 men, women and children - including 700 convicts and their children - set out from Plymouth, England headed for Botany Bay, Austalia.  Triple P wishes all you seafaring Moms a Happy Mother's Day!

Header: Charlotte of the First Fleet at Plymouth via Wikipedia

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Bend

On the majority of occasions, using the word bend at sea refers to rope, chain and cable in the “old fashioned” sense of those words. When bending rope one is usually attaching it via knot (which itself can be referred to as a “bend”) to another rope.

To bend may also mean tying a rope to an anchor. A Granny’s bend is a pejorative reference to a knot make by a lubber which is, as Admiral Smyth puts it, “a slippery hitch.” This will never do, of course, as a real bend is expected to hold through a gale. Time for an old tar to show the new guy how it’s done.

To bend a sail is to secure it to its appointed stay or yard. A river may have a bend, as in the lower Mississippi’s famous English Turn where British boats were thwarted in their attempt to reach New Orleans during the War of 1812. Men may be exhorted to bend to their oars aboard boats or galleys as well.

Bending ropes means, as noted, to tie them together rather than unraveling their ends and splicing them. Though bending is rarely as secure as splicing, knots have far more flexibility as they are readily tied and untied without the need for cutting and waste. A bowline knot is the most frequent way of bending rope but there are others; The Sailor’s Word Book lists Carrick-bend, hawser-bend, sheet-bend “and cetera” while Richard Henry Dana in The Seaman's Friend gives over a dozen names.

Bending the cable is the similar process of securing cable line to an anchor. As Admiral Smyth notes, this term did not die with the use of actual chains for anchor cable; the shackling of same to the anchor is still referred with such language.

When raising signal flags, a rope known as a distant line was used. This kept the flags separate to avoid confusion in the message, and the act of hoisting the distant line might be referred to as the bend on the tack. One would not want to mistake that England expects that every man shall do his duty.

Bender – though now more familiar in the way of imbibing – originally referred to the coiling of rope aboard ship or at dockside. One might “strike out for a bender” or “look out for a bender” when being told to coil rope or to find a coiled rope.

A bend roll is an old term for a rest used for muskets in the buccaneering days, these guns being extremely long and heavy. The bend proper is the large wedge on which a ship’s bowsprit sits.

The thickest, strongest planks on a ship’s sides were referred to as bends. This term was not used in common parlance among sailors, and is in fact more of a shipbuilder’s term. This part of the ship is more properly known as the wails or wales from which gunwale – gunnel.

And that is enough of bending and bends for one day. Happy Saturday, Brethren; come aboard tomorrow for Seafaring Sunday if you are so inclined.

Header: Going About to Please His Master by V.T. Turner c 1844 via Old Paint

Friday, May 11, 2012

Booty: Hello Sailor!

It's the Friday before Mothers’ Day here in the U.S. and I thought I’d let a picture do the talking.

Here, for no explicable reason that I can find anywhere on the web or elsewhere, we have a sailor apparently measuring the leg of a comely young lass. Meanwhile, other fillies await the same treatment, one has to assume. As I look at this picture, two things come to mind. First, do any of the ladies in the photo have a copy of it and have their great-grandchildren seen it? Second, sometimes it’s good to be a sailor.

Update: Check the comments for a little more indepth information on this photo discovered by the inimitable Captain John Swallow; thankee indeed, sir!

On that note, happy Friday, Brethren. I’ll leave you with this thought: recreated beer from an 1840's shipwreck sounds like something I, for one, would like to try.

Header: Picture of an unknown sailor and some equally unknown bathing beauties via the always amazing Black and WTF

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

People: Remembering the Marooner

We decided to return to the yacht. On our way back we landed in English Bay, and saw the cave in which Alexander Selkirk is said to have lived. Whether the story was true or not I am unable to say, but there is no doubt what ever that the cave has been used as a dwelling place. A fireplace and cupboards have been hollowed out in the sides, and there were other evident tokens of a former habitation. At the top of one of the steepest hills, which is said to have been his look-out station, stands a monument erected to his memory, and bearing the following inscription:

“In Memory of Alexander Selkirk. A native of Largo, in the county of Fife, Scotland, who was on this island for four years and four months. He was landed from the Cinque Ports galley, 96 tons, 16 guns, A.D. 1704, and was taken off by the Duke privateer, 12th February 1709. He died Lieutenant of H.M.S. Weymouth, A.D. 1723, aged 47 years. This tablet is erected near Selkirk’s look-out by Commander Powell and the officers of H.M.S. Topaz, 1868.”

~ from the diary of J. Cumming Dewar cruising aboard schooner Nyana at the Juan Fernandez Islands of Chile May 5, 1888

Of course, the Brethren will remember Alexander Selkirk, who was voluntarily marooned after a long dispute with his captain, as the inspiration for Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Header: Selkirk Cave c 1874 via Totally Free Images

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

History: Rome and Piracy in the Mare Nostrum

In 67 BC [Pompey the Great] was granted an imperium, under the terms of a new anti-piracy law, the lex Gabinia de piratis persequendis. The imperium gave Pompey 6,000 talents (units of currency), control of 500 ships, 120,000 Roman troops, and the right to tax and raise militia in cities up to 50 miles (80km) inland. His mission was to completely eradicate piracy in the Mediterranean Sea. ~ from The History of Pirates by Angus Konstam.

On paper, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus’ attack on piracy in what the Romans referred to as the mare nostrum – our sea – was a resounding success. Cicero, the famous orator and advocate, sang Pompey’s praises to the hinterlands, and over 2,000 years later we’re still listening. Generally, historians have played along with the idea that Pompey, while still a hero before his fall from grace in bitter civil war against Julius Caesar, quite literally put a halt to piratical activity in the Mediterranean. In particular, he captured and relocated the worst of the freebooting lot: the Cretans and the Cilicians.

History has a way of remembering the truth; although it tends to wait a very, very long time to reveal its best kept secrets. That seems to be the case with the shift in perception about Pompey’s success as a pirate hunter, as this wonderful piece by Philip Souza for History Today illustrates.

The piracy of the Cilicians in particular was an ongoing thorn in the side of the Republic of Rome. The problem was that, as a Republic with nothing more solid than the political aspirations of praetorian Senators to move legislation forward, defending outlying provinces against piracy was often put on the back burner. If something truly heinous occurred, it was usually a provincial Governor or praetor who took the hit for the mess. As Souza notes:

For merchants piracy was more than just an economic hazard. It was not only the cargo that would be vulnerable to pirates, they might easily kill the crew and any passengers, or sell them as slaves, or if they were wealthy or important ransom them.

On average, it was only in the final instance of the wealthy and/or politically connected being held for ransom that Rome took any real note of piratical activity. That was, until the pirates of the eastern Mediterranean struck the Romans right where they lived: in the breadbasket. Souza continues:

So why were the Romans prepared to take such drastic action [in 67 BCE]? The main explanation seems to be sheer self-interest. While pirates regularly harassed the provincial subjects and allies, but left Rome and Italy relatively untroubled, the Romans were content to profess concern but take little action. In the early 60s BD, however, pirates were striking at targets on the Italian coast. Places like Brundisium, Caieta and even Ostia, at the mouth of the river Tiber, were attacked. The harbours, cities, roads and villas of Italy ere easy pickings… One thing which no one could ignore in Rome was a threat to the grain supply.

Since the plebs lived by the bread made from the grain, and also saw to the popularity or utter downfall of their politicians, the Senators knew they had to do something. Thus Pompey, already a noted general with an able military mind and endless political ambition, was tapped to put a halt to the piratical invasions of Rome proper.

I won’t go into detail here as the Brethren are much better served by reading Souza directly. This quote from Cicero, whom Souza refers to as a Roman “spin doctor”, sums it up nicely:

[Pompey] himself, however, set out from Brundisium and in 49 days he had brought Cilicia into the Roman Empire.

Souza quickly adds:

Close scrutiny of the sources leaves the distinct impression that Pompey was in a hurry and not at all concerned about doing a good job.

Even after “resettlement” – to ports that seemed made for piratical activity no less – the Cilicians and Cretans returned to their old ways. Though generally they were more subtle after Pompey’s campaign and they studiously avoided the Italian coasts, they continued to be brazen in their kidnap and ransom strategies. Selling prisoners as slaves continued to be a prime source of income as well but Rome was willing to look the other way on this issue in particular as it was, essentially, a slave-run economy.

It was not until the rise of the Empire and the rule of Augustus that pirates were well and truly subdued in the mare nostrum. In fact Augustus, in a shrewd political move that was typical of the Roman government’s manipulation of the “pirate issue”, turned his arch-rival Sextus Pompeius (son of Pompey the Great) into a “pirate” in the Roman press. Once Sextus’ uprising and blockade of Rome had been ended, Augustus spread the word with inscriptions on monuments throughout the Empire:

I made the sea peaceful and freed it of pirates.

Header: The Slave Market by Gustave Boulanger c 1882

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sea Monsters: Fowl Meal

As hard as it is for me to comprehend, it appears that the post you are reading is the 900th here at Triple P. So as a special treat, let’s talk about a giant Pacific octopus making a meal out of a Glaucous-winged seagull.

Evidently, at least according to this article at Bird Fellow where birdwatchers of the Pacific Northwest meet on the web, a lady named Ginger Morneau was out for a stroll at the Ogden Point Breakwater. The Breakwater, which I can state from experience is lovely, is located on the Pacific coast of Victoria, British Columbia. It is a haven for all types of wildlife and many bird watchers and sea creature enthusiasts congregate there to take pictures and videos of the abundant fauna.

Ms. Morneau was strolling the Breakwater on a nice day in late March when she noticed a gull with its head underwater, furiously flapping its ample wings. At first glance, it appeared that the bird was feeding on something just under the waves. A second look, however, told a different tale.

An octopus could be seen below the gull anchoring itself to nearby rocks while pulling the bird under with one massive tentacle. Ms. Morneau snapped a number of pictures and shared her unusual documentation with Bird Fellow. According to her, the entire struggle took no more than a minute. Once the octopus had successfully drown the gull, it pulled the bird bodily underwater and one assumes ate it.

Evidently this behavior is not as atypical as we might think. Both animals are predatory toward one another. Some days the gull eats the octopus, some days it’s the other way around. Ms. Morneau just happened to get evidence of the latter.

Curiously, at least to my mind, the Bird Fellow article notes:

Ginger described the battle as “primal” and although she wanted to rescue the gull, it wouldn’t have been possible

I can’t quite wrap my head around why she wanted to rescue the gull. Nature isn’t sweet and an octopus, just like every living thing, needs sustenance. Everyone perceives things differently, of course, but I say good on you octopus. A gull’s a fine meal, if you can get it.

Header: Octopus vs. seagull, photo by Ginger Morneau via Bird Fellow

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Seafaring Sunday: Daring Success

May 6, 1801: Thomas Cochrane, commanding 14 gun sloop HMS Speedy, takes the much larger Spanish xebec frigate El Gamo commanded by Francisco de Torris off Barcelona.  De Torris was killed in the action while Cochrane made his name as a daring, capable naval commander.

Header: HMS Speedy takes El Gamo via Age of Sail (click over to read an excellent evaluation of the action)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Go/Going/God

Today's words when used at sea usually have to do with orders. Well, except the last one; that usually has to do with bald-faced swearing. “God damn your eyes, sir,” comes to mind for some reason. Anyway, let us take a closer look and, upon the close of this post, I’ll explain the reason for William Blake’s peon to Horatio Nelson at the header. Bear with me, I humbly beg; or just skip to the last paragraph. I’m just glad that you’ve stopped by.

Go as a stand alone order is usually reserved for the shipyard and indicates the moment when a ship is ready to be released from the stocks. To go ashore implies shore leave, and “goashores” were a sailor’s best clothes, reserved in general for time on land when impressing the locals and representing the ship well would both have been a priority.

A ship is said to be going free when she is sailing with the wind on her beam, the bowlines slackened. She is going large when sailing off the wind in which case there would be much going about or tacking.

A go by is code for a strategy to get out of trouble, in the sense of the ship as a whole. As an example, Captain Aubrey gave the French ship Acheron the go by when he had his men row Surprise into a fog bank after her rudder was disabled in the movie Master and Commander.

Going through the fleet is an old and horrible form of torture inflicted in the Royal Navy prior to its abolition in the early 19th century. A criminal sailor was condemned to a certain number of lashes along side a group of ships at anchor in the same area, with the total lashes sometimes as high as 500. The unfortunate was rowed to each ship in a launch, the proscribed flogging performed, and then the launch rowed on to the next ship. Men were known to die from such punishment, and objection to this type of extremity was one of the foremost arguments against impressments of Americans by the Royal Navy which in turn led to the War of 1812.

A godsend meant an unexpected prize or sudden lifting of storm or attack. While the word God I will leave to the inimitable Admiral Smyth:

We retain the Anglo-Saxon word to designate the ALMIGHTY; signifying good, to do good, doing good, and to benefit; terms such as our classic borrowings cannot pretend to.

Since, upon his death at Trafalgar, Nelson became something of a god to the British people, Blake’s painting seems only appropriate for today.

Header: The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan by William Blake c 1805

Friday, May 4, 2012

Booty: A World of Adventure

Google, whose trademark “doodles” have become a staple of our Internet-centric lifestyles, is currently finishing up a contest for school-age young people from around the U.S. The kids were tasked with drawing a “Google doodle” and then giving a brief description of their design for consideration. The finalists from across the country are up, and Internet voting is open through May 10.

Allow me to point you in the direction of the doodle above, featuring a theme familiar to all the Brethren: Vikings.

This beautiful piece of artwork was penned by the obviously talented Cynthia Edison who is a junior at a New Jersey high school. Of her doodle (hardly a fair word – I’d call that a painting), Cynthia writes:

If I could travel in time, I'd visit the age of the Vikings. Though their tales of monsters may not have been entirely true, they were some of the greatest explorers in history. It would be a remarkable experience to share adventures and discover new lands with them.

And, if I may humbly add, collect booty! Great explorers they were, and great pirates as well.

My favorite part of Cynthia’s art piece is the map of the North Sea, including Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland, which traces the routes by which the Vikings left safe harbor and went out into an unknown world.

I feel compelled to officially endorse Cynthia’s breathtaking tribute to our Viking ancestors as Triple P’s Google Doodle contest finalist of choice. Click over and vote, won’t you?  And while you're there, vote for one in each age group.  There are some talented kids out there, thank goodness.

Header: Viking Google Doodle by Cynthia Edison

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Movies: Jack Aubrey Commands

Over at The Dear Surprise, Monday saw The Dear Knows posting a thesis on leadership theory entitled “Mastering Leadership Reflexes: A Case Study of Captain Aubrey”. Of course, all it takes is the last two words of that title to get any O’Brian fan going. Needless to say I read the whole thing. Twice.

The paper is fascinating as a stand-alone evaluation of Russell West’s 2004 piece “A Reflex Model of Leadership Development” published in the Journal of Religious Leadership. It layers the groundwork of West’s theory with the command skills of the fictional character John Aubrey, RN as portrayed, not in O’Brian’s fiction, but in the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Before I go any further, I feel compelled to point out that the co-authors of the thesis are all members of evangelical Christian churches. Though it is not my habit to discuss my personal feelings on religion here at Triple P, I must say first and foremost that this was a stumbling block for me in evaluating the material. I could not, in all fairness, get past the thought that the examples and information put forth would be used to manipulate people into a devotion to a business model that wears the vestments of spirituality. This is purely an honest, upfront admission on my part so that anyone reading my analysis will know that I come to the material with a bias.

Well, more than one bias if I’m honest. The authors rely entirely on Jack Aubrey the character as portrayed in the Peter Weir film. There is no reference to O’Brian and certainly no reference to the historical accuracy which was so important to that author. I won’t go through the piece line-by-line as that would be a crazy insult to the Brethren, but allow me to point out a few issues which jumped out at me.

A specific juxtaposition is made by the authors under the heading of “The Ethical Consideration Reflex.” Here they point to Aubrey’s ability to “… make right choices in ethically muddled situations…” One is the scene where in able seaman Worley is lost over the side of Surprise during a storm. Part of a mast is torn away and it begins to drag the ship down, as the line in the movie says, “like a sea anchor.” Aubrey makes the decision to cut the mast’s rigging, freeing the ship but dooming Worley to death by drowning. The second is Aubrey’s decision to suspend the pursuit of Acheron in favor of making landfall so that his friend, Stephen Maturin, can be saved vis-à-vis removal of a bullet from his abdomen.

These “right choices” are perhaps not so black and white outside of the context of the movie – particularly in the second case. While saving the many over the one is an almost textbook military leadership choice, saving the personal friend over duty, ship and crew is quite another thing. This is not, one must be thankful to say, a choice that Aubrey was required to make in O’Brian’s series but it is a choice faced by military leaders throughout history. Would John Aubrey, however fictional he may be, have made the choice of friend over duty? We probably would like to think that the answer would be yes but, based on the historical record, it is more likely “maybe.”

Another glaring issue for me was the authors argument under “Collaborative Reflex”, wherein they assert that Aubrey “develops camaraderie with his executive team…” and “… creates an environment in which [the crew] work together using their individual strengths and abilities to accomplish a common goal.”

Indeed, and again on the face of it, Aubrey is a cheerful “friendly” leader, willing to allow men to do what they are best at without hovering while showing compassion in times of injury, illness or death. Unfortunately this is not as uncommon, historically speaking, as the authors might like to imagine.

Aside from the likes of captains such as Bligh and Pigot, who created hells afloat, most naval leaders were and are aware of the confinement of their situation. There truly is nowhere to go in the middle of the ocean and it is not only the leaders but the men who must trust in and encourage one another in order to ensure that everyone not only gets home safe, but successful as well. Making repairs at sea, changing approach rather than sticking to “orders”, promoting or disciplining individuals as necessary and so much more would have not only been required but expected.

The idea of camaraderie was a feature of Jack’s personality as penned by O’Brian. He was very much a captain who needed a particular friend like Stephen Maturin. In stark contrast, and to stay within the realm of fiction, C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower is very much “the man alone.” He may consult and dine with his lieutenants, but in the final analysis he will decide the fate of his ship and her souls. I wonder what the authors of this piece might make of Hornblower as his leadership style in the BBC dramatizations of Forester’s works relates to West’s theory.

Of course there is so much more to consider but I may already have worn out my welcome. Click over and read the piece yourself. If you’re so inclined, let me know what you think. I’d particularly like to hear from you O’Brian scholars; you know who you are.

Header: Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Keeping Clean

In this modern age of fiberglass, garden hoses and soogee, it is sometimes hard for today’s sailor to imagine just how much work keeping a wooden ship, well, ship-shape really was. The daily, backbreaking process of scrubbing the decks, gunnels and brass have been nicely – if only briefly – illustrated in movies like Mutiny on the Bounty and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. But what were those guys actually doing on their hands and knees, and what were they doing it with? Glad you asked.

The cleaning of ships has had its own language since before the 1700s. Bibles, prayer books, holy stones, all of these things were better known aboard ship for the religious practice of cleaning than as a source of spiritual guidance. The need for such attention is made abundantly clear in this quote from Captain George Anson aboard HMS Centurion off the coast of Africa in 1732:

We scraped our decks and gave our ship a thorough cleaning; then smoked it between decks, and after all washed every part well with vinegar. These operations were extremely necessary for correcting the noisesome stench on board, destroying the vermin; for from the number of our men, and the heat of the climate, both these nuisances had increased upon us to a very loathsome degree.

One can almost smell the humid, congested reek of Captain Anson’s man-of-war.

By the time the right honorable captain was writing about cleaning his ship, it was beginning to dawn on people that keeping clean, both in body and environment, would prevent disease. Since nothing is more troubling when one has a limited workforce as having able bodies made unable to contribute by illness, the sailors’ mania for cleanliness makes perfect sense. By the turn of the 19th century it was also a matter of pure pride to present a smooth, clean deck, gleaming brass and white sails even to the humblest of visitors.

Captain Anson’s men would have scraped Centurion’s decks with sand brought onto the ship in barrels and replenished in port or, in smaller coastal vessels, literally brought up from the ocean floor. The sand was watered to create a loose mud and then scrubbed over the deck with stones. The stones were of varying sizes; bibles were the largest, about the size of a fireplace brick, and were used for the open spaces away from masts, fittings and rails. Next in size were prayer books, which fit comfortably in one hand and were approximately the size of a modern kitchen sponge. These were used closer to the fittings mentioned. Finally, the holy stones were the size of river rocks and functioned for detail work usually done on Friday or Saturday aboard Royal Navy and U.S. Navy ships. Why the stones’ names referenced religion is still something of a mystery, although folklore has it that they were originally taken from old headstones in English churchyards.

At the end of the process, the deck was rinsed and then swabbed with rope-yarn mops that were initially hand held but eventually had poles attached for convenience. The entire process was to be completed before the ship’s day started when noon was called from the quarterdeck, so an early start in the morning watch around four or five AM was not unusual.

Needless to say, all this scrubbing was hard on both ship and men. Though the process made the deck white as clouds, it also degraded the wood to a point of structural failure. Replacement of decks was an ongoing task when at home. Men gained bone spurs and arthritis for their trouble, particularly in their knees. Reference to the pain of “praying” aka scrubbing the deck was a common gripe. The seaman and writer Felix Riesenberg, who served aboard U.S. ships in the late 19th century, mentioned a clever solution for this problem used aboard the A.J. Fuller:

To overcome the hardness of the deck, we rigged up pieces of board to which three cleats were nailed and a strip of old canvas stretched over them.

These clever contraptions, which were something like little hammocks for a sailor’s knees, could easily be moved along as the men went from bow to stern each morning. Hands and arms were also left raw and chapped by the process; most men begged a bit of slush – cooking grease – from the cook to ease this problem.

So take note, modern sailor; there’s always hard work aboard us but our ancestors – as is so often the case – had a far more difficult time of cleaning their wooden worlds.

Also, just in case you were wondering what soogee is, here is Peter H. Spectre’s easy to make and easy to apply recipe with instructions:

Add a cup of detergent and a cup of bleach to a pail of fresh, hot water. Dip a stiff brush in the soogee and wash down. Clean up with a cotton mop, then flush with cold water.

And when you’re done, Brethren, have a piece of fruit or perhaps a mug o’ grog; it is Scurvy Awareness Day after all…

Header: Admiral Farragut on board USS Hartford via Navy History (impressive decks fit for America’s first Admiral)