ROCK YOUR BOAT
Ruth Spencer sails back in time to see whether a sailor’s life is as merry as rumour would have it
So you’ve run away to sea with Captain Cook. That’s quite the Endeavour. How do you occupy yourself on a long ocean voyage? There’s no Wi-Fi and no all-day buffet when you spend six months in a leaky boat, so you might find yourself all at sea. Here’s how to have a pleasure cruise on in the 1700s.
Have a nap
Hammocks are such a great idea. You’re out of the damp, you can layer them like dangly bunks and the rats have a much harder time eating your toenails. They’re charmingly boho; you can whip one up in an afternoon of macrame. They help prevent love dramas among the crew because it’s almost impossible to get romantic in a hammock. Also because when you’re in one you look like a rolled roast. No one has ever looked sexy in a hammock.
Swab the deck
Why do sailors always seem to be doing this? Isn’t the deck already kind of wet, what with being on a boat and all? Turns out, constant mopping keeps the wood from shrinking, keeping your boat watertight. Watertight is a thing people like boats to be. The salt in the seawater prevents mould and mildew: swab and walk away! Well, not very far, you’re on a boat.
Once a popular pastime for the oceanically inclined, scurvy’s bone-rotting, tooth-removing excitement has gone a little out of fashion. It’s easily recreated at home by a diet of salt pork and biscuits (not lemon cremes, which are delicious but defeat the purpose). Scurvy, like a dinner with extended family, opens up any old wounds you might have; this gives you an excellent opportunity to share battle stories with your shipmates and get closer together by mutually falling apart.
Become a powder monkey
Are you small, fast and looking for a life of excitement? A short one? Running gunpowder from the hull to the guns is just the job for a tween with guts, eventually visible ones. The paper route of the 1700s, it was the kind of career 12-yearolds were dying to get into. Women did it too, if they could find a ship that didn’t think it was bad luck having a woman on board — and if they didn’t mind the “being exploded” part of the job description. Turns out having a woman on board was bad luck, at least for the woman.
Cook favoured flogging as a punishment for his crew, which sounds kind of mean until you hear about keelhauling, popular in the same period. Misbehaving sailors were tied to a rope looped under the ship and dragged from one side to the other. There’s nothing under a ship you want to visit. Water, razor-sharp barnacles, sharks, every unpleasantness of the sea in one whirlwind tour. Occasionally survivable, keelhauling had the unfortunate consequence of making sailors unable to swab a deck — or anything else, ever again, so a quick flog kept all hands on deck for that all-important mopping.