Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

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.

Get scurvy

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.

Dis­ci­plinary ac­tion

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.

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