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Title: A bunch of rope yarns
Author: King, Stanton H.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A bunch of rope yarns" ***



  _Author of “Dog Watches at Sea”_


  _Boston: 1903_

  Richard G. Badger
  _The Gorham Press_

  Copyright 1902 by
  Stanton H. King

  _All Rights Reserved_

  Printed at The Gorham Press, Boston


  How I Was Educated                   13

  Mission Work Among Seamen            35

  The Forecastle                       53

  Superstitions of Seamen              69

  The Lucky Bag                        85

  The Sailor and His Dudheen           99

  Pets Aboard Ship                    109

  How Sailors Wash Their Clothes      123

  The Lead Line                       141

  Rhymes Foretelling Weather          155

  Rules of the Road at Sea            161

  Signalling at Sea                   167

_To Mary Bennett Holden_

_A noble woman has passed from earth, and great was her reception when
she crossed the Harbor Bar._

_I speak of Mary Bennett Holden, a young woman of leisure, who, for two
years chose to employ her time in uplifting work among seamen, and made
upon them the impression of a sweet, earnest soul._

_She was much of her time at the Sailors’ Haven, joining with the
sailors in their games and other forms of amusement, and was regarded
by all as their personal friend. Her greatest joy was when contributing
in some way to a sailor’s welfare, whose honest, and other good
qualities she learned to admire. Her delight was to take the trimmer
from the stoke hold, dressed in his rough clothing and show him the
educational features of the City. She was constantly doing for them
things which contributed to their comfort and pleasure, and the very
day of her funeral, some of the seamen in port were given a number of
comfort bags which she had made before and during her illness._

_Many a sailor has been led from a careless life to one of high
purposes and Christian ideals, by having known her._

_In the spacious reading room of the Haven, hangs her portrait,
perpetuating her self-sacrificing labors. The sailors gather round it
and find consolation in looking on the picture of the one they loved._

_One evening the boatswain of an ocean steamer dried his eyes with his
bandana and said “I like to look at her even though it makes me cry.”
Another old “Shell Back,” who had wasted his years in reckless living
said “I never drew a sober breath in Boston till I met her.” I could
fill a volume telling the various expressions of appreciation tendered
her by the men of the sea, but forbear. Let it suffice when I say she
was their friend in the truest sense; there emanated from her heart
that genuine hospitality which cannot be described, but was immediately
realized, and made the sailors feel at ease._

_Her very presence diffused pleasure, she was the fountain of gladness,
brushing, as it were by magic, the cares and troubles from their
faces, and making everything in her vicinity freshen into smiles.
It took but a moment for her joyous disposition to breed a perfect
contagion. She made the youthful heart glad and forced old age to throw
off its apathy and live again the freshness of life._

_There was a healthful hardiness about her, that never dreaded contact
and communion with others however humble._

_Her whole demeanor was easy and natural, and without any pretension
whatever, she won the confidence and respect of the sailor men._

_They sadly miss her, and will ever do so. She has weighed her anchor
and sailed for a happier shore. We know she is waiting to welcome her
friends of the sea into her world where there are no farewells and

_To her memory I affectionately dedicate this volume._

                                                              _S. H. K._


When a boy, as a part of my training on shipboard, I unlaid the strands
of old hemp rope, and separated the yarns. Then after knotting the
ropeyarns together, the spinning jenny was secured on the top gallant
forecastle, where I tugged at the bit of rope which was the motive
power for revolving the spinning wheel. An able seaman rubbed the
twirling ropeyarns with a piece of old canvas, thereby making spunyarn
enough for the voyage. The remembrance of the oaths, cuffs and kicks
from a cruel boatswain, on finding some of the ropeyarns poorly
knotted, makes me offer in fear and trembling this literary “Bunch of
Rope Yarns.” Still I hope that my reader may find some of the yarns
knotted in seamanlike fashion.

                                                         STANTON H. KING

  _Sailors’ Haven, Mission for Seamen,
           Charlestown, Mass._


How I Was Educated

Within a week after my first attempt in the literary field had been
placed on sale, I received a letter from a woman in Vermont, asking me
to answer the four following questions:

“Was it the words of the hymn that brought about your conversion that
Sunday afternoon, when you say you decided to sever yourself from every
evil association?”

“May I ask how you obtained an education to enable you to write your
book, seeing you left your home at an early age?”

“Did you go directly to the Sailors’ Haven from the sea?”

“Do you think it just the thing to place pool and billiards in a
seaman’s mission, and allow the sailors to fill God’s house with
tobacco smoke?”

I did intend to write to this good soul and answer her questions, but
before I could find time to settle down to such a task other letters
reached me. Some asked similar questions about myself, others wanted
to know about my work, two requested me to tell them the whereabouts
of their sons--prodigals who were among the swine. And another letter
in the form of a circular desired me to ascertain if I could give some
light on the baptism of William Kinge, who embarked at Weymouth in
Dorsetshire, for America in 1635-6.

I will now take up the first three questions of my first letter. The
answer to the fourth question regarding the use of pool and billiard
tables in a seaman’s mission and allowing the men to smoke, to do
justice to it, should be an article by itself.

I will say it was not the words of the hymn which appealed to me and
convicted me of sin. One of my father’s favorite songs was “Annie
Laurie.” If on that Sunday afternoon those young temperance workers
had sung that old Scotch melody it would have stirred me as much and
perhaps more than did the gospel hymn.

Seated in front of the singers that Sabbath day it was not the words,
but the associations that hymn had with my boyhood days which made me
desirous of changing my course of living. As I heard these young women
my mind was filled with thoughts of home and loved ones; a longing
to be the man my mother would have wanted me to be took possession
of me; it entered my soul and permeated my whole being. During my
travels I had heard many hymns sung, I had met religious men, but they
made no impression on me. They may have done so in time. These young
women singing this particular hymn brought to my mind recollections
of a Christian home and fond parents. I will frankly say that on that
afternoon no thoughts of a hereafter or of God entered my mind.

Among that gathering of women there was one who was so situated that it
did not embarrass her homelife to have me visit her. When on liberty I
was made welcome in her home. My birthday was on May first. She wanted
to have me read the scriptures and so took advantage of the day to give
me a handsome morocco-bound Bible, asking me to accept it as a birthday
gift from her, remarking that she would like to have me mark with a
pencil all the verses that interested me.

During this time, I was trying my best to overcome the ridicule of my
shipmates. Some of them said in one month I would be as wild as ever;
others, more generous, gave me six months to return to my old haunts;
all were astonished and surprised to see that I had tacked ship. With
my birthday gift in my hands, I seated myself on my ditty box on the
port side of the gun deck, forward of the nine-inch gun, and opened the
book. It was impossible for me then to receive any benefit from the
reading. I had my pencil in hand to mark the verses, when some of the
recruits leaned over the gun and began to quote, or rather misquote,
scripture, asking me to find certain unheard of passages which I knew
were not in the book. One man wanted me to find the story of the
birth of Tom Bowline, declaring it was given in Holy Writ. Although
exasperated, I held my peace, but locked my Bible in my ditty box and
walked aft to the captain’s galley.

I knew in this small corner I would find help. Lewis, the captain’s
cook, was there. Although colored, his intelligence and manliness were
far ahead of many white men, and he had a kind heart. So on reaching
his galley door I told him how some of the recruits had bothered me
and how I longed to sail in and receive a thrashing or give one. “Look
here, King,” he said, “don’t mind them, boy; they are jealous of you.
They won’t do what’s right themselves and won’t let you. If you’d stand
up there at the canteen and shout beer for the crowd, they would say
you’re a fine fellow. They don’t want you to get ahead. Just don’t mind
them, but keep right on as you’re going. Come to me any time and I will
help you.”

Ah, Lewis, it was easy said, but difficult to accomplish. It was hard
to resist the many temptations and to keep from returning to my former

Sometimes when a feeling of loneliness came over me and the tempter
was near at hand, I searched out Mr. Howe, the ship’s writer, a stanch
Christian fellow, and in his company I would find help. Again one of my
shipmates, a splendid character, one who attended his church regularly,
allowed me to talk with him on religious topics.

I held the rate of a quarter gunner, which gave me the charge of
the empty shellrooms as well as care of the guns and ammunition. I
secured a handful of candles from Jack of the Dust, and with my Bible
tucked into the folds of my blue shirt, one day I wended my way to the
shellroom. The shellrooms were forward and aft. Those forward were near
the fore peak, making it almost impossible for me to go there without
being seen. The after shellroom was under the orlop deck on each side
of the tunnel of the propeller shaft.

If my reader could visit the empty starboard shellroom under the orlop
deck of the old _Wabash_, he would find, if they have not lately been
removed, drippings of the candles which gave me light to read the story
of Him Who “went about doing good.” I could not mark the verses. All
of them were interesting to me. The only ones I did mark were those
I remembered hearing my father quote. For the first time I carefully
read the story of our blessed Lord. It was during these quiet hours in
the shellroom that I sought forgiveness and desired the blessings of a
Christian life. It was there, as a man, I said my first prayer.

It was my duty to instruct the recruits in singlestick exercise, big
gun drill and marching. On a certain forenoon after I had finished
drilling the recruits, I went below to the shellroom and was so
absorbed in my studies that I forgot my dinner. The time passed on and
two bells (one o’clock) were struck. I heard a voice saying, “Yes, King
has broken adrift; he hasn’t been seen since he drilled the recruits
and he can’t be found.” I quickly blew out my candle and reached the
orlop deck. Here I met two recruits who were taking an empty trunk on
deck, the property of an officer who had been detached from the ship.
I soon learned from them the hour, and that the boatswain’s mate had
been shouting himself hoarse calling for me. The temptation to say I
had been cleaning the shellroom was present with me. I mastered it
and said to the officer of the deck, as I met him, that I had been in
the shellroom. Before I could say what kept me there he, trusting me,
said, “Open the armory and give the recruits their muskets.” I had done
no wrong, still I believed that the executive officer would rather I
wouldn’t use a naked light in the shellroom even though it was empty.
The ship’s corporal still mistrusted me. He went below to the shellroom
and searched for liquor, believing he would find some there belonging
to me.

Now I feel I have answered my first question, I will tackle the second.
My first recollection of school is, when a mere infant I was taken in
the arms of my nurse and carried to the desk of my god-mother, who
taught a primary school within a stone’s throw of my father’s house.
From her I learned my alphabet and then on till I started to sea I
attended school regularly. At twelve years old I was well versed in
English, history, geography and arithmetic. I could read readily, and
aboard ship I enjoyed reading novels. Before I was sixteen years of
age I had read nearly all of Dickens, Scott, and many other renowned
authors. During my cruise on the _Alliance_ I devoured everything in
the ship’s library, and was continually borrowing both good and bad
books from my shipmates.

The day came when I longed to be of some service to the men of the sea.
I had gained strength in my Christian life and had won the respect of
my shipmates. Those who had ridiculed me now stood by me and encouraged
me. I bought an English grammar, and with the help of the ship’s writer
and the ship’s printer, I tried to master it. It was a hard task. At
this time I formed the acquaintance of a local minister. I told him I
wanted an education. His first words were, “Why don’t you go to Moody’s
school?” I questioned him closely and learned from him much about Mount
Hermon School for young men. Next morning I sent in haste a letter to
the principal of the school, telling him who I was and that my only
desire was to enter Mount Hermon for a course of study.

In a few days I received a large envelope containing a blank form for
me to fill, and requesting me to have someone of good standing in my
community sign it, vouching for my being a desirable pupil. It also
stated that the tuition fee was $100 a year. I had saved no money.
My earnings were now given to the support of my youngest sister.
The minister signed my application, I mailed it and in a few days I
received word that I was granted admission to that grand institution
for young men.

It was November and as the school term did not begin till February, I
had time to save $50 for the half-year’s tuition. The ship’s company of
the _Wabash_ was granted liberty every other night. The starboard watch
would be on liberty one night and the port watch the next. I wanted
to enter the Charlestown evening schools and it was of no use my doing
so unless I could be on liberty every night. I obtained permission,
entered the school and was examined. Dear me! I was put in a class of
small boys who were far ahead of me in their studies. They laughed at
me, and, knowing I was a sailor they joked with me till I felt myself
an object of their ridicule. It was impossible for me to study in that
class, so I gave up the evening school.

Determined to master the contents of my grammar book, I entered the
ward room one morning and obtained the promise of Chaplain Wallace to
tutor me, which he kindly did. At that time the special service men
enlisted for one year’s service. My enlistment did not expire till May.
Therefore during the two months I was preparing for Mount Hermon I was
anxious about my discharge.

For the past six months, Captain James O’Kane had been in command of
the _Wabash_. During that time I had given no cause to be brought
before him. There were so many men on the ship that I did not think
he knew there was such a mortal as myself on his vessel. Three days
before I was to enter Moody’s school, I braced up courage enough to
reach the mainmast and make my request known to the officer of the
deck. I think I see Captain O’Kane holding his sword in his hand
walking towards me as I stood at the mast awaiting his coming.

“What is it, King?” I meekly replied I wanted my discharge and told him
my heart’s desire. “Good fellow, good fellow,” was his answer. “To be
sure, you can have it. Make out an application and I will approve it
and send it to the commandant for his approval.” I did as he told me
and my discharge was granted me. It was the best bit of parchment I had
ever received, for on it was marked “Obedience, excellent.” I have it
framed and as I write I can see it before me.

The day came for me to take my bag and hammock and leave the dear old
sea to begin a different life. Just as I was going over the gangway,
Captain O’Kane came on deck from his cabin. Seeing me he sent his
orderly to say he wanted me. The attitude of this kind man towards me
was more than I expected. He held out his hand for me to shake, and
held mine while he said, “When you come to Boston come aboard and see
me. I want to hear good things of you.”

I suppose twenty miles was the farthest I had ever travelled inland.
Now I was on the train bound to the backwoods of Massachusetts, more
than one hundred miles from salt water. That evening when the train
stopped at Mount Hermon station, I was stupefied. About fifty young
students were at the depot, shouting and screaming their school yells.
It seemed to me as though the inmates of a lunatic asylum had escaped.

There were other men on the train bound for Hermon, but I must have
seemed easy to them. I had no sooner stepped from the train when they
lifted me into a sleigh and insisted on my staying there. They then
took hold of a long rope attached to the sleigh, and, yelling and
shouting, they hauled me along a path through the woods leading to
the school buildings. This was my first sleighride, and one that I
will always remember. There was a quick turn in the road, and we were
travelling at such a speed that in turning the bend the sleigh capsized
and dashed me to my neck in the snow. The sleigh was righted, but on
no account would I get into it again. The students knew I was the
expected sailor and tried to use all kinds of nautical terms for my
benefit. I at last reached the principal’s office and was enrolled a
student of Hermon.

I had only the necessary $50 for the half-year’s tuition. I required
textbooks and civilians clothes. To obtain these I worked on the
farm sawing wood during my spare moments for eight cents an hour.
Every student was compelled to work two hours each day. Some were
in the kitchen, others were on the farm. I liked the farm life. It
was something new to me. One day the superintendent of the farm sent
me to drive the ox team. He gave me my lesson. With whip in hand I
started. It was “Whoa, haw, gee, get up.” I forgot just when to say
whoa, and haw and gee, so the oxen took full control. I had steered
many a kicking stubborn ship, and could keep the worst of them near her
course, but could not steer this yoke of oxen. We might have kept going
on and on; as it was, they hauled the wagon so that a pine tree came
between it and the wheel, which checked their progress.

Any poor student who wanted to earn a little money could always find
employment on the farm. The day came when, in need of clothing and
necessary articles, I became depressed and low spirited. It took so
much time to learn my lessons that I had but little to give to the
woodsaw. One afternoon a letter was handed to me. Shall I say that
I walked into the woods and had a good cry after reading it? I did.
I kneeled in the snow and thanked God for the message that envelope
contained. It was a sheet of paper, on which was written “For our old
shipmate, Stanton H. King, to help him through school.” Under this were
thirty-one names of my shipmates on the _Wabash_. Pinned to the bottom
of the names was a post office order for $28. This was a boom. Although
I needed the money badly, my greatest joy was in the satisfaction of
knowing my shipmates thought kindly of me, and remembered me in this
way. Never have I received a gift which gave me such real happiness as
this did.

The summer arrived and many of the students were preparing to start for
their homes as soon as the school closed. I did not know what I should
do. It was necessary for me to earn enough money to pay my way along
through the summer months, and to have a balance of $100 for the coming
year’s tuition.

The week before the term closed, a book agent visited the school,
and before he left I was on his list as an agent for him during the
summer. As soon as the examinations were over, I started to cover the
territory. I called at several houses and found a cold reception at
every door. The third morning I knocked on the door of a country house.
A woman greeted me with, “I don’t want anything” and shut the door.
I felt annoyed to be treated in this way and discouraged. I knocked
again and continued knocking till the door reopened. Believing myself a
failure as a book agent, I cast my prospectus and outfit at the woman’s
feet and walked away.

By a brook in this country place I met a man who was leaning over a
small bridge. He had a fishing-rod in his hand. I watched him haul up
a little fish, which seemed to afford him lots of fun. I ventured to
ask what pleasure he derived from such child’s play, for to me the
pleasure of fishing was to have a fish on a line whose strength would
almost tug me overboard. We soon became acquainted, and after telling
him a few of my deep-sea fishing experiences, he informed me that he
was the Congregational minister of the village. He invited me to dine
with him, and had me promise I would relate some sea experiences to
his church people that night. It was prayer-meeting night. It had been
rumored that a sailor was to tell sea stories after the meeting. That
night I was surprised to find the vestry of this country church filled
with people. When my time came to begin I warmed up to the occasion,
and made a good hit. They gave me splendid attention and I talked for
an hour and a half. At the close the minister told my audience that I
was a poor student and asked for a liberal collection for me. I was
given $17.81 and a new field to plough. This good minister enjoyed my
stories and gave me letters to other ministers. I told sea stories in
four other towns. My eyes began to trouble me and I was forced to make
sail for Boston for treatment. I called at the Boston Baptist Bethel
and offered my services for my board, so that I could visit the Eye and
Ear Infirmary. I worked in this field for three weeks.

I was indeed disheartened when, standing in the presence of Mr. Cutler,
the principal of Mount Hermon, I related my summer experiences, but was
cheered when he told me that a Christian man in Philadelphia had sent
him $100 to pay the tuition of a faithful student, and he had decided
to use it for my tuition fee.

Other avenues opened for me to earn a few dollars. The students who
could address an audience or could lead a meeting had ample opportunity
to take the services in some neighboring church where the congregation
was too poor to pay the stipend of a regular minister. In this way I
earned a little.

On one occasion I was sent to a country church. It was Saturday night
when I reached the station, which was four miles from the village
proper. Arrangements had been made with some of the church people to
meet me at the depot, and to look after my welfare till Monday morning.
A maiden lady about forty-five years old approached me as I left the
train and inquired of me if I was Mr. King. “Yes ma’am,” I replied. She
then informed me that I was to stay at her home and that the sleigh was
waiting for me. I got in and she took a seat beside me. I don’t think
we spoke a dozen words during the four miles ride. I was cold and so
was she. When we reached the house we were met by another maiden lady,
who, I should say, was fifty. She was introduced to me as a sister of
my imperturbable friend. By-and-by the aged father came in. Supper was

The old man lighted his pipe and smoked till he fell asleep. About ten
o’clock the two maidens looked in and the oldest said, “Father, it’s
time for prayers.” The old man shook himself, put on his glasses and
read from the Bible and then asked me to lead in prayer, which I did.
When I announced that I was ready for bed, the youngest daughter took
a lamp and told me to follow her. The guest chamber was as cold as a
graveyard in mid-winter. Placing the lamp on a small table by the side
of the bed, she said “Good night” and departed. I quickly unrobed,
puffed the light out and jumped in, but quickly jumped out again and
shouted “Help!” For my comfort these two dear creatures had placed a
warm soapstone in my bed. Fortunately it was wrapped in woolen cloths
or I should have been disabled for life. As it was, I thought my back
was broken. The old farmer, followed by his daughters, hastened to my
room. “What is it, Mr. King? What is the matter?” I looked at the stone
on the floor and said, “Oh, nothing much. Please don’t mind me. I’m
taken this way once in a while.”

For some time I could hear them laughing at my expense. Having no use
for such things in tropical countries, and not being provided with them
at sea, I was ignorant of the existence of the soapstone for heating
purposes. I intend if ever I have to make a trip around the Horn to
take along a couple of bricks and warm them in the galley stove, to be
used in my bunk when below.

In answer to the third question, I will say that while holding a
service in the town of Guilford, Vt., I met the minister of the
Episcopal Church. He proved to be my old captain of the _Kearsarge_,
Commander Allan D. Brown. He lived in Brattleboro, after being retired
from the United States Navy. I spent many pleasant hours in his home in
Brattleboro. It was he who sent word to the Episcopal City Mission that
a sailor named King was at Mount Hermon, and would prove a profitable
acquisition to their sailor work if they were to secure his services. I
was asked by them to work in their field during my summer vacation. I
accepted the call and at the close of the summer the Superintendent of
the Sailor’s Haven in Charlestown held out every inducement for me to
remain as his assistant. I yielded to him and here I am.


Mission Work Among Seamen

In answer to my fourth question I would first repeat what I said in
_Dog Watches at Sea_: “Missions are not what they were twenty years
ago. Then they were tame and unattractive; places where seamen thought
men were made ‘goody goody.’ Seamen steered clear of them then. To-day
the missions have excellent concerts, full of healthy fun and frolic
to influence the sailor and to satisfy his social nature; pool and
billiard tables, games and a smoking room. All these things are as good
there as in a bar-room.”

The important aim of a sailor’s mission is the salvation of men. It
is generally admitted that the sailor is, at heart, a religious man.
During my twelve years at sea and my ten years as a missionary to
seamen, I have never met one sailor who did not believe in God. I do
not mean that every sailor I have met was a professing Christian; that
all have turned from sin and wrong-doing, and, being penitent, sought
forgiveness from God; but rather that there is no doubt in their minds
of the existence of God. “The Heavens declare the Glory of God, and
the firmament sheweth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech,
and night unto night sheweth knowledge.” Can we not see that as the
shepherd boy whose life was in the open saw the Heavens declaring the
glory of God, so may the same impression be made on the minds of others.

When the sailor stands his lonely watch at night, with the sea around
him calm and peaceful as the sleep of his tired shipmates, slumbering
below, the spreading canopy above him covered with countless stars,
shew to him God’s handiwork. Again he is called on deck, the barometer
has fallen, dark threatening clouds have gathered to windward and are
rolling towards his craft. His vessel now groaning under the pressure
of the gale with lee scuppers awash, the sea wild and fierce as an
untamed beast, the lightning darting through the black and frightening
sky, all speak to him of a higher power; and as many a bad man has
a good mother, so many a sailor, who, although living a life of
recklessness, has no doubt of the existence of God, and that He is good.

The sailor has a religious nature. He is as other men and should be
treated as such. Some seamen drink to excess, swear immoderately, and
live loosely, so do some men on shore. I think it not only unnecessary,
but wrong to approach a clean respectable seaman as he enters our
presence and pounce upon him as though he were an object of our special
religious efforts, or as though he required our charity, and thereby
make him feel that he needs reforming.

I have met seaman’s missionaries who have told me that they have not
time to entertain sailors, as their stay in port is of so short a
duration that they feel it their duty to seek the salvation of Jack’s
soul. Naturally such a missionary would have his mission strictly
religious, if I may use such an expression. I have been shipmate with
men who conversed about such places, and would never enter their doors,
knowing what to expect therein. Who is there among us that would enter
a Church, if we felt that we were numbered among the fallen and it was
known among the congregation that the service, the singing, and the
sermon were for our special benefit?

I say again that the important aim of a sailor’s mission is the
salvation of men for this world and all others, and any mission which
fails in that is no better nor worse than a respectable club, which
in itself is a grand institution. I understand the great desire there
is in the Christian heart to have the men of the sea openly confess
Christ as their Saviour, and of their aim to save them to Eternal Life
with God; but are we reaching the great mass of seamen when we make
our mission a church? A sailor’s mission is a church; but it is also
a home for him while in port. It is not intended merely for use once
or twice a week, but it is open from early morning till late at night,
every day in the year, just as every home is open to the family that
dwells therein. What sort of a home would it be with nothing in it but
religious exercises? Where only hymns are sung, nothing is read but the
Bible, no conversation but that of the joy of Heaven and the torture of
Hell, no laughter, fun or frivolity, only the quiet, sober, slow going
actions of a feeble person? Such a home to say the least would not only
be monotonous but killing, especially to young people having physical,
social and mental wants, as well as spiritual longings. Personally I
will say that such a home would sink and submerge me into ineptitude.
We have not reached Heaven yet, we are still on earth and to my liking,
if Heaven is as some describe it, I for one prefer to remain on earth,
or go to some place like it.

We have come to understand what St. Paul meant when he said our bodies
are temples of the Holy Ghost, and that we are to glorify God in our
bodies as well as in our spirit. Realizing this we have established
gymnasiums for the development of the physical, built libraries for the
growth of the mental and we support clubs for the improvement of the

Now if we who live on shore provide these things which go to make up
the whole man, why should we expect the sailor to be debarred from
them? Sure enough he doesn’t need a gymnasium for exercise, he gets
enough of that aboard his ship, but he does enjoy these other things
of which I speak. Men pay large sums of money to join certain social
clubs, and some who do not believe in clubs unite themselves with the
Young Men’s Christian Association, but the sailor is expected to be
content to sit in some religious reading room, stripped of all home
appearances for the sake of sanctity, where, when the hour of the
prayer meeting comes, he must put away his magazine to attend the
meeting or go out on the street. Were I a sailor I would choose the
street at such a time, that by so doing dispel from the missionary’s
mind the idea that I was a bad child who needed his correction, and
give him the thought that I were a man, if he could so receive it.

When the sailor visits the mission, his supposed home while in port,
he does not care to sing hymns all the time, he will not constantly
read the Bible for he enjoys the literature of the day. We must provide
for him the homelife, sociability and freedom in the mission, or he
will find it in that most democratic social settlement, the saloon.
What we need is more good judgment, the knack of being a companion
and a friend, and catch the meaning of the social teaching of Christ.
“Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these.”

The majority of people believe that sailors have a religious nature
and all who are acquainted with Jack know how strong a social mortal
he is. Whatever else he may lack, he surely has a longing for fun and
frolic. It is easy for us to understand why his social instincts are so
predominant when ashore, and knowing that he desires fun and amusement
we place them in his home, thereby keeping him from seeking it in
places whose very atmosphere is contaminating.

When a ship is in port and the day’s work is over, the men are anxious
to leave the forecastle and hasten to the shore, where they may find
enjoyment. They are away from their homes and loved ones, they have
been isolated from the world perhaps for months, they have seen only
the faces of their own shipmates, they have exchanged their thoughts
till each man’s knowledge is thread worn. The work has become tiresome
for want of change, the voyage with all its changes of storm and calm
has grown monotonous. They hail with delight the pilot and with a light
heart they walk ashore. Now Jack’s social nature asserts itself, and he
seeks a place to satisfy it. It may be he is taking his bag of clothes
with him steering a course for a boarding house. Is he at home when
he enters such a door? True enough he has the money to pay for what he
eats and drinks and where he sleeps; but has this temporary abiding
place that which satisfies his social life? Far from it.

Take the sailor who is working on his ship in port, or is staying in
a boarding house. Ask him to attend Church? Will he follow you? Yes,
if he knows you and you have won his confidence and respect, and he
believes you think he is as you are, namely, that we all need the
Church, wherein all, both sailor and landsman, may be helped.

But believing that your mission is only a Church without the homelife,
established for his sole redemption because he is such a wicked
creature, he steers a course for the places which welcome him as an
equal and not as some inferior outcast, even though it is to his
detriment. There he is welcomed as the door swings open, he is greeted
with warmth, he readily becomes acquainted, takes an interest in the
fun, he stands the treat all around, joins in the dance, then becoming
noisy and reckless he ends the night in a debauch robbed of what
money he possessed. Whereas if the missions had provided those social
necessities he would have dispensed with so much alcoholic drinks and
had a larger bank account.

I have in mind as I write a young man who had enlisted on the U. S.
S. _Vermont_, in the Brooklyn navy yard. He was a machinist and had
traveled from some one of our Western Cities to enlist in Uncle Sam’s
employ. The easy life as a recruit on the cob dock became tedious. He
grew restless. When on liberty there was no home to welcome him, no
friends to receive him; he was a total abstainer, in fact he knew not
the taste of alcoholic drinks. He played pool and billiards in his
native city and accordingly for want of such amusements he frequented
the pool rooms where liquor was sold, and there spent his evenings.
Fortunately he was strong enough to resist the temptations surrounding
these pool tables, and was not led astray.

He was a clean, manly fellow, and I remember his collecting money from
the recruits and marines to purchase a pool table for the reading room,
but those who had the power to grant us a pool table refused because
certain people living ashore held religious services there on Sundays.
I have known young sailor lads who were clean in their habits to
frequent dance halls. At first, their only desire was to enjoy a dance;
but that very waltz was their downfall. It was not the dancing which
brought about their ruin, it was the evil associations they encountered
in such places.

Some of these young men had danced with the best young women of their
town, their comrades and schoolmates, but now because the term sailor
is attached to them and they have on the blue naval uniform they are
debarred from every place except that of ill-repute. If Jack does not
care to enter such a dive he must abide his time till he mingles with
his own friends again though it may be for years, or it may never be,
before he can step to a waltz, as no one of respectability dances
with a sailor. The day may come when by providing the homelife in our
missions for seamen we will have come to know them, our Christian young
women will become acquainted with them and find that many young seamen
are as clean and as moral as their own brothers, and they will dance
with them as they do with young men of their acquaintance on land.

It is not that the sailor enjoys places of ill-repute more than
something better. It is simply that is the best he finds after he
leaves his ship. He likes the company of women; two-thirds of his life
he is debarred from their society; he likes a social evening and he is
bound to have it and all the fun he can so long as he is on shore.

Knowing then that they are as other men, we try to make the Sailor’s
Haven not only a church but also a home for seamen. In our mission we
hold religious services twice a week. At such times men are invited
to attend; they have their choice. They can continue reading in the
club rooms if it is Sunday, or play their games if it is a week night.
Usually we have to lower some of the lights in the club rooms as the
seamen have vacated them of their own free will and have attended the

Just the same as though I were visiting you and had enjoyed my stay,
and as the evening hour drew near you invited me to join with you in
your religious devotions, I kneel with you, so will the sailor who
has that same freedom in a sailor’s mission, readily leave all games
and everything else and accept your invitation to your devotional
exercises. Here in the service as men, we try to find out and
understand the teachings of our Blessed Lord, that we may have as our
own the real happiness and comfort that comes in living the Christian
life. At such times the seamen give strict attention and are never
tired of hearing someone tell about Jesus. They and us receive help
by the good advice given, they join in the old familiar hymns and are
taken back to their boyhood days and the old home rises up before them.
We visit the sick, comfort the sorrowful, help the needy and in His
Name brighten and cheer lives. We provide special concerts full of fun
and entertainment. Not bringing in a few hymns and short addresses of
exhortation which leave a bitter taste, because of their unfitness;
but a real sing song lively concert, just the kind we would have if we
had company in our homes and were entertaining them. At such a time
we would not be so rude as to ask our guests, if they desired our
religious help, then why treat a sailor differently when he is your
guest if love is the propelling power and good taste turns the helm?
He will appreciate your kindness if offered in the right way. Of all
men he is easily approached. He likes music. You can serve it to him
in any shape or form and he will enjoy it every time. Let it be the
piano, fiddle, banjo, jewsharp, tin whistle or a big drum and he will
shout with delight. His cares are forgotten when he hears the ladies
sing, and his sorrows are brushed away when he drinks in the music of
the male quartettes and choruses. And he himself is not selfish. Full
of sea songs, he takes his place by the piano and renders _Nancy Lee_
and _Tom Bowline_, and to manifest to you that he is at home, he turns
up the bottom edges of his trouser’s legs, and gives a step dance or a
horn pipe for your amusement.

We provide suppers and treats of coffee and buns in the same spirit we
invite any friends to sup with us, not because they are “poor hungry
sailors” in need of these things; but as friends we meet and enjoy
the very essence of sociability. All formality is blown to the winds,
good cheer and freedom prevail, we meet from all corners of the earth,
of different nationalities speaking different tongues, all petty
grievances with our own shipmates are forgiven, we meet on common
ground, and when we part we remember each other as friends.

I am safe in saying that nine out of every ten seamen smoke. Shall we
send them on the street when they desire a pull on their pipes? We
think it best to provide separate rooms for that. So aside from the
hall where religious services are held we have these club rooms; here
they can smoke, play pool and billiards and other games. They can
take magazines and newspapers and read awhile. Social and scientific
books are at their disposal, the same as the landsman reads, something
besides a tract or circular asking them where they hope to spend
Eternity. Here they can write to their friends for the material is on
the tables for their sole use, they can play a solo at the piano, sing
a song and while away the evening. When tired of one amusement they can
turn to another, as there are many diversions to satisfy their social
needs. Good women are present to talk with them, to write for those who
cannot, to sing and play for any who desire it. They are received and
treated as men without condescension or mock humility on the part of
the missionaries, and welcomed not as inferior and illiterate beings,
not as wild unregulated Ishmaelites nor as poor sailors, but as men.

We know that some games like ours are in the bar-rooms; but we have
taken these enjoyable and harmless recreations from the surroundings
that have done so much to degrade them, and are using them where they
may not only be enjoyed without danger, but are means of shielding men
from temptation. Some may ask, is it not enough to have a reading table
and writing material, and perhaps a checker board? I answer, No. Even
though you allow the seamen to smoke they, like other men, become tired
of reading, and after a few games of checkers leave to find some other

Realizing the need of such a place for seamen and having a desire to
work on such lines for their benefit, I left the sea.

A work of any kind must be judged by its results. Therefore is the
Sailor’s Haven saving men? Are the seamen living cleaner and purer
lives because of such work? Are they shielded from the land sharks and
are they befriended? To all this and more I answer, Yes.

It would take many pages to tell of the men whose lives have been
changed from recklessness and wrong-doing to lives of service and
helpfulness to themselves and others. Men who are trying to live
Christian lives, who once delighted to dabble in sin. I refrain and
finish by saying it is right to have pool and billiard tables in a
seaman’s mission, and allow the men to fill that part of God’s House,
the home, with tobacco smoke.


The Forecastle

When a new schoolhouse or any public building is planned, every
attention is given to sanitation. When a private home is being built,
it is expected to be fitted with every modern convenience and every
improvement conducive to good health. When a new passenger steamer is
launched, the public seek for all comfort, where they may abide during
their short stay on board, and if a cargo steamship is ordered every
attention is devoted to space for freight and cattle. But on that very
vessel, so distinctly modern in every other respect, there is seemingly
hardly any thought given to improving the condition of the forecastle.

I am glad to say that there are some masters of the ocean steamers who
recognize room for improvement, and who are exerting themselves in the
interest of their men. Lately we have seen large passenger steamers
launched which are provided with large mess-rooms for the sailors and
firemen, and we have one and all rejoiced at this gradual improvement.
The laws of the United States and Great Britain provide on board their
ships so much breathing space for each man. The law governing United
States vessels reads thus: “Every place appropriated to the crew of a
sea-going vessel of the United States, except a fishing vessel, yacht,
pilot boat and all other vessels under two hundred tons register, shall
have a space of not less than seventy-two cubic feet, and not less than
twelve square feet measured on the deck or floor of that place for each
seaman or apprentice lodged therein: Provided, That any such sea-going
vessels built or rebuilt after June 30th, 1898, shall have a space of
not less than one hundred cubic feet and not less than sixteen square
feet measured on the deck or floor of that space for each seaman or
apprentice lodged therein. Such place shall be securely constructed,
heated and ventilated, protected from weather and sea, and, as far as
practicable, properly shut off and protected from the effluvium of
cargo or bilge water.” I do not know the exact space Great Britain
grants her seamen, but by observation I should say they have about the
same amount of space as our American seamen--that is to say, a space
hardly as large as a good-sized grave. I am not now condemning the ship
owners; they give the men what they are allowed. Nor am I writing in
the spirit of the fault finder, but as one whose heart’s desire is to
have the men of the sea so treated and housed on board their ships that
they may believe they are men, that they be treated as such, and may
be appealed to live their highest and best lives. The safety of life
and property at sea depends upon the competency of the crew, and if we
are to have efficient men, and an adequate merchant marine, and men of
intelligence and skill, we must offer some inducements to secure such
men and not the riff raff of the world.

How is this legally allotted space given to the sailor? In a room in
the forward end of the ship, sometimes in the middle, known as the
“forecastle”--a room with a dozen or more men in it, where at the most
six men could miserably exist--a room (a few exceptions) poorly lighted
and inadequately ventilated. In such a room the seamen smoke, eat,
sleep and have their being. It is their home on shipboard. It is too
small for a mess table. The food is brought in large pans, placed on
the floor, and each man coming from his work has to make an effort,
climbing over the pan of soup or meat, to get some share of it for
himself. There are a few forecastles in which there are mess tables on
which these pans are placed for men to “dig and get at” the contents.

As we approach some modern steamship’s forecastles it seems strange
the sanitation should be so different from what it is on shore. We all
know that in bad weather at seamen are exposed on deck. They wear their
oilskins and rubber boots; they go below after spending four hours on
deck. They are compelled to hang up their wet oilskins at the head
of their bunks or on the bulkhead of the forecastle, and throw their
sea-boots under a bunk where they may find them when called again to
go on deck. We also know that the work in the fireroom is dirty. Where
can a fireman hang up his dirty fireroom clothes wet through with
perspiration? There is no place except it be over the top of his own

There was a certain steamer in port. It was mid-winter. I went on
board the day she docked. Such a dismal sight! Every man forward was
discontented and disgruntled. The dark forecastle was somewhat lighted
by the coating of ice on the sides of the ship forming the forecastle.
It was raining, and, without exaggeration, the sloppy mud and dirt was
at least one half inch deep, covering the whole forecastle floor. There
was some heat from the steam-pipes, which was thawing the coating of
ice which covered the roof and sides of the place. One of the firemen
asked me to feel of his bed. I did so; my heart was sore. Every article
of clothing and his bed clothes were wet through from the drippings
of the thawing ice. The water falling from the roof and sides of this
half-heated dismal hole made it resemble a cave where the ebbing tide
had just receded. This was the condition of an old cattle and freight

I told one of the men about the Sailor’s Haven and gave him an
invitation to visit us. He looked at me and said, “To h--l with you
and your mission!” Just then one of the mates rebuked him, saying,
“Don’t talk that way to the gentleman; you know he’s not to blame for
our treatment.” Before I left the ship I had a long talk with him.
He apologized for his unkind language, and said he felt we worried
ourselves too much about getting them into heaven and not enough about
bettering their surroundings on earth.

That evening I was conversing with a chief engineer of another steamer.
I told him of my experience on that ship. I remarked that it must be
very hard for those men who had worked on deck in the cold to have to
spend their evenings in such a miserable den. My heart even went out
more in sympathy for the firemen than for the sailors, for they had
been doing their work down in the bowels of the ship, with greasy hands
and arms, half choked and black as negroes with cold dust. They must
bathe on deck in a wash deck bucket, and make the best of what was
given them.

“True enough, Mr. King,” he replied, “I admit that things could be
better, but if you knew it all you would agree with me when I say they
don’t deserve anything better. These men don’t and won’t appreciate
anything else. Some steamship companies have tried their best to
improve the surroundings of the crew, but they have so abused what
has been done for them that they are given up by most companies as a
hopeless lot.”

I know that many of the men going to sea have to learn the meaning
of new conditions before they can value them; the failure of some to
appreciate an improvement only shows more clearly the need of the
improvement. Their very faculties for appreciating better conditions
are nearly dead, and must be quickened and developed. We have to
face the ignorance of those who need our help, and gradually carry
on our reforming movements. The clean, respectable seamen will help
the untidy, careless fellows to appreciate what is being done for
them, and will join hands with the ship owners in making the sailor’s
calling desirable. A ship’s forecastle is not a temporary place for
some college student who is working his passage across the Atlantic
during his summer vacation. It is the permanent home of the sailor.
Therefore, if we are to have good men on our vessels, we must offer
them comfortable quarters. The mechanic or laborer on land leaves his
work at the close of the day, and goes to his home. There is a change,
a new atmosphere greets him; not so with the sailor. The forecastle is
his home. Debarred as he is from the society and companionship of his
own people, he above all men should have the greatest comfort and the
best of treatment when off duty.

I could endure the forecastle for a trip across, I could do the work
on deck, or shovel coal in the fireroom, but I could not follow the
sea for a living to-day and think that until my hair turns gray, and
my hands tremble through age, I must eke out such an existence. Yes,
a thousand times let me break the stones on the streets for a mere
pittance, so that when my day’s work was over, I could find a shelter
of warmth and cleanliness, even though it were poor and humble.

Now and again we find a steamer whose owners have given considerable
thought to the crew. I call to mind a certain steamer which was in
Boston not very long ago. In this vessel the twelve sailors had four
large rooms. There was a good-sized mess-room near these quarters.
Everything was neat and clean and manifested a spirit of cleanliness.
Pictures of loved ones were hung up, there was a spirit of content
prevailing on that vessel. Men lose all interest in keeping a place
clean when they are huddled together like sheep in a pen.

The strongest and best of men are influenced by their surroundings.
We shamefully admit this weakness, for we know as men we should be
strong enough to master all our circumstances, and not they us. How
then can we expect men who are ignorant of the laws governing their
health to rise up and not be influenced by their circumstances? How do
we expect our men in the engine room and on deck to be otherwise than
they are? The hopeful sign is to find so many dissatisfied with their

Not long ago I visited the firemen on a steamer. It was supper time.
The room was dark, even though the sun was shining on deck. I thought
one of my feet was in something slippery, and, going to the door of the
forecastle, I discovered I had stepped into the “black pan.” This was a
pan of food which consisted of the leavings of the cabin and engineers’
mess-room. The men, seeing I was embarrassed, said: “That’s all right,
Mr. King; we have had all we want of it.” I have lived in forecastles
where the conditions were almost as bad as this, but that was twenty
years ago, but even then there were not so many of us huddled in one
room. Suppose we go on board some of the finest and best steamers; go
forward and visit the forecastles. You will find a large, undivided
space, a place where a dozen men may be able to move around in comfort,
containing from twenty to forty men. Their clothes are hung on lines
around their bunks. At its best you will say: “What a gloomy den!”

I have never witnessed such a miserable condition on board ship as I
encountered in the forecastle of an ocean steamer one Sunday morning. I
went on board to invite the men to the services at the Mission. About
thirty-five men were in a room filled with bunks, with a narrow passage
between them. The men were asleep. Just then a fireman entered with
a large black pan and a kettle, and calling at the top of his voice
“Hash!” he placed the pan and kettle on the dirty floor. The call of
“hash” made the men roll over and think of getting up. The odor of that
room was villainous. The night through, these men had smoked and slept,
and in that same atmosphere they were called to eat their breakfast.
One man tried to light his pipe as he was turning out, and shouting to
me said, “Mr. King, can’t you do something for us? Look, sir, the match
won’t burn, the air is so thick in here.” I did indeed feel sorry for
him. Were I in his place, I would climb on deck, be it hot or cold, and
in God’s pure air eat my meals. It is fortunate they have an abundance
of fresh air on deck to help counteract the impure atmosphere of the

On some of the ships the petty officers are put four and six men in a
room; they keep their quarters clean and enjoy the comfort of being
somewhat private in their lives on shipboard. The interest they take
in keeping neat and clean where four are placed in a room is very
noticeable. All of these petty officers were once in the forecastle,
and, having left it, and appreciating something better, show that those
in the forecastle to-day are capable of properly receiving improvements.

Before I close let me say what I think would improve the situation.
First, abolish the forecastle as it is built to-day in one large room;
put in its place fair-sized rooms, each to accommodate at the most
four men. Let these rooms be known as the men’s quarters. Put in each
room a clothes locker, in which clothes can be put away. Have these
rooms sheathed, so as to protect them from the ice coated iron of the
ship’s side and iron deck above. Also have a good ventilator and a
comfortable steam heater in each room. Have a mess-room that will seat
every man when the ship is in port, when all the crew are eating at
the same hour. Have it put away from the men’s quarters. Let there be
a man shipped to be known as the forward mess steward, his duty at sea
and in port to care for the dishes, knives and forks which the ship
should provide; hold him responsible for all the utensils, having him
turn them over to the chief steward at the end of the voyage. Have him
keep the mess-room and men’s quarters clean. Have a large bathroom
and lavatory far away from the men’s quarters and mess-room, put in
it lockers for oilskins and sea-boots--as many lockers as there are
rooms; men in room No. 1 to use the corresponding numbered locker in
the bathroom. The forward mess steward, or two stewards, if needed,
must keep this bath clean and sweet. If the ship should be built for
carrying cattle, have the cattlemen’s quarters in some part of the ship
where they cannot interfere with the regular crew. Then there will be
no danger of oilskins and clothing hung out to dry being stolen by the

I might write of some officers’ and engineers’ quarters, yes, and of
captains also, and tell how miserably they are housed on some ships. On
some of the steamers the officers and engineers find it a hard matter
to get in and out of their rooms when the cattle are on board. May the
day soon dawn when a sailor going on his ship will not have to think of
pots, pans and spoons for use in a kennel, but will go expecting the
treatment of the workingman ashore. Then the owners of vessels will be
blessed by them where now they are cursed.


Superstitions of Seamen

Although the ocean steamer has removed some of the superstitious
ideas among seamen, still to this day there are hosts of sailors on
steamships as well as on sailing vessels, who are filled with them.
It is necessary to mingle freely with seamen to win from them their
experiences of the strange apparitions they have seen and of the many
Jonahs with whom they have been shipmates.

The landlubber has his superstitions as well as the sailor. Many of
my strange notions came to me long before I started to sea. Born and
brought up among the negroes in Barbados, rocked in a mammy’s arms,
one of the first things I remember is the story of the obeah man told
me by the faithful colored servants of my father. This ubiquitous obeah
man was called on at all times by my nurse to help her in bringing me
into a state of subjection. I believe such a being did exist. Often
when a child I have listened to stories of the duppy (a ghost) and
believing them I was afraid of the least noise I heard at night. Even
to this day I find it difficult to overcome these superstitious ideas
of my early boyhood days.

Some time ago a friend almost induced me to live in Everett,
Massachusetts. I had made up my mind to pack my traps and move out
there, but dear me! when I saw the trees in Woodlawn Cemetery through
the back windows so close to the house, no amount of favorable
reasoning could persuade me to live there. No wealth could entice me to
walk alone through a graveyard at night. Not that I believe the dead
can harm me, but simply there is a feeling that comes over me which
I cannot master. I was told that if I were to point my hand or throw
a stone at a ghost, the arm would stiffen and remain so forever. I
believed this and had not the pluck to throw anything in the direction
of a rustling noise at night. Fright and anger forced me to overcome it.

While serving on the U. S. S. _Alliance_, one of our shipmates died in
“Rio”. His body was taken aft on the quarter deck and placed on boards
resting on two ward room chairs. The American Ensign was spread over
the whole. It was my anchor watch from twelve o’clock midnight, to four
in the morning. There were four of us on watch, one from each part of
the ship; namely, a forecastle man, a foretopman, a maintopman and an
afterguard. The officer of the deck was lenient and allowed us to sleep
on deck providing one man remained awake and watched near the corpse.
The forecastle man, as he belonged to the forward end of the ship, was
detailed to keep the first watch and we were to relieve each other
hourly until our four hours were ended.

Being a maintopman it was my watch from two to three o’clock. At four
bells the foretopman roused me from my slumbers where I had coiled
myself on deck between the fife rail and mainmast. The officer of the
deck was on the poop with the quartermaster; the Captain’s orderly had
gone forward; I was standing forward of the corpse in close proximity
to the after eight inch gun. I tried to think of everything except my
duty. The very thought of being alone with a dead man, though there
were living mortals close at hand, made me feel uneasy.

I had scarcely been ten minutes on watch when I observed the ensign
covering the dead body move as though a cat or a dog were under it.
A cold feeling came over me, my heart began to thump, I expected to
see my departed shipmate stand up and hail me. The cold perspiration
fell from my brow. I started to edge my way forward taking a backward
step, when I saw a head peep out from under the flag. The handspikes
belonging to the gun were under the gun carriage. I was tempted to haul
one of them out and throw it at the ghost, but fearing my hand and
arm would stiffen, I hesitated. Just then I heard a tittering on the
opposite side of the deck, and looking in that direction I saw my watch
mates and the Captain’s orderly laughing at my expense. I realized
that a joke had been played on me, and angered through fright beyond
self control, I quickly hauled out the heavy handspike and struck at
the would be ghost. My aim was poor. I struck the chair at the foot of
the corpse and the whole thing rolled over on deck. The anchor watch
and Captain’s orderly quickly arranged the body on the boards and had
just re-covered it with the flag, when the officer of the deck reached
the break of the poop and inquired the cause of the disturbance. The
forecastle man who had played the spectre, readily replied, “We’re
catching a rat, sir!” My arm did not stiffen and since then I have
thrown stones where I have heard strange noises at night, and struck at
uncertain objects in the dark.

It is readily seen that, brought up in such an atmosphere of fetichism
I credited all the stories of superstition any sailor cared to relate.
I have known men relate yarns about ghosts in which they implicitly

While in a sailor’s boarding house in Antwerp, some of the crew of
an American ship which had arrived from San Francisco with grain,
declared that the ship was haunted. Every man had a story to tell of
his encountering a ghost on that voyage. It was said that while the men
were asleep this creature of another world would enter the forecastle
and rub its cold hands over the faces of the men. It was rumored in the
grog shops that the apparition in the form of a man would walk aft on
a stormy night just as the bell was struck at the close of a watch, and
relieve the wheel. The officer of the watch would be annoyed to find
the ship off her course, and looking aft, would find the ship without
an helmsman. This occurred so often, the men declaring a man clothed in
oilskins had relieved them, that the Captain ordered his officers to be
present and hear for themselves the disembodied soul repeat the course
as it relieved the wheel. So ended the tricks of this goblin, who was
afraid to encounter more than one man.

There is a vast difference between the sailors of a wind-jammer and
those of a steamer. The fireman and coal passers of these iron monsters
began their sea careers as men and have not spent their youthful days
in the forecastle. They hear nothing of the superstition of the sea,
except what are told by the few remaining “old shell backs.”

I have sailed with a Captain who would dare do anything, but had not
the courage to sail on Friday. No favorable weather could induce him
to start his mudhook on this day. He told the story of losing his
first command; how he sailed on that unlucky day from London to the
Colonies and on the following Sunday his ship was run into and sank
in the English Channel. This day on which “Our Saviour” was crucified
has lost its horror among the majority of the English speaking seamen.
The steamer is the cause of the change. There is no time lost in
loading and discharging these iron hulks. As soon as their hatches
are filled, be it Friday or any other day, they stir a lather under
their sterns and speed away for another port. There is an old Captain
on our coast who told me that he uses every device and frames all
excuses, to avoid sailing on Friday. Now and again we meet a few old
salts who still cling to the belief in the ill luck that comes from
sailing on this unlucky day, but to most seamen the idea is too absurd
to be entertained. Still among the Italian and other Southern European
sailing vessels, it is yet held in superstitious fear. Once while
in the harbor of Montevideo, I witnessed a carnival held on board a
Spanish gun-boat, the _Infanta Isabel_, on Good Friday. The yards were
cockbilled and at dinner the crew hauled an effigy of Judas out to
the end of the jib-boom and hanging it just clear of the water, they
subjected it to every abuse their imaginations could invent. Even the
officers stood on the forecastle head and riddled it with shot from
their revolvers. The effigy remained there till dark; finally besmeared
with tar and oil, they set it alight and let it blaze away. With all
discipline relaxed they ended the day with a lively fandango.

Another form of superstition is that of catching birds at sea. I have
sailed with a Captain who allowed no one on his ship to meddle with
birds of any kind even though they were from _terra firma_ blown from
their native soil and were resting on his vessel. He had a horror of
some evil attending his voyage if any feathered creature was caught or
disturbed while perched upon his craft.

Another captain, though not quite so strict, forbade our catching the
albatross. We were in Southern Latitudes, where they were plentiful
and seemingly hungry. One of our crew, a South African half breed,
secretly hooked a large one. He took the bird under the forecastle
head, wrung its neck, plucked it, and disposing of the feathers so that
no one aft could see them, with hard tack, salt and pepper, dressed
it for cooking. That night as soon as he knew the old colored cook was
soundly sleeping, he quietly slipped into the galley and baked it. It
being cold, the cook kept his fire all night to warm his room which
opened into his kitchen. It was fortunate the wind was dead aft, for
the man on the forecastle head, standing his lookout, declared the
sweet smelling savor emanating from the oven gave him a gnawing at the
bottom of his stomach. At eight bells when the watch went below, they
rallied around the feast; but to their disappointment and surprise, the
albatross proved an unpleasant diet. The flesh was rancid and fishy.
It rather pleased the Peruvian Spaniard, however, for clothed in his
oilskins and seated on the forecastle deck he hauled the pan between
his legs and without stirring, devoured the whole bird. Next day it
began to blow harder, the old ship rocked and rolled, we lost several
watches furling and reefing sail, and the blame of all the bad weather
was heaped upon Joe for killing the albatross. No one aft ever knew
about it. Fortunately for Joe they did not, or he would have been half

Another superstition is about the disobedient prophet Jonah. No
sooner does the head wind greet the wind-jammer, than there is a Jonah
declared on board. If many misfortunes overtake a ship it is felt by
all, both forward and aft, that someone who has inherited the prophet’s
ill luck, is among the ship’s company. I once saw a captain strike a
seaman and in the vilest language call him a “d-- Jonah,” because the
wind hauled ahead as soon as he, poor fellow, took the wheel. During
his next watch below he was made to stand on the forward house and
scratch the foremast till he brought a fair wind. Good luck was on his
side, for the wind soon hauled aft again and remained steady for some
days. He was no longer declared the Jonah.

A sailor once told me that while making a trip to the West Indies from
New York, the second mate of his vessel rushed on deck in the night,
and running forward, pointed to leeward shouting, “She’s calling for
me, I must go to her.” They had to struggle severely to hold him from
jumping over the side. He declared he saw his wife on the ocean calling
to him for help. He quieted down, but his vision troubled him. He
remembered the date and hour he had seen the apparition, and when the
ship arrived in Trinidad, he received word from New York of the death
of his wife. She had passed away the very day and hour he heard her
calling to him. Is this superstition? Every sailor to whom he told this
story, implicitly believed it was the spirit of his dead wife calling
to him.

I had a friend, an old sea captain, who is now dead, having lost his
life by being washed overboard in a heavy gale. Often he related this
story in my hearing:

“I was on a Norwegian bark coming around the Horn, bound to Liverpool
from ’Frisco. One night the old bark was hove to. The lookout man
had to stand his watch on the after house, where he was safe from
being washed overboard. About three o’clock in the middle watch the
lookout reported to the mate that a woman was coming over the bow.
Sure enough. There stood a woman in white by the lee cat head, waving
something in her hand as though she were calling them. Every time the
ship courtesied and dipped, the woman waved the thing in her hand
violently. We managed to get the watch on deck at eight bells, but not
a man would dare go forward of the poop. When daylight came the woman
disappeared. For two days the crew kept aft in fear declaring the ship
was haunted, but on the third day when the gale had weakened and the
sea subsided, a man was sent to loose the jib. While on the jib-boom he
discovered from whence the creation came.

“Our old vessel had a splendid figure head. It was a woman painted
white, holding a wand in her hand. The heavy seas broke it away from
its fastenings and jammed it erect between the jib-boom guys while
the pitching of the vessel made the wand seem as though someone was
beckoning. It was a difficult matter even then for the old skipper to
make some of his men believe the apparition they saw was the figure
head jammed between the guys.”

It is a known fact that men have refused to sail in ships because the
rats were leaving. When a youngster, suffering privation in New York
City, I saw four apprentices and the steward desert from an English
full rigger because they claimed the ship would be lost at sea, for
the rats were jumping into the river they were so anxious to leave the
vessel. I do not know if she reached another port but I know that I
felt grateful to the rats. One of the boys having more clothes than he
cared to carry, gave me an old coat which was a God-send to me at that
time. I needed it badly.

There are many other superstitions of which I could write. Every sailor
has at some time whistled for a breeze. Most of us have objected to
having a parson on board, believing he would prove a Jonah. We have
seen sharks persistently follow the ship when there has been a dead
body on board in anticipation of a great feast.

Are you superstitious, dear reader? Then know that your great-great-
grandfather or some other relative was an old salt.


The Lucky Bag

It always seemed to me that the lucky bag on a man-of-war was wrongly
named. To the few it was a lucky bag, but to the large majority of
seamen it was the unlucky bag.

What is the lucky bag? It is the place where the young recruit is
taught that there is a place for everything, and everything must be in
its place at certain times.

While serving on the U. S. S. _Alliance_, we shipped a landsman in Cape
Town. He had passed the doctor’s examination and was served with an
outfit of clothing from the paymaster’s stores. He was a strong young
fellow, clean and neat in appearance, but his one great trouble was his
carelessness in leaving his clothes, ditty box and other things around
the decks when they should have been put in their proper places.

The very next day after his enlistment he went below on the berth deck
after the forenoon’s exercises, to find his clothes bag. He searched
and overhauled all the bags hanging on the jackstay near the mess chest
belonging to his part of the ship, but could not find a bag with his
number on it. The cook was a short, wiry cockney, who had just come
below from infantry drill on the spar deck. He had not much time to
waste, as in an hour all hands would be piped to dinner, and he must
hasten and put his potatoes in the ship’s cook’s coppers and be ready
to draw his boiling water when the ship’s cook shouted, “Get your
coffee water.” He also had two coal passers who were going on watch
at twelve o’clock. At seven bells (11.30) they would be making their
appearance for dinner so that they could relieve their mates below, on

We all knew the necessary hustling it took for the mess cook to get our
dinners ready. Therefore, we who wanted our bags, took them quickly
from the jackstay on the side of the ship and moved out of the cook’s
way. It was not thus with our Cape Town “joskin.” Not realizing that
he was in the cook’s way, he kept on tossing the bags over in search
of his own. The cook was impatient, so taking the greenhorn by the
shoulders, he twisted him around, almost pushed him down the fore hatch
on the head of old Bill Ried, the captain of the hold, and vehemently
said, “Blast your blooming eyes. D’ye think I can get the grub ready
with you a flying around ’ere like a feather in a gale of wind? Get to
blazes out of my way.”

Anderson resented this treatment. He had been patient up to this point,
for from the moment he donned the naval uniform and came on deck, the
young apprentice boys began to tease and make a fool of him. They told
him he would have to purchase clothes pins to use on the clothes line;
they sent him from one to the other in search of many things that did
not exist on a ship, making him believe that he was in duty bound to
obey them. He believed their yarn when they told him the sergeant of
marines was buried in the fore peak, and had him go with a lantern to
polish the brass corners of the tomb. The poor fellow’s mind was so
upset he doubted everyone, and even hesitated to obey the orders of the
officer of the deck, believing he too was a “fake.”

He could stand it no longer, so when the “Duke of Edinburgh” (the
nickname given to the cook) took hold of him he showed fight. Putting
himself in a defensive attitude, he clinched with the duke. Pots, pans
and kettles were tumbled about without any consideration on their part,
the crowd gathered to see the fun, the noise and uproar reached the
spar deck and in a flash the master-at-arms and ship’s corporal came
tumbling double time down the fore hatch ladder, and, pushing the crowd
aside, they separated the combatants and marched them to the mast.
Anderson, now nicknamed Cape Town, told his story to the officer of the
deck and then the duke related his. Here it was that Cape Town learned
from the ship’s corporal that his clothes were in the lucky bag.

Both men were put on the report and the next morning when the
delinquents were brought before the commanding officer, he punished the
duke by placing him on third class conduct list, which deprived him of
liberty while in that port. Cape Town he sentenced to do four hours
extra police duty for having his clothes in the lucky bag.

The nearest resemblance to a lucky bag on a man-of-war, is a small,
second hand clothing shop on Salem St. Although named the lucky bag,
it is not generally a bag. I have seen at times when there were only
a few things confiscated around the decks, a well filled bag in the
master-at-arms possession, but usually the lucky bag is a place, a
locker of some description where confiscated clothing and all such
articles are kept.

On board of a merchant vessel it matters not how long a sailor desires
to keep his clothes on deck, no one cares where he puts them or what
is done with them, so long as they are forward and below the rail of
the ship, but on a war ship it is different. A man-of-war’s man owns
a clothes bag in which he keeps his clothing, a hammock containing
his mattress and bedding, his ditty box for his sewing gear, and pipe
and tobacco. He may earn a few dollars by making clothes, hence the
ownership of a small sewing machine. He may possess a set of boxing
gloves, swinging clubs, a musical instrument, or curiosities that he
has bought for his sweetheart or for his friends, and while there is
a certain time given him each day when he can bring his belongings on
deck, and overhaul everything he owns to his satisfaction and to the
delight of his shipmates, there are other times when everything he
possesses must be stowed away, otherwise it will reach the ever open,
avaricious jaws of the lucky bag.

In the morning before breakfast the decks have been cleaned. Perhaps
there is still time to polish the deck brass work before eight bells,
when breakfast will be piped, but even then the man-of-war’s man
cannot put his bag away, for there is other work to be done before he
can clean himself for quarters. The gun bright (brass) work has to be
polished, for every man of a gun’s crew has a portion of the brass and
steel allotted him for his special care.

Therefore, after breakfast he must hurry and clean his gun bright work,
change his clothes, get his blacking and brush from his ditty box and
shine his shoes, for the messenger boy will soon strike two bells (nine
o’clock,) and the boatswain’s mates will be ordered to pipe sweepers.
Then as birds in a forest, the whistles of the boatswain’s mates are
heard chirping from stem to stern, calling the sweepers to man their
brooms and give the “old gal” a final brush down. Woe to the man who
has forgotten to stow away his traps, whatever they may be, for in a
little while before three bells, the executive officer emerges from the
ward room, and, followed by the masters-at-arms and ship’s corporal, he
inspects the whole ship.

Starting from the ward room to the spar deck, then to the berth deck,
he will pry into every corner and overhaul everything. The breech
blocks of the guns are thrown open, the tompions are withdrawn, he
peeps from breech to muzzle to make sure no oily rags have been stowed
therein and that the gun is clean inside.

The berth deck cooks are standing by their mess chests ready with
clean mess cloths and utensils for his all seeing eyes to peep into
and inspect. The captain of the hold has thrown aside his dirty
working suit and dressed in the uniform of the day, he stands in the
hatchway with lantern in hand, to receive him. The sailmaker’s mate,
the gunner’s mate, and every idler who has the care of any shellroom
or locker, is at his post to greet him as he progresses in his onward
march of inspection. Every clothes bag, piece of clothing, ditty box,
musical instrument, anything that is out of place is confiscated by his

It was at this particular time that Cape Town had forgotten to put his
bag below and when the “first luff” spotted it under the forecastle
head, he ordered it to be put into the lucky bag. This was not the
only time that the jaws of the lucky bag had closed on Cape Town’s
belongings, for on several occasions during the cruise he had to scrub
the copper on the bottom of the sailing launch while others were
loitering around the decks, as a punishment for having his traps enter

Not only during the executive officer’s inspection, is the lucky bag
fed. It may be in the afternoon when all hands are called by the
boatswain’s mates to “stand by your scrubbed and washed clothes.” At
such a call every man who has clothes on the lines is expected to get
on deck and remove them. Should some fellow who doesn’t heed the call
allow his clothes to remain on the lines, the officer of the deck will
order them put into the lucky bag unless some shipmate is kind enough
to care for them, which is often the case.

Such confiscated clothing is occasionally kept in the “brig” (a cell
for punishment) and if there is not an over abundance, such articles
may be allowed to remain there even though a prisoner is doing a short
sentence of five days bread and water.

While there is an order on a war vessel that every man shall have his
name stamped on his clothes, there are men who evade it and do not mark
everything. Sometimes the paint which was used in stamping the name is
so worn by washing that it is illegible. Therefore, if such a piece
of clothing finds its way to the lucky bag the owner will let it stay
there, for he knows that if he claims it he will have to do some extra
police duties or be classed. His best plan is to await his time. Some
fellow may soon be sentenced to the brig, among the contents of the
lucky bag, and may clandestinely secure it for him. At any rate he can
look forward to the day when the auction sale of the lucky bag takes
place and then buy his own clothes.

I remember having a blue flannel shirt made. It was valuable, for the
sailor who made it had put on fancy silk stars on the collar, the
tape was neatly stitched, the best of silk had been used. Just before
inspection the tailor handed it to me. I had not time to go below and
shove it into the mouth of my clothes bag, so I lifted the flap of
the hammock cloth and pushed it between the cloth and the ship’s side.
The bulge it made in the hammock cloth caught the “first luff’s” eyes;
he put his hand under the painted canvass and hauled out my Sunday
mustering shirt. Fresh from the tailor’s hands, it found its way to the
lucky bag. There was no name on it to tell who was the owner, and as
I had many extra hours of police duty to do for other misdemeanors, I
held my peace and let the “go shore” shirt remain confiscated.

Good luck came my way sooner than I had hoped. The captain of the
afterguard was sentenced the next day to do five days bread and water
in the brig for being insolent to the officer of the deck. The contents
of the lucky bag were pushed into one corner of the cell while the
prisoner had the remaining portion of the iron brig to himself.

Here was my opportunity. I sneaked on the opposite side of the sentry
and placed my mouth close to the small perforated holes in the iron
walls of the brig and begged my incarcerated shipmate to overhaul the
lucky bag and find my shirt. Although it was dark he managed to find
the garment, so at seven bells the next morning, when he was brought
on deck to have a bath, he tucked it under the folds of his shirt and
left it on the forecastle head where I secured it.

About once in every two or three months the master-at-arms is ordered
to bring the contents of the lucky bag on deck. Standing in the port
gangway he holds up the various articles to the view of the crowd
around him and asks for bids.

It was prearranged before the sales on our ship, that if any man
shouted distinctly the words, “I will offer” in making his bid we were
not to bid against him, for we knew that “I will offer,” meant it was
the bidder’s own things. In this way we bought and rebought our own
clothes during the cruise rather than be punished for our negligence.

Sometimes the clothing was marked, when the owner was reported, and
would find no escape from cleaning the bottom of the sailing launch.
Again, he might be on friendly terms with the master-at-arms or ship’s
corporal, and in a begging attitude have him give them up without
being reported, or he might approach the officer of the deck and be
diplomatic in framing an excuse so as to win his favor and have the
lucky bag give up its treasure.


The Sailor and His Dudheen

It is possible to find a sailor who does not smoke or chew tobacco; but
he is a rare creature. The great majority of seamen enjoy their pipes
and some chew the weed as well, finding much comfort and consolation

A very large number of friends have asked why do sailors smoke so much?
It is not an unusual occurrence to see some of the seamen leave our
concert hall while there is an excellent entertainment taking place,
for the sole purpose of having a few draws on their old dudheens.
Generally they are firemen and coal passers of the merchant steamers.
These men have more opportunities than the deck hands to smoke. Usually
they are on watch four hours of every twelve, and off or on duty they
are allowed to smoke their pipes. There may be an exceptional ship
where the engineer of the watch will prohibit a fireman or coal passer
from smoking while on duty, but such discipline in the fireroom of an
ocean steamship is seldom seen.

Naturally these men feel the need of a smoke after the duration of an
hour. They long for a whiff of the pipe, and therefore leave their
seats during a good concert to obtain it.

I do not think that seamen smoke oftener nor use more tobacco than any
other class of men. When a sailor has donned his “go shore” clothes and
is ready to take a spin on the beach the chief thing he sees to, is
that his pipe and tobacco are in his jacket pocket, and when away from
the restraint of ship life, he smokes to his heart’s content. Perhaps
during the day when other men have had the privilege of enjoying
several cigars and as many pipefulls as they desired, poor Jack has had
only a few draws during the meal hours, so when his day’s work is over
he makes up for lost time.

Take the amount of tobacco used by a ship’s crew and compare it with
the amount used by the same number of landsmen and I think we will
find the lesser weight to be credited to the “shell back.” So with
drinking. The sailor uses less alcohol than the man ashore; not being
accustomed to drinking, a very few glasses makes him totter and
shake, and soon throws him on his beam’s end, while his brother, the
landlubber, has been pouring it down his throat all day, and is able at
the close of the night to meander his way home safely.

On a sailing ship it would be considered a breach of discipline for
a man to be seen smoking his pipe while on duty. He is expected to
refrain from such tendencies which help to weaken ship discipline, and
abide his time till eight bells have been struck and he is relieved.
Then before he closes his weary eyelids for a few hours’ nap, he can
have the pleasure of a draw on his old dudheen.

I recall a voyage on an American full rigger where the question of
smoking tobacco was the cause of much disturbance to the crew. During
the watch below a sailor was not allowed to come on deck with his
pipe in his mouth. He must confine his incense to the denizens of the
forecastle. On Sundays, when the decks had been washed and the brass
work cleaned, he could chew and spit over the rail; but the privilege
of smoking at such a time or on watch during the night was an offense
which meant the loss of an afternoon below.

On some ships there are times when the boatswains are not severe and
cruel, then a sailor may slip into the forecastle and steal a few draws
from his pipe. Especially if the man has come from the wheel where he
has been grinding salt water for two hours, doing his best to keep the
ship on her course, lest the officer of the watch find her wake is
crooked and greets him with an oath or blow, or from the lookout where
he has spent his watch in strange meditations.

The merchant sailor can smoke his pipe only during his watch below
at sea, and in the meal hours and the evenings when in port. I have
heard that on some English vessels and American coasters, the crews
are allowed to smoke at all times, even at the wheel; but I have never
sailed in such homes. In the United States Navy there is such a thing
as a “smoking lamp,” and when it is lighted every man can fill his pipe
and smoke on any part of the spar deck forward of the mainmast. This
smoking lamp is made of copper. Holes, about an inch in circumference,
are bored through the sides so that a piece of paper can be inserted so
as to reach the flickering flame. The lamp is hung in some convenient
place, usually near the foremast, and during meal hours and the
evenings in port, till nine o’clock (2 bells) it is kept lighted. At
sea, in the dog watches and meal hours it is hung up for use. There are
times on a war vessel when the smoking lamp is kept lighted the greater
part of the day. Saturday afternoons, when the work of the week is
ended and the men are overhauling their bags; Sunday after the morning
inspection is over, and on holidays. Then the man-of-war’s man can
smoke without fear of some officer or marine on duty inviting him to
the mast for punishment.

Again it may be a day when all hands are busily engaged coaling ship
or taking aboard provisions, something that keeps the whole crew
busy, such a time the seamen feel they have sufficient reason to ask
permission for the smoking lamp to be lighted.

Most seafaring men enjoy a smoke the last thing at night. It is a
comfort to stretch oneself in a hammock and just before dozing into
that unconscious state between wakefulness and sleep to withdraw the
pipe from the lips and place it under the pillow, then roll over and
slumber away.

During a cruise on an American war vessel, we came to anchor in the
harbor of Pernambuco. Several of the crew slept under the top gallant
forecastle where there was room for about fifty men. I managed to find
a vacant billet away from the suffocating berth deck. That very night
after taps had been sounded I turned into my hammock for a few hours’
solid comfort. My pipe was lighted so I decided to continue my smoke.
I stretched myself out, and pulled away at my old clay stump, keeping
one eye on the corporal of Marines at the gangway. I fell asleep while
smoking, for in a few moments I felt a burning pain at my side which
awakened me, and, on rolling over, I saw my blankets burning. In a
moment I was on deck, and in the twinkling of an eye I had the hammock
unhooked and “Presto change” the whole thing, bedding and all went
through the gun port. I was none too soon for the officer of the deck
and the anchor watch came running forward looking for the fire. They
had smelt the smoke and were seeking the cause. I hid myself in the
manger under the heel of the bowsprit and listened to them as they
discussed the whereabouts of the fire. My heart almost failed me when
the officer of the deck noticed the burning hammock over the side. The
tide was taking it astern and as there was an English ocean “tramp” a
short distance ahead of us, he decided that the smell of smoke came
from that bundle of old rags drifting by us from the steamer.

For five nights I slept on the bare deck planks and on the sixth
evening I reported my hammock missing. A search was made and when it
could not be found the first lieutenant said I must have thrown it
over the rail that morning in tossing it into the netting before the
hammock stower was there. I was glad to escape so easily for had I
been detected having smoked my pipe in bed, I would have suffered the
penalty of a court martial. As it was, I only lost my mattress and bed
clothes, which were worth about ten dollars. It would be easy to write
a few more pages of the many stolen smokes I and others have enjoyed,
yes, and of the many hours we have scrubbed the copper on the water
line of the ship as a punishment for smoking without permission; but I
will leave it untouched.


Pets Aboard Ship

Cats, dogs and all other animals, when they find their way on board
of a ship seem to know that nothing but kindness will be their lot.
Sailors are fond of pets and when opportunities are afforded them to
own some sort of an animal, they lavishly bestow upon them pent-up
affections, which accumulate by being isolated from their loved ones.

There are many stories about the wonderful power possessed by seamen in
taming the wild creatures that have been under their care.

I was once a stowaway on a brig which carried as part of her freight,
a deck load of mules. It was my duty to wash their faces every morning
and assist in feeding them. The first few days they were so vicious
that it was impossible to pass in front of some of them. Before we
reached port the evil spirits left them and they were as affectionate
as children. At first a few slaps on the face were necessary to
conquer some of them, but with kindness they were tamed. When the day
came to hoist them over the side into the lighter, the sailors had some
kind parting word for each mule; especially for the one whose stall
was nearest the forecastle door. He had won a place in the hearts of
all forward; he had every opportunity to become acquainted, as there
was never a meal eaten but he was allowed a portion. From his stall he
could put his head inside the forecastle and feed from the men’s pans.
Though they were all gently hoisted and given a chance to kick their
legs while in mid air, poor “Dick” received the greatest attention.
Just before the lighter shoved off, a sailor climbed over the side, and
putting his arms around old Dick’s head, gave him a parting kiss.

I have never owned a cat but have been shipmates with several. When
I was an ordinary seaman on the _Hagarstown_, the day we left port,
a black cat belonging to the tow boat jumped aboard. She was curious
and drifted into the steward’s store room where she became a prisoner.
That evening her mewing attracted the steward’s attention, and she was
released and allowed to wander around the decks. There was an unhappy
look upon her face, and it was several days before she attempted to be
friendly. Gradually the steward won her confidence and she lapped her
milk quite contently. In about two weeks four little kittens were born,
all black like the mother except one, which had a few white spots. When
we arrived in port all hands left for their homes and boarding houses.
The watchman and I were the only occupants of the ship. There was very
little nourishment for the kittens so we gave them away. The mother
remained a few days and then disappeared.

I have seen men fondle cats and care for them as tenderly as a mother
would her babe. I was once shipmates with a colored cook who had a
family of cats. They slept in his bunk, and in cold weather they
enjoyed the warmth of his galley fire. One of his pets seemed to care
for the companionship of the forecastle, which aroused his jealousy. At
last he shut his galley doors against this turtle shell pet of the men.
She did not mind this treatment; she shared her affections with all
forward; though her relatives fed more sumptuously, she had sixteen
bunks at her disposal. Every man’s bed was her property.

I have seen a man-of-war’s man take a little Maltese kitten from the
street outside the Boston Navy Yard gate, covered with mange and sores,
and nestle it in the folds of his blue shirt while he conveyed it
aboard the _Wabash_. Here it found a home. Poor little puss was fed and
doctored, and in a short while she was the pet of the ship. She lived
to be the mother of a large family. I recall her looks as she rubbed
her fur against my trousers when I lifted the box containing her little
ones on to the sill of a gun port, so that they would be clear of the
water when we washed decks.

It was the duty of one man to care for the float which was used as a
landing at the wharf off which the _Wabash_ was moored. Almost every
cat in the Navy Yard was acquainted with him. In this sailor’s makeup
there was an abundant supply of love for cats. In his bunk in the small
shanty on the float, a whole family of cats could be found at any time.
Unmolested, they did as they pleased.

I have a fondness for monkeys and whenever an opportunity was given me
to own one I took advantage of it. Of all pets, they afforded me the
most pleasure. Once during a calm in the Straits of Sunda the natives
of Java visited us. In their canoes there were lots of yams, sweet
potatoes and monkeys. Having no money we exchanged our clothing for
pets. I gave a flannel shirt for a small macaque. My jinny was very
affectionate. In my watch below she cuddled herself in my arms and
slept. Sometimes I would have just fallen asleep when she would take
hold of my eyelids and try to open them. It was fun to see her catch
the water bugs and eat them. The hair on her head formed a beautiful
crest, which she enjoyed having combed. During the dog watches we
romped and played like children.

One evening I came from the wheel at eight o’clock. Before turning in
I looked for my jinny. No where could I find her. At last I heard her
scream on the top of the forward house. I hastened up there and between
the boats under the mainstay, I found my pet under an empty beef
barrel with a booby. The ship’s cook had caught the bird and had put
it and jinny under the barrel. The dear little monkey was insane with
fright. I could do nothing with her. Her reason was entirely gone, so
I secured some lumps of coal and tied them in a bit of old canvas and
sank my pet in the deep. I would have liked to treat the cook in the
same manner but being too small to grapple with him, I held my peace.

This cowardly poltroon, the ship’s cook, was a brutal fellow. He owned
several monkeys and in trying to make them perform tricks he murdered
them. His last monkey was rescued from drowning. One day this savage
cook was angry with his little jacko because he did not come to him
when called. He struck the frightened monkey over the head with a
potato masher and cast him overboard. The captain, standing on the poop
deck, saw the monkey was still alive and threw the coil of the spanker
sheet to him. We were sailing slowly and poor jacko had just strength
enough to hold on while the skipper lifted him on board. The medicine
chest was opened, his bruises stitched and cared for, and he became the
protege of the quarter deck. Often while standing a trick at the wheel
I watched the little fellow bask in the sun. The bandages around his
head made him resemble some old men I have seen in hospitals.

Another time I was on a vessel loading fustic in Maracaibo, for Boston.
Our captain was fond of pets of any kind, so he granted us a few
dollars to buy monkeys and parrots. Our ship was a floating menagerie.
There were seven monkeys and nine parrots. Among this lot was a large
spider monkey. The naturalist has correctly named this horrid creature.
He was a black object whose body was about the size of a full grown
cat, having long arms and a tail much longer than his body. He was
a hideous creature. Unlike the other monkeys, he could not stand
captivity. While the others became accustomed to their new surroundings
and remained on deck, his only delight was to be in the rigging.
Shortly after leaving Maracaibo, skin disease was visible through his
harsh, black fur, which made him extremely miserable. Far different
were the weeper monkeys. These mischievous fellows afforded us much

Forward of the forecastle there was a coop of hens. Before they were
killed for the cabin use they were devoid of feathers, for the monkeys
delighted to put their paws into the coop and pluck the feathers. When
we reached the American coast, our pets, both monkeys and parrots,
suffered from the cold weather. They contracted colds in the head and
severe coughs, insomuch that we were forced to sell them to the cook
for a mere trifle, for he could furnish them with the warmth of his

We were wind bound in Vineyard Sound for several days. About three
o’clock one early morning we were called to man the boat and go in
search of a doctor as one of the crew was taken ill. By the time we
were through with the doctor and had returned to the ship after putting
him ashore, it was drawing close to daylight. We were allowed to sleep
in till breakfast, so I thought I would have another nap. As I got into
my bunk I rolled on a dead monkey and a parrot; each one of us had the
same experience. The cook had played a joke on us. When he was called
at four o’clock he found every one of his pets dead. Not only the
monkeys and parrots, but a cat and her three kittens. They had all been
suffocated by the coal gas of the galley stove.

During a cruise on a war vessel we called in at several ports in
Madagascar. Before we finally left the island we had a large supply of
what the sailors called Madagascar cats. These Lemuroids (half monkey
and half cat) took possession of the ship. Their arboreal lives made
them discontented with the flat surface of the deck, but once they were
allowed to climb the rigging, they seemed satisfied with their new
surroundings. The majority of these pets slept during the day, but in
the evening, as the sun neared the western horizon they were wide awake
and full of animation. The boatswain’s mate in the starboard gangway
owned a most peculiar gray Lemur. During the day he remained cuddled up
in some corner, his head and face covered with his tail; but as soon
as he felt the cool of the evening approaching, he would jump in the
rigging and watch for a chance to spring on some man’s head. His soft,
prominent eyes had a pleasing expression and he would close them when
his fur was stroked, manifesting pleasure in being caressed. He had a
large, round head, set close on his shoulders, short fore limbs and
long hind ones. His tail was bushy and his slender body was covered
with a thick gray coat of fur which was like plush to the touch, and he
was fed on bread soaked in condensed milk. As soon as we sailed into
Southern latitudes our Madagascar cats succumbed to the cold.

In Bahia one of the ward room officers bought two yellow puppies, which
lived forward, and one of the men was paid a small sum to care for
them. The carpenter’s mate had two marmosets, and as soon as the yellow
dogs came aboard, they pounced upon their backs, showing a fondness
for horse back riding. At first the canines disliked this treatment
and tried every device to dismount their riders. The only relief they
found from the marmosets was to crawl under the bottom step of the
forecastle head ladder, and scrape them off their backs. Later on, one
of the marmosets was taken sick and died and the other became more
affectionate and less distrustful. One morning we were surprised to
hear the boatswain’s mates call us to “stand by our hammocks.” We all
wondered what this could mean, but in a few moments the word was passed
for us to take them below, unlash them and see if the marmoset was in
some man’s bed.

The carpenter’s mate had missed his pet; he searched every place for
him and at last it occurred to him that “Tippy” must have been lashed
in some bed as he usually slept at the head of a hammock. Sure enough.
The little marmoset was discovered under the blankets in a hammock,
where he had been smothered. Poor little fellow. We all mourned our

The yellow puppies grew to be large dogs. Just as soon as a boat was
called away they were at the gangway ready to visit the shore. Without
a guide they roamed the streets of strange cities, and when tired of
that, like old salts they made for the boat landing and came aboard.
They were two wise creatures, for when ashore they knew the men of
their ship among a crowd of other sailors, and kept in company with the
ones who were under the influence of strong drink, protecting them from
being robbed.

One afternoon it was blowing a stiff pampero in Montevideo Bay. The
steam launch left the ship to make a safe mooring alongside of a wharf,
and as the two dogs wanted to go ashore, they jumped overboard in hope
of overtaking her. The short, choppy seas soon exhausted their strength
and both were drowned.

On another vessel we had a goat. She was kept tied on the main hatch.
Once free, she fed on any clothes that were in her reach and butted
any person who came in her way. When she was at liberty it took two or
more men to secure her, for she was a vixen whose temper was savage and

It has been my privilege to be shipmate with almost every kind of
living creature, animals, insects and birds, and in closing I will say
a few words about the much hated rats.

I was on a brig sailing between the West Indies and New York, which
had a full complement of rats. Some of them were tame. There was one
fat fellow who found his way to my bunk. At first he was timid but he
mastered it and was exceedingly friendly, for I could hold a pan for
him to eat, but if I attempted to stroke his fur he would skedaddle
away. It was amusing to watch them steal molasses from the casks.
They sat on the bung hole and allowed their tails to trail within. By
licking each other’s tail they secured a plentiful supply.


How Sailors Wash Their Clothes

We must have been about ten days out from Barbados on my first trip to
sea, when Captain Dunscombe ordered me to bring all my traps on deck
for his inspection. I felt ashamed to expose my ignorance, for I had
never washed a shirt, made a bed, or sewn on a button; in fact I did
not know how to care for my clothing and bedding.

During my short period of sea-sickness I had soiled some of my clothes
and had stowed them in my cubby hole, the sail locker. The colored
cook used a part of this locker in which to keep his stores, and while
rummaging around the mainsail which was stowed there, he discovered my
offensive clothing and brought it on deck for the old man to see what
a dirty boy he had aboard. True enough, for at this time I had not
a clean garment in my outfit. My first lesson in cleanliness was now

Captain Dunscombe had one of his sailors fill a deck bucket with fresh
water, and, seating himself by my side, he taught me how to wash my
clothes. It was a new experience for me. It seems strange to me that my
sailor brothers did not tell my mother that it was necessary for me to
know how to wash and mend my clothes. No doubt they thought of it, but
they knew that in Barbados it was almost impossible for a respectable
family to wash their clothes, as it was considered degrading, so the
negroes did that work. And again, the method of washing clothes is very
different from that of northern countries. The negro washer women carry
the clothes to some running stream or river, and after giving them a
few rubs on a small board, they rinse them in the ocean by pounding
them on a white boulder at ebb tide. Then they are spread on the white,
burning sands of the beach to dry. I had no knowledge of wash tubs and
scrubbing boards, and had never seen clothes soaped and rubbed between
the hands, therefore, the lesson I was then receiving on the _Meteor_
was very much needed.

Before I proceed farther, I will advise every mother whose boy is
determined to follow the sea for a living, to take her youngster into
her kitchen and there give him his first lesson in a sailor’s calling.
Teach him how to wash his clothes; instruct him in the making of his
bed; have him sew on his buttons, and put a patch on his trousers or
mend a rent in his shirt; then as he enters upon his duties as boy on
board his vessel, he will thank you for his instructions. Make sure
that he can care for the dishes, the knives and forks; let him be the
housemaid, cook, the factotum of the home, for the more proficient he
is in such duties, the more efficient deck boy he will be. Instead of a
dirty slouch he will be a clean, tidy lad.

As there are no washer women on board a ship, it devolves upon every
man to do for himself the personal services which are done for men on
land, by the other sex.

After spending fully two hours rubbing and rinsing my clothes, I was
then shown how to secure them to the footstops of the mainsail; so that
they would not blow overboard. As cabin boy, I not only received my
lessons in arranging the dining table for meals, washing and wiping
dishes, but was fortunate to have a friend to teach me how to wash and
mend. I have seen boys enlist as apprentices, yes, landsmen too, young
men fresh from the country, who were utterly unable to grapple with the
conditions of their new surroundings. Unprepared for that self-reliance
which is suddenly thrust upon them, they go for days and days without
washing their clothes, until they are forced to do so by the officer of
their division.

I remember a lad of tender age who had enlisted as an apprentice. On
several occasions he was reported for being dirty and at last one day
his bag was brought on deck. As soon as the mouth was opened, a foul
odor emanated from his clothing. The poor little fellow had done his
best and had tried to keep clean as well as he knew how, but this had
proved a failure. His condition elicited the sympathy of an old “flat
foot.” The aged jack tar took the bag of clothes on a float alongside
the ship, and there with brush, soap and water, taught the lad how to
wash his clothes and helped him get his outfit clean once more.

I was once on board a large American sailing ship where we had a middle
aged man among our crew. He was a native of Belgium and could speak
no English. The poor man had a sore time of it on deck and hardly any
better treatment when below among his mates. One day when we had been
about four weeks at sea the sailor who slept in the lower bunk under
the “Joskin”, growled about the dirt and rubbish that was constantly
falling on him from the Belgian’s bunk. Every time the unfortunate
farmer rolled in his sleep, down would fall some dirt on the face of
his shipmate, disturbing his rest. It grew worse every day till at last
the sailor in the lower bunk inspected the joskin’s donkey’s breakfast.
In overhauling it he discovered that the whole bunk was alive with
vermin. His dirty clothes had been pushed under the mattress, his
bedding and what few clothes he owned were filthy beyond description.
The greenhorn had no knowledge of washing clothes. One of the sailors
bent on the end of an old piece of rope to the clothes and threw them
over the side where for four hours they were hauled on the surface of
the Atlantic till they were almost towed into shreds.

On a deep water sailing ship the water supply is a very important
factor. As there is no knowing how much rain water may be caught to
replenish the supply, every man must be careful and not waste any.
I have seen times when it became necessary to put the crew on an
allowance of water which was hardly enough for drinking purposes. How
then can a sailor wash his face, much less his clothes at a time like

On a voyage to Japan I was five weeks without a drop of fresh water
on my face. We were on our allowance, and in the heat of the tropics
we could have used as much again to quench our thirsts. Each morning
I washed my face with salt water till I could brush the salt from my
features and see it fall in scales on my jumper. We were steering to
the south’ard and longingly looked for the rain deluges of the tropics.
When that solid down-pour fell upon us we all turned out from below
with dirty clothes and blankets, and made a lather of soap visible
everywhere. To keep clean during the days we were on our allowance, I
bent on my clothes to the end of my chest lashing, and had the ship
haul them along on the crest of the waves. In this way much dirt was
removed. The towing of clothes, if the ship is making good headway,
reduces the sailor’s wardrobe, for it will not take many hours for a
vessel to drag a piece of clothing to ribbons, if she is sailing at a
good rate.

When a youngster I took my blankets out over the bow and bending on a
line, allowed them to drag close to the stem of the ship. The wavelets
from her bow tumbled them over and over as they trailed in front of
the old girl’s nose. In an hour when I hauled them aboard they were
as clean as when I brought them from the store. This was such an easy
method of cleaning blankets that in about two month’s time I thought I
would give them another drag over the bow. But alas! I forgot to take
them in on going below. Next morning when I remembered them I hurriedly
reached the bowsprit and found instead of the white folds of my
blankets rolling themselves among the foam at the bow, a dirty woolen
mass wrapped around the rusty chain bobstays. I tried to release it but
could not, as the vessel was then ducking into the waves of a strong
trade wind.

It fell a dead calm one forenoon, so I got overboard to unwrap my
blankets from the bobstay. I was not molested even though my shipmates
tried to frighten me by shouting “a shark” while I was overboard,
but my labor was in vain, for my blankets were now a heap of shreds
covered with iron rust. Fortunately the slop chest was supplied with a
few blankets made of “dogs wool and oakum,” or I should have shivered
in my bunk when we sailed into cold weather. On another occasion I was
on a ship where the captain did not allow any towing of clothes over
the side, as he claimed it decreased the speed of his vessel. At night
he prowled around the decks and if there was a line made fast on deck
on which some sailor was towing his clothes, he would set the whole
adrift, a serious loss to the owner.

A sailor’s great delight is to overhaul his belongings. His vessel is
at anchor in the bay or perhaps moored alongside some wharf. He has
been hard at work from daylight till dark every day of the week. Sunday
morning has dawned, and as soon as the decks have been cleaned, he has
the remaining portion of the Sabbath to himself. Up comes his bag or
chest on deck and the contents are aired and dried. Then it is he can
sit on the coamings of the hatch, or on a spare spar or bucket, and
gathering his dirty duds around him, with soap and plenty of fresh
water, he can wash to his heart’s delight. The method on a man-of-war
is different. Keeping one’s clothes clean is an important matter on
such a vessel. On some war ships there are three days in which the man
can wash clothes while in port, while on others only two wash days a
week are allowed. The evening before the wash clothes day, just before
sunset, the different parts of the ship are ordered by the officer of
the deck through the boatswain’s mates to get up their clothes line.
These lines are two single ropes reaching the full length of the ship.
At certain distances apart there are stirrups about four feet deep
holding them together. After the whips are hooked on to the lines, a
man stands by at each whip waiting for the quartermaster to report
sundown. Then as the colors are being lowered the lines are triced
aloft in their places. At such a time there may be other evolutions
in progress; the light yards are coming down, the awnings triced up;
everything accomplished as though it were the movements of one great

The question of fresh water arises at this time. The paymaster has
served us with salt water soap, a mixture of potash and grease which
does not give the cleansing lather in salt water that ordinary soap
will give in fresh. It is a poor substitute at its best. Fresh water
on a war vessel is a scarce luxury. The condenser is at work most of
the time for there are many men to use the supply. Therefore a marine
is stationed at the scuttle butt to see that no water is taken from it
except for drinking. There is a dipper fastened to the butt and each
man must drink what he needs in the presence of the sentry. I have seen
men resort to every device to secure a bucket of water to wash their
clothes. I, myself, have worked the drip bucket scheme. As there is a
bucket placed by the scuttle butt to receive the drippings and leavings
of the dipper, we have planned to make frequent visits to the scuttle
butt, fill the dipper, then take a mouthful and empty the remainder
into the save-all pail. In a little while the bucket needs to be
emptied. We are ready to do this, and so secure a couple of gallons of

Again, when on friendly terms with the firemen on watch, they would
allow us to sneak down to the fireroom and draw a bucket full from the
condenser. In port when alongside a navy yard dock, it was different.
Then our supply was plentiful, but at sea, or at anchor in a foreign
harbor, we had to watch our chances to steal a bucketful to wash our

On a certain war vessel the “first luff” gave a standing order, that
every part of the ship was to have a bucket of fresh water to swab off
the white paint on the bulwarks. Sometimes this water was used for this
purpose, but more frequently it was kept hidden back of a gun carriage
till the decks were cleaned. Then we would divide the water between us.
We had fully fourteen men in our part of the ship which was a large
number to bathe in this one pail. Still it was better than salt water.
I have washed in less than half a gallon of water which several men had
already used. Although only muddy soapsuds, thick enough to be cut with
a knife, it removed the dirt from my face and I could then give myself
the final polish by dousing my face with clean salt water.

If in port and the awnings were housed so as to shelter the crew from
the falling rain, every wash deck bucket was put into use. When the
awnings are housed only a few stops are in use and the remaining ones
make excellent places to fasten an empty bucket. The weight of it
forms a ridge on the awning. In this way we could secure water at times
for washing purposes.

We had a sailing launch which was seldom used. Only when all boats
armed and equipped for distance service, were called away, or to
abandon ship, did her keel touch the sea. This Noah’s Ark was a
secluded place for the maintop men. Resting in her crutches in their
part of the ship, they could hide a bucket of water from the eyes of
the “first luff,” or the officer of the deck.

It is the duty of the coxswain of each boat to see that his boat’s
water breaker is filled, especially when at sea. On this same ship
the coxswain of the first cutter was lowered on the conduct class as
a punishment for not having his boat’s breaker filled. It was not his
fault. Before the ship had left the harbor he had filled his breaker,
but some thoughtless fellow had lifted the corner of the boat’s cover
and getting into the boat, had stolen the water. It was useless for
the coxswain to make this statement for he had no proof, and even if
he had, he would have settled it on the forecastle head and not at the
mast. It was well for the thief he was not caught. He would have been
court-martialed and well he deserved it. If we had met with an accident
and had to abandon our vessel, some twenty or more men would have been
at sea in an open boat without water.

When in port we were called at five o’clock each morning. One half hour
was allowed for coffee; then if it was a morning to wash clothes the
officer of the deck would order the boatswain’s mates to pipe, “scrub
and wash clothes.” In both the starboard and port gangways, on top and
under the forecastle head the crew would do their washing. Sometimes a
blue flannel shirt which did not need much cleansing, or a white duck
suit too stiff to rub between the hands, were placed on deck, and the
dirt removed by rubbing the scrub brush over them, after first applying
a liberal coating of soapsuds.

It may be dark at such an hour according to the latitude we were in,
or the season of year, but whatever the conditions are, the man who
is scrubbing his clothes must see to it that he wets the deck before
he begins to scrub, otherwise the soapsuds will sink into the dry
deck, and unless it is a morning when holy stones are in order it will
require much strength on a hickory broom to remove them. He also sees
to it in scrubbing, that his soapsuds do not spatter the gun carriages,
for if they do and he neglects to wash them off, he will receive a
scolding and a growl from the chief of growlers, the quarter gunner.

If we had many pieces of clothing to scrub we would hurry and get
through, for in thirty minutes’ time the boatswain’s mates would be
ordered to lower the lines and in another ten minutes they were triced
aloft. If we were not through on time and missed the lines, we would
have to care for our wet clothing, keeping it out of sight. Often I
have been late in reaching the clothes line and have sneaked into the
sailing launch and there spread my things on the thwarts to dry.

Experience soon taught the green horns where not to hang their clothes
on the lines. Stretched from stem to stern, that portion near the
mainstay or close to the eyes of the lower main rigging, or any place
in close proximity to the smoke stack was undesirable. For if the wind
does not blow your washed garments against these sooted stays and
shrouds, in some way they will come in contact with the smoke stack,
when they are piped down in the afternoon. On a morning when hammocks
were scrubbed those who were through first selected the best place
on the lines near the mizzenmast or forward of the fore mast. It was
necessary to have our hammocks spotless; otherwise at evening quarters
the division officer would reject them and order us to scrub them over
again the next wash day. I have seen men who were slow in heeding the
call to “stand by their scrubbed hammocks,” compelled to scrub their
hammocks two, three and four times over before they were passed as
clean. It was their own fault as, instead of being on deck standing
under their hammocks to receive them and to keep them from striking
against the smoke stack guys, or being trampled on the deck by others
who were removing theirs, they were enjoying an afternoon nap in some
secluded corner of the ship.

The method of washing clothes at sea varies little from that in port.
There is a sea clothes line about six lengths of rope, stirrupped
together about four feet apart. These lines are secured between the
main and mizzen rigging. We were allowed to scrub our clothes every
morning except Sunday. At this rate it was only three wash days a
week, as those would be the mornings we were on deck. The crew was
divided into two watches and this gave a different watch on deck each

Among the many ways of earning a few dollars on a man-of-war, the
scrubbing of clothes and hammocks is one of the most lucrative. There
are several first class petty officers who pay others to do their
scrubbing. A thrifty apprentice or landsman can earn his spending
money doing this work. We had an ordinary seaman who made almost as
much money scrubbing clothes and hammocks for the first class petty
officers, as he earned as a salary from the government. He charged
seventy-five cents a hammock, and some mornings he would be on the
forecastle head long before all hands were called, working with
soapsuds to his waist, scrubbing with all his might. Had he saved his
money I should say it was a profitable task, but it was only a labor
for “Dirty Dick’s” saloon and the dance halls on Calle St. Theresa in


The Lead Line

Since the coming of the mariners’ compass many centuries ago,
navigation has made steady headway. It is now an exact science, and
vessels properly equipped with needed instruments and with men able to
use them, can, no matter what the winds or seas, or how extended the
voyage, be brought safely to their destination.

The instruments used in navigation are, the compass, by which ship’s
courses are steered; the sextant by which observations of the sun, moon
and stars are taken, and through which the latitude is ascertained;
the chronometer by which the longitude is determined; the log, which
measures the ship’s speed; the chart on which the ship’s position is
daily traced; the barometer which gives the weight of the atmosphere
and warning of coming storms; the hydrometer which shows the saltness
of the sea; the thermometer which tells the temperature of the ocean;
and the sounding lead which gives the depth of water and the nature of
the bottom over which the ship is sailing.

The compass, the first in importance to the navigator, was known to the
Chinese centuries before the Christian era, and was brought to Europe
by the renowned Asiatic traveler, Marco Polo, in the latter part of the
thirteenth century. And though improved in many ways the property of
polarity in the lodestone, still remains the leading essential.

Careful steering, and good charts are next to the compass. But while
sights and observations, the study of the barometer, thermometer and
hydrometer should all be faithfully attended to, the lead line will
hold its place as one of the important guides to navigation until
something is invented whereby the master mariner can penetrate the fog
and clouds that obscure the sun and other celestial objects.

The neglect of taking proper soundings has caused the loss of more
ships and lives than can be enumerated.

In days long past the anxious navigator has found relief by resorting
to the use of the lead line. The story of St. Paul’s shipwreck tells
how the sailors on his vessel deemed that they drew near to land and
that they resorted to the use of the lead and line. “When they had gone
a little farther, they sounded again and found fifteen fathoms.”

There are seamen who have followed the sea for years and have had no
experience with the lead line or any sounding apparatus. They have
been on long voyages where it was not necessary to take soundings. I
have sailed from land to land more than six months to reach our port
of discharge, and during that time the lead has not been cast. Again,
during a trip on a three-masted schooner from La Guayra to Maracaibo,
we were using the lead as much as the compass in our navigation, even
on this short passage.

Although a sailor may have no experience with the lead still he has
a knowledge of its use in soundings. Long before I had ever taken a
cast I knew how it should be done. My first experience of the deep-sea
lead was on the Bermudan brig _Excelsior_. We were drawing near to the
American coast bound in to New York, when we were enveloped in thick
fog. Our captain was a competent navigator, and to make sure of his
whereabouts after sailing without the sun or stars for three days, it
became necessary for him to seek information from the bottom of the
sea. Although there was no danger in getting a cast of the lead, as
there was very little wind, still on some occasions I have seen all
hands called and sail shortened, involving much labor at the peril of

I was once on a large American ship where for a whole night we were
standing off the Delaware Capes in an easterly gale, and were forced
to use deep-sea lead. At considerable peril and much loss of rest for
the crew, the ship was rounded to the wind in the face of a dangerous
sea, so as to check her speed. Twice during that night we had to haul
up the mainsail and lay the mainyard back. At such a time every man
is expected to know his duty. Should the night be as dark as pitch,
an able seaman must take the lead, weighing twenty-eight pounds, on
the forecastle head. He must see that the small cavity in the lower
end is “armed”--filled--with tallow. This reveals the nature of the
bottom when the lead is hauled aboard. It may be gravel, sand, mud,
but whatever it is, it will aid the master in his navigation, as the
nature of the bottom of the coast is marked on the chart.

In the meantime others had manned the rail, and starting from the
quarter they pass the line along on the outside of the ship, till the
end reaches the man on the forecastle head. Here he bends on the end of
the line to the lead by reeving the eye splice on the end of the line,
through the grummet on the top of the lead, allowing the lead to drop
through the eye splice.

All being ready, the man on the forecastle head throws the lead
overboard, well to windward, shouting as he does so, “Heave.” The man
nearest to him feels the tug on the line, and he then throws what he
has in his hand to windward making sure the bight of the line is clear
of all eyebolts, and shouts, “Watch, there, watch.” Then the next man
as he feels the strain lets go of what he is holding and shouts the
signal, “Watch, there, watch,” and so on until the line reaches the
leadsman aft. Then if the lead has not struck the bottom he pays out
the line and tries to get a sounding. Usually there is an officer aft
at the line. He feels that the strain is released and taps the lead two
or three times to make sure of his soundings, and then notes the depth
by the marks on the line.

The deep-sea lead is about one hundred and twenty fathoms, the first
twenty fathoms of it being sometimes marked like the hand lead of which
I shall write later. Beginning at twenty fathoms, there is a small
piece of cod line with two knots on it, thirty fathoms, the same with
three knots, forty fathoms with four knots, and so on up to one hundred
fathoms. Half-way between each there is a strip of leather. The length
of the lead itself is not counted in this measurement, so the ship gets
the benefit of the depth plus the length of the lead. Usually a small
snatchblock is on the mizzen backstay for the purpose of hauling the
lead aboard. At night the officer of the watch carries the lead to the
binnacle light and then reports to the captain the depth of the cast
and the nature of the bottom on the tallow.

I once saved a collection from the bottom of the River Rio de la Plata.
It was a curious assortment of bits of shell and teeth of small fish.
I have heard old sailors tell of finding rare coins, finger rings and
pieces of human bones fastened on the tallow of the deep-sea lead.

It is a doleful sound to hear each man along the rail shouting, “Watch,
there, watch!” I once saw the second mate of ship leave the poop, and,
running down to the main deck, hustle a fellow along who was slow in
getting aft to haul in the lead line. After the lead was aboard he
received this warning: “When I say come I want you to run, and when I
say run I want you to fly, and when you fly, flap your wings or I’ll
make you.” This had a good effect, for before the end of the voyage he
lost his easy gait and could “hop light and come a running” as well as
any on board.

The hand lead line is between twenty-five and thirty fathoms long,
according to the height of vessel from the water, but only the first
twenty fathoms are used in sounding. I have seen the planks on the deck
of an English square rigger marked for the purpose of measuring a new
lead line, but on vessels in which I have sailed this was done with
a three-foot rule and a bit of chalk. A good-sized eye is spliced in
one end, and after wetting the line it is stretched, measured and then
marked. The hand lead line consists of nine marks and eleven deeps.
Beginning at two fathoms, a piece of leather with two ends is tucked
into the strand of the line, at three fathoms there are three ends of
leather; at five fathoms a piece of white calico, at seven a piece of
red bunting, at ten a strip of leather with a hole in it, at thirteen a
piece of blue cloth, at fifteen a piece of white calico, at seventeen
a piece of red bunting, and at twenty fathoms a bit of cord with two

On some lead lines instead of white calico or blue cloth, bunting of
the same color is used, but for accurate soundings on a dark night, the
leadsman can put the mark in his mouth and with his tongue tell whether
it is cloth, calico or bunting, or he may by feeling the marks tell the
difference if his fingers are not too cold. The fathoms which are not
marked are termed “deeps.” They are 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18,

If a sailing ship is in thick fog close to land the officer of the
watch may call a man aft and have him take a cast of the hand lead, or
he may do it himself, but on some ocean steamers and yachts the lead is
in constant use on entering and leaving harbor.

On a war vessel as soon as the ship draws near to the channel the
leadsman is at his post. He fastens a large canvas apron to the
shrouds of the rigging so that it will hold him as he stretches his
body well over on the outside of his ship. The apron reaching to his
feet, protects him from the water falling from the line. Making fast
one end of the line to a shroud he takes hold of the other end about
nine feet from the lead, and then swings the lead backward and forward
till there is motion enough for him to swing it over his head two or
three times. He must then let it go at the right time, so that it will
drop close alongside under the bow. By the time the vessel has reached
the place where the lead sunk it has had time to reach the bottom.
As the line comes up and down under the leadsman he taps the bottom
smartly and shouts the depth of water to the officer on the bridge.
If he sees the piece of red bunting on the surface of the water he
calls out, “By the mark seven.” If it should be some distance from the
water, he uses his judgment and calls “A quarter less seven,” or “And
a half six,” “And a quarter six.” Perhaps he feels safe in believing
the mark seven is a good fathom from the water and calls “By the deep
six,” and so on through the nine marks and eleven deeps, he calls the
soundings he receives. Generally the hand lead weighs seven pounds,
but when the vessel is going at a good rate of speed a fourteen pound
lead is necessary. It requires much practice to become a good leadsman.
The starboard leadsman throws the lead with his right hand and the port
with his left.

On a certain war vessel we had a seaman who was accustomed to throw the
lead from the starboard chains. He was changed to the foretop and his
first cast of the lead from the port chains caused a man to go on the
sick list for several days. Instead of the lead dropping on the outside
of the ship it landed on the starboard side of the forecastle head,
falling on the feet of a fireman. It was well the force of the lead was
broken by first striking the fish davit or it would have broken the
man’s head.

Whenever the apprentices were instructed in casting the lead we took
good care to keep out of the way, as there was no telling where
the lead would drop, for it might go all over the forecastle head
instead of the sea. A good leadsman is a valuable man. A part of the
examination a merchant sailor receives when he joins the navy is a cast
of the lead.

I recall the first time I saw Lord Kelvin’s (Sir William Thomson,)
sounding machine used. I was then on a war vessel. The boatswain’s mate
sent me aft to assist the quartermaster in taking a cast of the lead.

This machine consists of about three hundred fathoms of galvanized
wire to which is attached a glass tube about fifteen inches long by
three quarters of an inch in diameter. This tube contains a secret
chemical compound on the principal of the thermometer. To the tube is
fastened a rod of small iron called the sinker, which, when sounding
takes the tube to the bottom where the density of the water acting on
the chemical therein shows when carefully read on the indicator, also
attached to the tube, the exact depth of the water.

With the ship going at full speed ahead, the quartermaster, aided by
two men to attend the brakes and wind in the wire, it ascertained
correctly the depth of one hundred fathoms in less than ten minutes.

The seamen to-day feel kindly disposed to this sounding machine which
has removed the hardship of the deep-sea lead, and navigators the world
over feel greatly indebted to Lord Kelvin, not only for his sounding
machine, but because in many ways he has done more than any other man
to advance the science of navigation.


Rhymes Foretelling Weather

There is considerable truth in the rhymes used by seamen in detecting
signs of a coming storm. Although it matters little to a modern steamer
what the weather is, as long as it keeps clear, still if such an
up-to-date craft is in the hurricane regions during the season, it will
give the master much anxiety.

Tropical cyclones generally originate in about latitude 10° north or
south of the equator. The sign of an approaching hurricane is the ugly
threatening appearance which comes ahead of most severe gales, and
increases in severity at every gust. Sometimes a long heavy swell and
confused sea will precede the hurricane, rolling from the direction
in which the hurricane is approaching. The halo around the sun, the
moist and heavy air with squalls of misty rain, the light feathery
whitish glare of the sky all give evidence that bad weather is at hand.
In northern latitudes a mackerel sky moving rapidly from the westward
indicates an approaching westerly gale. The mare’s tail is another sign
of a coming storm. Oily looking clouds tell of wind, while soft ones
speak of fine weather. High upper clouds crossing the sun and moon in
a direction opposite to that from which the wind is blowing indicate a
change of wind coming from that direction. When the first glimmer of
dawn appears over a bank of clouds instead of the horizon, it foretells
wind. When the first streaks of light appear on the horizon expect fine
weather. A rapid rise of the barometer indicates unsettled weather. A
slow, steady rise foretells fair weather. A rapid fall a heavy gale
with rain.

  “A red sky in the morning,
  Sailors take warning,
  A red sky at night,
  The sailors delight.”

The same rhyme answers for the rainbow as it does for the sky.

In squally weather this old doggerel has its truth.

  “When the rain’s before the wind
  Topsail halliards you must mind,
  When the wind’s before the rain,
  Soon you may make sail again.”

  *       *       *       *       *

  “At sea with low and falling glass,
  Soundly sleeps the careless ass.
  Only when it’s high and rising,
  Safely rests the careful wise one.”

  *       *       *       *       *

  “Evening red and morning grey,
  Are excellent signs of a very fine day.”

  *       *       *       *       *

  “Mackerel sky and mare’s tails
  Make lofty ships carry low sails.”

  *       *       *       *       *

The doggerel for the barometer is:

  “Quick rise after low
  Foretells stronger blow.
  Long foretold, long last,
  Short notice soon past.”

The flight of the sea gull is also an indication of the weather.

  “The wind will blow hard when the gull comes ashore.”

         *       *       *       *       *

    “Sea gull, sea gull, sit on the sand,
    It’s never good weather when you’re on the land.”


Rules of the Road at Sea

The rules governing the direction which ships may take at sea are very
clearly defined by the international laws of all maritime countries,
and when violated by masters of either steam or sailing vessels, are
very drastically punished. If a collision occurs by disregarding the
rule of the road at sea, the ship so doing is held responsible for all
damage, and in case, as it sometimes happens, lives are sacrificed, the
master of the ship at fault is tried before the court of the country in
whose jurisdiction the casualty happens for manslaughter, and punished
as a common criminal. For these reasons, “Rules of the Road” as they
are termed, are strictly followed by most navigators.

When a ship is at sea, the officer in charge of the deck is usually
expected to keep a bright lookout. A following ship must always keep
clear of a ship ahead. If the weather is foggy the steam whistle is
periodically blown. But foggy or clear, good weather or bad, at sundown
all lights are in their places and the lookout man takes his stand in
the crows nest. The lights of a steamer at sea, electricity being now
much used, are a white light on the foremast head, a green light on
the starboard bow or bridge, and a red light on the port, all of which
have clearly defined significations, and to the initiated speak a plain
language, which is thus poetically put by some ancient nautical genius.

At sea, two steamships meeting:--

  “When all three lights I see ahead,
  I port my helm and show my red.”

Two steamships passing:--

  “Green to green or red to red.
  Perfect safety, go ahead.”

Two steamships crossing:--

  “If to my starboard, red appear,
  It is my duty to keep clear
  To act as judgment says is proper;
  To port, or starboard, back or stop her.

  But when upon my port is seen
  A steamer’s starboard light of green,
  There’s naught for me to do but see,
  That green to port, keeps clear of me.

  Both in safety and in doubt,
  I always keep a bright lookout;
  In danger, with no room to turn,
  I ease her, stop her, go a-stern.”

For sailing vessels, the rule of the road is:--

  “On starboard tack, with yards braced tight,
  See that your red and green are bright,
  For every ship that’s in your way,
  Must clear your track both night and day.

  But if on the port tack you steer,
  Stand by! for you must then keep clear
  Of every close hauled ship ahead,
  No matter whether green or red.”


Signalling at Sea

A ship desiring to hold a conversation with another ship while on the
deep must first display the flag of the nation to which she belongs.

The other ship immediately hoists the flag of her country. The first
ship then begins the conversation which can be carried on indefinitely.

Eighteen flags of various shapes and colors constitute the
international “Code of Signals.” It is a most interesting mathematical
fact that, with this small number of flags, and never more than four
displayed at any one time, any amount of conversation can be kept up;
and no fewer than 78642 questions can be asked and answered. When the
new “Code of Signals,” consisting of the whole alphabet is put into
general use, the number of questions will be more than doubled.

In signalling at night the conversation is much more limited, and is
carried on by means of various colored lights, by guns and rockets.

The national ensign upside down, or in its absence any flag or token
unusually displayed from mast or yard signifies distress and need of
assistance, and at night a rocket has the same meaning. Any vessel
seeing such signals at a day or night must, if able, go immediately
to give relief, and is expected to do all in its power to render
assistance in food or the saving of life. The towing of a distressed
ship to port or safe anchorage is optional and cannot be insisted on.


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

  Archaic or variant spelling has been retained.

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