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Fictional Account of Ship Life at Sea in the 1700's...

Updated on June 6, 2011

British Ship Life in the 1700's...

     “Captain’s log, day 47 at sea…”  My name is Jack Cody, captain of the 1800 ton, 100 gun HMS Farragut, flagship of his Majesty’s Atlantic Fleet…  I’m 36 years old as of last November, and have been proudly serving as Fleet Commander for the past two years.  We have captured or sunk 7 enemy ships of the French during that time, and are presently on the hunt for a pesky French frigate known to be in these parts… 

     I caught the scent of the sea at an early age, and joined the service at age 21 after attending the Royal Naval Academy.  Luckily for me, my cousin the Duke of Worcestershire was able to secure for me a place as an officer on one of the best ships of the line, and I have been able to work very hard and learn the ropes, thus getting rapidly promoted through the ranks to my present position. 

     We presently have 22 officers and 99 seamen of various ranks and experience level on board, in addition to 500 marines who are not good for much except fighting the enemy.  They are mostly landlubbers and have been mostly light duty sluggards since they got on board, even though their seasickness has subsided quite a bit after the first week or two.  I am a stern but fair captain, and the men know where they stand with me.  I did have to have a seaman flogged today because he took an extra portion of rum from the pantry, but it was a necessary duty and a good example to set for the other men.  I don’t think any others will try that during this month at least.  My policy is to add 20 lashes for every additional infraction from the same man per cruise…  That’s the only way they learn…

     The men sleep forward of the mast in the fo’castle wherever they can get comfortable, whether it’s curled up on the floor in a corner or possibly in a hammock swaying from the rafters.  There is no privacy, for them anyway.  They hang over the side of the ship for a restroom, and eat what the cook gives them.  Salt pork and beef, and ships biscuit, plus a gallon of beer per man per day are the rations.  It can get monotonous, but at least it’s filling!  What they don’t eat the rats will…  There are plenty of them on board, even with the two ships cats doing their share.  Still, we can’t yet figure out why some of the men are showing signs of scurvy, some after only 3 or 4 weeks at sea.  The ships physician figures that it might have something to do with not being able to eat fresh meat, so I’ve ordered the butchering of the last pig for dinner tonight for the men.  It’s not much, but maybe it will help alleviate some of this horrible scurvy disease going around.  As for me, I’m going to have a nice salad from the plants I’m growing in my cabin and the choicest part of that pig for dinner…  Plus, I’m going to enjoy a couple of those nice lemons that I brought along!  At least there are no reports of Typhus or Cholera on board, so we have that to be thankful for!

     “Ship’s log, Day 48…”  The men are starting to grumble about being at sea so long without any liberty, and I’ve told the first mate to send word down through the ranks that we may be stopping into Port Royal in a few days if we don’t spot that French frigate soon.  We should be able to resupply and rest up for a while there enjoying some R & R.  We will have to keep the men on a short leash however, since we don’t want any deserters.  Warnings will be given to all who depart on liberty that all deserters will be shot when found.

     Two men died today of scurvy.  Their bodies were thrown overboard for the sharks.  This has been a long and costly war, but the end is in sight now and we have the upper hand.  We might possibly be home in six months from this campaign.  We are due to meet the resupply ship next month in Yorktown, Virginia, and there will be a lot of work to move the supplies over.  I’m sure the men will grumble again, but since it is to feed their stomachs I’m sure they won’t mind too much.  Since there are no women on board it will be good for the men to enjoy a little port time on liberty.

     We are still in need of several good top men for the sails, so maybe we can pick up some new recruits while we are there.  It is always hard to find young, experienced men to handle the sails in the loft.  I’ve tried to pick honest and trustworthy officers from men that I knew from previous cruises, and was able to get most of who I wanted.  They trusted me and knew that I would treat them well, so they accepted my offers.  They all sleep together in Officers Country, just underneath my own cabin below the quarterdeck.  They have much more privacy than the seamen up front, and they eat in their own mess, but they still don’t have the roomy cabin that I enjoy.  It’s not much compared to shore standards, but for a ship of the sea it is more privacy and comfort than one can expect.  I keep a good supply of my own private food right there, along with a nice bed to sleep on and a great view aft out the window.  When I want to get to the quarterdeck, I only have a short walk up one flight of stairs and I’m there.  I keep all my ocean charts and maps in my cabin, and occasionally I will invite one of the officers to dinner as an incentive.  It’s always good to keep the morale up among the officers, and then they will keep up the morale with the men.

     “Ship’s log, Day 49”  We have had very good weather for the last few weeks, and the Atlantic crossing was not filled with the unexpected bad weather or hurricanes that can happen at this time of year.  We did almost get stuck in the doldrums with no wind, and were concerned for a few days, but the wind picked up and swept us full speed to the West Indies.  We have full sails furled, and are enjoying the brisk wind in our faces.  Two sea turtles were sighted today, and the men tried to fish them out of the ocean but did not have any luck.  They did manage to bring to the cook several flying fish that have popped onto the deck though, and they should make for good eating tonight! 

  We had some unexpected compass deviations, as we had passed Bermuda to the south, and it started wildly spinning in circles!  We did not know what was afoot, and some of the men thought there might be evil spirits that followed us from Bermuda…  Luckily, the compass started working properly again and our position has been properly fixed by our navigator.  He was as surprised as I, and he mentioned that he has never seen anything like that before…  I do remember stories being told on previous cruises though, of ships experiencing strange events while in this section of the sea…  The Bermuda Triangle I think they call it!

     I had better pick up some new plants in Port Royal for the voyage north, as I am almost out of fresh greens and tomatoes.  Hmm, come to think of it I have rarely ever experienced a case of scurvy myself after becoming captain, I wonder if eating fresh greens and vegetables has anything to do with that?  Well, only time will tell and the good doctors will eventually decide. 

     “Ship’s log, Day 50”  We have arrived in Port Royal without any sign of that French frigate.  Maybe we will sight it on the way out.  After setting anchor, I have set up provisioning duty squads who will find the necessary items that we are in need of and bring them aboard.  The other seamen I have assigned duty rosters and the men not on duty can go ashore to enjoy the island.  I myself am going soon to this little place I know from a previous cruise that has one of the best lamb steaks around, in addition to some fine female company.  We are supposed to be on patrol in the West Indies area for the enemy, but I suppose an extra day or two here would really pep up the morale on board.  I’ll tell the first mate before disembarking to shore…

     Once back on board we also need to have the men get to tarring the ship and patching any holes in the sails.  The ship’s rigging may also need to be tightened, so it will be good to get on that as soon as possible.  Better safe than sorry I always say!  Life on the open seas isn’t always easy and comfortable, but there’s no other life for me!


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