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Monday, August 26, 2013

Hammock, a Sailor's Bed

       
Because my current work in progress takes place at sea near the NC Outer Banks, I’ve been doing a lot of research about ships and pirates.
        In particular, I was curious about how and where regular sailors slept. I’ve seen hammocks in movies, but wanted to know more.
        Unlike flat garden hammocks, the sides of a canvas naval hammock wrapped around the sleeper like a cocoon, making an inadvertent fall virtually impossible.
        Prior to the adoption of naval hammocks in the mid 1500s, sailors would often during heavy seas be injured or even killed as they fell off their berths or rolled on the decks.
        Sail makers issued each sailor a hammock. A Royal Navy hammock was 72” x 36” of No. 12 cotton, with 16 hitched eyelets (grommets) at either end, and with two cord-covered brass rings that hook onto clews hooks fastened into the ship’s beams.
        Sleeping in a hammock took practice. It was difficult to get into and harder to stay in. New sailors usually spent their first few nights falling out of their hammocks. When one sailor started to fall, he’d grab a hold of the next sailor’s hammock, tossing him out as he grabbed for the next hammock--knocking everyone out like dominoes.
        It was a favorite prank for mates to loosen or cut the hammock riggings sending the poor victim crashing to the floor in the middle of the night.
        I learned something interesting about their provisions too. Apprentice seamen were issued the following: one pea-jacket, cloth cap, pair of cloth trousers, flannel over and under shirts, pair of drawers, shoes, neck-tie, socks, white duck pants and frock, comb, knife, pot, pan, and spoon, one bar soap, clothes-bag, and a badge.
        They would register their provisions and hammock with the master-at-arms who assigned them a time and place for meals (mess) and a place for their hammock, usually on the cannon deck. He would also assign newly enlisted sailors a number, which they kept as long as they were an apprentice. 
A sick bay hammock for an officer in the movie
Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World

         According to tradition, when a sailor died, his mates would sew him up in his hammock, making the last stitch through the nose to make sure he was dead. Holystones, which were used to scour the deck, or cannon balls were tied around the deceased’s ankles for ballast, and then his body was laid on the top of an 8-man mess table, and given up to the sea.

Susan F. Craft is the author of The Chamomile, an inspirational Revolutionary War romantic suspense set in South Carolina.

25 comments:

  1. That was a very interesting post, Susan. My grandfather would tell me, "Those were the days of wooden ships and iron men". Fortunately, life has improved in the navy since that time.

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    1. "...wooden ships and iron men." I like that.

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  2. Fascinating! Did you come across anything about cabin boys in your research? Were their accommodations much like an apprentice sailor?

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    1. Hi, Judith. I haven't seen anything yet about cabin boys. One of my favorite movies is Master and Commander,and there are several cabin boys in the movie; they are much younger than I thought they would be.

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  3. Wow, that is interesting, Susan. A little creepy about the nose sewing thing. At the Yorktown National Park and Battlefields they have a replica British ship, including a hammock or two. Modern day sailors may not like sharing a room with bunk mates but obviously what we have now aboard ships is a vast improvement!

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    1. Thanks, Carrie. I get excited when the tall ships put in at Charleston. It's a chance to roam about them and let my imagination wander. The quarters were very tight. I ran across something that I put in my current WIP (only one chapter left to write!); the sailors who chose to sleep on deck had horizontal black stripes across the backs of their shirts from the tar that was used to seal the planks. I love those kinds of tidbits.

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  4. Wow. Eww, on the last stitch of sewing up the hammock on a dead man. What a hard life that all had to be.

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    1. Yep, it was gross. I think I read that the sailors made 13 stitches all together in the hammocks.

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  5. Great article Susan! I knew about that last stitch... sounds creepy, but being tossed into the sea alive would be even worse!!

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  6. Thanks, MaryLu. I agree about the last stitch, as primitive as it sounds, it was their way of making sure.

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  7. Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing. I wonder if anyone ever responded to the needle.

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    1. Now, Kay, that would make a remarkable scene in a book, wouldn't it! I'm going to thing about it. :-)

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    2. Haha! I wondered that, too! I think Susan should claim that!

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  8. Thank you Susan for the Master and Commander reference- great movie. Also a magnificent display of the male mentoring/apprenticeship model that many 21st Century male youths are sorely lacking. Great post, thank you for the information.

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    1. Master and Commander is one of my favorite movies and I've seen it a dozen times. Lots of entertaining dialogue -"The lesser to two weevils." I especially like the music.

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    2. "The lesser of two weevils"; sorry for the typo.

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  9. What an interesting story! I like the idea of the hammock forming a cocoon around the sailor - hammocks have always fascinated me, but I never was good at getting in & out of one. Bet you would have to have a good back to be able to sleep in one every night. Surely these was a more humane way of making sure a sailor was dead, than sticking a needle through his nose!

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    1. Thanks, bonton. I agree on the good back comment! I'm afraid I might have been one of the mates who snuck around and loosened the ties to hammocks. Tee-hee.

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  10. I found this very interesting, Susan. You are always digging up cool facts. Would love to go researching with you someday!!

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    1. Thanks, Carla. I'd rather research than eat - and that's saying something for me. Would love to go "treasure hunting" for historical tidbits with you anytime. Next time the tall ships come into Charleston, I think I'm going to ask if I can try getting into one of the hammocks.

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    2. That reply about trying a hammock made me chuckle! And I hear you about rather research than eat. I often get lost in mine and have to be reminded to eat!

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  11. Well, I loved this! Anything about ships, pirates and the sea, I am totally enthralled. I am curious about your current 'work in progress' now. Is it about pirates?
    I knew about the nose thing, too...probably heard it from MaryLu. :) It makes total sense to me. If the person is dead, they won't feel it and if they are alive, they would be grateful to feel that pain because it saved their lives. :)

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    1. Yes, Debbie, my WIP is the third in The Chamomile trilogy. Lilyan and Nicholas have three teenage children, and they are sailing from Charleston, SC, to Roanoke Island in the NC Outer Banks. (I love, love the Outer Banks!) They encounter a slave ship and then are captured by pirates.

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    2. Oh wow. I haven't even read book two. :( It sounds great!

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  12. thankyou this will come in handy . I am writing a story about a sailor and I am doing a bit of a research for that

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