Stages of the voyage

Life on board – departure

Life on board the ship was tough and often dangerous. The day invariably began with prayers with the whole crew, led by the captain, after which everyone went to work (at about 8:00 a.m.). There was always work to do on board for the sailors, even without coastal trade. Repairs and cleaning were constantly necessary, sails needed to be taken in or unfurled, and a watch needed to be kept 24 hours a day. Every day was concluded with evening prayers.

Repairs which are often mentioned in the logbook include patching up the sails and ropes. This job could be very dangerous, since the heavy cloth sails needed to be taken down (or put back up) from often dizzying heights. Putting the reefs in the sails (cutting down surface area) was also a not easy. The Atlantic crossing makes it clear that this needed to be done by two men – one alone could never roll up an entire square of sail from the tops of the shrouds.

The crew slept on hammocks and in sleeping bags. They received two meals a deal, and usually drank wine or beer. The sailors ate from simple wooden bowls, whereas the officers ate in officer’s quarters using plates and cutlery. Evidently the sailors had a rough reputation: the very first instructions to the captain tell him to especially keep a strict discipline on board, and to keep swearing and cursing to a minimum.

Each day was divided into watches, which were kept by the sailors in turn. There six watches of four hours each, excepting the dog watch (between 4:00 and 8:00 p.m.). This one consisted of two watches of two hours each, so that everyone had time to eat their dinner. The length of the watches was kept using ‘glasses’ of an half hour each. One watch therefore consisted of eight glasses.

The boatswain was directly responsible for the crew, and reported to the captain. However, if an incident proved too serious for the boatswain, it moved to the ship’s council, which consisted of the captain, first mate, second mate and third mate