Daily Archives: 7 August 2020

What Sailors Learned at Sea, 1840

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 126-127:

After dinner all hands were called to muster on the quarter-deck, when Commodore Wilkes informed us that he wished to re-enter us for eighteen months longer, saying at the time that it was impossible to sooner complete the work which he had undertaken. He told us that those who re-entered should have three months’ pay and two weeks’ liberty, and that their wages would be raised one-fourth.

Nearly all our ships’ crews had entered for three years, and, as their time had expired, all hands had an idea that when we left Honolulu it would be to up anchor for “home, sweet, sweet home.”

Like all the young men and boys in the squadron, I felt heartily sick of the navy. We learned nothing but to pull and haul, handle the light sails, holy-stone decks, clean bright work, do boat duty, etc. None but able seamen were allowed to go to the wheel, heave the lead, or work on the rigging. As young as I was, before I entered the navy I had learned to box the compass, heave the lead, knot a rope-yarn, haul out an earing, work a Matthew Walker, and Turk’s head, strap a block, knot, hand, reef, and steer. I learned more seamanship on board the merchantman Rainbow, during an eight months’ voyage from New York to Canton, China, than in my seven years in the navy.

Quite a number of the men who had families and had not seen their dear ones for years, left, and went on board three whale-ships which were homeward bound. After listening to many long yarns spun upon deck, I consulted my own mind, and came to the conclusion that I would not leave the ship short-handed in a foreign port.

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