Superstitions:Besides the customs and traditions, there have been a great number of superstitions among sailors. Some of these are half believed to this day.
Sailing on Friday or on the 13th has been commonly thought to bring bad luck. There are many tales of ships that were wrecked or disappeared as a result of sailing on these dates.
It was still customary at the time when wooden masts went out of use to stick a knife into the mainmast to bring wind,the direction of the handle being the desired direction of the wind. Whistling is also said to bring wind. It is still discouraged in naval ships but this is probably because it may be confused with a boatswain's call, rather than from fear of wind.
If a glass is allowed to ring, it is suppose to sound the death knell of a sailor, who will die of drowning, but if it is stopped by putting the fingers on the glass, "the devil will take two soldiers in lieu."
ROUTINE: daily sea routines are always laid down in Executive Officers standing orders and a copy of these is always on the notice board. It varies from ship to ship but in general follows the same lines. The example I am using here is a morning watch at sea.
0600 - Call the men under punishment
0625 - Men under punishment out pipes
0630 - Call the hands, men under punishment to muster
0700 - Hands to breakfast and clean; dress of the day.....,men under punishment secure.
0750 - Forenoon watchmen, out pipes.
0755 - Out pipes, forenoon watchmen to muster
0800 - Hand to divisions and prayers, morning watchmen to breakfast.
0855 - Morning watchmen out pipes.
0900 - Morning watchmen to muster.
1030 - Stand easy.
1040 - Out pipes, hands carry on with your work.
1100 - Afternoon watchmen to dinner.
1130 - Up spirits.
1150 - Clear up decks, afternoon watchmen out pipes.
1155 - Secure. Hands to muster for grog, afternoon watchmen to muster.
1200 - Hands to dinner.
1230 - men under punishment to muster.
1310 - Out pipes.
The executive officer is responsible for making this routine, the Coxswain is responsible for seeing that it is carried out and every person is responsible for knowing it and for being at the right place at the right time. The quarter master pipes the routine with his boatswain's call, but not having heard a pipe is never an excuse for not being were you should be.
Naval Time and Watches: In a ship, the day is divided into watches, and the watches are divided into half-hour periods. At the end of every half hour period the ship's bell is struck. The 24-hour clock is used instead of the usual 12-hour variety.
Watches are as follows;
0000 - 0400 middle watch
0400 - 0800 morning watch
0800 - 1200 forenoon watch
1200 - 1600 afternoon watch
1600 - 1800 first dog watch
1800 - 2000 last dog watch
2000 - 0000 first watch
Each of the 4-hour watches begins and ends with 8 bells. At the end of the first half hour of the watch 1 bell is struck; at the end of the second half hour 2 bells; the third half hour, 3 bells, and so on until at the end of the eighth half hour, or the end of the watch, 8 bells are struck.
THE SAILOR'S PSALM
They that go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters; these men see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. For at His word the stormy wind arizith which lifteth up the waves thereof. They are carried up to heaven and down again to the deep; their soul melteth away because of the trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end.
So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, He delivereth them out of distress. For he maketh the storm to cease so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they are at rest; and so He bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.
Psalm 107, verses 23 to 30
Youngmen with a taste for adventure have been running away to sea since ships were first built. Being land animals, their curiosity has been stirred by the sea - it has fascinated them. The sea may be as gentle as a lamb or as terrible as a hungry tiger; that in any case, it is as unpredictable as a women, and, like a women, it must be conquered before it is any use. Running away to sea in the old days, many young men perished because they had no knowledge of the sea.
Oceans and seas make up about 70 percent of the earth's surface. Water is heavy, it exerts its weight upon any object that is beneath the surface, about 10lbs per gallon. Because of water pressure submarines cannot dive much beyond 500 feet. Divers about 250 feet. However specially designed bathyscaphes have been down to over 30,000 feet. The mean depth of the sea is 12,500 feet. The greatest known depth is about 34,450 feet, or almost 5,000 feet deeper than Mount Everest is high.
About 1925 the echo sounder came into use. This device measures the length of time it takes for sound to travel to the bottom and for the echo to get back to the ship. Knowing the speed of sound in water, it is then a simple matter to calculate the depth of the ocean bed. Eample; if you transmit a sound and it takes 4 seconds for the echo to get back to you. Then you know that it must have taken half of 4 seconds or 2 seconds to get to the bottom. If you reckon that sound travels 4800 feet per second in water, then the depth of the water must have been 2 x4800 or 9600 feet.
You have noticed how the level of the sea rises and falls quite regularly along the shoreline. This is the effect of tides. A rising tide is said to be "flooding"; a falling tide is said to be "ebbing". When the sun and the moon are in line, they combine their forces and there are the highest or "spring" tides. When their forces are at right angles with one another, there are the lowest or "neap" tides.
As a very rough rule, the time between a tide reaching its highest level and its next succeeding lowest level is about 6 hours and 15 minutes. There is no rough rule for hight. Some of the highest tides in he world occur at Windsor, Nova Scotia. Here the difference between high and low water may be some 40 feet.
Sea and Swell: You will have noticed that the wind blowing across water produces waves.
There are two types of waves on the ocean; those that are actually being caused by the wind at the time, and those that have been caused by the wind in some other place or at some other time. The former is called "sea", and the latter is called "swell". At most times there is a sea and swell at the same time.
Sea Birds: You will see many birds when you get to sea. Sme of them will be so far at sea that you may wonder how they got there and how they live. Birds have long been the friends of seamen. The Gulls swooping and gliding about the bows of a ship at sea are a pleasant site. In fact, some natives of South pacific islands used to (and probably still do) navigate by observing the birds they encountered in certain localities.
The birds you encounter near the shore will probably be one of the 43 species of Gulls. Only one veriety of Gull actually flies out of sight of land. This is the "Kittiwake", which traverses the whole of the North Atlantic.
Another bird commonly found at sea are the "Albatrosses" and "Petrels". The Albatross has the largest wing span of any living bird at 12 feet. Since the famous poem "the ancient mariner" by Coleridge (but not before it), to kill an Albatross has come to mean bad luck for a sailor.
One small form of "Petrel" called the Mother carey's Chicken is often seen at sea, particularly in stormy weather, and have a very definate superstition attached to them. These birds fly so low to the water in a storm that they seem to walk on the water - hence "petrel" is derived from Peter or Saint Peter. Mother carey is supposed to be derived from the Latin "mater cara" or "dear Mother", a name given the Virgin Mary. The superstition has it that sailors look with dread upon Mother Carey's Chickens or stormy petrels as they are called. These birds mainly live on fish, but handouts from sailors and the gash dumped in a ships wake make up much of there food source.
When I first became part of the navy environment I had no idea what a seaman's life had to offer a young man from Englehart Ontario. As it unfolded I came to experience one of the most enjoyable times of my life. I have put together a few seaman ship lessons and I hope you enjoy your stay and will drop back again,
Davy Jones:and his locker. Sailors would rather not talk about Davy Jones and his infamous locker. They are ready enough to refer to him and his dwelling place, but just leave him an indefinite, unbodied character who keeps to his place at the bottom of the sea. Pressed, they will profess that they do not know what he looks like, his locker is to them something like an ordinary sea chest or coffin, always open to catch any sailor unfortunate enough to find himself in the sea.
Some English sailors incline to the belief that his name is a coruption of Duffer Jones, a clumsy fellow who frequently found himself overboard. The only time Davy comes to life is in the ceremony of crossing the line. Then he is usually impersonated by the smallest sailor on board, given a hump, horns and a tail, and his features made as ugly as possible. He is swineith, dressed in rags and seaweed, and shambles along in the wake of the sea king, Neptune, playing evil tricks upon his fellow sailors. Old sailors, rather than speak the devil, called him Deva, Davy or Taffy, the thief of the evil spirit; and Jones is from Jonah, whose locker was the Whale's belly. Jonah was often called Jonas, and as Davy Jones, the enemy of all living sailors, he has become the mariners' evil angel.
To be cast into the sea and sink is to fall into his locker and have the lid popped down on one. It is generally agreed that the Christian sailor's body goes to Davy Jones locker, but his soul, if he is a proper sailorman, goes to Fiddlers' Green.
St. Elmo's Fire: ERASMUS was also known as Elmo. He was the Bishop of Formiae, Campagna, Italy, and suffered martyrdom during Diocletian's persecution of the Christians. He once fled to Mount Lebanon during the persecution and lived a life of solitude there for some time, being fed by a Raven. After the emperor discovered his whereabouts, he was tortured and thrown in prison. Legend claims that an angel released him and he departed for Illyricum, eventually suffered a martyr's death and was one of the Fourteen Holy helpers. Legend records that when a blue light appears at mastheads before and after a storm, the seaman took it as a sign of ERASMUS's protection. This was known as "ST. ELMO'S Fire". The blue electrical discharges under certain atmospheric conditions have also been seen on the masks or riggings of ships.
Erasmus is also involked against stomach cramps and colic. This came about because at one time he had hot iron hooks stuck into his intestines by persecutors under emperor Diocletian. These wounds he miraculously endured. His feast day is June 2nd.
Then there was RUM: Rum was not issued on British Ship's until 1655 when Jamaica was captured. Once a fleet was established in the West Indies it was necessary to victual these ships. There was no beer or wine produced in these islands and the only hard spirits available was one made from molasses. The name Rum derives from the Latin saccharum meaning sugar. It was also known as rumbustion, which is believed to have originated on 17th century sugar plantations.
Rum had some very good qualities for sea duty. It did not go bad while it was stored for extended periods. In fact it became better with age and stronger. It was found that it aided the fight against scurvy when mixed with water and lemon juice sweetened with sugar. The rum allotment of one half pint per day was served in the morning (11:30).
In 1824 Admiral Vernon ("old grogram" on account of the grogram cloak that he wore) ordered that the ration be reduced to 1 gill and deluted with two parts water. This mixture has ever since been refered to as "grog".
Sailors in the RCN preferred "coke" as a mixture instead of water, but the "coke" had to be added in the presence of an officer. Chief and Petty Officers were allowed neat rum, Their allowance was drawn by their messman and issued by the president of the mess. Officers did not draw rum.
Crossing The Line: this ceremony probably stems from ancient times when Neptune was a god to be reckoned with. Crossing the equator nowadays, however is a time for much skylarking. The night before the crossing, Davy Jones comes aboard and demands that the ship be hove to next day for the reception of Neptunus Rex.
There are many variations of the ceremony, but this always includes a generous lathering "shaving" with an enormous razor and a sudden backward plunge into a tank of water. The ceremony is conducted by "shellbacks" who have crossed the line before. Novices to undergo the ordeal are rounded up by "bears". Neptune's court usually includes his spouse Amphitrite, Davy Jones, the Devil and such functionaries as the Royal Barber, the Royal Scribe, and so on.
After initiation, the new shellbacks are presented with a certificate to spare them indignity in the future.
Splicing The mainbrace: "splice the mainbrace" may be ordered by message on the occasion of visits of Royalty to the Fleet, or when there is reason for general rejoicing, such as a great victory at sea, or the birth od a royal child. This message authorizes the issue of an extra tot of rum to every officer and man over age.
The custom is at least two hundred years old, and originated from the issueof extra rum on compleation of a particularly big job, such as the splicing of a new mainbrace.
NAVY DAYS: Although of fairly recent origin, Navy Days have already become a firmly established custom. On these occasions HMC Ships and dockyards are thrown open to the public. Displays are orginized to show the visitors some of the important jobs the navy does, the equipment their money has paid for, and how a sailor lives.
This page was last updated on: March 5, 2006
Unlike the Army and Airforce, Canada's Navy had no specialized service police to carry out regulating duties in forgien ports. Anyone may be called upon to perform shore patrol duties according to his rank. A Leading seaman would take charge of a half- section, while a Petty officer second class would lead a section. It was decreed by QRCN that patrols would always include men below the rank of Petty Officer first class.
Getting out of shore patrol was not likely and it seemed every port we hit, we did at least one night in this most dreaded duty. We had no powers of arrest, but regardless of rank, if you were drunk and disorderly and refused to co-operate with the shore patrol,you could be assured of stopage of leave or a hefty fine. Plus your shore patrol duties were endless.
THE SHIP'S BELL
is one of the most valued pieces of her traditional equipment, and is often the only trophy by which she is commemorated when her days are done. Apart from its everyday use for proclaiming the passage of time, the bell may be used as a fog signal, when it is rung rapidly for about 5 seconds every minute; and as a general alarm, at the Captain's orders, a rapid ringing for an extended period.
It is an old custom to use the bell as a font for the baptism of infants, the names of the children so baptized being engraved on the bell.
When a church service is being held, the bell is often used to summon the ship's company to worship.
HMS VICTORY: If you ever get to Portsmouth England be sure to visit Lord Nelsons flag ship. The 141 gun pride of the British navy. Still commisioned, the sailors who still man her will give guided tours and recount in detail, a life at sea we can only imagine. I sure appreciated the Bonaventure at the end of my tour.
THE ORGANIZATION OF A SHIP: There is no room for passengers in a warship. Everyone on board must have a job to do and jobs must be so arranged that they do not overlap. If one pair of hands or one brain in a ship is idle when it shouldn't be, that ship is running less efficiently than it should.
By tradition and by necessity, sailors are jacks-of-all-trades, but in this age of complicated equipment and crowded ships it has also become necessary for a sailor to become master of at least one trade. A ship is organized in such a way that the men of all trades work together to form a team. That is, the work of the men of one trade complimets or adds to that of all the other trades and so on, until everyone is working efficiently and all jobs are being done. It is necessary then. to allocate certain particular jobs to men of certain trades.
Boatswain & Coxswain
1) As required by 17th Century law, British ships-of-war carried three smaller boats, the boat, the cock-boat, and the skiff. The boat - or gig - was usually used by the Captain to go ashore and was the larger of the three. The cock-boat was a very small rowboat used as the ship's tender. The skiff was a lightweight all-purpose vessel. The suffix "swain" means keeper, thus the keepers of the boat, cock, and skiff were called boatswain and cockswain (or coxswain).
2) A coxswain or cockswain was at first the swain (boy servant) in charge of the small cock or cockboat that was kept aboard for the ship's captain and which was used to row him to and from the ship. The term has been in use in England dating back to at least 1463. With the passing of time the coxswain became the helmsman of any boat, regardless of size.
3) Another reference defines “Swain” or Swein” as Anglo-Saxon for servant. Boatswain refers to the warrant or petty officer in charge of the deck crew.
Bravo Zulu (also "BZ")
The term originates from the Allied Signals Book (ATP 1), which in the aggregate is for official use only. Signals are sent as letters and/or numbers, which have meanings by themselves sometimes or in certain combinations. A single table in ATP 1 is called "governing groups," that is, the entire signal that follows the governing group is to be performed according to the "governor." The letter "B" indicates this table, and the second letter (A through Z) gives more specific information. For example, "BA" might mean "You have permission to . . . (do whatever the rest of the flashing light, flag hoist or radio transmission says) "BZ" happens to be the last item in the governing groups table. It means "well done"