June 26, 2012

Bligh? Not I

THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES in my life when a certain person referred to me as Captain Bligh. A hurtful remark, and quite unfounded when I think of how kind and lenient a skipper I have always been, compared with some I’ve read about. It’s true that I might have been a little tense in the middle of a close race now and then, but I doubt very much that I actually screamed  and swore at her, as she maintains.  Swearing does no good, after all, and in fact it was a punishable offense in the old days of sail.

Just the other day I was reading some of the rules for the regulation of the Navy of the Colonies, in 1775, and came across these examples of punishments that today’s spoiled crews never have to worry about:

Article 3:

If any shall be heard to swear, curse, or blaspheme the name of God, the Captain is strictly enjoined to punish them for every offence by causing them to wear a wooden collar or some other shameful badge of distinction for so long a time as he shall judge proper.

If he be a commissioned officer he shall forfeit one shilling for each offence, and a warrant or inferior officer, sixpence.

He who is guilty of drunkenness (if a seaman) shall be put in irons until he is sober, but if an officer he shall forfeit two days’ pay.

Article 4:

No Commander shall inflict any punishment beyond twelve lashes upon his bare back with a cat of nine tails.

But even in those days, punishment was tempered with mercy.  Take Article 22 for example:

The Captain is frequently to order the proper officer to inspect into the condition of the provisions, and if the bread proves damp to have it aired upon the quarter-deck or poop, and also to examine to flesh cask, and if any of the pickle be leaked out, to have new made and put in and the cask made tight and secure.

In any case, next time my crew has the temerity to call me Captain Bligh, I shall have to ask her if the bread be damp, or any of the pickle be leaked out of the flesh cask. If so, there may be hell to pay.  (Including a shameful badge of distinction.)

Today’s Thought
One thinks of boats in terms of a language which is foreign to those who have never used the sea.
— T. C. Lethbridge

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
(5)“Yes, sir, it’s the bad meat that attracts them.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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