April 8, 2014

Where are today's scurvy knaves?

FOR SOME REASON, the number of scurvy knaves in our society seems to have decreased. I can remember that,  in the days of my youth, there were many references to scurvy knaves, and not all to do with quotes from Shakespeare. I recall that they were mainly to do with fathers whose nubile daughters had been badly treated by some scurvy knave or other. So what happened to them? Where are the scurvy knaves nowadays? Have they all been run out of town?

I was set on this train of thought by a reader who is planning a circumnavigation. He wanted to know what people are doing these days to prevent the scourge of scurvy, the plague of knaves and seafarers in olden times.

We now know that scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C. It’s easier to contract than you might imagine, especially on long, tropical ocean crossings on boats without refrigeration. The symptoms to watch out for include a general feeling of weakness. The flesh on the legs may become flabby and erupt with sores. Gums can become spongy and start bleeding, and the mucous membranes can become bloody, too.

By law, U.S. vessels were required to provide “lime or lemon juice and sugar daily, at the rate of half a pint a week for each member of the crew.” British ships had a similar requirement for limes, which led to British sailors (and now most Brits) acquiring the nickname Limeys. In fact, though, lemons turned out to be much better at providing vitamin C than limes did.

Other valuable sources of the vitamin are fresh fruit, vegetables and most of the makings of salads. Potatoes are very good, too, particularly when they’re cooked in their skins. But small yachts usually can’t keep fresh fruit and salads for long in the tropics, so my advice to anyone contemplating a circumnavigation is to take along a large stock of vitamin C in capsule or tablet form.

I am also inclined to believe that beer is a good source of the vitamin that prevents knaves from going scurvy. If anyone queries this, tell them it’s the hops. They’ll believe you.

Today’s Thought
The great secret of doctors, known only to their wives, but still hidden from the public, is that most things get better by themselves; most things, in fact, are better in the morning.
— Dr. Lewis Thomas, President, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, NY Times 4 Jul 76

"What did her father say when you asked him if you could marry her?"
"He darn near broke my arm."
"Did he hit you?"
"Hell no, it's just that he was shaking my hand so hard."

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

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