January 12, 2016

Yo-ho-ho, and duty to be done

I REMEMBER once sailing past Dead Man’s Chest Island  in the British Virgin Islands, where 15 men are reputed to have been stranded with one bottle of rum. I remember it because I’ve often thought that one bottle of rum wouldn’t have gone far among 15 sailors in the old days. They were mighty topers in those days.

Sailors of the British Royal Navy were first officially supplied with a daily ration of rum in 1655, a privilege that lasted 325 years until the 1970s, and they drank prodigious quantities of it. In fact, a 20th-century British newspaper reporter revealed that Breathalyzer tests had shown that sailors could be legally drunk after drinking their rum rations.

Those rations amounted to 7 or 8 ounces of pure rum a day, the equivalent of about five cocktails for every man jack who claimed it, and I imagine there were very few who didn’t. I can’t imagine scrambling up the rigging, hanging upside down from the futtock shrouds, after five cocktails downed in one gulp. But it was quite normal procedure for them.

It didn’t necessarily make for more efficient ship handling, however, and this fact was not lost on the British Admiralty. But it took until 1740 for something to be done about it. That was when Admiral Edward Vernon ordered that the rum be diluted: one quart of water to every half-pint of rum.

Vernon’s nickname among the sailors was Old Grogram because he wore a coat of a material known as grogram,  a sort of waterproof foul-weather outfit.

So the new diluted rum ration became known as grog, and Old Grogram wasn’t too popular among the troops, even though the amount of rum was not reduced. It just didn’t have the same sudden shock value as raw rum.

When naval ships began to be run by computers, and carried missiles with nuclear warheads, it was inevitable that landlubbers would start worrying about the alcohol content of the people with their fingers on the buttons. On July 31, 1970, British navy ships around the globe stopped serving rum to the sailors. The sailors wore black armbands and organized mock funerals.

So it’s up to us, folks, it’s up to us amateur sailors  to resurrect the grand old tradition that will surely be forgotten and lost in the mists of time if we don’t do something about it. We don’t have futtock shrouds to worry about, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Grab your bottle of Pusser’s or Black Seal and do your duty. Cheers.

 Today’s Thought
The great utility of rum has given it the medical name of an antifogmatic. The quantity taken every morning is inexact proportion to the thickness of the fog.
— Unknown, Massachusetts Spy, 12 Nov 1789

“Did you find a good math tutor for your son?”
“Yeah, he’s great. Even his teeth have square roots.”

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


Mark Mills said...

Looks like it's time to splice the main brace.

Jordan said...

I can't imagine handling ships back then as drunk as they must have been! Maybe people had higher alcohol tolerance back in the day?

SF Power Boats said...

There are some cool information here. Although I don't recommend drinking rum and sailing I think it wouldn't be a problem to drink if you're ashore.

Mike M. said...

Interesting reading....but I'm not much of a rum drinker. I prefer scotch, I wonder if that will suffice? :-)


John Vigor said...

Well, Mike, if the object is to resurrect the old tradition of rum drinking, then scotch will not suffice. Otherwise it's fine. Rum was the traditional sailors' drink, cheap and rough, with no false airs or graces. Whisky is for gents and the odd lady. It's for a different class with different pretensions. It also has its own class structure, so that sailors and single malts don't mix accidentally. No, sorry, Mike, I don't blame you for preferring scotch, so have at it -- but you're on your own. You're not going to help the rum drinking tradition.
John V.