Two Years Before the Mast eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 591 pages of information about Two Years Before the Mast.
one rope can seldom be touched without requiring a change in another.  You cannot stay a mast aft by the back stays, without slacking up the head stays, &c., &c.  If we add to this all the tarring, greasing, oiling, varnishing, painting, scraping, and scrubbing which is required in the course of a long voyage, and also remember this is all to be done in addition to watching at night, steering, reefing, furling, bracing, making and setting sail, and pulling, hauling, and climbing in every direction, one will hardly ask, ``What can a sailor find to do at sea?’’

If, after all this labor,—­ after exposing their lives and limbs in storms, wet and cold,—­

   ``Wherein the cub-drawn bear would couch
     The lion and the belly-pinched wolf
     Keep their furs dry,’’—­

the merchants and captains think that the sailors have not earned their twelve dollars a month (out of which they clothe themselves), and their salt beef and hard bread, they keep them picking oakum—­ ad infinitum.  This is the usual resource upon a rainy day, for then it will not do to work upon rigging; and when it is pouring down in floods, instead of letting the sailors stand about in sheltered places, and talk, and keep themselves comfortable, they are separated to different parts of the ship and kept at work picking oakum.  I have seen oakum stuff placed about in different parts of the ship, so that the sailors might not be idle in the snatches between the frequent squalls upon crossing the equator.  Some officers have been so driven to find work for the crew in a ship ready for sea, that they have set them to pounding the anchors (often done) and scraping the chain cables.  The ``Philadelphia Catechism’’ is

   ``Six days shalt thou labor and do all thou art able,
    And on the seventh,—­ holystone the decks and scrape the cable.’’

This kind of work, of course, is not kept up off Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope, and in extreme north and south latitudes; but I have seen the decks washed down and scrubbed when the water would have frozen if it had been fresh, and all hands kept at work upon the rigging, when we had on our pea-jackets, and our hands so numb that we could hardly hold our marline-spikes.

I have here gone out of my narrative course in order that any who read this may, at the start, form as correct an idea of a sailor’s life and duty as possible.  I have done it in this place because, for some time, our life was nothing but the unvarying repetition of these duties, which can be better described together.  Before leaving this description, however, I would state, in order to show landsmen how little they know of the nature of a ship, that a ship-carpenter is kept constantly employed, during good weather, on board vessels which are in what is called perfect sea order.


After speaking the Carolina, on the 21st of August, nothing occurred to break the monotony of our life until—­

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Two Years Before the Mast from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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