LITTLE KNOWN TIDBIT OF NAVAL HISTORYI'd imagine that some of the water would have been used for cleaning purposes and the like, but in those days, it was better to drink the rum, Scotch, and wine than standing water. I suspect this is more urban legend/wishful thinking than fact, but I can't help but wonder how much is true - the stereotype of the drunken sailor had to some from somewhere.
The U. S. S.. Constitution (Old Ironsides), as a combat vessel, carried 48,600 gallons of fresh water for her crew of 475 officers and men. This was sufficient to last six months of sustained operations at sea. She carried no evaporators (i.e. fresh water distillers).
However, let it be noted that according to her ship's log, "On July 27, 1798, the U.S.S. Constitution sailed from Boston with a full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of fresh water, 7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds of black powder and 79,400 gallons of rum."
Her mission: "To destroy and harass English shipping."
Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on 826 pounds of flour and 68,300 gallons of rum. Then she headed for the Azores, arriving there 12 November. She provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and 64,300 gallons of Portuguese wine.
On 18 November, she set sail for England. In the ensuing days she defeated five British men-of-war and captured and scuttled 12 English merchant ships, salvaging only the rum aboard each.
By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted. Nevertheless, although unarmed, she made a night raid up the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her landing party captured a whiskey distillery and transferred 40,000 gallons of single malt Scotch aboard by dawn. Then she headed home.
The U. S. S. Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February 1799, with no cannon shot, no food, no powder, no rum, no wine, no whiskey, and 48,600 gallons of stagnant water.
In fact, it meshes with something my father-in-law, a Navy veteran, told me about his first time at sea. Apparently, the "cure" for seasickness was to take the new recruits out on the town the night before their first deployment and get them truly and thoroughly snockered. This ensured that the following morning, as the ship got underway, the new guys would be far too hungover to be seasick. They would be too busy heaving over the rails because of the previous night's carousing to suffer the effects of being on the water, and would be fine after that.
It's one of those things, it's just crazy enough to work!
That is all.