Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sounds About Right...

Brad_in_MA sent this one in. He thinks OldNFO should fact-check this one:

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.
I'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.

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.


Robb Allen said...

Humans' ability to consume alcohol has contributed to our ability to live practically anywhere.

Nothing that can kill you can survive in beer.

See? God really does love us.

Dave H said...

Robb: I'd amend that to include "or wine," But otherwise I agree completely.

Sailorcurt said...

I spent 21 years riding ships of all sizes and the only time I ever got seasick worse than "mildly nauseous" was when I had a hangover.

Somehow I don't think the "get them drunk the night before" is such a good idea in preventing seasickness.

If you're prone to motion sickness, you're going to feel it regardless, add the nausea and disorientation of a hangover to the mix and you just turned someone from "a bit nauseous" to "completely non-functional".

As far as the Old Ironsides story...I'm thinking that's a legend. They may not have drank much of the water back then, but they definitely would have used it for cleaning, cooking, etc...and, if nothing else, I would think they would have lost a good bit to evaporation over the course of 7 months.

Geodkyt said...

Washing was done with sea water.

Water was mixed with liquor (for health reasons).

Logging that the ship was fully provisioned with water when beginning the cruise would be normal.

Taking on stores of water when they can refill empty barrels at streams might not mention an entry other than, "took on water" in the log, whereas taking on alcohol would be either purchased at the public expense or captured into public use, thus had to be recorded meticulously.

What is also overlooked is that empty barrels would have to be carefully scrubbed out to eliminate the algae -- water was well documented "going green" (and not in a good way).

Old NFO said...

I wasn't there, but I'm betting the water NEVER got drunk... Geodk is right, algae would grow within a few days...

Anonymous said...

100% false story. The Constitution was chasing French Privateers in the Chesapeake at this time.

Roy said...

Entertaining story, but yeah - 100% false.

All you need to know is that in 1798 we were *not* at war with the British.

(Revolutionary war ended in 1782 and the war of 1812 started in, well, 1812.)

Sean D Sorrentino said...

Complete fabrication.


NotClauswitz said...

The stereotype of the drunken New Englander is equally good! Those colonials drank a phenomenal amount, of Rum especially. All that molasses stored in Boston was just grist for the Rum-mill.

Daniel in Brookline said...

"God damn them all!
I was told we'd cruise the seas for American gold, we'd fire no guns, shed no tears...
"I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett's privateers."

Daniel in Brookline said...

Off-topic --

Since there seem to be some knowledgeable Naval types among us, here's a question I've had trouble researching...

I've read that Heinlein's juvenile novel "Starman Jones" was based a little bit on fact. Supposedly, two teenaged boys from New England shipped out to sea in the early 19th century. The ship returned to port two years later; one of the boys was gone, the other was captain.

If anyone knows this story, I'd love to hear more about it.


Anonymous said...

A good sea-story, but the quasi-war with France was being waged at the time and the Jay Treaty with England was in effect.


Sailorcurt said...

Good points about the algae, I didn't even think about that. Without a generous dose of chemicals, fresh water doesn't stay fresh for long when stagnant.

mikee said...

Fresh water was used to soak the dried salt pork and salt beef fed to sailors.

Fresh water was mixed with the rum and preserved citrus juice to prevent scurvy (hence British tars are called Limeys).

Fresh water was refilled from rain off sails, at every suitable stop, and could be pumped from water barges available in some places.

And green water was just fine after being boiled.