Thursday 3 March 2016

All Aboard! A Spell for Safe Sea Travel during Regency Times

It's time to take to the seas with my guest, Shereen Vedam. 

Congratulations to David, the contest winner, and thanks to all who entered!


All aboard!
A Spell for Safe Sea Travel during Regency Times
Thank you, Catherine, Madame Gilflurt, for your gracious invitation to post at A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life. What a fascinating blog site.
Now hang on, there’s stormy weather ahead!
From 1808 to 1814, travel by the general public to Europe was hindered by the raging Peninsula War between England and France. NapolĂ©on Bonaparte wanted to dominate Europe by creating puppet states by placing his brothers as kings of neighboring countries.1 The moment he tried that ploy with Spain and Portugal, however, he instigated a widespread populace uprising against French occupation. This affected not only land travel, but also the British public’s ability to make a sea voyage to the neighboring continent. 
As an island, England needed to conduct trade to and from India, China, West Indies, Canada and elsewhere, bringing in raw goods like rice, rum and precious spices, and carting away manufactured textiles, pottery and metallic goods. So vessels plying their trade between Britain and many of its colonies, for the most part, continued their business unabated. 
However, since 1807, Britain imposed a series of decrees (Orders in Council) that restricted the movement of merchant vessels seeking to trade with European countries. Merchant vessels that wished to transport cargo for profit purposes or to carry passengers for hire to and from Europe had a difficult time. The trade restrictions imposed by Britain was partly responsible for the American War of 1812.
Only after Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated in April of 1814, and the Peninsula War ended, could trading vessels once again seek ways of making money through sea travel to Europe. Despite the war ending, travel by sea remained perilous.
So how would an author depict sea travel during this difficult historical period that is so unlike our current circumstances?  Nowadays, we can simply board an engine powered cruise ship knowing that if trouble arises, there are lifeboats and marine evacuation chutes to take us to safety. We can be fairly confident that the crew will be well-trained to combat emergency situations because regulations require that vessel crew regularly practice evacuation drills. We also know that what we are served on board is covered by food safety laws. 
This was not the case in the early eighteen hundreds. So how can authors accurately capture the essence of a historical sea voyage for our readers to enjoy? Why, by casting a spell on them, of course. But this cannot simply be done by using rhyming words or evoking gods. Oh no. For this tricky incantation, authors will need three (3) things.
  1. The right ingredients
  2. A nimble spell caster
  3. A pinch of magic

  1. Master the terminology2,3,4,8,9 – without the correct words, how would we tell our left from you right?
Port: left side of vessel when facing forward
Starboard: right side of the vessel when facing forward

Bow: the front section of a boat
Stern:  the rear section of a boat

Flotsam: things that float - trees, driftwood, wreckage 
Jetsam:  things that sink 

Fathom: unit of water depth equivalent to 6 feet
Knot: speed through water; the velocity in nautical miles (6,080 feet) per hour. 
Nautical mile:  a measurement used by sailors that equals 6,080 feet (a land mile is 5,280 feet)
League – equivalent to 3 nautical miles or 3,041 fathoms, or about 3 miles on land

ShipAny vessel that has three or more masts carrying square-rigged sails and is suitable for traveling across the ocean.
Packeta ship or boat that sails on a regular schedule between two ports and carries mail. Sometimes they also carried passengers and cargo.

Mast – a pole or spar that runs vertically on a vessel. The mainmast is the principal mast on a vessel and is usually the tallest when more than one mast is present. On a three-masted ship, it is the center mast, while the mast before it is called the foremast and the one after it is called a mizzenmast. If there are more than three masts, it is the 2nd mast from the bow. Masts carried the sails of a vessel. The masts extended into the depths of the vessel.
Rigginga general term for the lines (ropes) on a vessel. Running rigging control the sails. Standing rigging, which is tarred so it’s black in appearance, support the masts, yards, and bowsprits.
There’s much more to nautical terminology. Check the references at the bottom of this article and then go bone up on your “Aye, matey!” As a special treat, try this: English to Pirate translator.
  1. Secure a suitable vessel4,5,6,8,9 merchant vessels could be any shape or form, depending on the length of our travel and stay aboard.
Barque - This two-masted vessel had a square, flat stern. She carried one square sail on each of her masts.
East Indiaman - The Indiamen were the largest, armed merchant ships of their day. They belonged either to the Dutch, French, English, or Swedish, although the primary East India companies were those of the Netherlands and Great Britain. They looked like warships, but carried cargo and passengers. Those who were wealthy or important lived with the officers in the great cabin. Others – including soldiers, servants, and slaves – lived amongst the sailors below decks. 
Whether we choose to climb aboard a small, single-masted sloop, a two-masted, square-rigged brig, or perhaps a fancy, fast, naval frigate having a lofty ship rig and heavily armed decks, we’ll need to ensure that it is properly crewed. 
  1. The crimp!13 (Bring on the sailors…)
Crew was often difficult to procure, so sometimes men were lured from local taverns and streets through trickery, intimidation, or even violence – a terrible practice known as the Crimp. Not all sailors on board a vessel were there as a result of crimping, but many were. The sailors were then put to work, and kept busy with a variety of what we might term, “make-work” projects.
According to Richard Dana from Two years before the mast and twenty-four years after7, a sailor’s duty began at daybreak and included:
  • washing down, scrubbing and swabbing the decks
  • filling the “scuttled butt” with fresh water
  • coiling up the rigging, usually occupies the time until seven bell (half after seven,) when all hands get breakfast. 
  • at eight, the day’s work begins, and lasts until sundown, with the exception of an hour for dinner
If the standing rigging became slack, crew were put to work:
  • seizing and coverings must be taken off,
  • tackles got up, and 
  • after the rigging is bowsed well taught, the seizings and coverings replaced
A sailor’s job at sea was never ending. There was:
  • tarring, greasing, oiling, varnishing, painting, scraping, and scrubbing 
  • watching at night, steering, reefing, furling, bracing, making and setting sail, pulling, hauling and climbing in every direction
Make no mistake, the crew needed to learn the ropes, so when difficulty arose, such as a gale or pirates on the horizon, they would know how to react, what to do, and do it skillfully. While at sea, the crew was kept busy from morning to night. This might also have been to keep their minds off eating the limited stores on board or planning a mutiny.
  1. Set in sufficient stores
In her workshop, Age of Sail9, Cindy Valler suggests that:
  • Ships carried livestock to provide fresh meat. These animals usually included cows, pigs (which got seasick), sheep, goats, geese, and hens. Their presence caused unsanitary conditions, especially if the animals roamed freely about a deck. 
  • Unscrupulous merchants who lined their pockets shortchanged the amount of food delivered [this] could lead to shortages and rationing, especially if the vessel was blown off course or becalmed for any length of time and the crew was unable to replenish their supplies.
Water was a prime necessity for survival on long voyages, and was often supplemented with beer, and later rum. Once discipline became a problem at the regular supplement of spirits, rum began to be watered down to a mixture referred to as “Grog.” Sometimes the grog had lime and sugar added to make it more palatable. 
According to The Contemplator’s Short History of Grog10, these grog mixtures seamen drank were named using compass points:
  • Due North was pure rum 
  • Due West was water alone
  • WNW would therefore be one third rum and two thirds water
  • NW half and half 
  • If a seaman had two "nor-westers," he'd had two glasses of half rum and half water
Now the vessel and crew had been chosen and stores set in, it’s time to set sail. For that, we’ll need a Ship’s Master.
The Master/Captain (naval sense of "officer who commands a man-of-war" is from 1550s, and was extended to "master or commander of a vessel of any kind" by 170411,12). According to Dana:
  • The captain, in the first place, is lord paramount. He stands no watch, comes and goes when he pleases, and is accountable to no one, and must be obeyed in everything, without a question, even from his chief officer. He has the power to turn his officers off duty, and even to break them and make them do duty as sailors in the forecastle.
According to Valler9, the master:
  • outfitted, supplied, and manned the ship prior to sailing. He complied with all paperwork, ordinances, and regulations the port authorities required.
  • he rarely dealt with the crew except at Sunday service. 
  • he was also the navigator. Although he didn’t keep the ship’s log, he examined and corrected it. 
  • he handled all transactions with merchants and port officials. 
  • he made all decisions, and like his naval counterpart, his word was law aboard his vessel
Now to the last step of this spell for a safe sea voyage. 
An author knows she’s in the presence of magic when her readers believe they have indeed boarded a vessel in the early eighteen hundreds, not a replica from the eighteen hundreds.
This requires using language in a skillful, elegant, combination of past and present. We know it’s happened when our readers gaze in awe alongside our characters at sails pulled so taught they look like a painting instead of loose fluttering canvas. When they listen intently, tears pricking their eyes, to a sailor’s plight at how he has been tricked into entering this vessel. When they taste a swig of run and swear it’s tinged with lemon. If we can successfully transport our readers into the past, even for a moment, then we’ll know we have indeed managed to capture that pinch of magic.
1The Peninsula War 1808 -1814:
7Two years before the mast and twenty-four years after by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
9Age of Sail, by Cindy Vallar
10The Contemplator's Short History of Grog:
11Online Etymology Dictionary

Take a quick read of the excerpt below and share with us, how would you react in Nevara’s place? One lucky commenter will win a Kindle copy of A Perfect Curse a week from today.
EXCERPT from A Perfect Curse
As their skiff neared the Magdalena, sailors greeted them with shouts and cheers. Nevara was dismayed to see that she would be required to climb aboard by way of a long slippery rope ladder.
Lord Terrance strapped his dog to his chest with a rope he had brought for that purpose and scaled upward as if he did this sort of thing every day. His lordship’s valet, Ellison, a meticulously groomed slender man, stood ready to assist the others. Lady Terrance confidently tied her skirts higher, exposing her ankles but allowing her to climb the ladder and follow her husband.
Once his employers were out of earshot, Ellison began to mutter about the dire consequences of this accursed voyage. He bent to offer Nevara a hand up. On closer inspection, the valet’s proud manner did not match his red-rimmed eyes or his unsteady footing. She wondered if his swaying movement had more to do with the smell of spirits on his breath than the rocking of the skiff. He was more likely to tip her overboard than help her ascend the ladder. Behind her, the other servant, Lady Terrance’s maid, Mendal, a gaunt woman in her late forties, crossed herself and murmured a psalm.
Nevara hitched up her skirts as she had seen Lady Terrance do and grabbed onto the rope ladder. She then made her careful way up. Her skirts still proved a nuisance as they caught beneath her feet at the back. Taking one hand off the rope ladder to free herself, she swayed dangerously to the side.
“Careful,” Lord Terrance called from the top. “Keep both hands on the ladder, Miss Wood.”
Easier said than done. Her tight grip kept slipping on the slimy rope ladder. She hiked her skirts again until both her feet could find purchase on the steps. Still on the skiff, Mendal was reciting a gloomy biblical verse in rhythm to Nevara’s every slippery step.
At the top, Lord Terrance pulled her over the railing with a strong heave and a stout, “Well done, Miss Wood.” His mischievous grin and a glance down to his servants suggested he understood her misgivings. His beautiful wife, too, seemed to be hiding a smile.
Nevara was not amused. She had to share a cabin with Mendal during the upcoming voyage. She hoped the lady’s maid would desist from this worrisome praying. She had enough concerns to accompany her all the way to Cadiz.

Buy the Book
Publisher ImaJinn Books, an imprint of Belle Books

About the Author
Once upon a time, Shereen read fantasy and romance novels to entertain herself. Now she writes heartwarming tales braided with threads of magic and love, and mystery elements woven in for good measure. She’s a fan of resourceful women, intriguing men, and happily ever after endings. If her stories whisk you away to a different realm for a few hours, then Shereen will have achieved one of her life goals.

Written content of this post copyright © Shereen Vedam, 2016.


David W. Wilkin said...

Perhaps I would have gone with the times and allowed a Bosun's Chair to save me such indignities. It is also often hard to move from a boat to the ladder, requiring jumping and timing depending on the seas condition, hence even making it worse. Why, portly admirals have been known to use them, and no sailor would dare question their dignity. But I digress, Nevara should know that 1) It is bad luck for women to be aboard a ship or so every superstitious seaman would say, 2) with quarters cramped, and her lodgings already being very small, the chances that they had more than one cabin for women, her and her maid, would be hard to fathom, unless this was an indiaman where then someone paying for passage would bear the expense, and also the ship would dock at a pier negating the climbing of a rope ladder perhaps...

I fear unless a person is quite vain, dignity when traveling outside of England is something that those who were doing it, did not give much thought to.

Shereen Vedam said...

Excellent answer, David, I can see you are a seaman at heart. Love the idea of a Bosun's chair! I think Nevara would have been delighted to go up on one of those, just for the experience, and to avoid that slippery ladder. But then lowly maid/companions could not afford luxuries in the early 1800s. So, yes, cramped quarters, superstitious sailors and much lack of dignity, even deep sorrow at loss of life after a difficult sea journey, are all in poor Nevara's future. But there will also be some romance, adventure and moments of awe, to balance it all out. Thanks for playing along. :)

Unknown said...

Very informative in such an entertaining way. Thanks, Shereen. I'll save this for future reference.

Unknown said...

Hello Shereen,
Great post, I look forward to reading the book,
Sylvie Grayson

Alice V said...

Lots of info, Shereen. Very useful.

kathleen Lawless said...

Fascinating! Can't wait for the book.

Shereen Vedam said...

Thanks for checking in, Alice, glad you enjoyed the post. :)

Shereen Vedam said...

Hi Sylvie, thanks for dropping by!

Shereen Vedam said...

Hi Alice, great you could check out the post.

Shereen Vedam said...

Hi Kathleen, thanks for dropping by!

Shereen Vedam said...

Congratulations to David Wilkin for winning the Kindle copy of A Perfect Curse! Copy has been send. Enjoy.

Regan Walker said...

Thanks for the post! Some really good information, Shereen. I have not taken Vallor's course, but I have done considerable research for my two Georgian novels set on ships and am now writing another. In my reading of novels set on ships, particularly romances, I see many errors in ship terminology (there are, as you know, no floors, ceilings, walls or hallways on ships) and errors in configuration of decks below the weather deck. Another thing to note on "ship" vs. "boat" for vessels with fewer than three masts: I would never call a two-masted schooner in the Regency era a "boat", mostly because today it would be thought of as a ship and modern readers couldn't visualize a boat of such proportions. Same with a two-masted brig that might carry 18 guns and 100+ crew. Also, what liquor was available on a ship of the era might depend on whether it was French or English or American.

Angelina Jameson said...

I needed some of this info. Wonderful blog post as always. :)