Friday, July 30, 2010

The Black Tot

Yes, that's Black Tot, not Black Spot.

Back in the good old days, British sailors got a daily rum ration called the tot. In fact, from the mid-17th century through the early 18th century, they got two rations of a half pint each per day (for a total of a pint a day). To be sure that the rum was not watered down, they would mix it with gunpowder and try lighting it. It it still lit then it proved that it was still strong. This point was just over 50% alcohol which is why today's 100 proof is 50% alcohol.

In 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon started issuing rum diluted with a quart of water per pint to reduce drunkenness. This mixture, known as grog, may have been named form him. His nickname was "Old Grogram" because of the grogram cloak that he wore.

The tot was gradually reduced to 1/8 pint, once a day by the 20th century.

In 1970, the British Navy decided that even that was too much and abolished the tot. The last tot was issued July 31, 1970, known as Black Tot Day.

Don't feel too bad for the Brits. Their beer ration was increased by one can a day at the same time.

In contrast the American Navy had ended the rum ration September 1, 1862. Instead of beer, the US Sailors got free coffee.

BBC News has more here.

The tot ended before the rum stores were emptied. What was left was saved. If you have some spare cash and a desire for history, you can buy a bottle of official navy rum for 600 pounds. See here for more details.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Early Slops

It's been over a year since I did any research on slops. That time I relied mainly on second-hand sources. A friend at Jamestown asked for justification for slops on the sailors there so I did some original research of my own.

I started with this guy from Gentlemen of Fortune.

They list him as being from 1720. He looks earlier so I looked up the artist. This led to the British Museum. I did an image search on their site and hit gold. This one is Dutch from 1600 and is perfect for my purposes. He is wearing slops, a cassock, and a thrum cap. This is fairly close to what I have worn when doing an early 17th century impression.

 Next are some harbor views from Flanders, from 1647.

All of these have one or more people with some sort of slops. There is also this one. Notice the sailor sitting on the left.

Finally, this site has a woodcut from 1577.

A few points. First, this shows that slops were fairly common from the 16th century and were worn at least into the early 18th century.

I have seen some sites say that they were used as overalls. These etchings do not show any sign that the slops were being worn over breeches. 17th century breeches were very full and would show if they were worn under these slops.

Finally, there are arguments about the bottom of the legs - were they hemmed or not? You can make a strong case either way from these etchings. Some, especially the earliest, looks like they are. The later ones might not be or could have been at one time but the hems are worn.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Grand Encampment 5

Officially we were batteau-men, providing transportation to the British soldiers at an F&I reenactment. This was a major event with hundreds of reenactors and a couple of dozen sutlers.

We were afraid that we would be encamped with the British army. They were a long way from the lake where the boats were so we were not looking forward to that. Fortunately, they created a British Boat Camp beside the lake. This had eight or nine tents and at least fifteen people so we had a mini-event separate from the main event. Not only were we closer to the boats but our camp was a lot cooler than the main British camp. The French and Indian camps were cooler yet since they camped in the trees.

Funny thing - the only groups that bring boats are pirate groups. In addition to our Scioto Pirate group, the Great Lakes River Pirates were there. We know them from Paynetown and they are always fun to be around. At some point people started calling the camp "the pirate camp".

For boats, the River Pirates brought two small boats and two medium boats. I had the Black Sheep which was the largest of the five. The park provided two impressive 30' war canoes and rangers to command them.

All of that was good. Not everything was perfect. The nearest port-o-let was a long way away at the far end of the Sutler's Row. Water had to be fetched from the French camp (although we had plenty of cool drinking water from melting ice).

Months ago, a call went out for boats but the organizers never really planned how to use them. We "flotillas" on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday we loaded soldiers into the boats and the canoes, rowed them half-way across the lake then back again. They landed and took a nap under some shade.

On Sunday we decided that the canoes had been under-manned so we had them load the soldiers into one canoe and we acted as escort. Again, we rowed half-way across the lake and back. We were supposed to be met by the rest of the British army but all that showed up was a narrator.

Saturday seemed hotter than is should have - possibly because of the lack of a breeze. There was more wind on Sunday and it felt cooler. The two boats with sails took advantage of the wind.

We took the Black Sheep out rowing both days. On Saturday when we were transporting troops, we managed to load ten people onto it. I wasn't happy with the trim - too much weight forward - but otherwise it worked fine. With two people rowing we were at least as fast as the smaller boats although I think that Firefly would have been faster yet.

In all, we had a good time but I'm not sure that we would do the event again. The heat got to everyone and it was a lot of work just to ferry some soldiers back and forth.

Here are the River Pirates, lurking in the shade.

Here is the Pirate British Boat Camp

And here is the Black Sheep with a full crew and passengers (with me at the tiller).


And here's one of the flotilla from the Black Sheep.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Boat Maintenance

I did a little more work on the Black Sheep over the long weekend.

I made a mast, mainly for show, for Put-in-Bay. This worked but the block that the base went into came loose. I glued this back into place and strengthened the join with some wooden pegs.

The thwarts were wrapped with twine to limit wear on the oars. The twine was in poor shape. I re-wrapped some of it and replaced other parts.

I got some pine tar-based finish and applied this to the seats, the rudder, and the thwarts. Nothing makes a boat smell more nautical than some pine tar.