A Tall Ship Tale #1 — The Teacher

This is the first of many tales by Paul de Anguera who tells us, “These are the voyages of the frigate H.M.S. Legume. Its mission; to seek out new words and new incivilities. To boldly go where no pun has gone before! ” This story features quite a nice pun, but it helps to be familiar with a very famous science fiction novel written by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

The old ships were a marriage of wind and water, and things were arranged quite differently than on your modern steamship. The captain’s post was not on a tower in the middle of the ship as it is now; it was at the stern, where the steering was done and where all the rigging and sails were visible. On today’s steamships the stern gets the wind that has rushed over the front of the ship, and so we avoid the stern because the exhaust from the stacks is liable to drift down there. But on a sailing ship, the bow was usually downwind from the rest of the ship. So the galley was in the bow, to let the smoke blow out ahead of the ship. And the crew did their business in the bow for the same reason, if I make myself clear.

The crew was always the problem in those days; navies couldn’t get enough of them. Press gangs would range far inland, and many was the poor farmhand who awoke with a lump on his head to find himself in a totally alien environment-the swaying deck of some man o’war underway to parts unknown. Training these “recruits” was a challenge to the ships’ officers. The boatswain on one particular frigate-Rhet Ayring of the H.M.S. Legume-became famous in his time for his unique approach to this problem.

While the officers of other ships belabored the new men, punishing the dullards and laggards alike with a rope’s end, he was able to instruct them without inflicting pain. When the First Mate saw that a man was proving to be difficult, he’d point him out to Rhet. Rhet would take the fellow below decks, usually to the gun deck if the ship wasn’t cleared for action. And then, shrieks and gales of laughter would be heard! For this was Rhet’s secret; he never beat a man-he tickled him.

But on the Legume’s fifth trip around the horn, Rhet met a new hand so green that the ship was sure he’d met his match. He was a big harvest-follower, Almo Sather. Almo loved to drink, would drink anything he could get his hands on, and as a result was not only hard to teach but constantly needed to relieve himself. And, land-lubber that he was, he had no idea how fastidious sailors were, and no idea how to go about it properly.

The First Mate found him emptying himself in a corner by the forecastle, and swore an oath. “Here’s a mop; swab that up! And do your business over the side from now on-at the bow!” Then he caught Rhet’s eye and pointed at Almo with his chin, and Rhet took him down to the gun deck, and the sailors listened to the shouts of mirth pouring out of the open gunports with knowing looks.

But half an hour later the First Mate saw Almo again, and noticed that his front was wet. He swore again, and exclaimed “To leeward! Not to windward! Next time you go, look at the ship’s flag. It’ll be blowing to leeward. You go on that side of the bow, and you won’t get wet. Understand?” Rhet looked quite embarrassed, but patiently collared Almo and took him below decks for another round of reinforcement. This time the bellows and guffaws were enough to shake the hatch covers, and the sailors were sure that Almo was well and truly taught.

Yet, before another half hour had passed, the First Mate met up with Almo only to see that he had wetted himself again. This time he swore, not at Almo, but at Rhet. “You’ve tickled this man twice, and he’s still so witless as to piss to windward. What have you got to say for yourself, Boatswain?”

Rhet took off his hat and, very humbly, confessed his failure. “I guess you’ll have to flog him, or maybe keelhaul him, sir-I can’t do anything with him,” he groaned…

“I can’t tickle for lee bow wits!”

Previous Post
Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. A Tall Ship Tale: History Through #52 | Tarzan's Tripes Forever, and Other Feghoots

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *