CHAPTER IV: A FINE DAY ON BOARD
OUR men rose with the sun, at six o'clock in the morning. On war vessels it is the custom to rouse the crew by a call of three long trills given by all the petty officers at the same time on boatswains' whistles. At this signal the men turn out and lash their hammocks. We gave up the attempt to conform to this custom, as the noise that our one boatswain's whistle could make would hardly have been loud enough to attract the attention of waking men. The crew slept side by side, packed like herrings in a box, and all that was needed to waken the men, was to rouse the first one, who, in rising, could not fail to waken his nearest neighbor, who, in turn, would waken the next, and so on, until the last one was up.
After we were up, the next thing to be done was to wash, provided there was water enough left in the jolly-boats from the night before. If it so happened that we could not get a wash, we accepted the situation with a cheerful spirit, as being quite in harmony with the total absence of toothbrushes aboard the ship. But our hair demanded special attention, for it was growing longer and longer with every day. The only comb that we possessed was passed from hand to hand, each man's neighbor serving him as looking glass, while for hair tonic we had most excellent salt water. There was even a shaving apparatus for the dandies, the rusty condition of the razor, however, making it necessary to use considerable caution.
Then came the cleaning of the ship. Water was hauled up in pails from over the sides of the vessel, and dashed over the deck. A part of the crew set to work at the pumps to rid the ship of the water that had leaked in over night. The sailors were up in the shrouds, looking after the latest damage that had been sustained there, and making repairs. The cook, in the company of his own chosen helpers, was forward by the caboose, busy with getting breakfast, for which, besides rice, we also had coffee and tea. When this was over, there was really nothing more for the men to do. No drilling could be attempted, for lack of room. So we filled in the time occasionally by initiating the stokers, and others unused to life on a sailing vessel, into the mysteries of steering, of the compass, and of service in the rigging. At other times the one chart of which the ship could boast was fetched out, and the men were shown just where the ship lay. Many an idle hour was spent in making plans for our future.
As for charts, besides special maps of Batavia, where we had no intention of going, there was only the one large map that has been mentioned, which represented the half of the globe, and accordingly was on a very small scale. It began with Hong Kong and Borneo on the east, and ended with Suez, Zanzibar, and Mozambique on the west. The long distance, about 700 nautical miles, to Padang, the port to which I intended to go, was represented on the chart by a space of no more than a hand's breadth.
Meanwhile the dinner hour had arrived. As there were not enough plates, forks, etc., to go round, we ate in relays. Each man's portion was dished out by the cook under supervision of one of the petty officers of the commissary department. With the dinner, a cup of coffee or tea was also served. To while away the long afternoon, we prolonged the meal as much as possible, and, when it was over, usually indulged in an afternoon nap. The separation of officers and crew, as is customary on board ship, was, of course, out of the question with us. The deck space was but just large enough to accommodate all the men with some degree of comfort on the upper deck.
Soon little groups had formed among the men, the members of which gathered each afternoon at some favorite spot. There they would sit or lounge, smoking or sleeping, or happy if it was their turn to have the use of one of the few packs of cards that we had been able to secure before we left Keeling. Some of our men were devoted fishermen. Over the bulwarks, at every available spot, hung the fish lines in waiting for an unwary fish, but I cannot remember that I ever heard of one being caught. Can it be possible that this is to be ascribed to a dislike for rice on the part of the fish? For rice was our only bait. Reminiscences were exchanged, and rebuses, arithmetic questions, conundrums, and the like, went the rounds.
In the evening, after supper was over and the sun was setting, the men usually assembled forward on the deck, and sang. As there were a number of good voices among them, their singing in chorus was very pleasing, and, as usual when Germans are having a good time, the "Loreley" and other like tragic songs were those that were oftenest sung. But "Puppchen" and the "Song of the Reeperbahn" were not neglected.
No particular hour was set for turning in. Everyone lay down to sleep when it suited him best, and the watches, that is, the forward lookout, and the man at the wheel, themselves saw to it that they were relieved at the right time. We carried no lights at night. We had but little petroleum aboard, and the two oil lamps that we had, gave out more smoke than light.
“Where the grace and love of God is shed into the soul, all will follow.”
–Richard Sibbes, Description of Christ