‘Jane put her fingers in her mouth and let out a loud, high-pitched whistle, which caused the whole watch to instantly turn in her direction. A babble of loud, confused voices swept through the lower deck. They responded to bells and hails, but none were too sure what this particular whistle indicated.’ Extract from – Rebellious Cargo.
I was devastated when my alarm failed to go off at 3.30 am, in order to haul myself out of bed to watch the lunar eclipse. I was determined to witness the red moon, but sadly I woke up at 4.15 am, just in time to miss the whole show.
Alarm bells and calls to action bombard us these days. I’m still not sure which particular ring, shudder, whistle or ditty indicates what is happening on my electronic devices.
This would not have been a problem in the days of sail. The whistles and bells heard on board were understood by all hands and everyone knew where they should be. And God help them if they weren’t at their posts at the prescribed time. The ring of the ship’s bell was an incessant sound that punctuated the day along with the turning of the glass – a sand filled instrument that measured the half hour intervals. A bit like an egg timer. Ah…remember egg timers, such simplicity and yet the egg always turned out perfect.
The sailor’s day was split into 5 x 4 hour watches and 2 x 2 hour watches (the dog-watches). Each watch was punctuated every half hour by the ringing of the bell and turning of the glass. Half an hour into a watch there would be one ring of the bell, one hour into the watch two rings of the bell and so on until eight bells signalled the end of a 4 hour watch. The bell ringing made everyone aboard aware of how much longer they had to work before they could finish their watch.
The watches consisted of : first watch – 20:00hrs to midnight, middle watch- midnight to 04:00hrs, morning watch – 0400 to 08:oohrs, forenoon watch 08:00hrs to noon, afternoon watch -noon to 16:00hrs, first dog-watch – 16:00 to 18:00 and the second dog-watch – 18:00 to 20:00.
The two shorter watches made the total shifts an odd number, therefore facilitating the shift rotation, so the same crew were not always on duty at the same times of the day. It also ensured that everyone could eat the evening meal at a reasonable time.
I learnt quite a lot about life at sea whist writing my latest historical novel. Rebellious Cargo. A tale of passion and intrigue set on a naval frigate against the backdrop of Nelson’s navy.
Here is a taster Jane Charlesworth, daughter of England’s foremost code breaker, is the only person thought capable of deciphering a vital government document. But when a naval frigate is sent to enlist her services and transport her to Malta, Jane is horrified. Haunted with terrible memories of an earlier voyage, she has no intention of putting herself under the protection of the Admiralty ever again.
Anxious to be at the forefront of the action as the peace with France crumbles, Adam Marston is livid when his ship is diverted to collect a reluctant blue-stocking whose accusing eyes and insolent manner hold nothing but contempt for him and his orders. Sparks fly when captain and code breaker find they have different ideas on how to handle a French attack, a malicious chaplain, and boisterous midshipmen.
Duty and desire collide as they approach Malta, but Jane is determined that her judgment will not be clouded by Adam who, once he has despatched his Rebellious Cargo, will sail out of her life again. But, as the ship docks, Jane’s life becomes a nightmare and she is forced to gamble that Adam is the only person she can trust.
As passion battles with duty, will future orders throw them together or tear them apart?
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