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Chapter 21


I cannot quit this matter of the hammocks without making mention
of a grievance among the sailors that ought to be redressed.

In a man-of-war at sea, the sailors have _watch and watch;_ that
is, through every twenty-four hours, they are on and off duty
every four hours. Now, the hammocks are piped down from the
nettings (the open space for stowing them, running round the top
of the bulwarks) a little after sunset, and piped up again when
the forenoon watch is called, at eight o'clock in the morning; so
that during the daytime they are inaccessible as pallets. This
would be all well enough, did the sailors have a complete night's
rest; but every other night at sea, one watch have only four
hours in their hammocks. Indeed, deducting the time allowed for
the other watch to turn out; for yourself to arrange your
hammock, get into it, and fairly get asleep; it maybe said that,
every other night, you have but three hours' sleep in your
hammock. Having then been on deck for twice four hours, at eight
o'clock in the morning your _watch-below_ comes round, and you
are not liable to duty until noon. Under like circumstances, a
merchant seaman goes to his _bunk_, and has the benefit of a good
long sleep. But in a man-of-war you can do no such thing; your
hammock is very neatly stowed in the nettings, and there it must
remain till nightfall.

But perhaps there is a corner for you somewhere along the batteries
on the gun-deck, where you may enjoy a snug nap. But as no one is
allowed to recline on the larboard side of the gun-deck (which is
reserved as a corridor for the officers when they go forward to
their smoking-room at the _bridle-port_), the starboard side only is
left to the seaman. But most of this side, also, is occupied by the
carpenters, sail-makers, barbers, and coopers. In short, so few are
the corners where you can snatch a nap during daytime in a frigate,
that not one in ten of the watch, who have been on deck eight hours,
can get a wink of sleep till the following night. Repeatedly, after
by good fortune securing a corner, I have been roused from it by some
functionary commissioned to keep it clear.

Off Cape Horn, what before had been very uncomfortable became a serious
hardship. Drenched through and through by the spray of the sea at night.
I have sometimes slept standing on the spar-deck--and shuddered as I
slept--for the want of sufficient sleep in my hammock.

During three days of the stormiest weather, we were given the privilege
of the _berth-deck_ (at other times strictly interdicted), where we were
permitted to spread our jackets, and take a nap in the morning after the
eight hours' night exposure. But this privilege was but a beggarly one,
indeed. Not to speak of our jackets--used for blankets--being soaking
wet, the spray, coming down the hatchways, kept the planks of the
berth-deck itself constantly wet; whereas, had we been permitted our
hammocks, we might have swung dry over all this deluge. But we
endeavoured to make ourselves as warm and comfortable as possible,
chiefly by close stowing, so as to generate a little steam, in the
absence of any fire-side warmth. You have seen, perhaps, the way in
which they box up subjects intended to illustrate the winter lectures
of a professor of surgery. Just so we laid; heel and point, face to
back, dove-tailed into each other at every ham and knee. The wet of our
jackets, thus densely packed, would soon begin to distill. But it was
like pouring hot water on you to keep you from freezing. It was like
being "packed" between the soaked sheets in a Water-cure Establishment.

Such a posture could not be preserved for any considerable period
without shifting side for side. Three or four times during the
four hours I would be startled from a wet doze by the hoarse cry
of a fellow who did the duty of a corporal at the after-end of my
file. "_Sleepers ahoy! stand by to slew round!_" and, with a
double shuffle, we all rolled in concert, and found ourselves
facing the taffrail instead of the bowsprit. But, however you
turned, your nose was sure to stick to one or other of the
steaming backs on your two flanks. There was some little relief
in the change of odour consequent upon this.

But what is the reason that, after battling out eight stormy hours
on deck at, night, men-of-war's-men are not allowed the poor boon
of a dry four hours' nap during the day following? What is the
reason? The Commodore, Captain, and first Lieutenant, Chaplain,
Purser, and scores of others, have _all night in_, just as if they
were staying at a hotel on shore. And the junior Lieutenants not only
have their cots to go to at any time: but as only one of them is
required to head the watch, and there are so many of them among
whom to divide that duty, they are only on deck four hours to twelve
hours below. In some eases the proportion is still greater. Whereas,
with _the people_ it is four hours in and four hours off continually.

What is the reason, then, that the common seamen should fare so
hard in this matter? It would seem but a simple thing to let them
get down their hammocks during the day for a nap. But no; such a
proceeding would mar the uniformity of daily events in a man-of-
war. It seems indispensable to the picturesque effect of the
spar-deck, that the hammocks should invariably remain stowed in
the nettings between sunrise and sundown. But the chief reason is
this--a reason which has sanctioned many an abuse in this world--
_precedents are against it;_ such a thing as sailors sleeping in
their hammocks in the daytime, after being eight hours exposed to
a night-storm, was hardly ever heard of in the navy. Though, to
the immortal honour of some captains be it said, the fact is upon
navy record, that off Cape Horn, they _have_ vouchsafed the
morning hammocks to their crew. Heaven bless such tender-hearted
officers; and may they and their descendants--ashore or afloat--
have sweet and pleasant slumbers while they live, and an
undreaming siesta when they die.

It is concerning such things as the subject of this chapter that
special enactments of Congress are demanded. Health and comfort--
so far as duly attainable under the circumstances--should be
legally guaranteed to the man-of-war's-men; and not left to the
discretion or caprice of their commanders.

Herman Melville