I’m presently reading a book titled “Master and Commander” by Patrick O’Brian. He goes to some length describing the sleeping arrangements aboard a ship of sail. In particular, the slinging of hammocks in the sailors quarters. The manual states each man is entitled to the space of fourteen inches. Hard to imagine the congestion below decks at night. But of course in a two watch system half the crew would be on deck, allowing an actual 28 inches. Now, I cannot speak from experience as to the actual space, because on a World War two destroyer we had a wee bit more room than fourteen inches. Nevertheless, I well remember the hammock, its draw backs, the work required repairing, lashing and stowing, not forgetting the agility needed for getting in or out of it. On HMS Cockade I lived in the for’ard seaman’s mess, starboard side. the conditions were quite cramped, especially at night when the hammocks were slung. The routine was at night we slung our hammocks, always in the same place, in the morning we lashed and stowed them in a locker space. Sounds easy right! wrong, at sea it could be a task trying to find your relief watchman in among the dark forest of snoring hammocks in the middle of the night. Even more so with a heavy sea running. However the worst was in harbour! imagine a drunken sailor returning aboard late at night and attempting to sling his hammock? Imagine the same drunken sailor trying to swing himself into the hammock and often missing!. Of course I never experienced anything like that myself!! Hammocks were generally quite comfortable once one got use to them, but the work of slinging, lashing stowing etc never got any easier. Probably the worse part of sleeping while suspended from the deckhead was when the ship was pitching. In other words, when the bow lifted high on a wave and for a moment hung there, then suddenly dropped into the next trough the hammock went slack almost ejecting its occupant. In moments like that it required a sailor to hang on for dear life. I left Cockade in 1958 and joined a new frigate HMS Eastbourne in Chatham. I could not believe my luck to find we had bunks, it was shear luxury after the hammock. A bunk could still be a little uncomfortable in rough seas, but it was always ready to accept its sleepy sailor and always in the same place, it never required the work of a hammock. I’m proud to have experienced both during my Naval Career and wonder how many sailors can claim the same today? Not many I fear, we too are becoming thin on the ground.
God Bless and keep reading.