Life On Board Ship, May 5


Pop — after looking at us all — very sincerely — raises his gruff yet kindly voice above it all. A simple service beautiful in that simplicity with the complete natural background of ship and sea and sky and [sun]. Villiers finishes – closes his books – takes off his glasses then looks at us. “Boys,” he explains in his gruff voice “We hope to make landfall at Nantucket light ship in about 38 days time. In a sailing ship – miles don’t matter (and he raises his voice & snarls) – it’s the wind that does – and we go where the wind is.” (He tapered his voice to a gentle interrogatory sounding whisper.) “God has given us fair winds so far boys – we hope to keep them.”

David Cauvin (Journal, 28 April 1957)

Our two descendents, Winslow and Church, were seamen and I had provided them with seventeenth-century seamen’s kits for wearing on ceremonial occasions, and similar costumes were provided for the ship’s company. Naval uniforms had not yet come into use when the Mayflower sailed, but most of them wore leather jerkins, loose breeches, long woolen stockings, buckle shoes and Monmouth caps, and this is how our crew were decked out when they assembled on the quarter-deck.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

I had been in a quandary when it came to my costume: I could hardly pass myself off as a sailor, as this was my first voyage in a sailing ship of any rig, let alone square-rigged, and I did not think it either fitting or appropriate to dress in a costume which might be identified as that of a Pilgrim. I decided as there were Saints and Strangers on the first Mayflower, and recognizing that I did not fall into the first category, I would adopt the military dress of the time. As I still held the rank of major in the Army, I did not think anyone could take this amiss, even Captain Standish. I wore a rust jerkin with buttoned fastenings tied with points. The sleeves had wings and were of a close-fitting material, trimmed with a braid in circular longitudinal stripes. The cuffs were of white linen. I wore knee breeches, knitted stockings and buckle shoes.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

Captain Jones wore no marks of rank, going to sea in the same garb he wore ashore. He could be distinguished from his crew only by the better quality of the clothes he wore, and he had more of them. It seemed appropriate to have Alan Villiers more readily recognizable, so he was dressed all in black, in a costume of similar design to my own. He stood on the quarterdeck, all of us gathered around him, the ship pitching and swaying, the Union Jack fluttering from the lateen yard, as he read in his hearty voice from the Bible.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

From the beginning, Alan Villiers held a simple Sunday morning service on the quarterdeck - for which the sun always shone. In silent assent the crew 'dressed for church.' In the main this consisted of putting on the 17th-century costumes that had been individually tailored for us by a firm of London theatrical costumers. All hands attended.

Scottie Bell (Recollections written 23 June 1997)

Alan Villiers took this opportunity to chat about the ocean that we were crossing and the seamen who had braved its waters. He educated the crew in Pilgrim history. “Mayflower” and the Pilgrims do not loom as large in the British History as they do in American and the religious basis of the voyage was shadowy in their minds. Almost none had heard of names like ‘Brewster’ or ‘Bradford.'

Scottie Bell (Recollections written 23 June 1997)

Breakfast over, the bell tolls for Church. We muster on the quarterdeck and remove our cape. The Captain conducts the service from the wooden bell cover, over which is spread an embroidered altar cloth. He reads and declaims splendidly in a clear, fierce voice. After Church, he orders us “on caps and be seated.” Governor Bradford’s journal of the early settlement in Massachusetts is produced. Some of it is to be read every week. We are pleased, as it is fascinating to hear in detail how our brothers before us fared in the original “Mayflower.” The lesson over, our Master exhorts us to be extremely careful with fresh water, always to use the lee ladders and on no occasion to smoke aloft the maindeck. Duty free tobacco and cigarettes are then issued, as they will be each Sabbath.

Doctor J. Stevens (Journal, 22 April 1957)

Church service is conducted on the quarterdeck. All denominations attend and there is a wide diversity of these, which I am sure would have pleased our tolerant Pilgrims of the past. We pray together, Catholic, Jew and Protestant. Bradford’s journal is read in the Captain’s racy style, with many asides. We can hardly wait until next week to find out what happens. 

10:00 the Captain’s little prayer meeting for which the beautiful old ships bell – made in Brixham – is mournfully “rang." We gather on the Quarter Deck. In silence we stand – only the rush of water, groan of timber, clank of blocks & play of the lateen canvas.

David Cauvin (Journal, 28 April 1957)

We would have “church” services and prayers every Sunday, dressed in our Pilgrim rig, after which the Captain would speak of the Pilgrims’ Progress, and their passage in earlier years, as well as the travels of other peoples of that time. He was a most interesting person to listen to, and as he would close, we would beg him to continue as he is really a master at telling of the exploits of early seamen.

Charles Church (Journal, 15 May 1957)


Alan decided, because of the inexperience of the crew, to use the double-watch system, four hours on and four hours off, working through six watches: Morning 4 a.m.-8 a.m., Forenoon 8 a.m-12 noon, Afternoon 12 noon-4 p.m, First dog 4 p.m-6 p.m, Second Dog 6 p.m-8 p.m, First 8 p.m-12 midnight, Middle 12 midnight-4 a.m. The bells, which had always puzzled me, mark the half hours of each watch, one additional bell each half-hour and one bell a quarter from the hour before the end of each watch to warn the relieving watch of the time. At 12 o’clock, for example, eight bells are struck, at 12:30 one bell, at 1 two bells, 1:30 three bells, and so one until eight bells are struck at 4 o’clock.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

The watch is responsible for working the ship, manning the lookout, for’ard, on the fo’c’sle, or upon the foreyard. They also take turns manning the helm and working the sails…The reason for two two-hour watches between 4 and 8 p.m is to break up the cycle of watches so that the same men won’t have the long night ones.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

At the start of the voyage each man worked four hours and was off four. With hardly three hours’ sleep at a stretch, and jobs that included scraping and scrubbing the deck, handling the sails and other chores, Ford recalls those days as among the hardest of the voyage. After the third day the crew was divided into three watches, and for the remainder of the trip each man was on four and off eight hours.

Mike Ford (“54 Days Before the Mast”)

By day, or watch, we pained and oiled, scraped decks and worked on the rigging…or took our turn at the wheel. Off watch, we just sprawled in the sun, sleeping, reading or basking. Most evenings would find us lining the rail, some chatting, some thinking, one playing a guitar and another singing – and all watching the inevitably beautiful sunsets. We laughed a lot and grumbled a lot, but enjoyed each other’s company. We were a motley crew but mixed extraordinarily well. 

David Thorpe (“Mayflower”, p. 43)

The hour at the wheel is something that none of us will ever forget. The gearing of the steering system was very low, it took eleven full turns to go from hard to port to hard to starboard, with the result no feeling of the rudder on the wheel – and with the short stubby design of the hull – the ship, at times, seemed to be possessed with the idea that she was going to go her own way rather than the way we wanted her to go, so we would put on turns – take them off – watching her like a hawk, trying at all times to anticipate her whims and beat her to the punch.

The skipper would be around the deck checking, checking, all the time, but as soon as he would approach the compass, away off course we would go – it never failed.  I am sure that he carried magnets in his pockets – and then in his Australian accent – “Don’t torture her Chief – let her go, she’s all right” – and under my breath, – “Yes, She’s all right, if you call a ship all right when she is acting like a pregnant duck.”

Doctor Stevens (Journal, p. 6)

With wads of cotton waste and tins of oil, we go to the bowsprit and oil this, the forestay dead-eyes, blocks and the sprits’l yard. I climb out onto the starboard yardarm, ride the spar like a horse, hold onto the lift with one hand and hook my right foot into the brace. With my “free” hand I reach to the end of the yard, rub oil into the flat and drip it into the cracks.

Doctor Stevens (Journal)

I collected up my dirty clothes and done a bit of washing in a fire bucket and salt water soap.

Edgar Mugridge (Journal, 28 April 1957)

We have boat drill – or rather we try on our life jackets and are mustered and appointed to certain life rafts. These are the self-inflating type (one of which went off mysteriously in Plymouth) and there are five on board. I am in the for’d starboard – the second mate’s. A system is arranged too whereby certain members will man the emergency boats. Doc & Beric get the pram – which is given 3 buoyancy tanks and a couple of life jackets in a line to lash the man to –should he fall over. This is good being small it would probably be safer & far quicker than the motor boat – though that is now being stowed with provisions & water. It’s always good to be well prepared. We also have fire stations and the mate questions us on the positions of the hose and extinguishers. This would be a real danger with so much inflammable equipment & smokers. It is surprising how few smoke on board. Doc who does – seems to have stopped – or smokes less anyway.

David Cauvin (Journal, no date)

We had lifeboat drill at 16.00 when we appeared on deck wearing our life jackets. We were allocated to our respective life rafts, four men per raft and told exactly what we had to do. Edgar Mugridge, Dick Brennan, Stuart Upham and I were in the same life raft. These were inflatable dinghies which could give complete shelter. They carried some chemical which made a stain round the dinghy, thus making them easier to spot from an aircraft. Inside there was food, drink and even a pack of cards to distract our minds and stop us from going mad too soon.

Jack Scarr (Journal, 22 April 1957)


I had the luxury of a cabin to myself, aft, under the quarterdeck, opposite the galley and near the Great Cabin. There was an iron bunk with half a dozen blankets…We messed, the Captain, the mates, Stuart, myself, Julian Lugren…in the Great Cabin. The captain had chosen for his quarters the most uncomfortable place on the ship, the small charthouse high on the quarterdeck.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

Our living space, cabin down both sides of the ‘tween deck, is confined but comfortable. Each cabin has a double berth bunk, well secured, a small cupboard cum table & an open hanging wardrobe. The occupants of most of the cabins have added many shelves & hooks & other bits & pieces.

John Winslow (Journal, 16 May 1957)

The bunks were in tiny two-man cubicles made of plywood walls that would be taken down easily when the ship went on exhibition. Each cabin had one small electric light, to be used only when the occupant was dressing to go on duty. No oil lamps were allowed below because of the fire hazard, and the electric lights had to be used sparingly because the ship’s only generator was intended primarily to power the radio. There were no portholes or other ventilation, which meant the vessel had a distinctive atmosphere below decks after a few days at sea.

Mike Ford (“54 Days Before the Mast”)

And among the supplies were 150 gallons of TEEPOL detergent, a Shell product sold throughout Europe, which was used for washing clothes, decks and men – so much that only three gallons remained after the voyage.

“When the first two destroyers went by, we were waving from our deck and their crews were all in white lined up on their decks,” Ford said. “But when the third one approached, a sudden squall came up. Now we had no fresh water aboard for bathing at all, so we took advantage of any rain to take a shower. So when the third destroyer came by, with its crew all huddled in raincoats and trying to duck out of the rain, there we were stripped and soaping up in the middle of the deck in the rain. I guess they thought we were a bunch of lunatics.”

Mike Ford (“54 Days Before the Mast”)

That night and the next morning it rained, really rained – we all floundered around in the wonderful fresh water. I even left my clothes on so they could have the salt rinsed out of them. What a sight – everything and everyone soaking wet, and everyone uproariously happy – and clean. But then came the blood curdling howls, “My cabin is leaking – my blankets are wet.” With all the sun, the upper sides had opened up, and in spite of all our caulking, the water still came through.

Charles Church (Journal, 15 May 1957)

The “heads” were a grill up forward in the beak, a few feet above the water. Occasionally the bow would make a kittenish plunge and the unfortunate mariner relieving himself would be drenched. Andy Lindsay summed it up by saying: “The beak is the only place in the world where you can simultaneously relieve yourself, have a shower and an aerial tramway ride.”

Jack Scarr (Journal)


In the afternoon the ship continued to roll and work her gear. Alan [Villiers] was on the poop scanning the horizon for a sign of the dark ripple of movement on the water that was the forerunner of a wind when there was a snap and the foretopsail yard broke. The spar had been dried out by the sun and was like matchwood. 

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

Sunday, May 12th, Very light airs – and BANG – the foretopsail yard broke, due to the rolling of the ship, and possibly, a slack lift. Jan Junker, our very efficient and soft-spoken 3rd Mate who had the watch at the time, says – in his Danish accent – “Oh, well. We will go up and fix it.” No problem, as easy as that, but that means taking off the sail, and the yard, and lowering it to the deck, and two hours later, it was up in place again, as good as new

Charles Church (Journal, 12 May 1957)

During one of these movements there was a sharp crack of timber, as quick and sudden as a gun report, from directly above me. Nothing could be seen to be wrong. Joe Lacey – scrambled up & shouted down at the top of his voice “It’s the foretopsail yard – broke.” It is a dry yard and light & the braces being too taut did the rest when the topmast whipped. Jan Junker – looked aloft – scowled and said, “I knew it.” – no more comment. The yard was ordered down…

David Cauvin (Journal, 12 May 1957)

Just before tea time, the ship begins to synchronize in the fairly heavy swell. This is a well-known phenomenon in ships where the period of the ship’s roll coincides with the period of the swell. At the height of our motion, there is a crack like a cannon ball aloft. We all gaze up and to our concern notice the foretops’l yard fractured at the junction of its inner third and outer two thirds. All hands on deck are immediately pressed into service. The broken yard is lowered into the fore top and the sail unbent. The two pieces of the spar are lowered into the fo’s’cle head, where Stuart Upham and Chippie secure the two ends with long battens and four inch galvanized nails. Altogether a seamanlike job that lasts us to our voyage’s end.

Doctor Stevens (Journal, 12 May 1957)

back to Crew Journals