Report 27 – Scrubbing until the planks laugh

Report 27: Scrubbing until the planks laugh
and -Encounters with the Passat 1955-1957-

1_The deck planks that “can laugh” are made of African teak. If they are scrubbed white and preserved in honey bright, glowing amber linseed oil they smile and radiate. I was the reason for which the planks would not glow nor smile, because that meant scrubbing, scrubbing and rubbing again, until you feel completely insane.

After the storm in the English Channel, we had replaced sails for two days like lunatics. And now, at the height of Cape Finisterre and Lisbon, we were starting to overhaul the deck.

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It all started with washing the deck, even though we had done this x times in Bremen and Bremerhaven, and since then for many hours breaking waves had been thundering on deck. The ships management was not impressed: “It’s Christmas in a few days. Then we need to shine 2_“.For whom, someone would ask? Do THEY expect Santa Claus?

First, the deck was attacked with brooms. Five to eight men in row aligned fore-and-aft, each equipped with a broom, in front of them a sailor with a water hose. And now all together: right-left, right-left, and a small step forward, then back to: right-left, right-left, another small step forward, etc, etc.

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Everyone knew the second procedure; down on your knees for two days. With brush, grindstone and abrasive sand we were scrubbing the planks. Meanwhile, you could swear in silence or sing a sing-song. Today, one went like this:

We scrub like the Swabians who have no planks,
we sail as barbarians because they did not like to work hard.
We do not like to sing dirty ryhms,
so they do not enter our mind,
we prefer to call on Bill Haley to hear his rock and roll song,
first, it should be like a shock with “Rock Around The Clock”
then we would find it great if there followed “Sake, Rattle and Roll”
then we would tell the officer to troll away,
what we were doing here, is not so great.

And what was the officer of the watch doing? He asked if the work does not please us, and what does rock-and-roll have to do with scrubbing the deck? We acted too busy to be able to answer, and scrubbed and scrubbed on and on, sometimes with rhythm verses, sometimes in silence.

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Sometimes the joints were scratched out, then filled again with flax tow*, a material like cotton, then to be covered with hot pitch, which was later smoothened with a metal scraper after hardening.

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If everything was shining and caulked** and we have guaranteed sunshine tomorrow or in four days, the deck maintenance measures are crowned with full rites. Then gliding on their knees, sliding over the deck, this will gently be polished with a twist fabric in dozens of hands with gentle movements. With each swing, a plank piece shone in the sunlight and smiled at the linseed oil lubricator with a grateful glance. Granted, after the deed was done the chagrin of the work quickly slipped our minds, and we had sailed almost 1’000 nautical miles during this time.

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Author: arnd

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