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. But: on my account, they would not have had to do one or the other, because that meant: scrubbing, scrubbing and scrubbing again until you felt completely dumb.
After the storm in the English Channel, we had replaced sails for two days like lunatics. And now, at the height of Gibraltar, we were starting to overhaul the deck.
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 “.
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.
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.
Then again, deck-washing all together: right-left, right-left, and a small step forward, then back to: right-left, right-left, another small step forward, a turn around, and then again, and again, and again.
Everyone knew the next 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 Scots, the planks they have is not a lot, we sail as did the barbarians, because that we liked most. We do not sing lubricious songs, so that the captains excitement grows not to strong, we prefer to hear Bill Haley’s screaming: rock’n roll, with his thundering “Rock Around The Clock”, followed by “Sake, Rattle and Roll”, and his guitar sounds as machine gun shots; then we would tell the 2nd Mate on watch, what we were doing here, is no fun at all.
And what was the officer of the watch doing? He asked if the work does not please us, and what does Rock’n-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.
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.
If everything was shining and caulked** and we have guaranteed sunshine tomorrow or in four days, the deck maintenance measures are crowned by an further act done almost as ritual. The deck-boys went down on their knees, while their hands with gentle movements, lubricating oil with a fabric remnant on the deck planks. 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 southwards during this time.
The follwong pictures show a meeting with the sister-ship PASSAT
*) In the textile industry, a tow (or hards) is a coarse, broken fibre, removed during processing flax, hemp, or jute
**) seal (a gap or seam) with a waterproof filler and sealant.