Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Next in Line to Hang

In this second part of a three part lesson dealing with the crew positions aboard a pirate vessel, we are going to look at the responsibilities of the Sailmaster, the Carpenter, the Cook, the Surgeon, and the Master at Arms. These were all lower officer positions and were either voted upon or assigned by the captain as discussed in the first part of this lesson. The sailors who served in these positions were skilled laborers and, as such, their skills were always very much in demand. These were definitely crew members that a pirate ship could not function without.

The Sailmaster was the most experienced crewman in the rigging. He was responsible for maintaining the sails and the rigging. The Sailmaster knew every knot, line, rope, block and tackle in the rigging as well as how to repair them all. He was also responsible for training and running the sail crew as well as overseeing the making and patching of sails. The Sailmaster took orders from and reported to the pilot.
The Carpenter was a skilled wood worker, often with some shipwright experience, who did all of the woodworking required by the crew. He was responsible for repairing damage to the wooden portions of the ship and for plugging leaks that got too bad. (You should understand right now before you go to sea that all ships leak, mates. It's just when they really leak badly that you have to worry about it.) The Carpenter was also responsible for maintaining the tools of his trade. He took orders from and reported to the Boatswain.

The Cook was one of the most important of the lower officers. He was in charge of all matters relating to food on the ship. He made certain there was enough food, water, and rum on board for the planned cruise. He cooked the meals and suggested rationing when it was necessary. The Cook butchered the meat brought back by hunting parties and was the only man trusted to light a fire below decks. He maintained the necessary tools for both cooking and butchering. The Cook took orders from and reported to the Boatswain.

The Surgeon was likely one of the toughest men on the ship. He served as the barber/doctor/emergency surgeon for the entire crew. He was equally capable of shaving your beard and cutting off your damaged leg. The Surgeon dealt with not only the sick and the wounded, but also the dead. He, like the other lower officers, was responsible for maintaining the necessary tools of his trade. The Surgeon took his orders from and reported to the Quartermaster. It is unlikely that most ships had any real doctor and it was common for the carpenter or the cook to fill this role as needed.

The Master at Arms was often the most skilled warrior on the crew. He was responsible for training the crew in hand to hand combat. He also led the ship's boarding parties and hunting parties when they were necessary. The Master at Arms position was not a separate position on every vessel and often these responsibilities fell to the Quartermaster. When the Master at Arms position was filled on a ship, he took orders from and reported to the Quartermaster.

Well mates, that's it for this week. I apologize for the short column this week and no column next week, but the Sabine has been called to war. I will be at the war with the dread Kingdom of Ansteora next week. If I survive this, then I shall return to finish the series.

Copyright 2001, Mark S. Cookman

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