Music Of The Waters - online book

Sailors' Chanties, Songs Of The Sea, Boatmen's, Fishermen's,
Rowing Songs, & Water Legends with lyrics & sheet music

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Music of the Waters.             353
was laid on with a rope's end, at the least sign given by the 'President Tarpaulin.' Apparently heavier punish­ments than rope's-ending attended the poverty or contumacy of the convicted, for the same author tells of a passenger who was drowned on board a galleon through being keel­hauled for refusing to conform to this singular marine custom. The sport—if sport it can be called—lasted all day, and then at sundown the fines or forfeits were divided among the sailors. It is possible that out of this old sea joke rose the stupid and irritating practice of ducking men on their crossing the equator for the first time. This imbecile piece of horse-play was wonderfully popular among seamen down to quite recent days. I do not think Jack ever saw much humour himself in the mere dressing-up as Neptune, and acting Jack Pudding in the waist; what he relished was the privilege, by prescription, of lording it over the captain and officers for a few hours, and tarring and soaking people to whom, at other times, he would have to pull his forelock, with the whole length of the ship between him and their nobility. Another curious custom was to be found on board Dutch vessels. When a ship entered the 39th parallel, ' every one,' writes John Nieuhoff (1640), ' of what quality or degree soever, that has not passed there before is obliged to be baptized or redeem himself from it. He that is to be baptized has a rope tied round his middle, wherewith he is drawn up to the very top of the bowsprit, and from thence three times successively tumbled into the water. A man was at liberty to get another to take his place by paying him.' Plenty of money and other good things must have been earned by the sailors out of this custom, for one may conceive that a nervous passenger would pay handsomely to escape so formidable a ducking as the tall bowsprits of those days promised, whilst, on the other hand, a seasoned mariner would look upon such sousings as mere child's play—think no more of it than a man in a regatta now thinks of walking out upon a greasy boom to loose the pig in the sack at the end of it. The
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