Friday, June 22

Friday's Toast

A calm, clear day today. The Captains of the ships on the blockade had the Signal Midshipmen practicing their signal flags for the majority of the afternoon. No sooner would a series of flags be hoisted then the boys would all have out their glasses, eagerly looking for the reply. All manner of mock orders were sent to and fro. 

An uneventful day at sea, followed by an equally uneventful dinner in the Wardroom. After the loyal toast, Lt. Fitzroy, gave the traditional Friday toast.

"A willing foe and sea-room!"

We all drank with great gusto! We all enjoyed the possibility of prize money, and with several of our officers, the more 'willing foes' the better. 

Thursday, June 21

A Bloody War or a Sickly Season

The Ward Room aboard HMS Trincomalee
As it is Thursday, after the Loyal Toast was giv'n and drunk, Lt. McLean offered up "A Bloody War or a Sickly Season". As we drank, I pondered the meaning of such a toast.

Being promoted upon the death of your superiors has been the Naval tradition for time immemorial. But I cannot help think that it is quite morbid to wish the untimely demise of one's associates in order to procure advancement in one's field of occupation. Every man in the Ward Room drank glady to the idea.

Wednesday, June 20

Wednesday's Toast

Sick call at the mast this morning with Baptiste and Reid was followed by dosing and treating the various shipboard illness and injury. Their complaints this morning consisted chiefly of scrapes and bruises common among men whose job it is to climb, handle rope and lift heavy objects on a daily basis.  

The traditional Wednesday toast was offered up in the Ward Room this evening from Lt. McLean, "To Ourselves". 

It was followed by the amusing (and equally traditional) reply from Lt. Fitzroy "As no-one else is likely to concern themselves with our welfare!"

Tuesday, June 19

To Our Men

Early this morning, it was thought that a ship was espied attempting to escape the blockade. The men were all excitement that we might be taken into action to give chase, but it was not to be, the American schooner was simply moving about within the harbour and not attempting to 'make a run for it'. After it was discovered that our day was not to be punctuated with a chase and engagement, there was a great deal of sullen coiling of ropes as the men returned to their duties. 

This evening in the Wardroom, Lt. Fitzroy raised his glass and says, "To our Men", the traditional toast giv'n on a Tuesday. 

I took a sip and then passed my glass of Port behind me to Mr. Vassermann. He finished the glass in a single swallow by snapping his head back, then refilled the glass and thanked me as he passed it back. Several of the other Wardroom officers followed suit.

Monday, June 18

To Our Ships At Sea

Ward Room aboard USS Constitution
Mr. Vassermann, who had previously washed my breeches in salt water ensuring that they were uncomfortable and barely fit to wear, has washed them out again in a barrel of rainwater that he has accumulated over the past few days. My poor small clothes should be fit to wear again once they are dried. My breeches were stiff and itchy, and caused the most unpleasant chaffing.

Dinner this evening in the Ward Room, followed by the traditional Monday toast, "To our Ships at sea!". 

It gave me pause, and I considered some of the ships of His Majesty's Navy that we have encountered thus far. 

HMS Ramillies under command of Sir Thomas Hardy 

HMS Poictiers under Capt. Beresford, in whose company we have made several significant captures.

HMS Dotterel, HMS Martin, HMS Nymphe whom we encountered at Bermuda recently.

HMS Maidstone, Æolus, Childers and Colibrie with whom we have shared captures.

Wednesday, June 13

New Signal Flag Demonstration

Bring your spyglasses to the Jane Austen Fest July 13-15th 2018 so you can try your hand at sending and receiving messages ship to ship via period signal flags! This awesome new demo will be located near the Acasta naval camp all weekend. These images offer a sneak peek into the play-testing of the demonstration... we hope to see you there!

My 14 year-old daughter flew such vital signals as 'You are gross', 'You look like horse' and the ever popular 'I might mistake you for lizard'.

Tuesday, June 12

Before the Mast Vol II

Our second weekend as the first, brought great success to our continued training. It began by reintroducing everyone as we had been apart for some three weeks and was followed by a refresher on safety equipment on board the Friends Good Will. After we were all reacquainted, we practiced tossing our mooring lines to the dock as well as adjusting the main and head sails. After a slight weather delay we made ready to sail up the channel out onto the lake for our first hands on sail. While we made preparations, the Captain did us Acasta’s a great honor by flying the royal ensign on the flag halyard! We gave our heartiest cheer and thanked him for his kind gesture.

Once we set the main and head sails out on the water, we practiced tacking our good ship to windward and wearing her to get us landsmen used to adjusting the sails to the Captain’s desires. The lake was calm and we had a pleasant breeze to aid us in or practice. We sailed our course parallel to the shore back and forth roughly two miles out for a few hours until it was time to return. As we sailed into the channel we were greeted by many onlookers. Between readying our stations to dock, were able to wave back and enjoy the comfort of the return ride. Once we were moored, the Captain called a huddle at the mast and thanked us all for our time and eagerness to learn. With that, we concluded our training and were accepted as volunteer crew. We now have the opportunity to gain more sailing experience as often as we want and have a wonderful organization and ship to turn our passion for interpretation into real life experience.

Monday, June 11

Before the Mast Vol I

Though the HMS Acasta excels at portraying everyday life of Royal Navy sailors during the wars with France, many of our interpreters aren’t true sailors. 

To amend this, the weekend of April 28th and 29th, several Acastas attended the first portion of basic sail training at the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, Michigan where we began our voyage to becoming true sailors. The museum was gracious enough to host us, as well as several new volunteers eager to learn to sail their square-rigged topsail sloop Friends Good Will. 

The training began as we learned basic directional terminology for travel as well as directions aboard ship. We continued on with the geography of the ship herself and all of her various parts that make up the vessel that she is.  After we got more familiar with the decks, masts, yards, spars, rigging and sails we practiced some useful knots to aid us in adjusting the many lines for the rigging as well as for mooring the ship to port. 

In our down time between classes, we were able to watch the Friends Good Will launch on a crew refresher sail out onto Lake Michigan from the museum. Being as we know proper respect for Captains, we gave her a salute as she sailed down the channel which was celebrated amongst the crew as she pulled away.  

Overall, the first weekend was a great success! It not only fulfilled a long time unit goal, but brought us that much closer together as a group. 

Friday, June 8

The Art and Science of Knotwork: a Primer

By Buzz Mooney

When you mention the word “knotwork”, different people will picture different things: The rigging of sailing ships, 60s macramé wall hangings, or elaborate ancient Celtic graphics, seen in ancient Irish Gospels, like the Book of Kells.  It helps to sort through the confusion, by understanding that these are all, at their roots, the same thing: a form of continuous-line weaving. 

In my youth, as a Boy Scout, I struggled with knot-tying: A knot I had JUST learned, and tied successfully, was lost to me, minutes later. “The rabbit goes around the tree, and the shark jumps over it… no, the shark eats the boat, then the rabbit eats the shark… No…” Knot-tying was like Algebra: complicated, and hard to imagine how I’d use it, in real life. It wasn’t until my early 20s, when I developed a fascination for Ancient Celtic art, and knotwork, in particular, that I began to see the patterns and architecture of knots. And when I began my fascination with Sailing Ships, I began to see that knots are like old-style LEGO, or Tinkertoys: You only really have a few different pieces to work with: It’s how you COMBINE them, which makes all the different knots.  When I went to Hollywood, to work in Special Effects and Props, I took my newfound understanding of the Art of Ropework with me: When James Franco played James Dean, I did the fancywork shoulder-sling on his conga drum, and the “monkey’s fist” he plays with on the set of “Giant”. For Band of Brothers, I coiled all the letdown ropes the 101st guys wore for the Normandy jump. I even did the ropework for a prototype hammock for Master and Commander, but, alas, another Prophouse got the gig, so my work didn’t appear in the film. Having a working CONTEXT to use this knowledge, made all the difference.

I won’t go much into the TYPES of knots: Hitches, to secure a line to an object; Bends, to temporarily connect two lines, Splices, to PERMANENTLY connect two lines, or create a clean end on a line, and True Knots, to create a stop or other such feature. I’ll talk, primarily, of the STRUCTURE of knots.  In the accompanying images, I’ll be using red nylon rope: It’s easier to see the various elements of each knot, than with a natural-fiber, laid rope.

To understand what I mean about knots being made up of only a few, related elements, let’s look at the Sheet Bend (Figure 1): This is a quick, temporary hitch for connecting two lines.  You can see that one line is simply a loop, the other goes up through, around under both legs of the loop, and up and across, passing under itself. Now look at the Bowline (Figure 2): It’s EXACTLY THE SAME KNOT! The only difference, is that the working end of the line from the right, loops around to become the standing end of the line from the left.  So here, one of the most basic bends becomes one of the most basic hitches, simply by virtue of the loop. Cut the loop, and it’s a Sheet Bend.

Now, lets look at Two Half-hitches (Shown loose, in Figure 3, and taut, in Figure 4): If I slide it off the belaying pin, and snug it up (Figure 5), you can see the way is creates a diagonal, across itself, making a sort of “Letter N”.  If we look at the Clove Hitch, (Figure 6) you can see that same “Letter N” is formed around the pin, itself, instead of around the standing part of the line. If I KEEP “throwing” Hitches around the pin, I get “French Hitching” (figure 7); a decorative and protective covering, which can also improve handgrip on railings, etc. If, however, I ALTERNATE the direction of subsequent hitches, I get “Cockscombing” (Figure 8), which serves the same purpose, but with the resulting ridge running straight down one side, rather than spiraling. The Taut-line Hitch (Figure 9) many of us learned in Scouts, for adjusting tent ropes, is just another variation on the use of Half-Hitches.

To tie the infamous Sheep Shank (Figure 10), double the rope back on itself, twice, making an elongated “S” or “Z”, and throw a half-hitch over either end.

When you start getting into Stop-knots, like the Wall, the Crown, the Wall-and-Crown, or even the Matthew Walker, or Splices, or into Turk’s Heads, the principles of the aforementioned Celtic Art come in: In Knotwork, the Artist generally follows a rule of “Over one, under one” (or Over 2, under 2, etc.) In addition, on splices, and most good Stop-knots, you’ll be using the individual yarns of the line, untwisted from each other, to create your knot.  Here, I’ll be using three separate ropes, taped in a bundle, to represent the three individual yarns, unlaid from the end of the rope, to create a basic Crown Knot. First, laying open the yarns, I bring one up and over, down between the other two, laying it alongside the standing part of my rope (Figure 11). I then take the next end, and do the same (Figure 12 and 13). But I can’t simply bring the third yarn up and over the other two: it has to be interwoven with them, so that each holds its neighbor in place.  To do this, I’ll draw the first two loops tighter, to help me see where I need to go.  As you can see here, (Figure 14) yarn#1 isn’t holding anything down, and nothing is holding down yarn #2. So Yarn # 3 has to go OVER #2, and UNDER #1, like so: (Figure 15). When I draw them up tight, (Figure 16) you can see that they form a tight triangle, with each going over one, then under the next. If I continue this pattern, (Figure 17 and 18) I can build a larger knob, useful to stop a line running out of a block, or to form a handhold at the end of the line.

This is by no means an exhaustive exploration of knotwork, but, hopefully, it gives a basic understanding of the structure and architecture of ropework: The basic, geometric principles that help to create not just a knowledge of how to tie several knots, but how to UNDERSTAND how knots work, and to choose or develop the knots needed for any task.

Recommended reading:
The Arts of the Sailor. Hervey Garret Smith

The Marlinspike Sailor. Hervey Garret Smith

Celtic Art: The methods of its Construction. George Bain

Ashley Book of Knots.  Clifford W. Ashley

The Sea Scout Manual. Boy Scouts of America.
(I recommend looking into some of the earlier editions, since content changes over time. I also suggest seeing what the British Naval Brigade/National Sea Cadets may have published. Such guides tend to focus on the basics, and can be very helpful for “learning the ropes”, quite literally.)