The High Seas

My Dad teaches at Maine Maritime Academy, a college which offers neat majors like Marine Systems Engineering, Marine Transportation Operations, and Small Craft Design. They have their own fleet of ships of course including and a 500 foot training ship, T.S. State Of Maine. During their first and third years, students in majors leading to USCG third assistant engineer and third mate licenses are required to participate in training cruises on the ship. In the past they have vistied some interesting places these 60-day working trips. But, as you can imagine, a 60 day cruise in a ship that size uses quite a lot of fuel, and current oil prices have been a challenge.

Now of course in the old days, ships were powered for free, by wind. (MMA also has one of those: Arctic explorer Admiral MacMillan's schooner, Bowdoin)

What you may not have realized was the extent to which ships in the olden days were also apparently running on Ethanol -- or at least, their crews were.

I recently stumbled again across this article about the history of the oldest commissioned warship in the world, the USS Constitution. It comes by way of the National Park Service, as printed in "Oceanographic Ships, Fore and Aft", a periodical from the oceanographer of the US Navy.

On 23 August 1779, the USS Constitution set sail from Boston, loaded with 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of water, 74,000 cannon shot, 11,500 pounds of black powder and 79,400 gallons of rum. Her mission: to destroy and harass English shipping.

On 6 October, she made Jamaica, took on 826 pounds of flour and 68,300 gallons of rum. Three weeks later, Constitution reached the Azores, where she provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and 2,300 gallons of Portuguese wine.

On 18 November, she set sail for England where her crew captured and scuttled 12 English merchant vessels and took aboard their rum. By this time, Constitution had run out of shot. Nevertheless, she made her way unarmed up the Firth of Clyde for a night raid. Here, her landing party captured a whiskey distillery, transferred 13,000 gallons on board and headed for home.

On 20 February 1780, the Constitution arrived in Boston with no cannon shot, no food, no powder, no rum, and no whiskey. She did, however, still carry her crew of 475 officers and men and 18,600 gallons of water. The math is quite enlightening: Length of cruise: 181 days. Booze consumption: 1.26 gallons per man per day (this does not include the unknown quantity of rum captured from the 12 English merchant vessels in November).

Naval historians say that the re-enlistment rate from this cruise was 92%.