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Able Seaman

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Illustration by Juliet Jacobson

Seamen were foremast hands who had some experience at sea. Depending upon their experience and skills, they were either ordinary seamen or able seamen. An able seaman was more competent and skilled than an ordinary seaman. The most difficult jobs and those requiring the neatest work would be given to the older, more experienced seamen. In taking in and setting sail, the able seaman would be put to those tasks requiring more skill and strength. An able seaman must be a good workman upon rigging, mending, covering and working on it in many ways. He must be able to cut and fit new rigging. He must be able to mend and sew sails. He must be a good helmsman able to steer the ship in bad weather. All of the foremast hands, including the able seamen, were divided into two watches, each headed by a mate. The watches took turns working, four hours on, four hours off, with two "dog watches" of two hours each. While on a watch, the crew was responsible for cleaning the ship, manning the sails and rigging, repairing their own clothing and supplies, and keeping watch for whales. During the chase, the foremast hands served as the oarsmen on the whaleboats. After the capture, they helped cut-in and try out the whale. The able seaman received a lay (portion of the profits) of between 1/125 and 1/160.

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