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Ordinary 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 ordinary seaman had insufficient age or strength, or lack of experience, to perform all of the duties of an able seaman. He was expected to hand, reef, and steer under normal circumstances, and to be able to loose, furl and set sails. He needed to work upon the rigging (make all hitches and do some simpler tasks such as splicing small ropes). All of the foremast hands, including the ordinary 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. Ordinary seamen received a lay or share of the profits that ranged between 1/140 and 1/200.

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