Hey Little Buddy,
You won’t believe what happened next. Well, not exactly next, because I had been swabbing decks for a couple weeks now. It seemed as soon as I got the quarter-deck swabbed, the poop-deck was dirty again. About that time I was figuring out that a band of pirates can be some very messy people. I spent my days chasing after pirates with a swab and cleaning up one mess after another. I was running myself in circles all day long. As bad as that was, the nights were even worse.
After two weeks at sea, I had learned a few things about pirates and pirating. I had always imagined pirating as a grand adventure, swash-buckling, and sword fighting, battles and raiding. The truth is, a pirate’s work at sea is a lot of moving and lifting and hoisting. It takes a lot of work to keep a ship sailing. And seeing as how it was high summer, there was a lot of sweating going on. I also found out that when you’re at sea on a sailing ship, you don’t take showers. After a few weeks, with all that sweat, and no showers, pirates start to become some unpleasant fellows to be around. When you’re at sea on a pirate ship, you have no choice but to be around them. I think that is the main reason pirates seem to be angry all the time.
It was even worse at night below deck. Since I was what they called a ‘bilge rat’, my quarters were down in the bilge, the very bottom of the ship. This is where they put all the swabbies I was told. There were four of us; Sad John, Willie, Pete and me. Did you know that there are no windows, ports I’m supposed to call them, down in the bilge? There’s not a lot of air moving around. Wet, damp air and hot , sweaty swabbies make for some pretty rough smells. Makes it hard to sleep. One night, I couldn’t sleep again, so I just headed up to the top deck.
I was leaning over the rail, getting some much needed fresh air. Mad Dog was on watch that night, and he came by to talk. He asked how I was doing, and how I was getting along. I told him how disappointed I was in this whole pirating thing. I told him I’d never learn to be a proper pirate if all I’m doing is swabbing a deck all day. He was listening and nodding the whole time while I went on with my rant.
” How long do you suppose I’ll be a swabbie?” I asked him.
“Ye’ll be a swabbie ’til you learn the trick to not bein’ a swabbie. The trick o’ havin’ a clean deck” He replied.
“The Trick? There’s a trick to it? What is it?” I asked. If there was a way to have a clean deck on a pirate ship I wanted to know it.
” I can’t tell you the trick, that’s against the code. Yer supposed to figure it out yerself.” was his answer. I guess he could see the look of disappointment I had. He thought a bit, stroked his beard. He grabbed me around the shoulder and pulled me closer.
” Well, I can’t tell you the trick,” he said speaking low, “but I don’t suppose there’s anythin’ in the code about maybe me a be givin’ ye somethin’ of a hint. I be thinkin’ that would be all right. ” He thought another minute, ” Boy, what be the hardest part to keepin’ the decks swabbed?”
I went on to tell him about how busy the deck is during day watch, how all the pirates would be spilling and spitting things all day all over the deck. As soon as I got one spot cleaned, there was another to have to clean up somewhere else.
” So, they be too many scurvies in the way to keep ye from cleanin’ a whole deck all to once?”
“Yeah,” I replied, ” I can never get the whole thing done with so many people in the way. That’s probably the main reason I’m always behind.”
” Look around ye boy.” He said. He turned and headed back to the bridge.
‘Not much of a hint.’ I thought as I began to look around the ship. Night watch was nice. It was quiet, a bit of a breeze blows across. Night watch has minimum crew, that’s why it’s so quiet. ‘ Gee, I wish I could do my job at night watch, nobody around to get in my way. The decks are empty. The Decks are empty! THE DECKS ARE EMPTY!‘ Then it hit me, just as sure as if someone had hit me in the head with a tuna. I ran to the bridge.
“Mad Dog,” I asked, trying to catch my breath,” What is the duty of a swabbie?”
” Cap’n wants to walk on a clean deck at morning watch. Swabbie’s job is to give him that clean deck. Ye know that, boy.”
“So, if the deck was clean when he takes the helm at morning watch, the swabbie’s job is done?” I asked. Mad Dog looked over and winked. “Yes, the swabbie’s job is done,” he whispered.
I headed to the supply closet. I was going to make sure Captain Bart had a spotless deck to walk on at the morning’s watch. I got my bucket, got my swab, and I went to work. I had a lot of decks to do, and the whole of night to do them in. After a few hours, and I was almost half-way done, when Mad Dog came by. “Boy, ye know even iff’n ye work all the night, ye need be standin’ at mornin’ watch?”
” I know, Mad Dog,” I said, ” I know.”
“It be that important to ye?” Mad Dog asked.
“Yes, it’s that important.” I said, and turned back to my work.
I met the sunrise just as I was finishing up. It was hard work, and it took all night, but the decks were spotless. I didn’t know how I would make it through the day without sleep, but still, it was a job well done. Captain Bart will come up for morning watch to a spotless deck.
I was standing on the bridge when Mad Dog was relieved, and Captain Bart arrived on the bridge. He looked around the deck. He looked at me. “Ye work all the night on this, boy?”
“Aye Cap’n” I replied, proudly.
” That he did, Cap’n.” Mad Dog said. ” I seen ‘im.”
Captain Bart looked at me, squinted his eyes, ” And ye still standing and ready to work morning watch?”
“Aye, Sir.” I answered, ” Standing and ready.”
Captain Bart nodded. “Yer dismissed, boy. See Mr. Batch at morning watch tomorrow for a new assignment.”
Mad Dog reached over and patted me on the shoulder. We were leaving the bridge when Captain Bart yelled out, ” Hey, Madigan, see if ye be findin’ him a spot in the berth.”
“Aye, Cap’n” Mad Dog replied. ” Let’s get to the bilge for yer things, ye be stowin’ them with us from here on.” he told me. He leaned in and added, in a lower voice,” Ye figured out the trick, didn’t ye boy? ‘Til the Cap’n knows how far ye be willin’ to go to follow an order, ye be only a swabbie.” He grabbed me around my shoulder and we headed to the bilge, for the last time.
So the next thing I learned about being a pirate captain was that until you know what you’re willing to do to not be a swabbie, you’ll only be a swabbie. You don’t get out of the bilge unless you’re willing to do the work.
Next Chapter; Best Swabbie Asea
The Story begins Here; The Boy Captain
You may also be interested in the following;