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 Collecting Fresh Water 
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Post Collecting Fresh Water
NOTE: This post and the handful that follow were originally in the thread titled: "Paint Schemes for Ships." They have been moved because they deal with the topic of water. — Susan

timoneer wrote:
From 1700 to about 1801, blue upper works and canary yellow sides, with wide black strakes at the water-line were usual for the exterior of ships, and blood-red for inboard surfaces. ... At the same time green (occasionally in a few ships, buff or a pale brown colour was preferred) to be adopted for the inboard colour, as a substitute for red.


Don,

I have always understood that by inboard surfaces the writer is referring to the interior sides and bulwarks of the ship, not the decks. This would make perfect sense and remain in tune with the tradition of holystoning the decks.

Someone once made the case that sand was put down on the decks when the ship was cleared for action as much to soak up the blood as to provide the seamen with traction. It could then be swept or swabbed over the side, or collected again for future use if it was not befouled with everyone's blood.

Charity


Fri Aug 04, 2006 1:31 am
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HMS Charity wrote:
I have always understood that by inboard surfaces the writer is referring to the interior sides and bulwarks of the ship, not the decks. This would make perfect sense and remain in tune with the tradition of holystoning the decks.

Someone once made the case that sand was put down on the decks when the ship was cleared for action as much to soak up the blood as to provide the seamen with traction. It could then be swept or swabbed over the side, or collected again for future use if it was not befouled with everyone's blood.

Aaron, I like your interpretation of "inboard surfaces." That makes perfect sense and solves my dilemma about holy-stoning painted decks. Thank you very much.

I must point out that I am not a believer that after watering, sand was scattered on deck to "absorb blood." I believe that this must be some sort of myth that travels from author to author. Even if I read this in a first person account, I would assume the writer is wrong unless he, or anyone else, could offer proof. Here I must state that I have never read of any proof in a contemporary account. Of course, I would be first to admit that I have not read all the first-hand accounts in existence either. I am just another enthusiastic amateur to quote Mary.

What I think happens is that water is spread on the deck to extinguish bits of flaming powder bags or other sparks ejected from the gun that might be blown back onto the deck. (This is critical to the survival of the ship.) The water will make the deck slippery so a light sprinkling of sand is applied to improve traction for the bare-footed sailors. If the sand were deep enough to absorb blood, it would be have to be dry on the top surface. Putting water on the deck first would be a waste of time and effort in this instance and, more importantly, defeat the purpose of the water.

Every time I read that a deck was watered, then sanded to absorb blood, I cringe. However, it might make a tiny bit of sense to apply sand only (no water) if, and this is a big "if", your only concern was absorbing blood. Then the sand would have only one purpose (to absorb blood) since sailors would not need sand to counteract the effects of the nonexistent wet surface. The holy-stoned deck provided plenty of traction as it was. If I read that the deck was not watered but only sanded to absorb blood, I might accept that, but I would find it weird and dangerous. However, I have been paying attention to this for quite some time and every author that states that the deck was sanded to absorb blood, first says that the deck was watered. Flaming material landing on a dry sandy surface will continue to burn until the combustible material is consumed. A nice beach bonfire is a good example. Sanding only or putting so much sand on top of water that the top surface is dry makes no logical sense to me. The most critical item would be to stop any ignition source immediately, in my opinion. If nobody bleeds but the ship blows up... If lots of people bleed, but the ship blows up... Keeping the ship out of danger makes the most sense. Therefore the deck needs to be wet.

I really like first-hand accounts but I have noticed that a few comments by these contemporary writers are not scientifically accurate. A good example is a comment by Samuel Leech in "A Voice From the Main Deck." Leech is sent ashore to fill water casks. He is told to dig in the sand along the seashore and he finds fresh water. Leech states that the water is fresh because the sand filtered it. Impossible. You cannot separate the components of a solution by normal filtering. You cannot remove salt from seawater by allowing the seawater to flow through sand. If you could, no ship of that era would have any fresh water deficiencies since all ships carried sand and seawater was always available. I assume that the fresh water source was a seepage from the interior of the land that was flowing to the sea but the flow was not powerful enough to travel on top of the sandy shore.

If the group made a list of unscientific assertions from the AoS, we would probably have a long list. Foul air causing scurvy, diseases, etc. Mercury curing VD. Etc. Etc. I would certainly want to add to this list the pre-battle ritual of watering the deck and then sanding it "to absorb blood."

Don


Last edited by timoneer on Sat Aug 05, 2006 3:36 am, edited 3 times in total.



Fri Aug 04, 2006 3:54 am
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timoneer wrote:
I really like first-hand accounts but I have noticed that a few comments by these contemporary writers are not scientifically accurate. A good example is a comment by Samuel Leech in "A Voice From the Main Deck." Leech is sent ashore to fill water casks. He is told to dig in the sand along the seashore and he finds fresh water. Leech states that the water is fresh because the sand filtered it. Impossible. You cannot separate the components of a solution by filtering. You cannot remove salt from seawater by allowing the seawater to flow through sand. If you could, no ship of that era would have any fresh water deficiencies since all ships carried sand and seawater was always available. I assume that the fresh water source was a seepage from the interior of the land that was flowing to the sea but the flow was not powerful enough to travel on top of the sandy shore.

I think we can't judge the naval authors of the time by the scientific standards of today. Their comments were based on what they observed and what was known at the time. Most of these men weren't scientists. Even the ones who did study science got it wrong.

In terms of the water being filtered, was he speaking specifically of salt water? Sand can/does act as a filter (look up "slow sand filter"). Could "fresh" in this case mean "clean" (relative to what was in their casks) instead of "desalinated"?

There is a bit I read in Limeys by David Harvie. He writes:

"One method of obtaining fresh water on shore was to bury a cask drilled with small holes in a pit dug ten to fifteen yards from the sea; this method provided the basis of primitive filtration systems for use by watering parties."

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Fri Aug 04, 2006 5:37 am
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susan wrote:
Here is a bit I read in Limeys by David Harvie. He writes:
"One method of obtaining fresh water on shore was to bury a cask drilled with small holes in a pit dug ten to fifteen yards from the sea; this method provided the basis of primitive filtration systems for use by watering parties."

Susan, I was not condemning in any way the opinions of the times. I realize that we know more now than the people then about science. I was just pointing out that statements made in first-hand accounts of that era cannot, in every case, be accepted as scientifically accurate. Accounts such as these should be read as history not science.

A good example is your post above by David Harvie. I'm sure that Mr. Harvie found drinkable water as he said - on a particular day on a particular beach (history). However, the drinking water he found was not filtered from the sea but from an inland fresh water source seeping toward the sea. You can remove some (not all) particles by beach sand filtration but not the salt that is dissolved in seawater.

Note: Scientists have discovered that special filtration can separate water and salt. However, it is a very complex process called "reverse osmosis" involving high tech materials and high pressure. Beach sand cannot be used for desalination. Click Here for a link.

I will give you another possible example. Salt water is denser than fresh. If a fresh water river dumps into the sea, the lighter fresh water will not combine immediately with the seawater but ride on the surface of the salt water. Of course, how far from shore this layer of fresh water extends depends on the rate of flow from the river. So someone could scoop water from the side of their boat and drink perfectly safe fresh water for some distance from the shore. If that someone did not know about the scientific principles at work, he could write that he drank seawater with no ill effect. He would be wrong, but to him, it would appear so.

susan wrote:
Could "fresh" in this case mean "clean" (relative to what was in their casks) instead of "desalinated"?

With regard to Samuel Leech, he was seeking drinking water for his ship.

Don


Fri Aug 04, 2006 12:11 pm
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timoneer wrote:
A good example is your post above by David Harvie. I'm sure that Mr. Harvie found drinkable water as he said - on a particular day on a particular beach (history). However, the drinking water he found was not filtered from the sea but from an inland fresh water source seeping toward the sea. You can remove some (not all) particles by beach sand filtration but not the salt that is dissolved in seawater.

Mr. Harvie, in this case, is a modern author.

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susan wrote:
Could "fresh" in this case mean "clean" (relative to what was in their casks) instead of "desalinated"?

With regard to Samuel Leech, he was seeking drinking water for his ship.

Yes, I understood that to be the case. I was just wondering whether he implicitly stated that the water was seawater that had been filtered. Otherwise, could it not have been a layer of less dense fresh water, as you stated? In other words, was his concept of "filtering" the same as yours or any other modern interpretation?

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Fri Aug 04, 2006 3:34 pm
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susan wrote:
Mr. Harvie, in this case, is a modern author.
I certainly believe that Mr. Harvie and Samuel Leech found drinkable water in the manner they described - no matter what century it occured.

susan wrote:
I was just wondering whether he [Samuel Leech] implicitly stated that the water was seawater that had been filtered.
That's the way I understand his account. You be the judge. Here is the exact quote taken from Chapter 11 "Aboard the Boxer" (page 135 in my edition*): "We obtained our water by digging large holes in the sand, into which we placed our casks; the salt water, by passing through so much sand, would be so thoroughly filtered that by the time it reached our casks it was fit for use." [I should have posted this in the first place.]

susan wrote:
Otherwise, could it not have been a layer of less dense fresh water, as you stated?
Absolutely, the underground fresh water could have been "floating" on seawater deeper below ground or trapped in a stone or clay catchbasin below ground level. I assume that there would be three results when using the method described (within a reasonable digging depth): no water, salt (or brackish) water, or fresh water. The results would depend on the geology and recent rainfall or other weather conditions like storms.

* "A Voice From the Main Deck" by Samuel Leech

Don


Fri Aug 04, 2006 4:19 pm
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Not to confuse or twist the issue here, but I do know that the smaller coral islands of the Pacific rarely have 'freshwater' streams, yet produce vegetation that requires freshwater to grow.

Coral, being pourous and dead within the first few feet of the surface, acts as a filtration system. American GIs during World War II regularly dug wells in the coral, allowed them to fill and had fresh water available.

A science teacher I had in elementary school served in the Pacific theater during WWII and, along with a group of other GI's attempted to cut corners in digging their well. They used some explosives and a 50-gallon barrel to direct the charge downward after starting the well. The explosion sent the barrel several thousand feet upward, completely immolated the coral and left them with a useless well. While the water was wonderfully clear to look at it, the disturbance of a single cup being dipped in stirred all the coral dust in the well and left it the color of whole milk until it settled once more.

I wonder if it is a similar technique to what the sailors of 200 hundred years ago attempted to achieve with their barrel in the sand (or coral?)?

Charity


Thu Aug 10, 2006 10:27 pm
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HMS Charity wrote:
Not to confuse or twist the issue here, but I do know that the smaller coral islands of the Pacific rarely have 'freshwater' streams, yet produce vegetation that requires freshwater to grow.

Even if no flowing freshwater streams existed on coral islands, I would still assume that the freshwater needed by plants would be from a normal freshwater source, namely rain. However, there is a vast difference between living coral and beach sand. I went on-line and searched to see if the polyps that create their stony coral homes excrete freshwater. I could not find anything to support that but there is much too much information in a normal search so it would be easy to miss something. Natural filtration will not create freshwater from saltwater but, if the coral polyps excrete freshwater, then they could be the source. Normally, sea animals excrete either dilute or strong urine. But coral is such a strange "animal." Does anyone know the answer to this?

HMS Charity wrote:
Coral, being pourous and dead within the first few feet of the surface, acts as a filtration system. American GIs during World War II regularly dug wells in the coral, allowed them to fill and had fresh water available. I wonder if it is a similar technique to what the sailors of 200 hundred years ago attempted to achieve with their barrel in the sand (or coral?)?

Aaron, If coral does not excrete freshwater, I think digging in coral must be the exact method as digging in sand! If rain water is floating atop seawater just under the surface of the dead coral, then making a hole in this dead coral strata would access the fresh water just like digging a pit in beach sand.

Has anyone read of a first-hand or fictional account using Aaron's coral method of collecting water?

Don


Fri Aug 11, 2006 12:43 am
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Post Re: Collecting Fresh Water
Here is an interesting watercolor of Russian sailors collecting water with the help of Nuku Hiva natives.

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Värske vee varumine / Collecting fresh water by National Archives of Estonia, on Flickr

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