Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Pirate Time

One might think time would be irrelevant for pirates and sailors. Let’s face it, there is nothing but water as far as the eye can see. Sailing ships are dependent on winds and currents. The sun comes up on the sea’s horizon and it goes down on the sea’s horizon. A three-hour tour might take three months instead. Sure, time is relative. (I’m not talking about physics because my eyes would most certainly glaze over and I’ll be hitting the rum bottle hard in a matter of minutes.) Time is relative for pirates in that they live by measures of time. Think work shifts, high and low tides, or how fast they can load and reload shipboard guns. Heck, even whether they could chase a quarry or escape a man of war was calibrated in their ways. How fast they could be might have been the difference between life and death. Yup, time was marked and adhered to.

Here are some key terms of time and how they were used by pirates and seamen alike.

Tide. When referencing time, a tide is calculated from high tide to high tide and roughly twelve and a half hours.  Salty Sam had been in his cups at the tavern for a tide before he staggered back to the docks.

Tide’s time. This is like a tide only it’s multiplied by a specified number of tides. It would take the Rissa six tide’s time to reach Port Royal. Meaning it would take the ship a little more than three days to reach its destination.

Fortnight. Two weeks or fourteen days. It had been a fortnight before a passing ship rescued Billy off that deserted spit of land.

Glass. This one sometimes confuses landlubbers. A glass is one hour or increments of sixty minutes, not how fast you can guzzle a beverage. If our guest does not present herself to me in five minutes’ glass, I’ll have her thrown overboard.

Half-glass. You guessed it, half an hour. Jack spent a half-glass in the company of that sharp-tongued wench.

Shipboard days are divided into shifts, or watches. There are seven watches in a twenty-four hour period.

  • middle watch — midnight to 4 a.m.
  • morning watch — 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
  • forenoon watch — 8 a.m. to noon
  • afternoon watch — noon to 4 p.m.
  • first dog watch — 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • second dog watch — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • first watch — 8 p.m. to midnight

Notice the dog watches are shorter than the other watches. This allows for all crewmen to have the time for traditional evening meal.

All watches are marked by the ring of the ship’s bell every half hour. At the start of the watch, the bell rings once. Another bell would be added each half hour. By the time a watch is over (and when both dog watches are combined) the ship’s bell would ring eight times. As an example, depending on the watch and time of day, four bells could mean 2 a.m., 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m.

When writing about pirates, I make a conscious effort to weave authenticity of shipboard life into my stories. It’s both fun and educating! Below is an excerpt and example from The Siren’s Song.

The ship’s bell struck and Gilly counted the rings. It was time to pay her debt to the captain. Two bells. Her chest tightened. Mixed emotions churned in her stomach. Four bells. She wanted to kiss him, didn’t she? Of course she did. Six bells. Was she supposed to go to him? Where would he be waiting? In his cabin? She glanced at Willie and Henri. They didn’t seem to know of her quandary. She couldn’t ask them for an opinion. How mortifying to think of it. Seven bells. Would she be good at it, good enough for him? How would she compare to others he had kissed? Eight bells. Lord help her, she surely was going to faint.
She’d been tallying the bells as they struck every half hour all throughout the watch.
Before the final peal of the bell faded into the winds, Captain Drake appeared at the top of the ladder. Time slowed as he glided toward her. She slid off her perch and met him halfway.
“Eight bells, milady.”
“I’m ready,” she said. Closing her eyes, she puckered, waiting for his lips to descend upon her. Waiting to inhale his delicious musk. Waiting for his hands to roam across her back and his fingers to thread through her hair. Waiting. Why hadn’t he kissed her yet?
“What’s the lass doin’?” Henri asked. “Is she alright?”
“Maybe the heat’s done gotten to her,” Willie answered.
She popped open one eye. Gone was the captain’s mask of steely austerity. His amusement beamed brighter than the unforgiving sun. The heat couldn’t compare to her swill of embarrassment. Sweat beaded on her brow and she wished with all her heart she could disappear. Why didn’t he kiss her? How idiotic she must look. She huffed, angry now. Mustering up a scrap of dignity, she confronted the cur.
“What’s wrong? Why won’t you kiss me?” She propped her hands on her hips. “Have you gone back on our accord?”
His smug laugh indicated he had not. “I never renege on a deal, Miss McCoy.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You have misinterpreted the terms. Our agreement stated that you kiss me. Not the other way around.”
“Oh.” Won’t death spare me this humiliation?
She was helpless. She had never kissed a man, only been kissed. This changed everything. It simply was not proper. Come now, Gilly. You haven’t been proper since the day Hyde laid eyes upon you. And besides, you want to kiss him.
“All right, Captain Drake. I shall play by your rules.”
She rose to her tiptoes and, quick as a rabbit dashing into a briar patch, she pecked him on his mouth.
“There,” she said. “It’s done. I kissed you.” She grinned a self-satisfied smile. “Come back at the next eight bells. I shall be ready.”
“Uh-uh. Not quite, lass. That’s not at all how I want you to kiss me.”
“A kiss is a kiss.”
“Nay, lass. That is how you kiss a codfish.”
She gasped and her hand flew to her bosom at the insult. “And just how am I supposed to kiss you, Captain? There were no stipulations on the manner of kiss.”
“Kiss me as you did last night.”
She poked him in his chest. “You kissed me.”
“At first, yes. But then you lost your chaste modesty and your voracious appetite took over.”
If she could get her hands on his cutlass, she would end her suffering. Gilly glanced over her shoulder. Both Henri and Willie quickly, but not quickly enough, became occupied, pretending miserably not to have been listening in on their exchange. Henri fiddled with his vest pocket and Willie tapped at the compass he kept fixed to his wheel.
“You need not let shamefulness get the better of you, Miss McCoy. You’ve nothing to be embarrassed about,” Captain Drake said.
She frowned. He did not make things any easier by calling her on her discomfiture.
“Well? I’m waiting.”
What a wicked, wicked man. The only way to wipe that smirk from his face was to give him the best kiss he ever had in his wretched life.
Gilly grabbed the back of his neck with both hands and smothered his lips. Long and hard, she pressed against him. He tensed under her grip. His arms reached out, as if to hold her. But he didn’t. Nevertheless, she felt his smile. And that pleased her.
She broke free of him. Excitement coursed through her veins. Liberation was hers. She could do that again. Eight more times, in fact.
“’Twas a very nice start,” he said. “Now don’t look so troubled. I am happy with your kiss. It is my hope that you will work yourself up to last night’s performance.”

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About the Author                                                
Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.

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