Ships and Memories: Merchant Seafarers in Canada's Age of Steam

By Eric W. Sager | Go to book overview
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The British system of training officers through formal apprenticeship was not adopted completely or consistently in the Canadian merchant marine. 1 Canadians who advanced to the rank of officer or master often came 'through the hawsepipe,' meaning that they would work their way up through the ranks. One learned seafaring from one's fellows, starting at the bottom, as a deck-boy, ordinary seaman, a 'peggy,' or a 'wiper' in the engine-room. 'Learning the ropes' at the hands of your fellows could be a tough experience. The following memory comes from the end of the sailing ship era, but there was often just as much to learn in steamships, where older 'hands' also trained younger workers.

The able seamen considered it their duty to instruct us in the elements of seamanship and of cleanliness, to which all seemed to attach equal importance. They were reasonably pleasant about giving instruction as long as we did what we were told, but if we paid no heed they resorted to the methods of a gangster's enforcer, but always with good humour and even glee as they tore up a shirt that they found to be smelly for want of washing or poured a bucket of water down the

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