Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sticking it to the man

Preparations for Great Bridge this year are complete and this week we shift into execution mode, under the leadership of the Operational Commanders. This year we're being led once again by our esteemed Marine officer, Joe Sturiale, who for this event is summarily promoted to Captain to meet appropriate rank for registration numbers. He'll be joined by Lieutenant Glenn Atherton, who will command all forces afloat. Administratively speaking, a Navy lieutenant is equivalent to a Marine captain, but Mr. Sturiale is technically senior as his commission pre-dates that of Mr. Atherton. NHS ranks follow the seniority rules of their real life counterparts, afterall - which is the easiest and most natrual way to proceed considering that, in the case of Mr. Atherton at least, he holds the same rank in the real Navy.

I, on the other hand, might be a Navy lieutenant in real life, but for this event and many in the future, I'm living the dream as a petty officer. And I mean that in all seriousness - for me, there is nothing so stressful as being Dockyard Guru and rolling straight into operational command. Not fun. I much prefer to enjoy myself kicking back a bit and enjoying the freedom of subordination - where I can spend my spare time making trouble for the establishment. And at Great Bridge I fully anticipate concocting plenty of historically appropriate 'liberty incidents'.

I put liberty incidents in quotes because unlike the modern Navy, the Royal Navy in the 18th century specifically avoided what we think of as liberty at all costs. Rather they preferred to bottle up their crews aboard their ships in an effort to prevent desertion. These were top notch people, we're talking about. And the Americans were no different. For many many eons of naval history, letting your crew enjoy time off the ship near civilization of any kind was asking for mass casualties. Crews would desert, get into trouble, cause civil disturbances - much like today. The only difference as I see it is that we preempt the desertion factor and choose to man our ships well below their proper compliment - then call it 'optimal manning'. But I digest.

Why desert? I mean, think of it in a logical mindset - crews were fed reasonably well, paid regularly, clothed, got reasonable medical care (all of this by period standards). Why would they run? Well, a lot of that has to do with the means by which they got to that place. Many sailors came by way of the ever-dreaded press gang, though others did actually volunteer and others were forced to it by legal threats or angry husbands and fathers. The point is, very few people actually wanted to be there at the get-go.

Then take the standard psychology of the sailor - you're on a ship, in the middle of the deserted ocean for months on end, living within the confines of your wooden world while moving from here to there. Then you drop anchor in some harbor in a completely foreign land that looks incredible - after all, you've seen nothing but the ship for months - and you can't go ashore. The frustration is compounded by the fact that everywhere you go, bum boats ply their trade right alongside - everything from fresh fruit and trinkets to prostitutes. At the end of the day they return to the same mysterious and alluring shore that's beckoning you to visit. Ship food, accomodations and organization take their toll, even in modern times. It is not so unusual to think that the less reputable elements in a ships company - ahem, ALL of them - would try to escape at some point and seek their fortunes ashore.

What happened when sailors did make it ashore? Well I'd give you three guesses but you'd only need one. Generally speaking - the first instinct was probably to elude capture, followed a split second later by booze and women, in no particular order.

And what prevented them? Marines. There were other factors of course, but in the end I think the primary threat were marines. Those sub-human non-sailors who don't belong on ships, don't eat with us, don't bunk with us, won't give us the time of day. Damn we hate marines. They're just so... soldier-like.

Hint hint, lobsterbacks. Consider yourselves warned.


Current registration numbers are through the roof, though we should always expect some attrition. Right now everyone is topped out - marines are stopped to the cork at 11 privates and 1 sergeant; sailors are flooding out of the bottle at 3 petty officers, 16 able and ordinary seamen and 2 boys. Not all of these will be camping, and we're still tracking those figures down but all in all, we should have a very respectable showing, and consequently a great time. The irrascible Mr. Woodard is attending as Purser, so mess cranks: watch the scales carefully.

More to follow as we get closer and closer to showtime.


No comments: